The Colt Revolver has played a paramount role in the history of American weapons. It was one of the first multi-shot weapons to be put into mass production and became a symbol of the American frontier. In this section, I will be looking at the invention of the Colt Revolver, specifically how it was invented and the perceived need it fulfilled.
How Samuel Colt first came up with the idea for his revolver is contested. Some claim he had a eureka moment while target shooting at whales, others that he noticed the way a ships wheel locked into position while he was on a voyage, while his competitors claimed he stole the idea from the Collier Pistol which he may have seen in India. Despite the actual origin story of Colt’s idea, the fact remains that in December of 1835 Colt filed a patent for his revolver in England, and in February of 1836 filed one in America. The key behind Colt’s revolver model and what differentiated it from previous multi-shot pistols is the simplicity. Colt used a very simple pawl, attached to the hammer of the pistol, which when cocked would press the pawl against a recession in the rear of the cylinder, which would rotate the chamber into position. Additionally, Colt cut a notch into the hammer, allowing for a half cocked position which allowed the cylinder to spin freely, allowing for freer loading, as well as designing the cylinder to lock into place once the hammer was fully cocked. Colt was able to raise enough money to start his own factory in March of 1836, called the Patent Arms Manufacturing Company in the town of Patterson New Jersey. In 1837, the factory began production of the Pocket Model Patterson Revolver, and soon came out with the most famous model they would produce, the Colt Holster Model Paterson Revolver No. 5. The No. 5 became highly popular in Texas, but the popularity and the sales did not match, and Colt’s new company was bankrupt by 1842. Several years later, collaborating with Samuel Walker, a captain of the U.S. Mounted Rifle, Colt came out with the Walker Colt, a .44 that held six shots and weighed over four pounds. The success of the pistol allowed Colt to build a new factory in Hartford Connecticut. Colt then improved the Walker, making it lighter and more reliable and naming this new pistol the Dragoon. As well as full sized guns, Colt additionally made “baby” models, essentially smaller versions of his popular models that were reduced in size and or caliber.
Image source here
Before the Colt Revolver, guns were limited to a single shot. Additionally, these guns were fairly inaccurate, and took a long time to reload. Samuel Colt found a gap in the market for a multi-shot weapon, and filled it with his ingenious weapon. Frontiers-men needed a weapon that could be used against superior numbers, and the Colt was able to do this. The Patterson Colt was so popular in Texas in part because of the Texas Rangers and their skirmishes with Native Americans who usually outnumbered them. The ability for one man to kill five to six enemies before reloading was unheard of at that time, and gave the Texas Rangers a large advantage over the Native Americans. The Colt Revolver was a success not only because of its simplicity and ingenuity, but also because of the time period in which it was invented. The 1830’s were a time of expansion and pioneering in America, and people required weapons to defend themselves from man and beast alike. Colt’s revolver played that role perfectly with its ability to give one person the capacity to fend off multiple attackers at once.
The invention of the Colt Revolver happened at the right place and in the right time. The expanding aspect of America at that time and the need for defense against superior numbers played to the strengths of Samuel Colt’s invention. Colt’s revolver was a mixture of simplicity and power that filled a hole in the market of the day for a multi-shot weapon.
William Hosley, Colt: The Making of an American Legend, (Amherst Mass., University of Massachusetts Press, 1996) 13
Jeff Kinard, Weapons and Warfare: an Illustrated History of Their Impact: Pistols, (Santa Barbara California, ABC-CLIO, Inc., 2003) 64
Charles G. Worman, Firearms in American History, (Yardley Pennsylvania, Westholme Publishing LLC, 2007) 63
Kinard, Weapons and Warfare, 66
Demonstration of the use and firing of a Walker Colt Revolver
Video source here