Business and Labor

The Colt Revolver Misfired Before it Became Legend

Samuel Colt applied for his first patent for the Colt revolver on this day in 1836, and by the end of 1837 he had produced more than 1,000  of his revolver that would grow up to become an icon. His only problem: no one was buying them.

Teddy Roosevelt with his Rough Riders. Roosevelt carried a Colt revolver.

Teddy Roosevelt with his Rough Riders. Roosevelt carried a Colt revolver.

The gun that would become a legend in the American West couldn’t get off the ground. Though it eventually would become famously embraced by Teddy Roosevelt, Buffalo Bill Cody, Wyatt Earp, Pat Garrett, Billy the Kid and many more, it first needed a single customer.

Colt, born in Hartford, Connecticut, faced the immediate problem that no one would buy a gun that was not in use by the military.  But Colt was nothing if not perseverant. His first gun had exploded, after all, and that had not deterred him.

The financial panic of 1838 caused even greater headaches for Colt, when his backers began to tighten the purse strings on his budding new venture of making guns. Colt lobbied in Washington, struggled to fill what few orders he could find and was chastised by his backers for spending too lavishly on entertainment for potential customers.

Colt had a small success when he sold some of his pistols to the state of Florida, which armed its soldiers with them for use in the ongoing war with the Seminole tribe.

Samuel Colt

Samuel Colt

But the guns soon were no longer needed, and Colt had to turn his attention to other products and ideas. It was Captain Samuel Walker of the Texas Rangers who finally saved Colt’s dream. Walker had run across the revolvers in Florida and he had seen how their repeating firing mechanism could overpower older, slower technologies. On the brink of the Mexican-American War of 1846, Walker travelled to New York to hunt down Colt and get him to build some more guns.

Walker wanted some revisions: the new gun should hold six shots and not five, and he also wanted some improvements so it would be faster to load. Colt gladly complied, and immediately set about filling the first order for 1,000 pistols, with a second coming soon after.

In 1848 Colt established his factory in Hartford, Connecticut, and the legend grew from there.



  1. Bill Carlson

    February 25, 2014 at 7:41 pm

    Nothing to be really proud of. Remember Newtown.

  2. Pingback: The Brady Gang in Bangor – The End of the Road for America’s Most Wanted - New England Historical Society

  3. Pingback: Col. Ethan Allen Hitchcock, Not a Fan of the Mexican War - New England Historical Society

  4. Pingback: When Pratt Met Whitney the Sparks Flew – Literally - New England Historical Society

  5. Pingback: In 1863, Capt. Charles Russell Lowell Shot His Own Soldier. Murder or Duty? - New England Historical Society

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

To Top