Business and Labor

The Colt Revolver Misfired Before it Became Legend

Samuel Colt applied for his first patent for the Colt revolver on Oct. 29, 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 not used 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 1837 caused even greater headaches for Colt. 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 Florida.  The state armed its soldiers with them for the ongoing war with the Seminole tribe.

Steel Engraving of Samuel Colt with a Colt 1851 Navy Revolver.

But the guns soon were no longer needed, and Colt had to turn his attention to other products and ideas. It was Capt. 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. He also wanted some improvements so it would load faster. Colt gladly complied, and immediately set about filling the first order for 1,000 Colt Walker pistols. A second order soon followed.

The Colt Walker

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

This story last updated in 2022.


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