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American Firearms and Their Makers: A Research Guide


Armory of Colt's Patent fire arms manufacturing co.

Lithograph by E.B. & E.C. Kellogg. Armory of Colt's Patent Fire Arms Manufacturing Co. 1866. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

In 1836 Samuel Colt received a U.S. patent for a handheld pistol that featured a multi-firing system based on a rotating barrel with multiple chambers that could fire bullets through a lock and spring design, but his initial manufacturing ventures in Paterson, New Jersey, failed. However, after Captain Samuel Hamilton Walker recommended improvements to the Paterson revolver and negotiated with Colt for the delivery of 1,000 revolvers, Colt moved production to the factory of Eli Whitney, Jr. in 1846. By 1855, Colt had completed a new factory along the Connecticut River and incorporated his business as Colt’s Patent Fire Arms Manufacturing Company. With some initial help from Eli Whitney, Colt developed molds that could forge the metal pieces comprising the revolver. That innovation enabled Colt to mass produce and market revolvers not only to the military, but also to cowboys in the Southwest, Gold Rush miners in the Rockies, and law enforcement officials nationwide. Once Colt’s patent lifted, other companies began manufacturing revolver-type weapons, and they became one of the main side arms for both Union and Confederate soldiers during the Civil War. The company rose to fame through the sale of iconic revolvers like the Colt Navy, Colt Walker, Colt Single Action Army, and the M1911A1 during John Browning's brief stint with the company. Colt was also responsible for two iconic military weapons, the M16 and the M4.

The following materials link to fuller bibliographic information in the Library of Congress Online Catalog. Links to online resources are included when available.