Categories: Business and Industry, Civil War, Civil War and Reconstruction, Hartford, Imagining Connecticut, Invention and Technology, Samuel Colt, War and Defense, Work

Workers at the Colt Armory, Hartford 1867

Colt workers in front of the Armory, 1876
Colt workers in front of the Armory, 1876 – Connecticut State Museum, Connecticut State Library

Colt Firearms has been one of the most prominent industries in Hartford for over 150 years. In 1836, Samuel Colt received a United States patent for the revolving cylinder gun, the first weapon able to fire more than once without reloading.  Although the early sales were sluggish, the Colt name experienced an upsurge around 1845. At that point in time, many of the Texas Rangers attributed their successes in Mexico and against the Indians to Colt Firearms. Due to this praise, sales began to pick up with the addition of government contracts.  In 1851, Colt began to purchase property in Hartford’s South Meadows, along the banks of the Connecticut River. The new Hartford plant was operational in 1855, the same year that the firm was incorporated. The factory used the relatively new technology of interchangeable parts, and was able to manufacture approximately 5,000 handguns during the first year.  Eventually the company would turn out over 30 million firearms in the Hartford area. The famous onion dome and bronze colt that sit atop the factory were designed by Colt himself to attract the attention of residents and visitors to the city. Only one year after the factory opened, it was manufacturing 150 weapons a day.  Samuel Colt quickly became one of the ten wealthiest businessmen in the United States. In addition to Government Issue guns and those for personal use, Colt also produced show guns and presentation pieces engraved and inlaid with gold. These pieces consistently won prizes in international trade fairs, and were often presented to notable world personalities. During the Civil War, Colt Firearms officially supplied only the Union troops. Samuel Colt died January 10, 1862, leaving the factory under the control of his widow and family. They remained in charge until 1901. In 1864, the factory burned to the ground stopping practically all operations for almost three years while the factory was rebuilt.  Over the years, Colt began to further diversify the types of guns they produced.  For example, in 1867 the factory began to manufacture Gatling’s machine gun. Due to this wide variety of weaponry produced by Colt, the corporation has never faced any single competitor. Colt Firearms is still in operation, however, in 1994 they closed the Hartford Armory and relocated all operations to West Hartford.

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