Samuel Colt, an American inventor, born in Hartford, Conn., July 19, 1814, died there, Jan. 10,1862. His restless spirit led him even when a child to prefer the work room to the school room, and he entered at the age of 10 a factory belonging to his father, who was a manufacturer of woollen and silk goods. In his 14th year he was sent to school in Amherst, Mass., but ran away and shipped as a boy before the mast for an East India voyage. While at sea he made a model in wood of a revolving pistol, which was the germ of the celebrated weapon bearing his name. This model is still in existence. After his return from Calcutta he familiarized himself with the principles of chemistry under the tuition of the manager of the dyeing and bleaching department in his father's factory at Ware, Mass.; and having become a dexterous manipulator, he travelled through the United States and Canada, giving lectures on chemistry in almost every city. During the two years spent in this way he acquired means sufficient to prosecute his invention. In 1835 he visited England and France and secured patents for revolving firearms, and on his return took out patents in this country.
On a subsequent visit to Europe he discovered that there were in the tower of London ancient guns having a rotary chambered breech; and in order to free himself from the imputation of claiming an invention which had previously been made, he read before the institution of civil engineers in England (of which he was the only American associate), in 1851, an elaborate paper on the subject, in which he described the various early revolving firearms, and demonstrated the principles on which his own were constructed. In 1835, with the aid of New York capitalists, he established a company for the manufacture of his arms in Paterson, N. J., with a capital of $300,000. A large amount was expended in machinery and in experiments, but the company did not succeed in securing the general adoption of the weapon, though a few were used with success in the war with the Seminoles in 1837. In 1842 the patent arms company, as it was named, became insolvent, and for five years no revolvers were made. In 1847, during the Mexican war, Gen. Taylor, who had learned the value of the weapon in Florida, sent for a supply, but none were to be found. The government ordered 1,000 to be made.
Mr. Colt advertised in vain for one to serve as a model, and was compelled to make a new model, in which he incorporated improvements suggested by the experience of officers. He manufactured these pistols in an armory at Whitneyville, near New Haven, Conn.; but other orders following, he procured more commodious workhops in Hartford, and began business on his own account. In 1852, finding that his means for manufacturing were insufficient to supply the great demand which had arisen for revolvers, in consequence of the emigration to California and Australia, he purchased 250 acres of low meadow land in the S. part of the city of Hartford, surrounded it with an immense dike to prevent its annual overflow by the river, and began the erection within it of the armory, which has since become one of the most extensive in the world. The original building, which is of Portland freestone, consists of two parallel structures, 500 ft. in length and 60 and 40 ft. respectively in breadth, connected by a central one 250 ft. by 50, the whole being in the form of the letter H. In 1861 a second building, similar in most respects, was erected; and in connection with these are offices, warerooms, and other outbuildings.
Within the dike were subsequently built numerous dwellings for workmen and other structures, the whole involving an expenditure of more than $2,500,000. This armory is capable of manufacturing over 1,000 firearms a day. A part of the establishment is devoted to the construction of machinery for making the revolving weapons, and from it were supplied the machines used for that purpose in the armory of the British government at Enfield and in that of the Russian government at Tula. All the accessories of the weapons, balls, cartridges, bullet moulds, powder flasks, lubricators, etc, are made at the armory, from models of Mr. Colt's or developed from his ideas by his workmen. Besides the revol-ver, Mr. Colt invented a submarine battery for the defence of harbors, which has met with the approval of distinguished naval officers. He devised also a method of insulating submarine telegraphic cables, and in 1843 laid a cable from Coney and Fire islands to the city of New York, which was operated with success.
He received from almost all the European governments, and from several Asiatic sovereigns, decorations, medals, diplomas, and other tokens of their appreciation of his merits.