"I for one feel thankful, that if pistols
must be made, they are to be made in Hartford since they bring
so many pleasant accessories"
--Isabella Beecher Hooker, 1856
NARRATOR: Walkers 1847 contract was a
harbinger of the tremendous sales that Colt would reap with
the settlement of the American West. But more than a huge market
for his guns, the Western frontier became the source of his
LAMAR: I think Colt tapped into the Texas Revolution
which was a - a huge area rebelling against a foreign power
and capturing the imagination of the Americans. Out of Texas
came scores of heroes. So the eyes of the world were on Texas.
And along with the settlement of Oregon in the 1840's and 50's
and with the California Gold Rush in 1949, suddenly the entire
West had captured the imagination of the - of the public. The
West was unknown and, therefore, considered dangerous. The West
was associated with warring Indians or hostile Indians. The
West was associated with literally grizzly bears and snakes
and everything, so a gun was seen as absolutely necessary. When
California Gold Rush people went West, every single one of them
wanted a revolver. Most people had a rifle but they also, if
they could get one, wanted a revolver and I imagine that made
Mr. Colt a millionaire.
SLOTKIN: And because of Colt's success in marketing
his pistols to the Texas Rangers in the 1830's and because of
Colt's priority in the field in inventing a repeating pistol,
it's the Colt weapon that has the name recognition and, therefore,
the market share.
"The name Samuel Colt is now more widely
known throughout the world than that of any other living American
--William Hamersley, 1856
"COMPLIMENTS OF COL. COLT"
HOSLEY: Sam Colt was a- pretty determined to
be a famous person and to use his personal celebrity as a way
of marketing his product and he cultivated, created this cult
of personality, this cult of genius around himself again, as
a way of lifting the reputation of his product. You know, one
sees people like Lee Iacocca or Madonna using persona and personality
as a marketing tactic. This is 130, 140 years later. Very few
people had done that prior to Sam Colt.
inventive marketing and his personal mythology helped him gain
market share. But his greatest success came as worldwide
conflicts opened up new markets for his weapons.
could he have dreamed even in 1846 and ‘7 that the Mexican War
would be just a drop in the bucket compared to the impact of the
Gold Rush, western migration and the outbreak of wars of
independence and liberation around Europe in Italy, Austria,
France, Russia. The Crimean War follows in the 1850’s and then
our Civil War, cataclysmic Civil War in 1861. So that from 1848
until 1865 was one of the biggest growth periods in terms of the
need for armaments in the history of the world.
"The good people of this world are very
far from being satisfied with each other and my arms are the
--Sam Colt, 1852
NARRATOR: It was a momentous time in American
history as the young nation climbed onto the stage of world
affairs. Sam Colt made sure he was where the action was, wherever
it might be..
In 1851, Colt
reached his greatest fame yet with a triumphant performance at
London’s international Crystal Palace exhibition of
BLANCHFIELD: He's inducted into the Institute
of Civil Engineers in London. He's the first American to be
drawn into their circle and it was a very elite group of men
devoted to promoting technology. And he's really hailed as the
epitome of American ingenuity. And he receives all this attention
from the world press and he then launches his great mission
to go around the world and meet all these world leaders
SMITH: Colt's marketing of his product took
him to a lot of different places around the world. I don't know
if there was anyone prior to Samuel Colt who had the sort of
international contacts that he developed.
HOSLEY: He worked both sides of the street in
a number of international conflicts and in the American west
he actually sold firearms to both the Native Americans and the
American forces that were fighting against them. So, you know,
it was part of the whole ethos at the time.
Colt saw the big picture of his time – new opportunities from
industrialization and mass marketing, the new style of warfare,
and new markets for firearms.
BLANCHFIELD: One of the first things that he
did was to develop the rampant colt trademark that we think
is really the first corporate trademark, at least in this country,
and it's still used. The most famous outgrowth of that was the
rampant Colt sculpture that was on top of the armory dome until
HOSLEY: The Colt
is bold, erect, standing up, launching, lunging forward. I mean,
this is a surrogate for the man himself. The posture and the
persona are synonymous. And both of them snap, crackle, and pop
-- the idea that this is tomorrow’s technology, tomorrow’s
frontier, you can have it today. You know, it’s romance. And
it really worked.
SLOTKIN: I think Colt's - Colt was a genius
in two ways. He was clearly a genius as an inventor; He is also
a genius at marketing and - and popularizing this product which
is - is a peculiar product, a tool for - for producing death.
To be able to sell that the way one sells toothpaste and sewing
machines is - is a kind of demonic brilliance.
HOSLEY: He began giving gifts to important decision
makers - people in the military, people in political life who
he thought could help him land government contracts. But in
the Hartford years, he expanded this activity to include pay
backs to friends, bribes to individuals that could help him
either land contacts or make connections. The presentation gun
was an instrument of marketing
NARRATOR: For a product that ranged upwards
of the equivalent of $1,500 today, It was no small token to
receive a pistol "compliments of Col. Colt." Colt
gave away 2,500 presentation sets during his lifetime.
HOSLEY: He was legendary for the relationships
he formed with journalists and artists and people who, again,
were decision makers and people who could influence opinion.
And whether it was through just schmoozing or bribery or whatever,
Sam Colt worked the mechanism of public relations brilliantly.
"When...there can be made a good story
of the use of a Colts Revolving rifle, carbine, shotgun or postol...upon
Grisley Bears, Indians, Mexicans, & c (sic)...for publication...the
opportunity should not be lost...Send me 100 copies...[and]
give the editor a pistol."
--Sam Colt, 1860
BLANCHFIELD: He also commissioned artists to
document his achievements. He had George Catlin paint a series
depicting Colt revolvers in action and those were then turned
into lithographs so they could be mass marketed.