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NARRATOR: In mid-19th century America, the youthful nation dreamed of glory and expansion. Colt’s revolver was perceived to be a necessary tool, and a progressive symbol of the age.

LAMAR: In the early Colonial period, everybody felt they had to have a Kentucky rifle so this is the later generation version of the Kentucky rifle. The difference is that the revolver was seen as self-defense, the Kentucky rifle was seen as a way to get your food that you would hunt.

SLOTKIN: What was remarkable about the Colt pistol when it came out was the, the amount of firepower it could put out, the fact that it was a workable repeater. I think people were also taken with the way in which this product of industrialization was itself like a small factory. It was a bullet firing machine as opposed to a single shot weapon. In that sense it was a kind of model product of technology the way that the computer is today.

"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: Walker’s 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 biggest fame.

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 inventor."
--William Hamersley, 1856


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.

NARRATOR: Colt’s 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.

HOSLEY: Little 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 best peacemakers."
--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 technology.

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.

NARRATOR: Sam 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 very recently.

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.


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