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NARRATOR: Sam Colt shared with his generation a faith in progress and a belief that the American experiment would lead to a more perfect way of life. Colt used his multiplying profits to create a new model industrial community -- a utopian vision he called Coltsville.

Colt planned to buy 200 mostly unused acres in Hartfordís South Meadows flood plain for the site of Coltsville. The size of his plan, the way he acquired land, his demand for unheard-of public subsidies, and the very idea of massive urban development on a flood plain were all highly controversial. Colt threatened to leave the city if his demands were not met.

HOSLEY: It took him several years to get through all the bureaucratic red tape and to amass, as quietly as possible, the land he needed to carry out the whole vision. The old guard, Hartford's standing order as it was once called, typically were Republicans and they were the bankers, the insurance people, the old money and they were clashing with Colt all over the place. He also really pushed their buttons by building the entire armory and Coltsville complex out of cash flow. He never took loans from the bank and never insured his property in a city where banking and insurance were the other major modern industries. From the moment Coltís plans became known, people were just slapping their heads in wonderment, thinking he's nuts, he's crazy, this guy is crazy. He hasn't been around Hartford long enough to realize - maybe not this year, maybe not next year, but inevitably the Connecticut River will seek its revenge and it will rise up.

NARRATOR: In 1854, with construction underway, Hartford was hit uby the centuryís worst flood. Although what became known as Coltís Folly appeared doomed, he hired an artist to document a world he was about to change.

BLANCHFIELD: He's undaunted; he insists on starting again and this time they'll build an earthen embankment around the South 

Meadows so that he won't be as vulnerable to flood water.

NARRATOR: Colt continued work on a two-mile long, forty-foot-wide embankment that successfully reclaimed the flood plane for development. Coltís embankment was a triumph of civil engineering and a symbol of his outsized ambition.

HOSLEY: And it was an intensely politicized age. Sam Colt and the industrialists of the North typically voted Democratic. The Democratic Party was, you know, pro business, pro industry, pro immigration. Sam Colt became one of the champions of the Democratic Party and probably one of its largest financial backers. In fact helped Thomas Seymour land the governorship of Connecticut in 1850 for which he was awarded a commission as a Lieutenant Colonel; hence, Colonel Samuel Colt.

NARRATOR: In 1855, as his catalog of products continued to expand, Colt incorporated the Coltís Patent Fire-Arms Company and opened the Colt Armory, the worldís largest private gun factory.

"Hartford is destined to be the largest manufacturer of firearms, of any place in the Union."
--Hartford Daily Times, 1856

NARRATOR: With success came tremendous employment growth. Colt employed about 50 people in 1847, his first year in Hartford. At the height of the Civil War, Coltís Armory employed about 1,400 workmen in eight, 500-foot-long, 60-foot-wide rooms filled with men and machines.

Itís massive scale and Russian-style onion dome symbolized the power and international aspirations of the manufacturing revolution that unfolded within. Coltís Armory was a clanking, clamorous spectacle that earned Hartford an international reputation for machine-based manufacturing.

"On every floor is a dense wilderness of strange iron machines...a tangled forest of rods, bars, pulleys, wheels, and all the imaginable and unimaginable forms of mechanism. It must have required more brains to invent all these things than would serve to stock fifty Senates like ours."
--Mark Twain, 1868

HOSLEY: Sam Colt, like the Democratic Party, was pro immigrant and he recruited Irish, German and British immigrant workmen that came to Colts - to Hartford and for many of them this was their first job in the New World. About a third of Colt's work force were Germans. He built amenities for them - the band, the beer hall, the Potsdam Village - sort of German workers' housing - gave Coltsville a distinctly European flavor which was very interesting and, I suppose, also controversial to the congregational old guard of old Hartford.

NARRATOR: Coltsville was conceived as a self-contained industrial compound, complete with a store, boat dock, railroad depot, a school, recreational facilities, and Charter Oak Hall, a community center. Because Hartford lacked sufficient working-class tenements, Colt built 40 units of workerís housing.

While the armory workforce was entirely male, Colt setup Coltís Cartridge Works far away from the armory where young single women did the dangerous work of loading gunpowder into foil cylinders.

BLANCHFIELD: He built the whole thing. He put in his own sewer system. He had his own roads, his own amenities. He had his own gas works. He was really seeking to build an industrial utopia. He had his own brass band made up of armory workers. And Coltsville had its own schedule, really, it all revolved around the factory.

Narrator: Coltsville also included the palatial estate of Armsmear with its deer park and swan ponds and greenhouses.

BLANCHFIELD: And he ultimately was successful although his earlier plans for Coltsville are a lot more elaborate than what was actually executed. Some of the streets were never built. He had a dream of having a compound, essentially an officer's compound for the upper level staff in the factory. He also had an idea for a huge school to promote the teaching of technology and mechanical skills and he was going to leave money to the city to have this built when he died. And he became so disenchanted with Hartford politics and government that he took that out of his will. He also wanted the new State Capitol Building to be built on the site of the Old Charter Oak tree and that would have made Coltsville really the center of the city, and that didn't happen either.

NARRATOR: Although the place known as Coltsville never lived up to its founderís dream, hundreds of thousands found work there. For many, it was the beginning of a new life in America.


NARRATOR: With the onset of the Civil War,. Sam Coltís company was about to meet its greatest success. Colt himself, like many industrialists of his day who did business with the South, was anti-abolitionist. He vigorously marketed guns to both North and South before the outbreak of war. He was once again hugely controversial.

SLOTKIN: He was shipping weapons South because he was being paid for weapons South and there was an opportunity to make a sale. That kind of almost amoral willingness to deal the instruments of death to both sides as long as there's a demand for weapons is something that really becomes marked later in the century where Colt is selling weapons to both sides in European wars, continental wars, Asian wars.

"It is generally understood that Coltís establishment...[is] incessantly making arms for the Southern be used in waging war against the United States...Treason...consists either of levying war upon the United States...or Ďgiving aid and comfort to the enemies,í as is done daily, constantly and by contract, by individuals in Connecticut..."
--The New York Times, 1861

HOSLEY: After the war began, he stopped selling guns to the south, but that was his mode. Which is to work both sides of the fence in international conflict. Sam Colt was intense and outrageous, audacious certainly, and it was part of the whole character of the man


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