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.
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.
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.
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
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
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
"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.
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
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.
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.
MERCHANT OF DEATH
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
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.
generally understood that Coltís establishment...[is]
incessantly occupied...in making arms for the Southern
States...to 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
--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