A sweeping, definitive biography of Samuel Colt—the inventor of the legendary Colt revolver (a.k.a. six-shooter)—which changed the US forever, triggering the industrial revolution and the settlement of the American West.
Patented in 1836, the Colt pistol with its revolving cylinder was the first practical firearm that could shoot more than one bullet without reloading. For many reasons, Colt’s gun had a profound effect on American history. Its most immediate impact was on the expansionism of the American west, where white emigrants and US soldiers came to depend on it, and where Native Americans came to dread it. The six-shooter became the iconic weapon of gun-slingers, outlaws, and cowboys—some willing to pay $500 out west for a gun that sold for $25 back east.
In making the revolver, Colt also changed American manufacturing—his factory revolutionized industry in the United States. Ultimately, Colt and his gun-making brought together the two most significant forces of change before the Civil War—the industrial revolution in the east, Manifest Destiny in the west.
Brilliantly told, Revolver brings the brazenly ambitious and profoundly innovative industrialist and leader Samuel Colt to vivid life. In the space of his forty-seven years, he seemingly lived five lives: he traveled, womanized, drank prodigiously, smuggled guns to Russia, bribed politicians, and supplied the Union Army with the guns they needed to win the Civil War. Colt lived during an age of promise and progress, but also of slavery, corruption, and unbridled greed, and he not only helped to create this America, he completely embodied it. By the time he died in 1862 in Hartford, Connecticut, he was one of the most famous men in nation, and one of the richest.
While Revolver is a riveting and revealing biography of Colt, a man who made significant contributions to our country during the nineteenth century, it’s also a lively and informative historical portrait of America during a time of extraordinary transformation.
Historian Rasenberger (The Brilliant Disaster) chronicles the life and times of gunmaker Samuel Colt (1814 1862) in this colorful and richly digressive biography. Born in Hartford, Conn., Colt sailed to Calcutta on a merchant ship at age 16, and, according to the "central creation myth" of the Colt revolver, drew inspiration from the ship's capstan to carve a wooden model of a gun that could shoot multiple bullets without having to be reloaded. (His critics later claimed that he'd stolen the "rotating cylinder" concept from a pistol used by British soldiers in India.) Following his return to America in 1831, Colt traveled the country selling "hits of nitrous oxide" to fund development of his invention, paid for friendly press, and competed in gun trials held by the U.S. Ordnance Department. He met with little success until the Mexican-American War and westward expansion spiked demand for firearms. Rasenberger notes the influence of Colt's mass production techniques on the automobile industry, and describes how "tens of thousands of guns" produced during the Civil War "enabled dark tendencies in the postwar nation." Secondary figures, including Colt's brother John, whose murder conviction inspired an Edgar Allan Poe story, are sketched with wit and precision. This rollicking and informative account will delight American history buffs.