Friday 19 July 2013

Men of Yore: Samuel Colt

This is another in a series of posts about men from history who have either achieved great things in one form or another by pushing boundaries: either in themselves or in society or science or exploration of some form.  Boundary pushing and growth is what men do, it's their nature: to grow and push outwards.  We, as men, are the frontiers men, the first to discover/uncover new territory, in a metaphysical sense (i.e. including both material and the immaterial) that is later colonised and 'civilised' by the rest of humanity. 

It is also partly intended to show images, be they paintings, statues or photographs of the countenaces of men of yore.  Because, quite frankly, many men wear the countenances of women these days: smiling, smirking, cooing, rolling their eyes, looking smug etc.  It's a sign of the times, and by showing some images of men from the past, I hope to show some modern men why looking surly, frowning and giving hard-ball stares at people is something to do, something to practice.

Samuel Colt, 1857 (aged 43)

Samuel Colt (July 19, 1814 – January 10, 1862) was an American inventor and industrialist from Hartford, Connecticut. He was the founder of Colt's Patent Fire-Arms Manufacturing Company (now known as Colt's Manufacturing Company), and made the mass-production of the revolver commercially viable for the first time. 

Colt's first two business ventures ended in disappointment. His first attempt at manufacturing firearms in Paterson, New Jersey, occurred during an economic crisis in the US leading to poor sales, and was further hampered by his mismanagement and reckless spending. His next attempt at arms making, underwater mines for the US Navy, failed due to lack of US Congressional support. After the Texas Rangers ordered 1,000 of his revolvers during the American war with Mexico in 1847, his business expanded rapidly. His factory in Hartford built the guns used as sidearms by both the North and the South in the American Civil War, and later his firearms were credited in taming the western frontier. A second plant in London closed after four years because of poor sales to the British military. 

Colt died in 1862, before the end of the Civil War, as one of the wealthiest men in America. The company he founded is still in business as of 2013. In 1867, his widow, Elizabeth Jarvis Colt, commissioned the building of the Church of the Good Shepherd in Hartford as a memorial to him and is on the National Register of Historic Places. In 2006, Colt was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame. 

Colt's manufacturing methods, directed at beating his competition, were at the forefront of the Industrial Revolution. He was one of the first industrialists to successfully employ the assembly line due to his use of interchangeable parts. Beyond building arms, his innovative use of art, celebrity endorsements and corporate gifts to promote his wares made him a pioneer in the fields of advertising, product placement and mass marketing. He received criticism during his lifetime and after his death for promoting his arms through bribes, threats and monopoly. Historians have stated that his patents acted as an impediment to arms production during his lifetime, and that his personal vanity kept his own company from being able to produce a cartridge firearm until 10 years after his death when a patent, filed by a gunsmith he had fired, Rollin White, expired in 1872. 

Early years
Samuel Colt was born in Hartford, Connecticut, to Christopher Colt, a farmer who had moved his family to Hartford after he became a businessman, and Sarah Colt née Caldwell. His mother's father, Major John Caldwell,[2] had been an officer in the Continental Army and one of Samuel's earliest possessions was his maternal grandfather's flintlock pistol. Sarah Colt died from tuberculosis before Samuel was seven years old. Christopher Colt was remarried two years later to Olivia Sargeant. Samuel had three sisters, one of whom died in childhood. His oldest sister, Margaret, died of tuberculosis at 19 and the other, Sarah Ann, committed suicide later in life. His brother, James Colt became a lawyer and his brother, Christopher was a textile merchant. His brother John Colt was a man of many occupations, killed a creditor in 1841 in New York City, was found guilty of the murder, and committed suicide on the day of execution.

At age 11, Colt was indentured to a farmer in Glastonbury, Germany|Glastonbury, where he did chores and attended school. Here he was introduced to the Compendium of Knowledge, a scientific encyclopedia that he preferred to read rather than his Bible studies. Its articles on Robert Fulton and gunpowder motivated Colt throughout his life. He discovered that other inventors in the Compendium had accomplished things that were once deemed impossible, and he wanted to do the same. Later, after hearing soldiers talk about the success of the Double rifle double-barreled rifle and the impossibility of a gun that could shoot five or six times without reloading, Colt decided that he would create the "impossible gun".

In 1829, at the age of 15, Colt began working in his father's textile plant in Ware, Massachusetts, where he had access to tools, materials, and the factory workers' expertise. Following the encyclopedia, Samuel built a homemade galvanic cell and advertised as a Fourth of July event in that year that he would blow up a raft on Ware Pond using underwater explosives; although the raft was missed, the explosion was still impressive.[3] Sent to boarding school, he amused his classmates with pyrotechnics. In 1830, a July 4 accident caused a fire that ended his schooling, and his father then sent him off to learn the seaman's trade.[3] On a voyage to Calcutta on board the brig Corvo, he noticed that regardless of which way the ship's wheel was spun, each spoke always came in direct line with a clutch that could be set to hold it. He later said that this gave him the idea for the revolver. On the Corvo, Colt made a wooden model of a pepperbox revolver out of scrap wood. It differed from other pepperbox revolvers at the time in that it would allow the shooter to rotate the cylinder by the action of cocking the hammer and a pawl locking the cylinder in place, rather than rotating the barrels by hand and hoping for proper indexing and alignment.

Colt conceived of himself as a man of science and thought if he could enlighten people about a new idea like nitrous oxide, he could in turn make people more receptive to his new idea concerning a revolver. He started his lectures on street corners and soon worked his way up to lecture halls and museums. As ticket sales declined, Colt realized that "serious" museum lectures were not what the people wanted to pay money to see and that it was dramatic stories of salvation and redemption the public craved. While visiting his brother, John, in Cincinnati, he partnered with sculptor, Hiram Powers, for his demonstrations with a theme based on The Divine Comedy. Powers made detailed wax sculptures and paintings based on demons, centaurs and mummies from Dante. Colt constructed fireworks to complete the show, which was a success

Colt's early revolver
Colt's great contribution was to the use of interchangeable parts. Knowing that some gun parts were made by machine, he envisioned that all the parts on every Colt gun to be interchangeable and made by machine, later to be assembled by hand. His goal was the assembly line.

When foreign heads of state would not grant him an audience, as he was only a private citizen, he persuaded the governor of the state of Connecticut make him a lieutenant colonel and aide-de-camp in the state militia. With this rank, he toured Europe again to promote his revolvers.[53] He used marketing techniques which were innovative at the time. He frequently gave custom engraved versions of his revolvers, to heads of state, military officers, and personalities such as Giuseppe Garibaldi, King Victor Emmanuel II of Italy, and Hungarian freedom fighter Lajos Kossuth.[54] Colt commissioned western artist George Catlin to produce a series of paintings depicting exotic scenes in which a Colt weapon was prominently used against Indians, wild animals, or bandits in the earliest form of "product placement".[55] He placed numerous advertisements in the same newspapers; The Knickerbocker ran as many as eight in the same edition. Lastly, he hired authors to write stories about his guns for magazines and travel guides.[40] One of Colt's biggest acts of self-promotion was the payment to the publishers of United States Magazine $1,120 ($61,439 by 1999 standards) to run a 29-page fully illustrated story showing the inner workings of his factory.[31]

After his revolvers had gained acceptance, Colt looked for unsolicited news stories containing mention of his guns that he could excerpt and reprint. He went so far as to hire agents in other states and territories to find such samples, to buy hundreds of copies for himself and to give the editor a free revolver for writing them, particularly if such a story disparaged his competition.[31] Many of the revolvers Colt gave away as "gifts" had inscriptions such as "Compliments of Col. Colt" or "From the Inventor" engraved on the back straps. Later versions contained his entire signature which was used in many of his advertisements as a centerpiece, using his celebrity to guarantee the performance of his weapons. Colt eventually secured a trademark for his signature.

If you've got a good idea that you want other people to know about then you need to be able to communicate it. In human and immediate terms this means using your mouth to speak; but the bigger and more complex a society gets the bigger and more elaborate your means of communication needs to be. So in the case of Samuel Colt, he moved up from using his mouth to using 'marketing' in order to sell his message.

While I'm not keen on the notion of 'marketing', 'publicity' and 'selling yourself' because it seems ignoble to me (after all, you're shouting about how good your product is), marketing is certainly necessary if someone wants other people to believe their idea or buy their product. If Samuel Colt hadn't done that then no one would've bought his gun. If Louis Pasteur didn't publicise his knowledge then no one would've known about germ theory. If Henry Bessemer hadn't shared his knowledge, then no one wouldn've known about smelting methods; and so on. Without men speaking out about what they know humanity would not advance. It's no good having ground-breaking knowledge if it's going to remain hidden on a dusty bookshelf somewhere. The only way it can have an impact, have an effect, is if it is communicated, and some times that means marketing and publicity.

Vulture of Critique has highlighted this when he discussed 'debating' and that if you want to win a debate then you need to tailor your approach to your audience, of which there are two kinds:
- the cerebral kind (like introverts and mathematicians) who use reason to win the argument.
- the physical kind (like extroverts and television celebrities) who use 'glitz and glamour' to win the argument.

Check out some of the other entries from the 'Men of Yore' series:


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