Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Samuel Colt's firearms

In 1836 Samuel Colt brought to market the world's first fixed barrel, revolving cylinder firearm. Built at the Patent Arms Company of Paterson, New Jersey the revolvers gained fame when they were adopted by the Texas Rangers. Over the years the Colt Paterson was credited with saving the lives of everyone from individual Texas Rangers to entire wagon trains from Indian attack.

The major distinguishing feature of the Paterson was the trigger which folded up into the frame when the hammer was not cocked and the lack of a trigger guard. The cylinder held five chambers and there was no safe way to carry the pistol with all of the chambers loaded, although many did by relying on the half-cock position of the hammer.

The first models of the revolver were difficult to load, even by cap and ball revolver standards, in that the barrel and cylinder had to be removed and the lead ball had to be rammed into the chamber with a separate ramrod. Later models incorporated a loading lever under the barrel which made loading much faster.

The gun was supplied with extra cylinders and cylinders could be purchased so some people would load and cap spare cylinders and use them for reloads in a gunfight.

Calibers of the Paterson ranged from .28 to .36.

The Patent Arms Company failed in 1842, possibly due to the high price of the Paterson revolver (around $50.00) and the fact that in the pre-Civil War days the need for a higher firepower hand weapon was not widely appreciated.

In 1846 Captain Samuel Hamilton Walker of the Texas Rangers paid for his own transportation to meet with Samuel Colt in New York City. Walker had used the Paterson revolver in numerous encounters with Indians and Mexicans and had ideas for several improvement's. He was able to talk Samuel Colt into designing a new pistol incorporating his innovations.

Among the improvements in the new Walker Colt revolver were the addition of a sixth chamber in the cylinder, a fixed trigger protected by a trigger guard and the increase in caliber to .44. The guns were larger and heavier to accommodate the larger sized bore diameter and the larger powder charge needed for the heavier .44 caliber ball.

In 1847 the Mexican-American War generated a US government order for 1000 of the new Walker Colt revolvers. Since his factory in Paterson had been closed Colt enlisted the help of Eli Whitney Jr. Whitney manufactured 2000 of the Walkers with Colt making $10.00 per gun.

Colt was able to use his profits to establish the Colt's Patent Firearms Company in Hartford, Connecticut. Colt continued to innovate and in 1873 produced what is probably his most famous handgun, the Single Action Army. The Single Action Army, was one of the most prevalent firearms in the Old West and earned the nickname "The Equalizer".

A poem from the era sums up the feelings about the Colt SAA and its place in the culture.

Be not afraid of any man
No matter what his size
When trouble rises
Call on me
And I will equalize

If you want an explanation of why America has a love affair with firearms you need look no further than this. Firearms are quintessentially democratic. This is why they are loved by free men and women and hated and feared by tyrants. In Japan the Samurai warriors used to test the sharpness of their swords by carving up peasants (it would have dishonored the blade to use a condemned criminal) then with firearms a peasant could kill a Samurai. So firearms were outlawed. That pattern holds true wherever there is a repressive society.