RICHARD SLOTKIN (Professor of American Studies,
Wesleyan University): A Texas Ranger with a repeating pistol
has a weapon that can be fired as rapidly, more accurately with
more hitting power than an Indian's bow and arrow, so it's very
much a tool of advantage, a weapon of advantage on the Great
NARRATOR: With a $25,000 contract for 1,000
guns that Walker arranged and with the design modifications
that Walker suggested, Sam Colt re-entered the gun manufacturing
business in 1847.
Without a factory or machinery, Colt contracted
with Eli Whitneys Armory in New Haven for the manufacturing
of the guns.
NELSON: The key ingredient in that contract
was when Whitney finished the contract, all the machinery and
the tooling and the unfinished parts and the gauges became the
property of Colt, so he basically moved these up to Hartford
and first set them up in the Pearl Street factory.
NARRATOR: It was in Colts native Hartford
that he would finally see the success he craved. In the 1840s,
Hartford was an old merchant and banking city suffering from
declining agriculture and population loss.
"A Crisis has arrived...[Hartford is]
on the downward course...Manufacturers and mechanics...are the
soul of prosperity...We must bring prosperity to our doors by
--Rev. Horace Bushnell, 1847"
NARRATOR: Colt returned to Hartford primarily
because a rich uncle had extended a line of credit. This fortunate
turn of events wedded the story of the gun in the 19th Century
to the story of 19th Century Hartford, as firearms manufacturing
became its central industry.
SILICON VALLEY OF THE 19TH CENTURY
CT River Valley
NARRATOR: The Connecticut River Valley had long
been a center of gun production. Connecticut itself was known
as the "arsenal of the revolution."
In the decade prior to Colts return to
Hartford, machine tools and precision measurement had reached
the point where firearms could be produced with machine-made
MERRIT ROE SMITH (Professor of Technology History,
MIT): New England in general was the center of great mechanical
skill. The Connecticut Valley, I would say, was one of the pockets
within that region that had all sorts of people who exhibited
a lot of talent when it came to design the machinery.
NARRATOR: The center of New England industrialization
was the Springfield, Massachusetts, Armory, which had been founded
During the early 19th century, the Springfield
Armory became an incubator of technology through firearms production.
A leading goal of the Armory was to achieve interchangability
of gun parts, a concept it actively promoted to the many private
contractors in the area who hoped to do business with it.
SMITH: It was a clearinghouse of technical information.
And what happened, basically, is that because these private
contractors held government contracts, the Ordinance Department
in effect insisted that if they wanted to continue to contract
with the national government, they had to share their inventions
with anyone who walked through that Armory gate, and that's
exactly what happened.
NARRATOR: When Sam Colt was first studying the
system of manufacturing that he understood to be necessary to
mass-produce guns, the Springfield Armory was the first place
he visited on a tour of Connecticut River Valley arms factories.
SMITH: Some of the most important machine tools
in the United States were never patented in the 19th Century
because they came out of these shops of gun makers who wanted
to keep their government contracts and decided that they would
forego patenting their machinery because that was part of the
And then from there that technology spreads
NARRATOR: 1849 marked a turning point in Sam
Colts life. That year, Colt was granted a controversial
renewal of his patent, and moved to a larger rented factory
That year also, the California Gold Rush had
begun and Colt developed the legendary 1840 Pocket Revolver,
the single most successful pistol produced in his lifetime,
with 325,000 sold by the time of his death.
It was also the year that he first made a profit
from gunmaking. But most importantly, in 1849, Colt hired Elisha
SMITH: [Root] came to Colt at mid career after
having worked at the Collinsville Ax Factory in nearby Collinsville,
Connecticut. And by the time he came to Colt, there's no question
that he was
one recognized as one of the really
top, top master machinists in the Connecticut Valley which made
him one of the top master machinists in the United States if
not the best in the world. The thing that Elisha Root did for
Sam Colt was that he helped Colt synthesize manufacturing. He
helped Colt introduce machinery that had been developed elsewhere
and bring it into a sophisticated production facility
"What a scene can be more captivating
to the eye of a live mechanic, than those long lines of shafting
and machinery, and the vista of busy workmen, in rows...It is
a museum of curious machinery."
--Hartford Daily Courant, 1849"
HOSLEY: Once Sam Colt and Elisha Root perfected
the system for mass producing complex metal instruments like
firearms, that system was readily adapted to make typewriters,
sewing machines, and eventually bicycles, automobiles, cameras,
you name it. And it really is in Hartford, CT and in the CT
Valley that this choreography of machining - of complex machine
operations is developed.
NELSON: And a lot of inventors and manufacturers
that went on to greater independent fame, really cut their teeth
in this incubator that was Colt's armory. A famous
example, Francis Pratt and Amos Whitney leave Colt's in the
mid 60's and form their own machine tool company,
HOSLEY: So, the alumni of Colts Armory
became the vanguard of this high tech industrial revolution
that made Hartford, the silicone valley of the 19th century.
The center of a revolution in the world of work that really
changed the way things are manufactured and essentially gave
birth to the modern age of mass production.