The Man Behind the Gun that Won the West

By | July 2, 2022

test article image
A sketch of Wild West showdown, with both men carrying revovlers in the style of Samuel Colt's invention. Source: (Getty Images)

A lone stranger saunters out of a saloon into the thoroughfare to answer the challenge of a duel. The townsfolk look on, a sense of fear and excitement grips them where they stand. There’s not a lawman in sight, save the man who stands 20 paces away from the stranger. The sheriff’s badge shimmers in the blistering sunlight that covers the plains in a hot, dusty shroud. The passing seconds feel like hours. The men reach for their sidearms and the whole world seems to stop and revolve around the duelists. The air was quiet, the only sound to be heard was steel yanked from leather holsters. Both men were quick to the draw. Lead flew from the barrels as they let their hammers down. At this point you’re picturing the exact gun each man was wielding, no description is needed. This is the story of how Samuel Colt left his mark on the American west.

test article image
Portrait of Samuel Colt. Source: (

Samuel Colt was born in Hartford, Connecticut. From the young age of 11, he knew he was destined to become a famous inventor. He studied the greats that came before him - those who had invented the steamboat and the submarine. He received his education on a farm in Glastonbury where he would also learn the value of work through his daily chores. It was here that he hatched his revolutionary idea to create a gun that could fire successive rounds before reloading.

Still only 15, now working in his father’s textile mill, he began to experiment. It wasn’t until he worked aboard a ship that he discovered the idea of a revolving cylinder. It’s said that it was the mechanism of the ship’s wheel that sparked the idea - Colt was that much closer to his life’s goal. Over the next few years, Colt would experiment with prototypes, but had little success. He pressed on, and after doing some research in England, he returned home to America and earned patents in both countries.

Colt’s success in the 1830s and ‘40s was marginal until the Mexican-American War, when he received his first big order. Samuel Walker of the Texas rangers ordered 1,000 pistols, and even helped Colt design what would be known as the Colt Walker - the most powerful handgun in the world. The Mexican-American war popularized Colt’s products, and the steady income allowed the inventor to improve upon his design and production. Colt used assembly lines and mass produced parts to make each gun easily fixable, and each part interchangeable. The following wars of the 19th century would make Samuel Colt one of the richest inventors of his time, amassing roughly 15 million dollars before his death in 1862. By the end of the American Civil War, there wasn’t a man alive that was unaware of the power of a Colt revolver.