By Art Cashin
On this day (-2) in 1836, the government of the United States granted a patent on a device that would become the prototypical American weapon. And, by accident, its development would become a prototypical story of American invention.
The patent, of course, was awarded to Samuel Colt for his “single barrel pistol with a six chamber revolving breech.” You and I (as well as Hoppy, Roy and Gene) knew it as a “six shooter.” Colt’s idea was not entirely unique. Several patents for revolvers had been granted earlier (one of the earliest was for a “12 shooter” but it, like the others, didn’t work well). But Colt, who was 22 when he got the patent, showed his gun was practical (and at the time….it was the only way a man on horseback could get several shots off successfully).
Therefore, it seemed like a good idea and Colt found backers who helped him open “The Patent Arms Company” in Paterson, N.J. But despite rave notices for the weapon, sales were slow and the factory closed in 1842. Colt slipped closer to bankruptcy. Then in 1846, fate took another weird turn.
The U.S. was going to war with Mexico. And the Texans they were fighting for, suggested to the American Secretary of War that many of them were very happy with Mr. Colt’s six shooter. So the Secretary of War ordered lots of them. That left Mr. Colt with several problems. 1) He had no factory. 2) He didn’t have a six-shooter left to his name. He attacked the second one first. He advertised for samples of his own gun. Gun owners thought the ads meant the revolver was now a collector’s item…..so they refused to sell. Colt was reduced to hiring a gunsmith to work from Colt’s own original diagrams (with suggestions from the famous Texas Ranger – Sam Walker).
Finally…..when they had developed a prototype…..Colt needed to hurry things up. So he hired…..who else…..the son of Eli Whitney to implement the concepts of mass production and interchangeable parts. Within a decade the Colt .44 was the gun that was winning the West.
To celebrate go to some place with a swinging door and order six shots of red eye. And tell the surly looking guy with a facial tic and a mustache (down at the end of the bar), the immortal words of Hopalong Cassidy. “No matter how loud or how fierce the guy behind a rock sounds, if you count the bullets, when he’s out of ammunition he’s out of luck.” Thanks Hoppy!
Many thanks to Mr. Cashin and UBS Financial Services who graciously allow his historical musings to be republished on this site. To enjoy more of Art’s posts simply click on “Cashin’s Comments” in the label section on the sidebar.
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A Sideways Look At What Really Happened On This Day In History.
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