Staring at the steering wheel of a ship for weeks

Samuel Colt (Hartford, Connecticut, July 19, 1814 – Hartford, January 10, 1862)

On October 11, 1999, after 144 years of producing revolvers, American gun manufacturer Colt threw in the towel. The company stopped making revolvers — not other weapons — after 29 U.S. cities filed lawsuits. They wanted compensation for the high costs of fighting crime with firearms, a strategy adopted from the successful fight against the tobacco industry.

'Arms company Colt backs down', 'Rolls Royce disappears from revolvers', 'Cowboy revolver manufacturer succumbs to gun clatter', 'Colts will no longer smoke in the US', were the beautiful titles.

Five days later, the new president said he was closing production lines only for the models he hadn't sold for years.

Despite the growing offensive of the anti-gun lobby, the procedures of the cities and the political frenzy surrounding guns, Sam Colt's invention is doing better than ever.

Colt had seen success and disaster during his short and wild life. He was born in 1814 as the son of a silk merchant in Hartford, Connecticut, where the Colt factories are still located. The school meant nothing to him, his parents thought he was no good.

By the age of six, he could already take the old-fashioned pistol of those days completely apart and reconstruct it neatly. When he was ten, he caused an explosion that sent a piece of the family roof flying off. No wonder he never learned to write properly.

Decades later, a business acquaintance told him: 'I wish you wrote letters in an English that I can also show others. Buy a dictionary!'

Four years after the roof flew off, he informed the whole village that he would make a raft jump in the air at night on the local lake. But something went wrong. After some rumbling, a column of mud rose into the air, covering the spectators in a layer of foul-smelling black ooze.

The local paper wrote, "Sammy had to run for his life or the curious would have drowned him like a cat in the lake."

It was therefore a relief for his parents when the young man at the age of sixteen embarked on a ship that sailed to Calcutta. For two hundred years, hundreds of weapons experts in the Western world had tinkered to improve the firearm.

And there young Colt sat on a ship and stared at the steering wheel for weeks. The wheel turned and could be locked in all kinds of positions. Suppose you put such a revolving cylinder in a classic pistol.

If you put a number of bullets in that cylinder and let it rotate after each shot so that a new bullet was placed in front of the barrel, you could fire just as many rounds without reloading.

With a knife, Sammy cut a model out of a piece of pine wood and called it a revolver, from to revolve, to revolve, to rotate. Dating from 1830, the touching wooden thing is still on display at the Colt Museum in Pennsylvania.

After he set foot again, he visited local blacksmiths to convert his wooden revolver into a metal version. The precision work involved was not very successful. The inventor lacked capital.

As 'Doctor Colt', nicknamed 'Doctor Painless', he traveled across the country to temporarily relieve the sick of their pain with nitrous oxide – price: 50 cents. He also held lectures about this for packed halls – entrance fee: 30 cents.

By 1836 he had enough money to patent his new weapon and build a small factory. But the strange scum had no success. The conservative generals would not hear of it.

Colt settled in Washington and rushed from one drinking spree to the next, placating generals. He bribed journalists, had praiseworthy articles written about himself and he scattered bribes around. Nothing helped and his factory went bust.

In the summer of 1844, fifteen Texas Rangers led by Captain Jack Hays ambushed eighty Comanche Indians. Curiously, each Ranger had one of the rare colts. With little effort they hacked the Indians to the pan, despite the force majeure. The fight went down in American history as 'Hays' Big Fight'. Suddenly the government ordered a thousand Colt revolvers for the cavalry. However, Sam Colt no longer owned a factory and had to have them manufactured elsewhere. Several years later, the Texas Rangers needed additional weapons to break away from Mexico.

With the profits from this purchase, Colt started again in 1847. In the first year he sold 20,000 units. A year later, the gold rush towards San Francisco started and the arms maker again received large orders.

When the American Civil War broke out in 1861, the fence was completely over. Colt, of course, supplied his revolvers to both parties.

Just as the money started pouring in, he died of a heart attack. He was only 47. After a wild and disorderly life, he was physically exhausted.

'God did not make men equal,' a newspaper wrote at the time, 'but Samuel Colt did.' The Colt firm is led today by William M. Keys, a retired United States Navy lieutenant general.

In 2002 he divided the company into one for civilian weapons (Colt's Manufacturing Company) and one for military weapons (Colt Defense).

Colt is the largest supplier of handguns to the United States military. The M4 rifle, for example, is the US weapon of success in Iraq and Afghanistan. Colt also supplies fifteen NATO countries; militaries in ninety countries worldwide use Colt weapons.

At the front, the oldest gunmaker in the US is still number one.