Colt's Manufacturing Company

Rampant Colt - The original logo of Colt's Firearms
Rampant Colt - The original logo of Colt's Firearms

Colt's Manufacturing Company was founded in Hartford, Connecticut in 1847 by Samuel Colt in order to produce revolvers, which Colt held the patent on, during the Mexican-American War. Colt's earlier venture, the "Patent Arms Manufacturing Company", had declared bankruptcy years earlier and was no longer producing firearms, but the efficiency of the revolver design had become apparent to the US Army and they sought out the young entrepreneur to produce more.

Today, Colt's Manufacturing company is a producer of firearms for civilian, law enforcement, and military markets worldwide. The modern Colt Python and Colt Anaconda are both recognized as refined expressions of the art of revolver making, as befits the company that first produced a revolving handgun. Colt also manufactures the Single Action Army, the gun that is popularly credited with having "won the west" (along with the model 1873 Winchester rifle). Colt is also well known for their production of the M1911 pistols, M4 Carbines, M16 Assault Rifles, and M203 Grenade Launchers, although none of these are of Colt design.

Colt is perhaps best known for the famous "Colt 45", a name which actually refers to two separate historically significant firearms. The first of these is the aforementioned Single Action Army, of which Colt was the original producer, and which was one of the most prevalent firearms in the American West during the end of the 19th century. Colt still produces this firearm, though now they are available only as a Custom Shop offering. All original, good condition first generation Single Action Armys, those produced between 1873 and 1941, are among the most valuable to the collector. Especially valuable, often going for well over $10,000, are the OWA and the Nettleton Single Action Army Colts.

The OWA Colt refers to the earliest issued Single Action Army's which were inspected by Orville W. Ainsworth. O.W. Ainsworth was the ordinance sub-inspector at the Colt factory for approximately the first 13 months (Oct. 1873 to Nov. 1874) of the Single Action Army's production. It was Ainsworth that inspected the Colts used by Col. G.A. Custer's 7th Cavalry at the Little Bighorn.

Henry Nettleton was the ordinance inspector in 1878 at the Springfield Armory. Second only to the OWA Colts, Nettleton Colts are prized by serious collectors. Both the Nettleton and OWA Colts will have the cartouche (OWA or HN) on the left side of the wood grip.

The Single Action Army has been copied by numerous makers both in America and in Europe. The two major makers of Colt replicas are Aldo Uberti in Italy and United States Firearms Mfg. Co. in Hartford Connecticut. Both companies make superb replicas that are much more affordable than the real Colt (for those who don't have to have the "real thing").

The second famous "Colt 45" is the John Browning designed M1911 and 1911-A1, which was the standard US military sidearm from 1911 through 1985. The M1911 is still frequently used by civilians, law enforcement, and military agencies today.

The 1980s marked a dark period in Colt's history. Colt had long left innovation in civilian firearms to their competitors, feeling that the handgun business could survive on their traditional double-action revolver and M1911 designs. Instead, Colt focused on the military market, where they held the dominant contracts for production of rifles and pistols for the US military.

This strategy dramatically failed for Colt through a series of events in the 1980s. In 1984 the US military standardized on a new handgun and ended the nearly 75 year production of the M1911. Meanwhile, the military rifle business was shrinking, leaving Colt with fewer reliable streams of profit. In 1986 Colt's workers, members of the UAW went on strike for higher wages. This strike would ultimately last for four years, and was one of the longest running labor strikes in American history. With replacement workers running production, the quality of Colt's firearms began to slip. Dissatisfied with Colt's production, in 1988 the US military awarded the contract for future M-16 production to Fabrique Nationale.

With the loss of both their primary military handgun and rifle markets, Colt had little hopes of survival but to turn to the civilian handgun market. Unfortunately, Colt's range of handgun products in the late 1980s was critically out of touch with the demands of the market, and their once-vaunted reputation for quality had suffered during the UAW strike. Colt's stable of double action revolvers and single action pistols were seen as old fashioned by a marketplace that was captivated by the new generation of "wondernines" - high-capacity polymer framed handguns, as typified by the Glock 17.

Realizing that the future of the company was at stake, labor and management agreed to end the strike in an arrangement that resulted in Colt being sold to a group of private investors, the State of Connecticut, and the UAW itself.

The new Colt first attempted to address some of the demands of the market with the production in 1990 of the Double Eagle, a double action pistol based heavily on the M1911 design which was seen as an attempt to "modernize" the classic Browning design. Colt followed this up in 1992 with All American 2000, which was unlike any other handgun Colt had produced before.

The All American 2000 was a polymer framed, rotary bolt, 9mm handgun with a magazine capacity of 15 rounds. It was everything that Colt thought the civilian market wanted in a handgun. Unfortunately, the execution was terrible. Early models were plagued with inaccuracy and unreliability, and suffered from the poor publicity of having to be recalled. The product launch failed and production of the All American 2000 ended in 1994.

All of the above ultimately led to the company's chapter 11 bankruptcy in 1992. In 1994 the assets of Colt were purchased by Zilkha & Co, a financial group owned by Donald Zilkha. Zilkha's financial backing of the company, combined with his connections to the Democratic Party, enable Colt to begin winning back military contracts. Profits from these contracts were to be used to again attempt to regain their share of the civilian market, but it was not to be.

During a 1998 newspaper interview, CEO Ron Stewart stated that he would favor additional gun control at the federal level. This, in combination with the growing revelations of Zilkha's ties to anti-gun factions of the Democratic party, led to a massive grass-roots boycott of Colt's products and ultimately to the resignation of Ron Stewart. Zilkha replaced Stewart with Steven Sliwa and focused the remainder of Colt's handgun design efforts into "smart guns", a concept which was favored politically but had little interest or support among handgun owners. This research never produced any meaningful results.

Colt today is a shadow of its former self. It survives primarily on the manufacturing of military weapons based on other companies' designs, and on the continuing production of classic Colt designs which are sold primarily to collectors.

See also

External links


  • US1304 ( -- Implement in firearmsnl:Colt



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