Pistol patent day is celebrated tomorrow, February 25th. Samuel Colt received a British patent on his improved design for a revolver in 1835, and two U.S. patents in 1836, one on February 25 and another on August. That same year, he founded his first corporation for its manufacture in Paterson, NJ. Making firearms with interchangeable parts was still rather new (it had reached commercial viability only about a decade before), and it was not yet easy to replicate across different factories. The Colt Paterson revolver found patchy success and failure.
Colt made another attempt at revolver production in 1846 and submitted a prototype to the US government, which was used during the Mexican-American War (1846–1848). This prototype was seen by Captain Samuel Walker, who made some suggestions to Colt about making it in a larger caliber. Having no factory or machinery to produce the pistols, Samuel Colt collaborated with the Whitney amory in Connecticut. This armory was run by the family of Eli Whitney, Jr, the son of the cotton-gin-developer patriarch.
Colt’s new revolvers found favor with Texan volunteers (the progenitors of later Texas Ranger cavalry groups), and they placed an order for 1,000 revolvers that became known as the Colt Walker, ensuring Colt’s continuance in manufacturing revolvers. In 1848, Colt was able to start again with a new business of his own, and 1855, he converted it into a corporation under the name of Colt’s Patent Fire-Arms Manufacturing Company. It was a leader in assembly line practice, a major innovator and training ground in manufacturing technology.
Colt was also innovative in the treatment of his employees. Although he ran the plant with a military-like discipline, he established a ten-hour day for employees, installed washing stations in the factory, mandated a one-hour lunch break, and built the Charter Oak Hall, a club where employees could enjoy games, newspapers, and discussion rooms. He also set up libraries and educational programs within the plants for his employees
In 1852 an employee of Colt’s, Rollin White, came up with the idea of having the revolver cylinder bored through to accept metallic cartridges. He took this idea to Colt who flatly rejected it and ended up firing White within a few years. Colt historian RL Wilson has described this as the major blunder of Sam Colt’s professional life.
Rollin White left Colt’s in December 1854 and registered a patent on April 3, 1855 for an improvement in repeating firearms. On November 17, 1856 White signed an agreement with Smith and Wesson for the exclusive use of his patent. Smith & Wesson not only introduced its first revolver in 1857 (a rear-loader), but also started, as of 1858, to convert cap & ball percussion guns into rear-loaders, even with formerly Colt manufactured revolvers.
But the Colt’s company itself was prevented by American laws from infringing the Rollin White patent and in the 1850s and 1860s continued manufacturing percussion guns. In 1860 it produced a new revolver model for the United States Army. This Colt Army Model 1860 appeared just in time for the American Civil War. (from Wikipedia)