Colt's Patent Fire Arms Manufacturing Company records
Scope and Content
The Connecticut State Library received the Colt Factory Firearms Collection and a large manuscript collection from Colt's in 1957. While there is much information regarding the operation of the company contained in the manuscript collection, it does not contain the sources needed to trace the history of a specific firearm. Such information can only be found in the company's shipping records, which were not part of the 1957 donation, and which Colt's has retained. For a fee, the Archives Department of the Colt's Manufacturing Company Inc. can provide an Archive Letter detailing the history of a specific firearm.
The records of the Colt Patent Fire Arms Manufacturing Company cover the period 1810-1980, though most of the collection falls within the period 1840-1890. The records also document many of the company's outside contracted activities and subsidiaries such as the Gatling Gun Company, London Armory/Agency, and Union Ferry Company. Records on several of the related activities are limited to a single item. Not included among the records are minutes of the board of directors meetings, personnel records, internal office memoranda, annual reports, and printed financial statements.
The principle strengths of the Business File lie in the Incoming Correspondence (Series 3), and the Orders for Arms (Series 4). The routine nature of most of the incoming correspondence lessens its informational value. The Legal File contains documentation on patents. Generally, the Administrative File contains "public relations" materials, including drafts of unpublished company histories and biographies, scrapbooks, armory museum records and an index to correspondence compiled by museum staff. The Publications File contains several catalogs of arms manufactured.
The collection contains handwritten and printed materials, bound volumes, drawings and foreign language material.
Material in the separate manuscript catalog was transferred into the record group. All the material pertaining to the Colt Company in the State Library, except for published monographs and biographies and the gun collection in the Museum of Connecticut History, is in RG 103 or picture group PG460.
A later accession has been added as the Mahron Collection, as well as several smaller accessions collectively as Addenda.
Language of Materials
The records are in English.
Restrictions on Access
Restrictions on Use
See the Reproduction and Publications of State Library Collections policy.
Samuel Colt (1814-1862) received U.S. Patent No. 138 in 1836 for the first revolving cylinder pistol and along with other investors founded the Patent Arms Manufacturing Company of Paterson, New Jersey. Due to small sales that business closed in September of 1842. Still, Colt guns proved popular during the Mexican War and with the Texas Rangers. General Zachary Taylor, who was commanding troops in Texas in 1846, wanted 1000 Colt revolvers. Samuel Colt made an agreement with Eli Whitney, Jr., the Connecticut contractor for Army muskets, to manufacture the guns. In 1847 Colt borrowed money from his banker cousin Elisha Colt and other Hartford businessmen to lease a factory on Pearl Street in Hartford, where he adapted the system of interchangeable parts to the mass production of guns. In 1851 Colt's exhibited guns at London's Crystal Palace Exposition and two years later opened a branch there that operated until 1857. The Colt's factory in Hartford manufactured 3,000 Dragoon pistols by the end of 1850, first at the Pearl Street location and then on Grove Lane.
In 1851 Samuel Colt bought property in Hartford's South Meadows where he built the Colt's Armory that was completed in August of 1855. The Armory was topped with an onion-shaped blue dome on which stood a rampant colt cast from bronze. Samuel Colt died unexpectedly in January of 1862. A fire in February of 1864 destroyed one half of the Armory and the office. Some suspected that Confederates started the fire. The armory had been running at full capacity to supply the Union army with guns, its total wartime production totaling 378,000 revolvers and 114,000 muskets. Samuel Colt's widow Elizabeth ordered the Armory rebuilt exactly as it was. Construction was completed in 1867. In 1901 Mrs. Colt sold the company to Armstrong & Schirmer, a New York financial house. A holding company was formed in New York State although the Armory was still known as Colt's Patent Firearms Manufacturing Company.
Colt's produced the first machine gun, the Gatling, in 1867. Dr. R.J. Gatling invented the gun first fired at Confederate troops in 1862. Gatling later moved to Hartford after improving the desgin. Colt's entered into association with John Moses and Matt Browning in 1891 to manufacture their machine gun. In 1895 John Browning test fired his first automatic pistol for Colt's. The Brownings reached a settlement with Colt in 1903 that gave the company all the benefits of the automatic pistol and automatic machine gun patents. The company also obtained rights to the English Vickers-Maxim automatic machine gun, giving it control over all machine gun production in the world. In 1911 Colt's gave Fabrique Nationale of Liege an exclusive license to sell Browning's automatic pistol in Europe, outside of England. Soon after the United States entered World War I, John Moses Browning returned to Colt's and developed more powerful machine guns than his earlier inventions. In addition to machine guns, pistols were also in demand. The Army had adopted the Colt .45 as its standard sidearm in 1911. During the war Colt's produced 425,000 automatic pistols, 151,700 revolvers, 13,000 Maxim-Vickers machine guns and 10,000 new Brownings.
After the war Colt's diversified into manufacturing other products and established divisions for dishwashers, electrical, and plastics. Colt's production dropped during the early years of the Depression but improved starting in 1933. However, on March 13, 1935 over a thousand workers walked off the job to begin a strike that lasted thirteen weeks. The company experienced further catastrophe when the Flood of 1936 and Hurricane of 1938 damaged the armory. Despite increasing output at the start of World War II and winning the Army-Navy "E" award for outstanding production in 1942, Colt's began to experience financial losses starting in July of 1943 due in part to its failure to adopt modern manufacturing techniques, resulting in layoffs. Control of the company changed hands a few times and eventually became a subsidiary of Penn-Texas. That holding company collapsed in 1958 and what remained became the holding company Fairbanks Whitney. By 1960 manufacturing operations moved from Hartford to West Hartford.
Presidents of Colt's through 1969:
Samuel Colt, 1855-1862
Elisa K. Root, 1862-1865
Richard Jarvis, 1865-1901
John Hall, 1901-1902
Lewis C. Grover, 1902-1909
William C. Skinner, 1909-1911
Col. Charles L.F. Robinson, 1911-1916
William C. Skinner, 1916-1921
Samuel M. Stone, 1921-1944
Graham H. Anthony, 1944-1949
B. Franklin Conner, 1949-1955
Chester Bland, 1955-1958
Fred A. Roff, Jr., 1958-1962
David C. Scott, 1962-1963
Paul A. Benke, 1963-1969
Source: The Colt Armory: A History of Colt's Manufacturing Company, Inc., (Lincoln, R.I.: Mowbray Publishing, 1982).
98.25 cubic feet
The records of Colt’s Patent Fire Arms Manufacturing Company document gun manufacturing at the armory and the company’s subsidiaries, together with outside contracting activities.
Business File, 1826-1979, Accession: T001481, 25.75 cubic feet
Legal File, circa 1831-1943, Accession: T001481, 6.50 cubic feet
Administrative File, circa 1836-1980, Accession: T001481, 9 cubic feet
Publications File, circa 1850-1980, Accession: T001481, 6.75 cubic feet
Mahron Collection, 1871-1934, Accession: T003190, 46 cubic feet
Addenda, 1810-1948, Accessions: 1992-018,1994-038, 2000-036, 2015-025, 4.25 cubic feet
Following the 1955 take-over of the Colt Company by the Penn-Texas Corporation, the new president/chairman made a gift to the people of Connecticut of the valuable collection of Colt guns then at the armory's museum. Having concluded that the museum at the State Library was the best repository, the Pratt & Whitney Company Foundation transferred the gun collection and the business records on March 7, 1957.
Most of the material that became RG 103 was cataloged separately at the point of transfer. It was not until 1971 that staff arranged and described the records as Record Group 103. Even then, many items were still among the cataloged manuscripts. Staff processed RG 103 again in 1976.
In 1982 Richard Mellon provided funds for a project designed to reorganize and microfilm the Colt Company records and personal papers of Samuel Colt at the Connecticut State Library, the Connecticut Historical Society, and the Wadsworth Atheneum. An outside consultant prepared a report on the condition of the collection in the State Library and advised staff on organizational strategies. The present organization represents efforts to clarify the original administrative and legal purposes of the records. The consultant recommended utilizing the four major file units of Business, Legal, Administrative, and Publication, to organize records whose provenance had been destroyed. A later accession has been added as the Mahron Collection, as well as several smaller accessions collectively as Addenda.
Independent researcher Cari Peretzman completed Phase I, reprocessing under the grant funds in September 1983. At that point, staff concluded that the records required further processing before microfilming could proceed. Arrangement and description continued until July 1984.
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- Colt firearms Subject Source: Library of Congress Subject Headings
- Colt's Patent Fire Arms Manufacturing Co. -- Records and correspondence Subject Source: Library of Congress Subject Headings
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- Correspondence Subject Source: Art & Architecture Thesaurus
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- RG 103, Colt's Patent Fire Arms Manufacturing Company
- Inventory of Records
- Finding aid prepared by Connecticut State Library staff.
- Language of description
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Part of the Connecticut State Library Repository