The Coltrevolver – a deadly icon

HISTORY OF TECHNOLOGY. Legends like Jesse James and Doc Holliday wore it, and it ended Wild Bill Hickok’s life. The fast-firing Coltrevolver is one of the strongest symbols of the Wild West era.

“God created mankind. The Colt revolver made them equal. ” This is an old saying that is usually attributed to Samuel Colt himself.

He was born into a wealthy family in 1814, and was an intelligent but difficult-to-handle boy. At the age of 15, he designed a functioning galvanic cell, but the following year he was expelled from school after his pyrotechnic experiment caused a fire.

His early weapons experiments were also dangerous: the first revolver prototype exploded in his hand. But in 1836, Colt was able to patent a working single-handed weapon, based on the revolver principle: a rotating drum with several projectile chambers, which locks a chamber in line with the barrel when the cock is clamped. The idea was not new, but it was Colt who combined it with standardization and series production.

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When the Mexican-American War broke out in 1847, Samuel Colt received orders for 1,000 revolvers from the Texas Rangers. Profits became the basis for industrialization and series production, which pushed up prices. The fast-firing weapon became affordable for poor settlers and others who needed to defend themselves in the lawless west. But of course it also became popular among the lawless.

The 36-caliber Colt revolver that is said to have belonged to the bandit Jesse James (1847–1882). Photo: BRIDGEMAN IMAGES / TT

The revolvers were effective in combat, as unlike most weapons at this time, they did not need to be reloaded after each shot. However, the recharging was still a cumbersome process, as the igniter cap, gunpowder charge and bullet were charged separately. The real breakthrough did not come until the metal unit cartridge was launched, just before the American Civil War broke out in 1861.

And now business was booming for Samuel Colt, who had no qualms about selling weapons to both sides. As early as 1862, he was counted among the richest in the entire United States, but the same year he died of complications from gout. His wife Elisabeth continued to run the company, and more and more revolvers were developed.

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The most iconic version is the Colt Single Action Army, also known as The Peacemake, which was manufactured in a variety of calibers and barrel lengths.

Wyatt Earp is said to have used a Buntline Special, a spectacular Peacemaker variant with a 30 centimeter long barrel, in the famous firefight at OK Corral. His confidante Doc Holliday wore a standard-made Peacemaker – but flamboyant as he was, Doc had it fitted with an ivory flask and mother-of-pearl inlays.

Wild Bill Hickok preferred the older model Colt 1851 Navy and wore two, but it was a Single Action Peacemaker who took his life at the poker table in Deadwood 1876.

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