Inventing America, Colt’s Experimental Pocket Pistol


Elisha King Root for Samuel Colt, Experimental Pocket Pistol, Serial number 5, caliber .265 inches, barrel length 3 inches, overall length 7 inches, brass, steel, and iron, 1849-50 (Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, Hartford, Bequest of Elizabeth Hart Jarvis Colt)


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Key points

  • Assembly-line methods of construction and more efficient manufacturing processes, like those developed by Samuel Colt and Elisha Root, shifted the center of the Industrial Revolution from England to the United States in the mid-19th century. These improvements were made possible by new levels of precision in the fabrication of individual components so that they could be mass-produced and fitted together by relatively unskilled laborers.
  • The Colt gun was an economic success, not just because of the design innovations and manufacturing advances made, but also because Colt developed new strategies of marketing, selling his guns directly to soldiers on the front lines as well as to foreign governments.
  • The advancement from a single-shot firing to a multi-chamber gun made the Colt revolver an important tool in American military campaigns during the 19th century. These guns played a role in the settling of the west and the Gold Rush, the Civil War, the Mexican-American War and were used against Native Americans during the Second Seminole War.

Go Deeper

Learn more about this object from the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art

Learn more about Samuel Colt

See primary sources related to Colt’s Fire Arms Manufacturing

Learn about the Eli Whitney Armory, an important predecessor to Colt’s factory

Read about the development of a market economy in the U.S. in the early 19th century

Review the impact and significance of the market revolution in the United States 


More to think about

In the video, the speakers say, “It’s important not to romanticize these guns,” and describe Samuel Colt as a “complicated” figure in U.S. history. How do you think studying objects such as the Colt revolver can help us understand history from different points of view?


Cite this page as: Brandy Culp, Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art and Dr. Steven Zucker, "Inventing America, Colt’s Experimental Pocket Pistol," in Smarthistory, January 6, 2019, accessed January 23, 2019, https://smarthistory.org/inventing-america-colts-experimental-pocket-pistol/.