Colt's Manufacturing Company (CMC--formerly Colt's Patent Firearms Manufacturing Company) is a United States firearms manufacturer founded in 1847. It is best known for the engineering, production, and marketing of dozens of different firearms over the later half of the 19th and the 20th century. It has made many civilian and military designs used in the United States, as well was many other countries. Among the most famous products from Colt are the Walker Colt used by the Texas Rangers and the "Colt .45" revolver, the proper name of which was the Single Action Army. Later well-known CMC revolvers include the Colt Python and Colt Anaconda. John Browning also worked for Colt for a time, and came up with now ubiquitous parallel slide type of design for a pistol, which debuted on the Colt M1900 pistol, leading to numerous pistol designs including the famous Colt M1911 pistol. Though they did not develop it, Colt was responsible for M16 production for a long time, as well as many derivative firearms related to it. The most successful and famous of these are numerous M16 Carbines, including the Colt Commando family, and the M4 Carbine.
Colt also developed many important less known firearms that were often ahead of their time. Among the most recent was the CAR-15 family - an innovative weapon system family of the 1960s, as well as a number of 5.56 mm machine guns such as the Colt CMG-1, CMG-2 in the 60s in the 70s. They also invented the Colt SCAMP PDW, a little known firearm of the late 1970s that was among the first of its type. Colt's produced also the first 15 000 Thompson Submachineguns Mod 1921. Another important design was the lesser-known Colt-Browning Model 1895 (Potato Digger) - one of the first gas-actuated machine guns. Going back even farther reveals other important products of the 19th century. The Colt Revolver Rifle, one of the first repeating rifles, and used during the American Civil War. In addition to this were a large number of famous revolvers, such as the 1847 Colt Walker, the smaller Dragoon Mod. 1848 of the same caliber .44, the Navy Mod. 1851 cal .36, the Pocket Mod. 1849 cal .31 and numerous other famous revolvers of the 'Wild West'. His designs played a major role in the popularization of the revolver and the shift away from earlier single pistols and pepperbox type weapons. While Colt did not invent the revolver concept, his designs resulted in the first very successful ones with patents on many of the features that lead to them being so popular.
In 2002, Colt Defense was split off from Colt's Manufacturing Company. Colt Manufacturing Company now serves the civilian market, while Colt Defense serves the law enforcement, military, and private security markets worldwide. Prior to the split Colt was also well known for their production (now taken over by Colt Defense) of the M1911 automatic pistols, M4 Carbines, M16 assault rifles, and M203 grenade launchers, although none of these were Colt designs, excepting the M1911 . Diemaco of Canada was also purchased, and renamed Colt Canada, though most of its products remain the same. Diemaco and Colt had earlier worked together on designs and shared many similar products.
CMC was founded in Hartford, Connecticut in 1847 by Samuel Colt in order to produce revolvers, of which Colt held the patent, during the Mexican-American War. Colt's earlier venture, the Patent Arms Manufacturing Company, had declared bankruptcy in 1842 and was no longer producing firearms, but the efficiency of the Colt Paterson revolver design had become apparent to the Texas Rangers, and they placed an order for 1,000 larger revolvers that became known as the Walker Colt, ensuring Colt's re-entry into manufacturing revolvers. Later, the U.S. Army also sought out the young entrepreneur to produce even more revolvers.
Colt's early history largely revolved around the production of revolvers, developed out of Sam Colt's original 1834 invention of the revolver. 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 1873 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 Armies, 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 Orville W. Ainsworth and the Henry Nettleton inspected U.S. Cavalry Single Action Army Colts.
One of the first truly modern-style handguns, the Colt revolvers became known as "The Great Equalizer", because they could be loaded and fired by anyone, whereas most previous guns had required sufficient strength and dexterity. In theory, anyone who had a modern-style revolver was equal to anyone else, regardless of their relative physical abilities. This term has since come to be used for firearms in general, as awkward weapons like muzzle-loaded muskets became a thing of the past.
Though the US was not directly involved in the Crimean War (1854 - 1856), Colt weapons were used in supplying and aiding the Russians fighting in the Crimea.
The OWA Colt refers to the earliest issued Single Action Armies which were inspected by Orville W. Ainsworth. O.W. Ainsworth was the ordnance sub-inspector at the Colt factory for approximately the first thirteen months (Oct. 1873 to Nov. 1874) of the Single Action Army's production. It was Ainsworth that inspected the Colts used by General Custer's 7th Cavalry troops at the Battle of the Little Bighorn. However General Custer himself fell holding a couple of English-made Webley revolvers in his hands.
Henry Nettleton was the ordnance 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 U.S. Fire Arms 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 Colt Model 1895 "Potato Digger" was one of the first gas-operated machine guns, developed with John Browning. It became the first automatic machine gun adopted by the United States and saw limited use in the Spanish-American War.
The Colt entry for a semi-automatic pistol at the turn of century defeated two other contenders: a .45 Pistol Parabellum (e.g the Luger pistol) from DWM and an entry from Savage Arms. There had been many other contenders earlier on, but these were eliminated. The Colt also competed with Colt M1900 design in .38 ACP against other entrants in a 1900 competition that included entries from Mauser.
Since Auto Ordnance had no tooling for production, Colt acquired the licence for the Thompson 1921 SMG and made a first batch of 15,000 pieces the first production year.
The 1960s were boom years for Colt with the escalation of the Vietnam War, Robert McNamara shutting down the Springfield Armory, and the U.S. Army's subsequent adoption of the M16 (which Colt held the production rights to).
The Colt XM148 grenade launcher was created by Colt's Design Project Engineer, gun designer Karl R. Lewis The May 1967 "Colt's Ink" newsletter announced that he had won a national competition for his selection and treatment of materials in the design. The newsletter stated in part, "In only 47 days, he wrote the specifications, designed the launcher, drew all the original prints, and had a working model built."
At the end of the 1970s, there was a program run by the Air Force, to replace the M1911A1. The Beretta 92S won, but this was contested by the Army. The Army ran their own trials, leading eventually to the Beretta 92F being selected as the M9.
The 1980s marked fairly good years for Colt, but the coming end of the Cold War would change all that. 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 primary contracts for production of rifles for the US military.
This strategy dramatically failed for Colt through a series of events in the 1980s. In 1984, the U.S. military standardized on the Beretta 92F. This was not much of a loss for Colt's current business, as M1911A1 production had stopped in 1945, and most had not been made by Colt at the time.
Meanwhile, the military rifle business was growing because the U.S. Military had a major demand for more upgraded M16s —- the M16A2 model had just been adopted and the Military needed hundreds of thousands of them.
In 1986, Colt's workers, members of the United Auto Workers 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 U.S. military awarded the contract for future M16 production to Fabrique Nationale.
Some criticized Colt's range of handgun products in the late 1980s as 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, 9 mm caliber 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 the Colt All American 2000, which was unlike any other handgun Colt had produced before.
The Colt All American 2000 was a polymer framed, rotary bolt, 9 mm 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 disastrous. 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.
The cost of developing Colt's ACR also cut into their bottom line, as none of the ACR contestants were adopted — a result that came out in the early 1990s.
The 1990s brought the end of Cold War, which resulted in a large down turn for the entire defense industry. Colt was hit by this downturn, though it would be made worse later in the 1990s by a boycott.
During a 1998 Washington Post interview, CEO Ron Stewart stated that he would favor a federal permit system with training and testing for gun ownership. This led to a massive grass-roots boycott of Colt's products by gun stores and ordinary gun owners, some of whom sold their Colt firearms to cut into Colt's market share even more. This ultimately led 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 or Police Departments. This research never produced any meaningful results due to the limited technology at the time.
The boycott of Colt has faded out with the new CEO William M. Keys, a retired U.S. Marine Lt. General, working hard to bring Colt back from its tarnished reputation. Due to the efforts of William Keys, Colt's quality has improved as much as its favor with die hard Colt fans.
Most problematic for Colt, its flagship 1911 pistols and AR-15 rifles had to compete with a glut of the company's own used rifles and pistols that could be purchased at prices well below what Colt offered for their new products on the civilian market.
Colt also has to compete with other companies that make 1911-style pistols such as Kimber and AR-15 rifles such as Bushmaster. Bushmaster has subsequently overtaken Colt in the number of AR-15s sold on the civilian market.
Colt suffered a stinging legal defeat in court when it sued Bushmaster for trademark infringement claiming that the "M4" in M4 Carbine was a trademark that it owned. The judge ruled that since the term M4 is a generic designation that Colt does not specifically own, Colt had to pay monetary reimbursement to Bushmaster to recoup Bushmaster's legal fees. The M4 designation itself comes from the U.S. military designation system, whose terms are in the public domain.
Colt continues production of classic designs which are sold in both the limited collector's market as well as through more traditional channels. However, it survives primarily on the manufacturing of a variety of civilian and military weapons. The most popular of these are various AR-15 Carbines, a weapon category that it invented and helped develop over nearly 30 years since acquiring the AR-15 design. The AR-15 Carbine derivatives, and weapons like them have proved so popular that a large amount of competition has arisen in the area. As with AR-15 rifles, the original Colt designs and their derivatives are heavily copied, and as a result they face much competition from other manufacturers.
Colt has entered in several US contracts with mixed results. For example, Colt had an entry in the Advanced Combat Rifle (ACR) program of the 1980s- but along with other contestants failed to replace the M16A2. Colt, along with many other makers entered the US trials for a new pistol in the 1980s, though the Berretta entry would win and become the M9 Pistol. The Colt OHWS hand gun was beat by H&K for what became the MK23 SOCOM, it was lighter than the H&K entry but lost in performance. Colt did not get to compete for the XM8 since it was not an open competition. Colt is a likely entrant in any competition for a new US service rifle. Current M16 rifles are made by FN USA, Colt lost the production contract in the 1990s. Colt still makes M4 carbines under contract for the US Military.
Colt also manufactured several military long arms under contract including the M1918 BAR and Thompson SMG.