Samuel Colt (1814–1862) was one of the most famous and successful American inventors and entrepreneurs of the early industrial age. By patenting the first mass-produced multishot revolving firearms, Colt achieved worldwide fame and a vast personal fortune. His introduction of precise machine-made weapons and his promotion of the interchangeability of parts were innovations that transformed the arms industry. Colt actively promoted sales through advertising and displays at international fairs, and by presenting deluxe arms to men of influence, including heads of state. His precise and reliable standard-model revolvers were highly valued by soldiers and frontiersmen. His more elaborately embellished exhibition and presentation arms appealed as functional objects of beauty.
The Museum’s revolver is considered one of Colt’s finest. Apparently, it was created as part of a set of three pairs of gold-inlaid revolvers that Colt took with him to Europe in 1854. That year saw the outbreak of the Crimean War, which pitted Russia against Turkey and her allies, Great Britain and France. Colt aggressively marketed arms to both sides. In November 1854, he presented three gold-inlaid revolvers, one example from each pair, to Czar Nicholas I of Russia. Of these, the Third Model Dragoon serial number 12407 (now in The Hermitage, Saint Petersburg) is actually the mate to the Museum’s pistol, serial number 12406. The gift clearly demonstrated the technical and artistic aspects of Colt’s product, while its patriotic motifs proudly proclaimed its American origin.