“The gun that won the West,” came from the Northeast.
The iconic brand Colt has called Connecticut home for 175 years.
Marking their territory in West Hartford, Conn., inventor Samuel Colt first issued a patent in 1836 for a revolver with a rotating cylinder that could hold five to six bullets. That same year, Colt got his patent and opened a plant in Paterson, N.J. with help from his uncle, according to Colt’s website. By age 22, Colt had already become a businessman and chief salesman for his product. He then developed three different revolver models: the pocket, belt, and holster, according to Colt’s website, along with two long rifles.
Colt’s Manufacturing CFO and Vice President of Marketing and a member on the Board of Governors for the National Shooting Sports Foundation Joyce Rubino was contacted for this story, and replied through email, “I will not be able to help with your assignment and understand you will write that Colt declined to comment. I wish I could be of more assistance. Sincerely, Joyce Rubino.”
By the 1840s, units of the U.S. Dragoon forces and Texas Rangers credited Colt’s firearms for the win against Indian forces in 1845, according to Colt’s website. These successes prompted a U.S. Ordinance Department order for 1,000 “Walker” revolvers. To complete the order, Colt returned to his home state of Connecticut and with the help of Eli Whitney Jr. manufactured and shipped the revolvers out of his factory.
Property Colt purchased along the Connecticut River became space for his factory, Colt’s Patent Fire Arms Manufacturing Co. in 1855. According to the Colt’s website, more money had been spent on the two-mile embankment built to prevent flooding from the river than on the actual 250 acres.
Colt’s factory consisted of the most up-to-date metalworking machinery, according to Colt’s website.
A large, royal blue, onion-shaped dome with a bronze colt topped his factory building. Within the first year of operation 5,000 guns were produced, according to Colt’s website. The next year, 150 guns were produced every day, sparking the community to be called Coltsville, according to a Hartford Courant article, “Colt Manufacturing: A Timeline.”
According to Colt’s website, by the end of 1861, the factory had 1,000 employees and annual profits greater than $250,000. A fire in 1864 burned the Colt Armory to the ground, causing military production to be very limited for the next three years until it was rebuilt.
Over the next several decades, the company’s renown and its profit margins increased with ensuing gun innovations like the Gatling semiautomatic machine gun, the Single Action Army Model 1873 and the Colt .45 semi automatic “Peacemaker” pistol, which according to “Colt Manufacturing: A Timeline,” became the standard pistol used in both World Wars I and II.
Investors bought the company in 1901. Fifteen years later, World War I brought Colt’s employee growth from 2,400 to 10,000, according to the Courant’s Colt Timeline. During World War II, employees had grown to 15,000.
After the war ended so did the orders. Colt struggled with deficit, decline, and ownership.
After they were bought yet again by a group of investors, Colt’s Firearms introduced the AR-15, which was followed by the M16 military rifle in 1960, according to the Courant timeline. The M16 soon became the standard rifle used for the armed forces.
The 1960’s peace movement ironically swept the nation at the same time commercial rifles were made more accessible to the public. In 1964, the company was renamed Colt’s Inc., Firearms Division, according to the timeline.
In 1966, the firearms division had 1,600 employees, half of them in charge of putting the M16 rifle together. Three years later in 1969, the one millionth M16 was made.
Peacetime production took place during the start of the 1970s with a resulting drop in government gun orders. The company then emphasized sporting rifles to compensate sales.
There wasn’t much peace in 1986 though when plant workers started a four year strike because Colt had refused to negotiate a new contract for them, according to “Colt Manufacturing: A Timeline.” During the strike, the government withdrew from their contract for M16 rifles.
According to multinationalmonitor.org, on Jan.24, 1986 over 1,000 members of the United Auto Workers (UAW) Local 376 walked out of work because of a battle that had lasted longer than a year and a half with the adjustment of their contracts. Colt had to hire more than 400 temporary employees.
The UAW Local 376 President, Robert Madore called the strike, “a strike over greed,” according to the same site.
Madore also said, “poor production by unskilled strike-breakers has been a major issue in this strike.”
Adding, “members have earned Colt a reputation as a producer of top-quality guns, both for the military and for other consumers. Poor production simply means that dangerously defective guns are being released onto the market.”
On Sept. 9, 1989, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) deemed the strike against Colt an Unfair Labor Practices strike, according to multinationalmonitor.org. The NLRB said though the strike was prolonged because of Colt’s illegal conduct and the refusal to bargain on the employees’ contracts.
The strike resulted in partial ownership by the union UAW. The strike also gave a seat on the board to UAW Region 9A director Phil Wheeler.
In 1990, the strike ended and Colt Manufacturing Co. was sold to a group of private investors, union workers and the state of Connecticut’s pension fund. After that, the company entered bankruptcy, according to “Colt Manufacturing: A Timeline.”
With the introduction of the Colt .22 automatic pistol and the relocation from the Hartford Armory to West Hartford, Colt managed to remove themselves from bankruptcy and were bought by two New York investors, Donald E. Zilkha and John P. Rigas, according to “Colt Manufacturing: A Timeline.”
A turning point for Colt occurred in 1996 when the military business picked up again with the winning of several government firearm contracts. According to Colt’s website, in 1999, Retired Lt. Gen. William M. Keys became President and CEO of Colt.
It wasn’t until 2002, when the company separated into two entities, Colt Defense LLC and Colt Manufacturing Co. Colt Defense LLC became solely responsible for the military and law enforcement rifles, while Colt Manufacturing Co. focused on the commercial business, according to “Colt Manufacturing: A Timeline.”
In a 2009 Hartford Business Journal, CFO of Colt’s Manufacturing and Vice President of Marketing, Joyce Rubino discussed the reasoning behind the Colt’s Defense and Colt’s Manufacturing split. “The purpose was to get our arms around costs of running each of those operations to get the appropriate financing for both companies,” Rubino said.“We split companies and we were able to focus on government contracts.”
The article discussed Colt Defense’s success, citing the $750 million worth of contracts that were present after the split. At that time, Colt Defense had 485 employees and Colt Manufacturing 107.
According to a 2013 Forbes article titled, “Connecticut’s Politicians To Its Thriving Gun Manufacturers, ‘Get Lost,’” stated Colt Manufacturing Company now has 670 employees in the West Hartford plant. Rubino said in the Forbes article, “Colt has spent the last four years rebuilding its consumer products division and is doing very well financially.”
Looking at Colt’s website alone, one can tell the consumer products division has increased. Colt’s lists 11 different types of pistols, two types of revolvers, four rifles, and an option of custom firearms.
A firearm you won’t find on Colt’s website anymore is the AR-15 semiautomatic rifle. The AR-15 has been under scrutiny since the firearm was used in the Newtown, Conn. school shooting. Since the death of 20 children and six educators at the Sandy Hook Elementary School, Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy and Connecticut U.S. Senator Chris Murphy have been strong advocates in tightening existing laws and closing overlooked gun law loopholes.
Connecticut gun manufactures have spoken of their concern if the proposed laws pass, in particular CEO and President of Colt’s Manufacturing Company LLC Dennis Veilluex.
On March 14, 2013 Veilleux bused Colt’s Manufacturing workers to the state capital in protest to the proposed laws.
His purpose there was to make the people aware of the possible job cuts if Connecticut expanded its ban on assault weapons.
According to the New Haven Register, Veilleux spoke of the large amount of back orders for their popular assault rifle and referred to the AR platform as crucial to the business.
In 2012 Colt’s sold 100,000 of the AR’s and had the same expectations for this year, according to the New Haven Register.
A Colt AR-15 rifle costs about $1,500, according to guns.findthebest.com. Colt’s Manufacturing made $150 million just from the AR-15 in 2012.
A Colt AR-15 rifle weighs 8 pounds unloaded, and stretches 39 inches, according to guns.findthebest.com. An AR-15 rifle is capable of firing 45 rounds per minute in semiautomatic mode, according to Time Magazine “The Next Gun Fight.”
The Colt Difference.
Brand loyalty is one concern that resonates with the gun manufacturers in Connecticut, especially Colt. According to coltmfg.com, The Colt Difference makes a difference when it comes to their “Commitment, Craftsmanship, Tradition, Excellence, Dedication, History, Precision, Honor, Ingenuity, Technology, Consistency, Loyalty, and Passion.”
“Our customers are usually loyal to the brand. They often times have a personal association with the product that they choose. Colt and its association with Connecticut is part of the brand. Our heritage here strengthens our brand,” Veilleux said, according to the New Haven Register.
One hundred and eleven days after the Newtown shooting, Governor Malloy signed a historic gun bill that diminished sales of the AR-15 rifle throughout the state, limited the magazine clips to 10 rounds and enforced background checks for all gun sales.
The Colt’s Defense LLC, Colt Finance Corp. Form 2012 10-K Report to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission stated, “it is possible that demand for commercial versions of our product could experience a sudden decline.”
“There are indications that the commercial market has recently experienced a surge in demand due to renewed concerns relating to “gun control” laws and regulations. .. A rapid decline in demand for our products in the commercial market could cause Colt’s Manufacturing to cancel purchase orders that we have included in our backlog,” the report stated.
Colt’s Manufacturing accounted for approximately 34 percent of Colt’s Defense sales in 2012, which increased dramatically from the six percent of sales in 2011, according to the report. “If our Memorandum of Understanding with Colt’s Manufacturing were not to be renewed, our sales of rifles and carbines into the commercial market could be significantly impacted,” the report also stated.
In April , former General Counsel Carlton S. Chen and Vice President of Business Development Merrick Alpert each filed eight employment lawsuits against Colt’s Manufacturing Co., Colt Defense LLC, and Colt CEO emeritus William Keys, according to “Lawyer-execs fire at Colt with suit claiming severance packages denied,” by thedailyreportonline.com.
Both of their accusations talk of “legal scheming” within Colt’s corporate circle. According to The Daily Report, Chen and Alpert are seeking pre-judgment remedy liens of $2.7 million.
Brittany Murphy can be contacted at bmurphy@KSC.keene.edu