How Sam Colt Used Nitrous Oxide to Fund His Firearms Entrepreneurship

“Dr. Coult of New York, London and Calcutta.”

That’s how the up-and-coming firearm inventor billed himself while exhibiting the effects of nitrous oxide in the 1830s. Traveling the country as a “practiced chemist,” Colt used the nitrous demonstrations as a way to raise money for the development of his firearms.

In October 1833, an ad appeared in an Albany, NY newspaper announcing Colt’s upcoming demonstration at the Albany Museum. The advertised effects of the laughing gas were said to include laughter, singing, dancing, and a “propensity [for] muscular exertion, such as wrestling, boxing, &c.” Admission to the limited engagement (three nights only!) was 25 cents.

The 19th century was a different time, to be sure. Claiming to be a doctor while holding no such credentials was risky, but not nearly as risky as it is today. As for the inventive spelling of his last name? Perhaps it was to make him sound more worldly – after all, he did claim to hail from three different continents!

Colt was no stranger to less-than-conventional ways to make money. He spent a number of years working under the direction of the Secretary of War on new detonation technology for underwater mines. He even ran a rolling mill for sheet metal and had a factory to make nails. None of those ventures ever paid off, but Colt was undeterred.

When Sam Walker of the Texas Rangers came calling in the 1840s, Colt would finally get his big break. He eventually hung up his lab coat, took down his medical degree, simplified his spelling, and began making the revolvers that would make him a household name.

Logan Metesh is a firearms historian and consultant who runs High Caliber History LLC. Click here for a free 3-page download with tips about caring for your antique and collectible firearms.


  1. avatar barnbwt says:

    Doc Coult’s Good Time Goof Gas.

    Figures; you’d have to be high as a kite to think pulling a plunger was the best way to open a revolver crane 😉

    1. avatar Bearpaw says:

      My fav is Jack Parsons, founder of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab…

      …and occultist, magician, druggy, anarchist, sex explorer, and bomb maker among other questionable pursuits.

      1. avatar Defens says:

        Parsons was just featured as the subject of an episode of “Lore” – the Amazon Prime show. Pretty odd duck!

  2. avatar jwm says:

    At that time you could buy cocaine and opioides over the counter, no questions asked. In the old days we had Colt and other snake oil salesmen.

    Nowadays we have flat earthers and conspiracy theorists. Humanity doesn’t change. We just have neater tech.

    1. avatar strych9 says:

      And more complicated tales… have you seen the actual arguments flat earth folks make?!

      1. avatar Tom in Oregon says:

        Yeah, there are some whacky “theories” out there.
        Sometimes I read them for a good laugh.

        1. avatar neiowa says:

          Man made global warming, pot is good/harmless, anything Obumer believes.

        2. avatar rt66paul says:

          You mean like the one where limiting guns will make everyone safer?

      2. avatar Rusty Chains says:

        Turtles all the way down!

    2. avatar jross says:

      Yeah he should have just sold cocaine. Theres this dude in my town that sells the stuff and he drives a sweet iroc.

    3. avatar Joel says:

      Flat earth!?!??? That’s actually a thing? I’ve actually made it all the way from DFW TO DFW only traveling west…… I had a two week layover in India. Maybe I got turned around…. (sarc).

  3. avatar jwtaylor says:

    Keep at it Logan, love your stuff.
    Colt reminds us all that all the great inventors and entrepreneurs had “day jobs”.

    1. avatar Logan Metesh says:

      Thanks, Jon!

  4. avatar FastAndFuriousInfinite says:

    From the title, I would have thought Sam raced for pinks and used the winning to start his firearm business.

    1. avatar VicRattlehead says:

      He tried but the horses just got stoned off the stuff.

  5. avatar The Rookie says:

    Nitrous Oxide, huh?

    Gonna have to dust off my copy of Blue Velvet tonight, I think…

  6. avatar Docduracoat says:

    Nitrous Oxide is the only gas from the early days of anesthesia still in common clinical use.
    Anesthesia developed from the drug abuse parties of the 1800’s. These “ether frolics” were like the pot parties or ecstasy raves of later generations.
    It seems that people want to get intoxicated together in groups!

    1. avatar Geoff "Mess with the bull, get the horns" PR says:

      Why is it I imagine you a bit like this, Doc? :

  7. avatar possum says:

    So a firearms company funded with drugs, that’s nice.

    1. avatar Geoff "Mess with the bull, get the horns" PR says:

      Don’t forget Coca Cola…

  8. avatar James W Crawford says:

    Guns and booze don’t mix.
    The BATF demonstrated this at Waco.
    Guns and Nitrous-Oxide don’t mix either.

  9. avatar GluteusMaximus says:

    Interesting, excuse me as i drink some laudanum

  10. avatar Gralnok says:

    Nitrous oxide, it’s a gas. 😉

  11. avatar Sarcastro says:

    Drugs are steady revenue. Just ask the CIA

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