“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.