American Genius (2015) s01e06 Episode Script

Colt vs Wesson: The Revolver

On the ridge, rifles! As a young nation, the united states of america hurtles from one destructive war to the next.
With each new conflict, the art of war changes and grows, creating an opportunity for men determined to advance the state of weaponry.
Samuel Colt.
One of these guns is not up to Colt standard.
Smith and Wesson.
What's this? Our future.
The heated battle to perfect the ultimate instrument of combat a weapon that will change how wars are fought, and transform America.
The invention of the revolver.
Boy, i want you to be respectful of everybody you meet on this ship.
You watch your back, but you be respectful.
You understand me? Well, here he is.
Nice strong worker just like i told you.
A troublesome 16 year old boy is being sent away from his home half a world away to calcutta, india.
His name is samuel colt.
Sam Colt came from a kind of difficult background.
His mother died when he was 7.
He didn't take to his formal studies, but he liked taking things apart and putting them back together again.
He also liked explosives.
He was kind of a prankster, and it got him in a lot of trouble.
His father hopes that the journey will teach colt responsibility and that he will learn a trade as a seaman.
But instead, the trip fills samuel colt with another inspiration.
Colt is fascinated by guns and believes that there must be a way to make them better.
In the early 19th century, battles are fought with sabers and single-shot muskets.
The world of guns is ready for a revolution.
You had to load it from the top of the gun and you took a whole cartridge which was powder, the projectile and paper and you would end up putting it down the barrel with a rod.
So loading single-shot guns weren't horribly efficient.
It would take you about a minute or so to load three shots if you were really good.
Colt has a breakthrough idea, said to be inspired by the wheel of a ship.
He sees that the mechanisms that are used to steer and control these ships had ratchets, and when they rotated the wheel that it would cock, and that these ratchets would hold it in place.
Colt envisions a firearm with a cylinder that can turn after each shot and lock, then be fired again, multiple times.
It is the beginning of the revolver.
PATERSON, NEW YERSEY When colt returns to the united states, he's a young man determined to turn his vision into a reality.
Go on, take a shot.
But first, he needs money.
How about another? My new revolver, works the same way.
It always keeps you loaded.
This is going to revolutionize the world.
He is the consummate salesman.
When sam colt would come to you and ask for money, he's so over the top and he's such a unique personality, it's going to completely win over whoever he's asking.
Thanks to investments from family and friends, Colt is able to raise $230.
000, the equivalent of over six million today, and begins manufacturing his revolver.
So what do you think, am I on to something? There were bugs at first.
You don't want any chance that if you pull the trigger on a revolver more than one bullet's gonna go off at the same time, or even blow up the cylinder.
But colt doesn't give up.
How's it coming along there, Jim? Good? Looks good.
He improves on his design.
And in 1836 is awarded a patent.
Leading to a .
28 caliber five shot repeating firearm with a revolving cylinder, the colt paterson.
And it's like nothing the firearms industry has ever seen.
NORTHBOROUGH, MASSACHUSETTS News of colt's invention spreads quickly.
In nearby massachusetts, another young man is embarking on a career that will put him on a collision course with colt and make them lifelong rivals.
His name is Daniel Wesson.
His whole life, Wesson has been fascinated by all things mechanical.
In 1842, he becomes an apprentice to one of the premier rifle craftsmen of the day, his older brother, Edwin.
Daniel saw his brother Edwin as his real hero, as a man that he could learn more from about the skill of a machinist, and learn how to make the best firearms in america.
Like colt, edwin has been developing a revolver of his own.
Look, your piece is handcrafted.
Perfection.
Holding that gun for daniel just probably changed everything for him.
Looking at the gun in his hands, he saw the potential and he saw the excitement of invention.
And ultimately it spawned everything that he would invent.
But the wessons are held back by one thing.
Sam Colt, well he's got the patent.
So he holds the market.
So if you want to get into the revolver market, you better come up with something different.
Yet despite his exclusive patent, Sam Colt's new revolver is proving a tough sell.
Most lawmen and military aren't willing to take a chance on such a new and untested design, and colt's business is struggling.
But some 2,000 miles away, a new war is about to change his fortunes.
In the new state of texas, captain samuel walker and his texas rangers are fighting constant border battles with the country of Mexico.
On the ridge! Rifles! For Walker and his men, the time it takes to reload and fire a gun is often the difference between life and death.
But walker has come into possession of a new kind of weapon that could turn the tide of battle.
Sam Walker began experimenting with how to use this, it's like, "what do they got? what is this secret weapon? this is something we've never seen before.
" You don't have to have a single shot.
You don't have to load the gun every time you fire.
You've got something that you can load several rounds in.
The revolver is going to war.
Samuel colt has patented and manufactured the first revolver.
Now, it's being tested on the front lines.
The united states is at war with mexico.
And the texas rangers now have the weapon that could turn the tide in their favor: the Colt paterson revolver.
On the right, on the right! Draw pistols! For every shot the mexicans fire with their standard rifles, Walker's men can fire five.
It's the beginning of a new era in warfare.
They were used to hearing the one shot go off and then, they all scramble to load and then the next shot goes off, but imagine then hearing It would have been incredibly powerful and something to be incredibly intimidated by.
Samuel Walker is determined to get as many of the new revolvers as he can.
PATERSON, NEW JERSEY Even as the weapon's inventor is on the verge of bankruptcy.
He was a has been, he'd gone broke, his family had invested in him and lost everything.
I've got the authority to buy guns.
I'm listening.
How many of those can you deliver in five months? Five months? Hell, I can get you 10,000 in five months if the price is right.
Walker's order is just what colt needs.
But the deal comes with a catch: Walker wants Colt to upgrade his revolver, making it larger and giving him 6 shots instead of 5, with more power to kill in a single round.
The revolver went through the process of user influence, influencing both design and also the practical use of the thing.
They tinkered with this invention.
Colt agrees to make a new model.
But to produce the massive order, he knows he'll need help from one of the best firearm manufacturers in the country.
EDWIN WESSON'S RIFLE WORKS - Edwin Wesson? - Daniel.
My brother's away.
Samuel Colt.
If you wanna think about this situation of Sam Colt meeting Daniel wesson for the first time, you're meeting two totally different characters.
You've got sam colt who's just out there, and you've got Daniel Wesson who's a little bit reserved.
We're here about gun barrels.
Specifications to be decided, but it's a military contract.
For rifles? Handguns, we need 5000 in the next six months.
Can you handle that number? 5.
000.
1.
000 will do for now.
The Wesson name is best known for rifles.
Now, working with Samuel Colt What if we moved this back a quarter of an inch? Edwin and Daniel are about to enter the revolver business.
Using wesson barrels, Colt develops a .
44 caliber, four pound, nine ounce revolver.
There it is.
Named "The Walker," after the man who made it happen.
Increased the black powder by sixty grains, the barrel to nine inches.
The Wolt Walker is a much heavier gun.
Heavier caliber than colt's original invention.
But these texas rangers could handle that type of firearm.
Many consider the walker revolver the mightiest handgun of its day, with firepower that won't be matched for 90 years, until the release of the .
357 magnum.
With the start of the mexican-american war, the U.
S.
government purchases 1,000 Colt "Walker" pistols, and colt's business soars.
EDWIN WESSON'S RIFLE WORKS The success of the colt walker has shown the future of the firearms business.
Daniel and edwin wesson are determined not to be left behind.
The Wessons have spent years developing a revolver of their own, one with a cylinder that advances every time the hammer is pulled back.
And with colt's patent about to expire, they prepare to go public with their design.
- You like it? - Sure.
Edwin and Daniel Wesson are ready to unveil the next generation revolver and take on Samuel Colt.
Samuel Colt's colt-walker revolver has helped the united states win the mexican-american war.
The battlefield will never be the same.
And neither will the business of manufacturing guns.
Colt still holds a patent on the revolver and he continues to innovate.
In 1848, he unveils "the dragoon," named after the army infantry unit that orders it.
The dragoon is an immediate hit and the name colt becomes synonymous with revolvers.
Sam Colt created a brand around himself, and so what he was trying to establish there was that he was the guy.
He was the brand.
When you saw him, you thought "success".
But colt's most revolutionary idea isn't in his new design.
It's in how he puts it together.
Samuel Colt will build his next generation revolver on one of the world's first assembly lines.
The real genius of colt wasn't just the revolver, it was this incredible system of manufacturing and instead of these instruments being made by hand one at a time, they would make batches and then these parts would be cranked out in such great numbers that it really revolutionized the manufacturing process.
Now, one of these guns is not up to colt standard.
You choose.
Wrong, it's this one.
See the blemish? I don't allow any imperfections to leave my factory.
While colt begins mass producing his dragoons, Daniel and Edwin Wesson are still making their guns the old fashioned way, by hand.
The Wessons rely on regular orders to keep their business thriving.
But they also begin a limited production run of a new revolver.
It's something that the brothers have spent years working on together.
Daniel Wesson and his brother.
How it looks? They're striving to make something, the finest quality, best shooting firearm possible.
Samuel Colt's patents are about to expire and the Wessons have everything they need to enter the revolver business with their design.
But Samuel Colt is fighting back.
Gentlemen, I give you the official ruling.
"Any competitors will please take notice and desist forthwith from the sale of any revolving firearms.
Except such as are made by Colt, at hartford".
I shall proceed against you and hold you liable for damages if you persist in the sale of any such arms.
Colt's patents are extended for seven years, allowing him to continue to monopolize the revolver market.
For the Wesson brothers, who poured a fortune into their new gun, it is a devastating setback.
Please excuse me.
No further questions, gentlemen! But an even deeper blow is yet to come.
In january 1849, Edwin Wesson dies suddenly from a heart attack.
Daniel has lost a brother he idolized, the man who taught him everything he knows about making guns, his partner in a shared dream.
Daniel Wesson, while an individual and a brilliant mind in his own right, was really aided and helped along the way by his brother.
Now his brother's gone.
The Wessons had borrowed heavily to finance their new gun, leaving daniel with a mountain of debt he can't repay.
Daniel Wesson is left with no choice but to sell the company he and his brother worked so hard to build.
I mean, this guy really took a hit.
His brother dies.
He loses the company.
He's really lost at this point.
It seems that Daniel Wesson will never recover.
But he's about to meet a man who will change his fate, and help him create one of the most famous names in the gun world.
Horace Smith.
Daniel Wesson.
Samuel Colt is more powerful than ever.
Demand for his revolver is growing and his stranglehold over the american gun industry has forced his competition, Daniel Wesson, out of business.
Following the death of his brother and business partner, Wesson is left with nothing.
But he refuses to give up the fight.
With colt's patents in place, wesson has to come up with a new idea if he's going to make his mark in the gun business.
He brought whatever mechanical knowledge he had and he was always inspiring to improve on the design of a firearm, and always looking for something to do.
To get around colt's patents, Wesson focuses on how it fires.
In order to fire a lead ball, Colt's revolver ignites black powder by striking a percussion cap, three separate pieces for every shot.
But Wesson envisions another way with all three steps, combined into one package, a self contained bullet.
Daniel Wesson's pride and joy is the self contained metallic cartridge, which has never been seen before.
That idea is a fire in his brain.
And he's going to make that idea happen.
If Wesson can turn his idea into a reality, it will finally give him an advantage over Samuel Colt.
But wesson isn't the only one innovating.
Powder and ball in the front.
Primer in the back.
Reloading would be much faster.
One of Colt's employees, Rollin White, approaches him with a new innovation.
Rollin White came up with this idea for a bored through cylinder that would allow you to load the firearm from the rear.
It's not something Colt had.
The fire from one shot'll set off every chamber.
It's dangerous.
With an almost complete monopoly on the revolver, Colt isn't ready to take a chance on something new.
My dad used to say there's nothing as vulnerable As entrenched success.
Sometimes if an enterprise feels it has no real competition, it becomes complacent.
And ultimately it can get wiped out by a small upstart that comes out with a better product.
Rejected by colt, rollin white takes his groundbreaking idea to the man who intends to be Colt's biggest rival, Daniel Wesson.
What are you smiling at? Your offer.
It's not even close to what i had in mind.
You gonna build the gun yourself? You got a factory, hidden away somewhere? Let me give you a minute alone.
It was a very smart power play move on daniel wesson's part.
He got the mechanism.
All he had to do was pay a royalty.
He got the win.
Wesson moves forward with testing his new revolver, but with his company out of business, he's still looking for a partner to back him financially.
Looks like your lever pens are too tight.
Alright, then you fix it.
Horace Smith.
Daniel Wesson.
Horace Smith is an accomplished gunmaker who's been looking to get into the revolver business.
Nice shot, bulls eye.
Like Wesson, Horace Smith is ambitious and determined to beat Samuel Colt.
What's this? Our future.
They become partners That's remarkable.
And one of the most iconic names ingun making is born.
Daniel Wesson, he had success on his own right, but when he had someone else with him, it was just like magic.
Horace certainly filled a void and helped propel Daniel Wesson's ideas much further than they may've gone had the two never met.
Soon after the Smith & Wesson company is formed, Samuel Colt's patents on the revolver finally expire.
Smith y Wesson can now release their new revolver.
For the first time, Samuel Colt is forced to compete on an even playing ground, Making him anxious to find new customers.
Take a seat.
How can i be of service? I'm here representing some gentlemen that are dedicated to a cause.
As the 1850s draw to a close, the southern states have begun arming themselves, preparing for a conflict that seems to be inevitable.
Samuel Colt built his business on the back of the mexican-american war.
A new war would mean enormous profits.
It's time for Samuel Colt to decide where his loyalties lie.
The united states is on the brink of a civil war.
For Samuel Colt, it's a new chance to make a fortune selling guns.
Colt has been supplying weapons to the u.
s.
military for years.
But the military is about to be split in two and turn on itself.
When you're on the outbreak of war, there's a really difficult problem that arises from firearms manufacturers.
And that is the balance between loyalty and being a good businessman.
In this case this is a war breaking out in the United States between the north and the south.
This isn't america and the other guy.
This is their home.
In 1860, Colt sells the modern equivalent of more than $3 million worth of guns to the south.
It's a risky move for a northern businessman.
Not far away, Smith and Wesson face the same dilemma.
I was hoping for the discount I was getting elsewhere.
Well I think we can probably work something out depending on the size of the order.
We're not interested.
Let's continue this conversation later.
We have a reputation to maintain.
Smith and Wesson are very different from Samuel Colt, and so there's a bit of a debate going on at the onset of the civil war, which is, how do we handle this? We don't want to get in trouble but we are businessmen.
And so they kind of decide to take the safe route.
With war coming, Smith and Wesson decide to stop their sales to the south.
COLT MANUFACTURING CO.
COLT AIDING OUR ENEMIES Is it true? Northern newspapers accuse Colt of being a confederate sympathizer and worse, a traitor.
Sam Colt got into a lot of trouble on the eve of the civil war because he also was believed to be arming the south but in fact Colt supplied arms to both sides before the war.
After the war began, that stopped.
As the civil war begins in earnest, Colt's reputation has been destroyed.
So he devises a plan to prove his loyalty to his country.
Let 'em come! In 1861, at the age of 46, Colt is named a colonel by the state of Connecticut.
Hold still, let's get a shot of them.
And announces that he will fight for the north, leading a regiment of 400 men into war.
As the civil war begins, Samuel Colt has been named a colonel by the state of Connecticut and announces that he'll lead over 400 men to war.
But Colt angers connecticut's governor by demanding to select his own recruits.
His regiment is disbanded in less than two months.
And colt never sees action in the war.
Colt's reputation remains tarnished by the revelations that he sold guns to southern states.
With his regiment a failure, he tries to redeem himself by meeting the union army's increasing demand for weaponry.
In the process, he is working himself to exhaustion.
Can I get you anything? I'm fine.
Stay awhile.
Can you? In 1862, Colt becomes ill.
He dies of gout at the age of 47, having left an indelible mark on american life.
He leaves his wife elizabeth control of his company, and a personal fortune of $15 million, the equivalent of over $350 million today.
Elizabeth will have to keep the business running, even as the war rages on.
Wwo years later, the Colt factory burns to the ground.
Some suspect arson at the hands of confederate sympathizers.
The colt factory will be shuttered For the rest of the war.
But Elizabeth Colt's misfortune is Smith & Wesson's big opportunity.
Opening a new facility, Smith & Wesson thrive for the duration of the war, all the while improving their designs and coming up with new revolvers.
Smith & Wesson model 3.
Reloads in under thirty seconds.
Faster than a Colt.
Wanna try? Smith & Wesson realized that they needed a better design, so right after the civil war they come up with this idea for a new style revolver.
The u.
s.
army is now armed with Smith & Wesson.
In the years before the civil war, Smith & Wesson sold just over 11,000 revolvers.
But between 1860 and 1868 they'd sell over 100,000.
Smith & Wesson will use their success during the war to build one of the best-known brands in firearms.
And Elizabeth colt will soon recover from the devastating fire, and continue to innovate, eventually producing what would become the most famous Colt gun of them all.
The gun that would tame the american west.
What d'you call her? The Peacemaker.
UNION VICTORY! PEACE! When the civil war finally ends, America has been transformed in countless ways, not least of which is gun ownership.
Many of the soldiers come home with a prized possession.
The civil war really marks a turning point for firearms in american history for the revolver and with mass production really taking off, people were able to start buying revolvers.
It's really the birth of a huge movement in america with firearms.
People are still carrying the revolver because it's a reliable gun today.
But then you have a legacy of personalities.
And rivalries and competition.
There was an intense rivalry between Colt and Wesson.
They became entwined in this crusade to perfect these revolvers.
Their legacy isn't just the invention.
The revolver changed the world.