Iconic American Colt Firearms Now Owned by a Czech Company

A government-issue 'Model of 1911' pistol manufactured in 1914.

For almost one hundred and eighty years the Colt’s Patent Arms Manufacturing Co. in Hartford, Connecticut has been one of the most famous gun manufacturing companies in the world.

They have supplied the United States military, police departments and civilians with a variety of weapons since before the Civil War.  Recently, however, Ceská Zbrojovka Group SE in the Czech Republic has acquired one hundred shares of Colt for two hundred and twenty million dollars and more than one million shares of the Česká Zbrojovka Group SE.

CZG’s president and chairman, Lubomír Kovařík remarked, “The acquisition of Colt, an iconic brand and a benchmark for the military, law enforcement and commercial markets globally, fits perfectly in our strategy to become the leader in the firearms manufacturing industry and a key partner for the armed forces.  We are proud to include Colt, which has stood shoulder-to-shoulder with the U.S. Army for over 175 years.”

Colt Single Action Army, U.S. Artillery Model. Image by Hmaag CC BY-SA 3.0
Colt Single Action Army, U.S. Artillery Model. Image by Hmaag CC BY-SA 3.0

Dennis Veilleux, president and CEO of Colt said, “Having completed a historic turn-around of the operations and financial performance at Colt over the past five years, this important next step with CZG positions the company to take advantage of significant growth opportunities.” according to stripes.com, the website for Stars and Stripes, an American military newspaper.

Samuel Colt was just fifteen when the ideas of a revolving pistol cylinder that could shoot five or six times before needing to be reloaded were forming in his head.  By 1836 he had received a patent for the Colt Single Action Army revolvers and by 1874 had sold over twelve thousand to the U.S. military and even more to civilians.

For about twenty years this was the standard military handgun.  According to connecticuthistory.org, when Colt died in 1862 his widow, Elizabeth, took control of the company and was faced with a fire that burned the facility to the ground.  She used the insurance money to rebuild the factory on the same site.

In 1901 the Colt family sold the business with the new owners retaining the Colt name.  Not long after, Colt partnered with John Moses Browning leading to the Colt Model 1911 semi-automatic pistol and the Browning automatic rifle.

The Department of the Army made mass purchases of the 1911 making it the standard sidearm during both World Wars.  According to ssusa.com, after the Korean Conflict wound down in 1955 Colt was in financial trouble.

The company was sold again to the Penn-Texas Company run by the Silberstein Holding company but by 1959 the company had removed Silberstein and began operations as Fairbanks Whitney.  They produced the AR-15 semiautomatic rifle and fast on its heels, the military M16, full-automatic version rifle.  By 1964 the company was reshuffled and brought back the Colt name.

A Colt AR-15 SP1 assult rifle. Image by Armémuseum CC BY 4.0.
A Colt AR-15 SP1 assult rifle. Image by Armémuseum CC BY 4.0.

In 1984 the U.S. government replaced the Colt .45 with the Baretta M9 causing the Colt company to lose most of its business and it was sold again.  In 1992 Colt filed for Chapter 11 protection but during that time received a contract for nineteen thousand new M4 carbines from the U.S. Army and was able to reorganize and escape bankruptcy.

The company saw a resurgence with the U.S. Air Force M16A1 rifles and became the official suppliers of the U.S. Government until 2013.  In 1999 retired U.S. Marine Lt. General William Keys took over the company bringing it through the many lawsuits which plagued the company mostly from civilians.  He returned the sales focus to the military and law enforcement.

M16A1, M16A2, M4, M16A4, from top to bottom. Image by Offspring 18 87 CC BY-SA 3.0
M16A1, M16A2, M4, M16A4, from top to bottom. Image by Offspring 18 87 CC BY-SA 3.0

In 2016, the Colt Competition Pistol with a stainless steel slide and frame was introduced as well as the Colt Combat Unit 5.56 x 45mm-cal. Carbine.  In 2017 Colt debuted the integral-mount weapon lighting and handheld tactical lighting systems.

Americaremembers.com states that the Colt revolver was carried by General George S. Patton, Jr.  His favorite was a .45 caliber Colt Model 1873 Single Action Army Revolver with a 4 3/4″ barrel, silver plated with ivory grips that were embellished with the General’s initials.  He used the gun to shoot Pancho Villa’s bodyguard, Julio Cárdenas in 1916.

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The revolver is now in the General Patton Museum in Fort Knox, Kentucky.

Ian Harvey

Ian Harvey is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE