The largely unknown man at the center of Connecticut’s 19th century industrial greatness – Elisha King Root – died in Hartford today in 1865. Root’s machine tool genius first revolutionized axe production in Collinsville and then made the Colt Firearms Company a worldwide icon of precision manufacturing.
Born in western Massachusetts in 1808, Root became an apprentice at a local textile factory at age 10. He worked in various machine shops as a teenager. In his early 20s, Root moved to Canton, Connecticut to take a job at the world-famous Collins axe factory. There, he invented a unique die casting process and a series of precision machine tools that increased both the quality and speed of axes produced by the company.
Root’s mechanical prowess quickly earned him a reputation as one of the finest mechanical minds in New England. When Samuel Colt opened his new firearms factory on the banks of the Connecticut River in Hartford in 1849, he hired Root as foreman and shop superintendent. In only a few years, Root completely revolutionized the way Colt firearms were made, transforming the manufacturing operation from a drawn-out process of putting together individually hand-made parts into a precise, streamlined, and cost-efficient assembly line. The sheer volume and diversity of patents issued in Root’s name while he was employed at Colt reflect the scope of his engineering genius: metal-stamping drop hammers, milling machines, precision gauges, rifle-boring machines, and even improvements on several models of Colt revolvers. The Colt Model 1855 Pocket Revolver was popularly known as the “Root Revolver” owing to the primary role Elisha K. Root had in its design.
After Samuel Colt died in 1862, Root became president of Colt Firearms, a position he held until his own death in 1865. Under Root’s tenure as engineer and president, Colt’s factory became the first one in the world to mass-produce firearms using a modern assembly line method, and the first to produce a revolver made with 100% interchangeable parts. One of the sharpest minds of the Industrial Revolution, Root passed into the history books, today in Connecticut history.
Christopher Hoffman, “Profile of Elisha K. Root: Colt’s Manufacturing Mastermind,” Hartford Courant
Eric Hintz, “Samuel Colt and… Sewing Machines?” National Museum of American History
Paul Uselding, “Elisha K. Root, Forging, and the ‘American System,'” Technology and Culture