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Coltsville's Key Place In History

Commentary By JOHN B. LARSON

December 02, 2007

The National Park Service will hold a hearing Wednesday in Washington to weigh an important proposal naming one of our state's most treasured sites, Coltsville in Hartford, as a National Historic Landmark. Sens. Christopher Dodd, Joe Lieberman and I, as well as many members of the local community, have worked hard to bring Colt this well-deserved recognition.

I will testify before the committee about the vital role the Colt factory played not just in Hartford, but in the establishment of America as a world leader in business. Coltsville's blue dome is a landmark and there is no question of the factory's importance to the growth of this community. Equally critical is the site's place in America's national history.

The legacy of Coltsville is truly remarkable. The contribution of the Colt Factory, noteworthy at any time, is put into greater relief when we're at war. We should take this opportunity to recognize the achievements that made our military into the world's strongest. Connecticut has always been known as the arsenal of democracy and the accomplishments of Colt cemented that reputation.

Beyond the company's key contributions to the military, Coltsville has great historical significance as the seed of the Industrial Revolution in this country and the birthplace of a great advance in women's rights.

Under the leadership of Sam and Elizabeth Colt, the Colt Factory changed the way we produced weapons. Sam's ideas and innovations spread quickly throughout the industrial world. The skills the company gained in producing high-quality weapons efficiently were applied by many manufacturers, including the makers of automobiles, jet engines and clocks.

Some of our nation's best-known businessmen such as Henry Ford, Francis Pratt and Amos Whitney apprenticed in the Colt Factory. They took what they learned about the assembly line and precision manufacturing to their own companies, building them into some of this country's greatest industrial success stories.

But perhaps the greatest story of the Colt Factory is that of Elizabeth Colt. Her pioneering spirit and refusal to let gender determine her role in the business community make Coltsville distinct from other historical sites. Elizabeth Colt deserves a place in history alongside our early suffragettes.

Elizabeth inherited the Colt Co. from her husband when he died. As a woman, she couldn't vote and had few rights, but she ran one of the most successful companies in the country. She presided over the Colt Factory during some of its most prosperous and innovative years. Her innovations helped win the West for America.

At a time when industry was dominated by men, Elizabeth Colt seized the helm of her husband's company, steering it toward continued success and relentless innovation. She oversaw the building of homes for employees, a church and a park, which made Coltsville into more than a company. Her leadership made it into a community.

As we see successful female CEOs and our country's first female Speaker of the House, we owe a debt of gratitude to Elizabeth Colt for the path she blazed.

Today you can travel from China to France and find a Starbucks or a McDonald's on the corner. It's hard to imagine that American businesses once resided only on American soil. But that time wasn't so long ago. Colt was the first American company to venture overseas. Samuel Colt set up an American manufacturing plant abroad and extended his influence, and the country's influence, across the Atlantic Ocean.

The Colts were willing to take risks and work hard. In doing so, they powered American capitalism and were a force behind the spirit of industrialism and innovation that still drives our country and our economy. On Wednesday, I hope that the National Park Service will recognize the contributions of everyone who built the Colt Factory, giving Coltsville the landmark designation it is due.

But regardless of the outcome, I plan to continue working hard to preserve the historic integrity of the Coltsville buildings. Restoring Coltsville to its former glory is critical to the revitalization of downtown Hartford. It is the best investment we can make in our community.

John B. Larson of East Hartford is the U.S. representative for the 1st Congressional District.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
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