Courtesy the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, photos by Allen Phillips.

It is difficult, when visiting Hartford today, to imagine that at the end of the nineteenth century this was one of the richest cities—per capita, the richest—in America. Samuel Colt and the manufacturing innovations that he and his contemporaries pioneered beginning in the 1840s fueled a remarkable prosperity that inevitably led to the success of merchandising enterprises such as G. Fox & Co. and Brown Thompson. The proud stores they built (designed by the likes of Cass Gilbert and H. H. Richardson), as well as parts of the Colt factory (whose blue onion dome is familiar to...


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