Fig. 1: Image showing SMITH & WESSON MODEL 17-3 22 LR
Weapons have been used from time immemorial. But they have been developed from time to time, catering to the needs of humans. Longbow ended hundred year war in Europe. People from history have prevailed battles due to some improvements in swords. Rat race of collecting arms for the national détente is not new. Whether for purpose of self defense or offence, guns have a fascinating history.
Though the firearms started as the primeval popguns in middle ages, they have reformed through centuries and have become intricate weaponry of the day. Starting with the gunpowder, bullet weapons were introduced for firing. What started off with a weak, small cannon, guns have undergone a complete transformation.
Conventionally, Chinese invented gunpowder in 19th century. But their use was confined to firecrackers only. Robert Bacon is also known to be the inventor of gunpowder according to a theory. He is supposedly said to have found its recipe among the chemical formulas. Regardless of who gunpowder’s inventor was, mythical monk from Germany is believed to have given idea of propelling projectile with the gunpowder in the 1300s. And Arabs are known to be inventors of earliest cannon named madfaa. This cannon was a wooden bowl with gunpowder in it and cannonball was made to stand on bowl’s rim. Metal cannon named pot de fer soon followed madfaa. Its name that meant pot of fire, described how the iron bottle gripped gunpowder. Modern cannons were developed from this model only.
The subsequent cannons looked nothing more than simple pipes that were closed from one end that fired lead balls or stones. Some cannons were made of wooden tubes fastened by iron. Due to lack of support, these cannons were laid on the ground and were supported with dirt mounds. Although roaring noises made by these cannons were frightening, their force was dubious. Even after hitting the knights in full armor, it would hardly create a dent.
Soon these cannons were enlarged to take care of the popgun qualities they had. Their large versions were known as bombards. These bombards made use of stone balls as there was dearth of cast iron ones. Slow match, which was rope boiled in gunpowder and lye, was attached to the cannon and was burned continuously. Slow matches lead huge cannons to establish as first handgun towards the end of 14th century. Little lead balls, earliest of bullets were fired by the hand gun.
Due to better accuracy and strength culverin replaced crossbow in the end of 16th century. Discovery of priming pan made firing even easier. Until 19th century, priming pan held gunpowder in small dish fastened to gun barrels.
Weighty and tiresome, the matchlock was introduced in 15th century. Also known musket, matchlock had better balance and was better stocked and used pioneering device for firing. Serpentine, the device was S-shaped and lowered slow match in priming pan whenever a gunman pressed the trigger. Introduction of this device had modernized gunnery while letting the aimers shoot and aim using both their hands. Musket was around 5-6 feet long with twenty pounds of weight. Supported by forked stick, musket users were known as musketeers.
Even though serpentine made firing much easier, slow match lighting was still a tedious job. To make it stay alight in damp weather particularly, posed a problem. Means of starting fire inside guns was discovered in year 1515. Monk’s gun had first ever wheel lock. This mechanism worked in a way that when spun by finger, it produced spark by rubbing against flint. Sparks then reached touch hole and ignited gunpowder.
This wheel lock led to introduction of pistols. Slightly curved and with length of two feet made their way as gun of cavalry. But wheel lock used in the pistols was costly and hence army prepared cheaper matchlocks as replacements. Only wealthy men or sportsmen could afford these little devils then. Due to its cost, wheel lock could not replace matchlock for common man.
In early 1600s, launch of flintlock offered reliable and inexpensive firearm to an average marksman. It was simple to operate as it used thumb cocking system. The gun had small flint fixed to hammer and little gun powder placed in flash pan. A small lock was used to protect the gun powder. On pulling the trigger, hammer was released and flint struck lock out of way of pan and created needed spark simultaneously. Gun makers then perfected the mass production and delivered quality guns during the time. Flintlock was a combination of best of matchlock and wheel lock’s features and gave a new way to ignite the powder. But this weapon was not accurate in the shooting and wars often misfired. This is reason why this period of fighting is known by its fire volume than accuracy.
In 1800s, breech loading rifle was introduced. Percussion caps brought the air of change. Reverend Forsyth launched percussion cap in 1805. This was a priming pan that looked like scent bottle. Screw fixe in center of cap doled out gunpowder in apt quantities. This bottle like pan could hold gunpowder for twenty shots.
Slowly, repeating weapons came around. Earliest machine gun known as Mitrailleuse was employed by French towards the end of 1800s. Though it was a secret till the time it was used correctly on battle ground. Earliest machines guns were used in large quantities during the World War 1. Machines gun was bent for shooting the aeroplanes and was soon known as anticraft gun. The improvements in the guns did not stop there. They were mounted on airplanes, submarines, ships, tanks, trains for various reasons.
These days, guns also use radar for locating targets along laser sights for assuring accuracy. Handguns are a common weapon for criminals and homeowners using them for security. Starting from bowls that held gunpowder, guns have become today’s sophisticated machinery. Gone are the days when marksmen had to handle accuracy issues. One can now shoot up to several miles accurately using the latest guns available in the market.
Filed Under: Invention Stories