THE DEVELOPMENT OF FIREARMS
THE DEVELOPMENT OF FIREARMS
By John B. Reynolds
No authentic records have been left to show when or by whom was discovered the wonderful properties of the chemical compound now known as gunpowder; nor have we any information concerning the uses to which it was originally applied, although Roger Bacon refers to it in his treatise published in A. D. 1216. The first firearms are said to have been rude cannon, formed by banding together flat iron bars. These crude affairs were fired by a slow match; their earliest use was as engines of war. Ancient history tells us they were so employed by the Moors at the noted Siege of Calais, in 1346. It is claimed by Spanish historians that to Spain belongs the honor of having been the first power to furnish her soldiers with arms small enough to be transported by a single person. They were at the first crude affairs, really small cannon lashed upon a rough stock; and were so heavy that the soldier was compelled to carry a rest to support the muzzle while firing the arm. For about two centuries after their invention they were so inefficient that the cross-bow gun, then in general use, was able to hold their own against them. It was not until the year 1596 that Queen Elizabeth, by a proclamation, directed that the cross-bows be discarded in favor of the muskets.
The first rifle was made by one Gaspard Zollner, of Vienna. It was a simple barrel with straight grooves. Next comes the Arquebus, the earliest noted improvement in the hand gun. It was lighter, but still heavy enough to compel the shooter to carry a "rest," which was a staff armed with a steel point, which was used at close quarters in case the arm failed, which was often the case. The Arquebus was a match gun, fired with a slow match made of a coil of small rope saturated in a chemical to make it burn slowly.
Next comes the Match Lock, which was merely the Arquebus equipped with a crude lock for holding the burning fuse. Crude as it may seem, it was considered a wonderful improvement. It is known to have been used in China as late as 1860.
Next to the Arquebus equipped with its match lock comes the Musket-Petronel, a Spanish invention. It was still heavier than its predecessor, and carried a charge twice as great. About this time appeared the petronel, which was shorter than the musket and had a larger bore. It was the first cavalry gun and had the slow match lock. Up to this time it seems to have been the idea that the bore of the gun should be very large; holding a charge equal to that of a small cannon of modern times. The wheel lock succeeded the slow match lock, invented in 1517 by the Germans. This was the nearest to
a real gun lock yet known. It consisted of a small disc of steel with fluted edges, set in close contact with the priming pan, and made to revolve with great rapidity by means of a spiral spring arrangement. When the trigger was pulled the disc was brought to bear upon a flint while revolving rapidly and a shower of sparks thrown in the flash pan, igniting the powder. The wheel lock went into quite general use, and led directly to the invention of the pistol, about 1544. The first pistols were single barrel and very short and heavy. It was first used by the Germans and later adopted by many other nations. In 1607 all of the German cavalry were equipped with wheel lock pistols.
After the date just mentioned comes the Snaphaunce, and the improvement in firearms was rapid. The snaphaunce had a more simple lock than the wheel lock and was less likely to get out of order.
The next great improvement was the Flint Lock, well known to many of the older readers of Fur News; many probably hunted with them. It was of Spanish invention, date of 1630; this was adopted by France at once; in 1690; England discarded the wheel lock and adopted it also.
Rapidly following the invention of the flintlock came important improvements in the musket. The stock was lightened and made more shapely; sights were invented and placed on the barrels. Instead of carrying ammunition in bulk, cartridges were brought in use. These were paper cases having powder in one end and shot or ball in the other. In loading, the end containing the powder was bitten off and rammed down the barrel. Steel bayonets were invented and placed in use in 1693. Prior to this time a rude bayonet set in a wooden handle, to be placed in the muzzle of the gun, had been used in hand-to-hand charges where the arm could not be loaded quick enough. In 1807 a Scotch clergyman by the name of Alexander Forsyth invented a new method of igniting the powder charge in firearms, known as the percussion lock. This invention was not looked upon with much favor and did not come in general use until the year 1834, when it was given a public test to determine its efficiency. The test extended to 6,000 rounds; in this test the percussion lock missed but six times, while the flint-lock scored 922. This feat established the efficiency of the cap-lock over the flint-lock, which rapidly fell into disuse, leaving the percussion lock undisputed possession of the field.
Next in line comes the breech-loader, the exact date of the invention is of great antiquity; one is known to bear the date of Edward IV., 1471. Records show that the French monarch, Henry II., shot with a breech-loading gun in 1540 and English records show that the Marquis of Worcester took out a patent in that country for a breech-loading action on the "cut-screw" principle in the year 1661. While the exact date of the invention of the first breech-loading guns is a mystery, the invention was undoubtedly of English origin. M. Lefhauchex, of France, capped the climax by inventing the cartridge containing the cap within itself, this made it available for sporting use, and drew public attention. This same man invented the Lefhaucheux action used on the earlier types of breech-loading guns. About this time several American inventors concentrated their efforts along the lines of breech-loading arms with divers results. Probably the most noted of them was Christopher M. Spencer, who was considered one of America's foremost inventors. The Spencer rifle was of his invention, also the Spencer shotgun. The rifle was invented when he was but 19 years of age. When the Civil War broke, young Spencer took his rifle to Washington to show it and try and get an order for its manufacture, but army officials were overrun with gun inventors and did not look upon the "kid" and his gun with favor. Finally, when about discouraged, he was granted an interview with President Lincoln. After explaining the points of the gun they went out to try the gun, Spencer shooting first, making a very creditable score. Lincoln did not equal Spencer's score, but remarked that he could do better in his younger days. He gave Spencer an order for all the guns that could be made. A company was formed and 94,000 guns were delivered for use in the Civil War.
About this time Henry, of Connecticut, invented the "volcanic" repeating rifle, which was the forerunner of the Winchester. Soon others appeared on the market and the breech-loading and repeating guns were soon brought to such a degree of perfection that improvements were considered an impossibility. However, they were no comparison to the arms now in use. Next comes the automatic of present day. While these guns work fine there are many chances for improvements. Thus far the Remington is superior to anything on the market. It seems that the automatic is about the limit in the improvement in firearms. What next?
Fur, News. Fur News, January 1916.
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