As a gun enthusiast, how much do you really know about the history of firearms? If you think the first automatic firing weapons were used in the Civil War, you are about 600 years away from being correct!
Guns have a long and fascinating history that began as far back as the 1300s in China and Turkey. From there, these more primitive weapons morphed into powerful cannons that turned the tide of many a skirmish and war. See how the firearms you use today have changed over the years — and how they’ve stayed the same!
The Early Years of Gunpowder
In approximately 1250 A.D., a monk named Roger Bacon captured the exciting result of combining saltpeter, charcoal and sulfur in his writings. The cannon was one of the first implementations of this type of weapon, and it only took around 50 years for weapons masters to determine how best to leverage this powerful new tool.
Cannons consisted of a rudimentary breech and muzzle (the open end) on either side of a closed metal tube. A touchhole at the back allowed access for lighting the gunpowder with a smoldering ember or torch. The projectile was forced through the muzzle by the buildup of gases caused by the exploding gunpowder.
Shrinking the Cannon
It took over 100 years before cannons were miniaturized enough to be used as personal weaponry. During this period and the following three centuries, weapons designers were on the constant lookout for a better way to ignite the gasses that caused combustion. This eventually came in the form of a matchlock in the early 1400s, which was generally a slim length of cord that received a special chemical treatment that allowed it to burn slowly and evenly.
Eventually, a serpentine was developed that allowed the matchlock to be held mechanically and pressed to the touchhole to begin ignition.
A Flash in the Pan
By the mid-1500s, improvements were continuing at a more rapid pace, and firearms resembled the current versions of handheld weapons much more closely.
The introduction of the flintlock gun included a steel striking plate and a moveable trigger that released the hammer-like cock. When the battery was struck, the resulting sparks would shower into the pan and fire the gun. When these weapons failed, there would still be a small flash from the priming powder, providing us with the phrase “a flash in the pan” indicating a weapon that didn’t fire.
Refinements to the mechanical components of these weapons continued apace, with a key change in the 1600s being the introduction of a major brand of weapons that is still in use today — Beretta. The firearms manufacturer is officially one of the oldest companies in the world, starting operations as early as 1526 in Brescia, Italy.
From the introduction of cannons to the precision of the 1600s, the art and science of guns changed dramatically during this period. The growth continues as we explore the 1700s and 1800s in Part 2 of this series on the history of firearms.
~ Ready to Fire News