A Brief History of the Gun

Firearm history is a rich and colorful subject that is not without some controversy. The first gun may have been made and used in Europe, China or the Middle East. Once guns became a common military tool, the history becomes much clearer and well documented. Today there are number of gun manufacturers around the globe who continue to develop and produce guns not just for the military but also for the common person.

The First Gun

Gunpowder is a critical invention necessary to for the development of guns and firearms. China was the first place where documented evidence of the use of gunpowder exists. In the 5th century AD, scientific works document the composition and characteristics of gunpowder. At point in history, gunpowder was mainly used for medicinal purposes and called “fire medicine.” The oldest surviving record of an actual gun in China is in Sichuan province. The bronze sculpture has been dated to the 12th century.

The Middle East has conflicting accounts in the 13th century. Al Hassan claims the Mamelukes used cannon against the Mongol invasion of 1260 at Ain Jalut. Other accounts of this time in history claim the Mongols introduced gunpowder and firearm technology to the Mamelukes.

In Europe, the first documented use of firearms is in Russia. A chronicle sites the Tokhtamysh’s attack on Moscow in 1382. The Muscovite’s are credited with using guns to defend their city from the Golden Horde.

It is interesting to note that the first mention of guns in the Middle East and Europe both involve the Mongols. Since the Mongols conquered China in the early 13th century, it is reasonable to conclude that the gun was first invented in China and adopted by the rest of the known world after witnessing and experiencing its potential in the hands of the Mongol Empire.

The Firing Mechanism

The history of gun and firearm development is dominated by the west from this point forward. As with most technology, the initial developments are in miniaturization. In the middle 14th century, hand-held guns appeared. The user needed to light a wick and insert it into to the barrel or a flashpan to light the powder.

In the 15th century, the matchlock appeared in Europe. The chief advantage was the ability to keep both hands on the weapon when firing. The matchcord was attached to a clamp that would be lowered to the flashpan when the user triggered the mechanism. This could be a button, trigger or simply pulling on a cord. The matchlock was the primary weapon of European armies until the early 18th century.

While the wheellock and snaplock firing mechanisms made guns safer and more effective weapons, it was not until the arrival of the flintlock that the matchlock got displaced. The flintlock was much more useful to military and civilian hunters because it would generate a spark only upon firing and only in the flashpan. The burning cord of a matchlock could give away the persons position by either the smell of the burning cord or its glow at night.

The flintlock remained the firearm of choice until the mid-19th century. Breach-loaders were available in the 15th century but did not became the firearm of choice until advances in metallurgy and engineering made these weapons viable for the hunter and military. The ability to mass produce identical weapons and cartridges made it possible to share ammunition and to easily repair the firearms in the field.

The cartridge used contains both the gunpowder and the projectile. The barrel would be hinged to the rest of the firearm allowing it to easily be accessed for inserting the cartridge. For some time, the weapon was still fired using a flashpan. When cartridges were designed that would also contain the firing mechanism, the focus of advancement changed again.

Speed Of Fire

Fully self contained cartridges brought with it the impetus to invent automatic firearms. Firing more rounds per minute became an important factor in military strategy. In the 19th century, the US Navy was the first military to adopt automatic weapons when they made use of the Gatling gun. Gatling guns were fired by turning a crank handle that rotated the six barrels around a central point.

The next major advancement in the history of firearms was by Sir Hiram Maxim who designed a mechanism to use the recoil energy to eject the spent cartridge casing and load a new one. This allowed the gun to be reloaded much faster and consequently, fire more rounds per minute. World War I saw the Maxim gun become a staple of military arsenals.

Between World War I and World War II, many gun manufacturers started working on designs for automatic weapons that would be superior to Maxim’s design. The Browning M2 saw significant adoption during World War II, for instance.

Modern Firearm History

Today the history of modern firearms is dominated not by individual inventors but by the manufacturers around the globe. Ishmash, a Soviet manufacturer, is responsible for the AK-47. The AK-47 is probably the most popular automatic firearm in the world. The AR-15 is also quite popular globally. Although, it is more commonly known by its US military designation of M-16. It is manufactured by ArmaLite, Colt and several other companies.

Italy’s Fabbrica d’Armi Pietro Beretta produces some of the worlds most popular hand guns. The Beretta 92, for instance, is standard issue in the US military. Austrian manufacturer Glock Ges. m.b.h. is well known for the Glock 17. The Glock 17 uses a polymer composite rather than steel or other metal compound to make most of the components including the body of the firearm.

The future history of firearms is going to be dominated by durability and more lightweight designs. Guns that are suitable for desert, swamp and arctic conditions will be what users demand. Manufactures like Heckler and Koch, Glock and others are already leading the way in research and development.

Source by Manny DelaCruz

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