Firearms are any weapon that is used to fire a projectile with the help of gunpowder. They are developed day-by-day with modern technologies by different countries to make themselves superior to others making it extremely dangerous for the people as every person has access in one way or another. Illegal firearms have also come a long way making it easy to access without any trace.
For a long period of time, human has been fascinated with the idea of launching projectiles. As our history suggests, humans have been using crossbows for centuries and also used to fight wars with them. The development of gunpowder just enhanced the efficient ways of launching a projectile.
And thus, Firearms have come a long way as they were established hundreds of years ago by the Chinese in the 1300s and since then no country has looked back.
History of Firearms
Firearms started developing after 1260 when the Chinese had developed gunpowder in the 9th century. After the development of gunpowder in China, they were later transmitted to the Middle East, Europe, and Africa. Almost all the guns are made on the basis of a simple concept i.e., Applying explosive pressure behind a projectile to launch it down the barrel.
After that, the mechanism of action was changed in every gun to make it much more effective and easy to use. Here’s the development of firearms since the 13th century.
Hand Cannon (1271-1368)
- The use of the first firearm was recorded in the mid-1300s by the Chinese Yuan dynasty.
- These were muzzle loading firearms in which the projectile was loaded with powder, wad, and ball.
- A small touch hole is placed at the breech end with a primer which when ignited by touching the fire, causes an explosion releasing the projectile from the cannon.
- Hand cannon was fired using both hands in which one hand holds the weapon to aim and the other ignites the primer.
- Hand cannon required much more stability for the perfect aim.
Match Lock (early 1400’s)
- The matchlock was the first advance in the history of pistols that could be fired with one hand which also provides an advantage to aim the target and the straight wooden stock was replaced by curved stock for better recoil and grip of the weapon.
- In matchlock, the touch hole was replaced by the wick a slow-burning piece of cord) attached to the S-shaped hook to ignite the primer.
- To fire using matchlock, the hook needs to be pushed forward towards the primer kept in a pan. The burning wick would ignite the primer thus releasing the projectile from the weapon.
- Match lock was much better than Hand cannon but had its cons such as Fragility and Weather sensitivity making it hard for surprise attacks.
Wheel Lock (early 1500’s)
- The introduction of the Wheel lock meant the disappearance of the matchlock.
- In the wheel lock mechanism, the wick was replaced by the steel serrated wheel which is mounted at the side of the rear of the weapon. The spinning wheel is mounted with a chain round in such a way that when the trigger is pulled, the wheel rotates.
- The wheel is positioned in such a way that it rotates against the steel holding the primer to cause friction and ignite a spark in order to release the projectile.
- The wheel lock is much more efficient, accurate, weather-resistant. However, wheel locks are much more expensive and complicated than matchlocks.
Flint Lock (early 1600’s)
- The introduction of Flintlock solved a longstanding problem of an efficient, reliable, and easy to use firearm.
- The flintlock firearm was designed in such a way that flint was attached to the jaw-shaped device or a hammer-like structure or a pivoted arm called a cock which could be operated with the help of a trigger.
- When the trigger is pulled, the flint attached to the hammer strikes against the steel cover kept over the priming pan to ignite the powder.
- This spark when created then travels through the touch hole into the main charge so that the projectile is discharged from the weapon.
- The flintlock remained in use for over two centuries without any changes.
Percussion Cap (1805)
- The percussion cap ignition system was developed in 1807 by Alexander John Forsynth of England.
- After the use of flintlock for almost 200 years, the invention of a sensitive compound Mercury fulminate opened a wide range of possibilities for advanced firearms.
- Alexander experienced that when the trigger is pulled and the hammer strikes the primer, it causes enough spark almost immediately to ignite the main powder to discharge the weapon. With this, a separate primer and the striking system were no longer required.
- With new possibilities and a new system, it took 7 years to use this percussion system efficiently in 1814. Until that, it went through many systems namely Forsynth scent bottle, pill locks, tube locks, and finally percussion cap which was claimed by many scientists but was finally attributed to Joshua Shaw of Philadelphia.
Pinfire System (1840)
- The pinfire system was one of the first breech-loading firearms in which the primer, propellant, and missile are all held together in a cartridge.
- In the pinfire system, the percussion cap is inside the cartridge case while the pin which rests inside the percussion cap is protruded through one side of the cartridge case.
- When the trigger is pulled, the hammer strikes the firing pin driving it into the priming compound causing it to detonate the main charge and discharge the bullet.
- Pinfire system revolvers used bullets of 5, 7, 9, 12 & 15mm calibers while rifle and shotgun ammunition of 9mm & 12 bore calibers were also available.
- While the pinfire system was one of the greatest advancements in the history of firearms, it had many drawbacks, one being the reliability or the tendency of a cartridge to discharge if dropped onto its pin.
Rimfire System (1851)
- The introduction of the rimfire system in 1851 was a major breakthrough as it was much more reliable and eliminated almost all the problems including drawbacks of the pinfire system.
- The rimfire cartridge is a thin-walled cartridge with a hollow flanged rim. In this cartridge, no cartridge pin was required. The rim was filled with a small amount of priming compound.
- When the trigger is pulled, the firing pin strikes the rim crushing it in the process which explodes the priming compound thus igniting the propellant.
- The initial development of the rimfire system was made by Flobert, a gunsmith from Paris. The first revolver to fire rimfire cartridges was developed by Smith & Wesson in 1855.
- Rimfire is Cheap, reliable, and accurate while it also has cons such as the limitation of velocity and caliber.
Dreyse Needle fire Rifle (1800’s)
- This firearm is named after its inventor Nikolaus Von Dreyse and was first introduced as a fully functional rifle in 1836.
- Dreyse rifle was the main infantry weapon of the Prussians who adopted it in 1848 and is also known as a needle gun due to its needle-like firing pin.
- Dreyse rifle was the first breech-loading, bolt-action rifle used to open and close the chamber with the use of a bolt handle.
- The employment of the needle gun radically changed military tactics in the nineteenth century.
- The cartridge of this firearm was a self-contained paper case containing primer, black powder charge, and bullet. The bullet was glued to the paper case with the priming cap attached to its base.
- The firearm was developed on the basis that it would more complete combustion of charge once the firing pin strikes the primer.
- However, this rifle is rendered to be useless due to the corrosion formed, although it was a major step towards the development of modern firearms.
Centerfire System (1861)
- This was one of the major developments in the history of firearms.
- In centerfire ammunition, the primer is at the center of the base of the cartridge and the primer needs to be soft enough to be crushed by the firing pin.
- Unlike other systems, the centerfire primer is a separate component seated into its case head which is replaceable by reloading.
- The exact date of the centerfire system is not precise yet a patent was issued in 1861 namely Daws Centerfire system.
- The principles used in centerfire ammunition had a significant effect as it is still used in modern firearms from small handguns to large artillery weapons.
- It has certain advantages such as accuracy, cheap, reloading, and reliability.