The History of Firearms

From Guns and Rifles to Machine Guns and Firearm Ammunition

Man aiming gun
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Since the introduction of the flintlock musket in the 17th century, military small arms have gone through a series of significant changes over the years.

Puckle Gun

In 1718, James Puckle of London, England, demonstrated his new invention, the "Puckle Gun," a tripod-mounted, single-barreled flintlock gun fitted with a multishot revolving cylinder. This weapon fired nine shots per minute at a time when the standard soldier's musket could be loaded and fired but three times per minute.

Puckle demonstrated two versions of the basic design. One weapon, intended for use against Christian enemies, fired conventional round bullets, while the second variant, designed to be used against the Muslim Turks, fired square bullets, which were believed to cause more severe and painful wounds than spherical projectiles. The "Puckle Gun" failed to attract investors and never achieved mass production or sales to the British armed forces. One newspaper of the period observed following the business venture's failure that "those are only wounded who hold shares therein."

According to the Patent Office of the United Kingdom, "In the reign of Queen Anne, the law officers of the Crown established as a condition of a patent that the inventor must in writing describe the invention and the manner in which it works." James Puckle's 1718 patent for a gun was one of the first to provide a description.


  • History of the Colt Revolver
    Samuel Colt invented the first revolver -- named after its revolving cylinder. He was issued a U.S. patent in 1836 for the Colt firearm equipped with a revolving cylinder containing five or six bullets with an innovative cocking device. See also - Samuel Colt and the Revolver


    • The breech-loading rifle was invented by Captain Patrick Ferguson of Pitfours, Scotland.
    • John Moses Browning - Winchester Rifle
      John Moses Browning was the prolific gun designer who invented the Winchester rifle (30/30), the pump shotgun, and the Colt 45 automatic. He is best known for his automatic pistols and was the first one to invent the slide, which encloses the barrel of a pistol and the firing mechanism.
    • John Moses Browning
    • Modern Assault Rifles - M16 History
      The history of the modern assault rifle begins with the German Sturmgewehr used during WW2, the first rifle that could fire a medium size bullet at high rates of fire. In response the U.S. military began developing their own assault rifle, the result was the M16 assault rifle, first issued to American Soldiers in Vietnam in 1968 and designed by Eugene Stoner, a Marine Corps Veteran.
    • John Garand - M1 Semiautomatic Rifle
      Canadian, John Garand invented the M1 semiautomatic rifle in 1934.
    • The Johnson Rifle
      The Johnson Model 1941 Rifle one of the most innovative rifles of its time period. The Johson rifle was invented by Melvin M. Johnson Jr.
    • Samuel Gardiner
      Samuel Gardiner, Jr. received a U.S. Patent in 1863 on a "high explosive rifle bullet" in .54, .58, and .69 calibers. Fused to explode 1 1/4 seconds after firing, it ensured that any soldier hit by the projectile with a range of 400 yards faced the danger of the bullet exploding within the impact wound. The U.S. Government purchased 110,000 rounds of such ammunition for issue during the Civil War. Criticizing the use of similar ammunition by the Confederates, General Ulysses S. Grant complained that "their use is barbarous because they produce increased suffering without any increased advantage to using them."
    • Rifle Scopes
      A rifle scope is a refractor telescope used on a rifle. In 1880, August Fiedler (Stronsdorf), forestry commissioner of Prince Reuss, managed to build the first telescopic sight that really did work.

    Machine Guns

    • Gatling Gun - 1861
      Doctor Richard Gatling patented his design of the "Gatling Gun", a six-barreled weapon capable of firing a (then) phenomenal 200 rounds per minute.
    • Maxim Machine Gun - 1885
      In 1881, a friend of Hiram Maxim, the American inventor, told him: "If you wanted to make a lot of money, invent something that will enable these Europeans to cut each other's throats with. Hiram Maxim was born in Sangersville, Maine in 1840 and was the inventor of the Maxim Machine Gun and the Maxim Silencer.
    • Thompson Submachine Gun - Tommy Gun
      The Thompson submachine gun or Tommy gun was invented by General John T. Thompson, it was the first handheld machine gun. Thompson was driven with the thought of creating a handheld machine gun that would help end the First World War, However, "the first shipment of prototype guns destined for Europe arrived at the docks in New York city on November 11, 1918, the day the War ended."


    Hiram Maxim (born 1853) invented the Maxim Silencer or Suppressor: that attached to the front of the barrel of a pistol and allowed the firearm to be fired without a loud bang. Invented in 1909, the Maxim Suppressor was the first commercially successful silencer.

    History of Guns Timeline

    • 1232: The Chinese who invented gunpowder (black powder) first used it in a weapon - gunpowder-filled tubes aka rockets.
    • 1364: First recorded use of a firearm - shooter lit wicks by hand that ignited gunpowder that was loaded into the gun barrel.
    • 1400s: Matchlock guns - first mechanically firing of guns. Wicks were now attached to a clamp that sprang into gunpowder that was placed in a "flash pan".
    • 1509: Wheel lock guns - wicks were replaced the wheel lock that generated a spark for igniting the gunpowder.
    • 1630: Flintlock guns - the flintlock did two things mechanically, it opened the lid of the flash pan and provided an igniting spark.
    • 1825: Percussion-cap guns invented by Reverend John Forsyth - firing mechanism no longer uses flash pan, a tube lead straight into the gun barrel, the tupe had an explosive cap on it that exploded when struck
    • 1830: Back action lock
    • 1835: Colt revolver - first mass-produced, multi-shot, revolving firearms
    • 1840: Pin-fire cartridges
    • 1850: Shotguns
    • 1859: Full rim-fire cartridge
    • 1860: Spencer repeating carbine patented
    • 1861: Breech loaded guns
    • 1862: Gatling Gun
    • 1869: Center-fire cartridge
    • 1871: Cartridge revolver
    • 1873: Winchester rifle
    • 1877: Double-action revolver
    • 1879: Lee box magazine patented
    • 1892: Automatic handguns invented by Joseph Laumann
    • 1893: Borchardt pistol - automatic handgun with a separate magazine in the grip
    • 1903: First automatic rifle a Winchester.
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    Your Citation
    Bellis, Mary. "The History of Firearms." ThoughtCo, Oct. 13, 2016, Bellis, Mary. (2016, October 13). The History of Firearms. Retrieved from Bellis, Mary. "The History of Firearms." ThoughtCo. (accessed March 22, 2018).