Firearms have been around for hundreds of years and were first documented in the 13th century. They’ve gone through many changes to improve their functionality, but they all work on the same basic principle: using a propellant (gunpowder) to force a projectile (bullet) out of a tube at high speed.
1. The first documented firearm was created more than 700 years ago.
The oldest-known firearms come from a Chinese military manual written in the mid 14th century during the Mongolian Yuan dynasty. These weapons were called “fire lances” and were made out of bamboo tubes filled with gunpowder that could fire projectiles at very high speeds. There is also written documentation that the Chinese developed a “repeating handgun” as early as 1288 AD, which could hold at least 10 rounds of ammunition and fire them in rapid succession by use of a hand crank.
2. The first patent for a modern “firearm” was issued in 1606.
In 1515, an unknown inventor from Austria used the forerunner of the flintlock mechanism to create a gun that had a paper cartridge with gunpowder and shot. In 1606, another inventor from Germany named Jorg Weckopff patented what is considered as possibly the first flintlock weapon, which he called a “harquebus”. The name harquebus is derived from early modern German and means “to burn” or “fire”, which originated with an earlier French term harquebus. This firearm had an all-metal barrel measuring almost 30 inches long, with grooves in the barrel that created a spiral flow of the burning gunpowder.
3. The first use of “rifling” in firearms was around 1450.
Rifling is the act of putting spiraled grooves into the inside of a gun barrel, which causes bullets to spin as they fly through the air (similar to football passing drills). These grooves help a bullet fly more accurately and have been found to increase a bullet’s velocity by up to 20 percent. The first firearms with rifled barrels were produced around 1450 in Augsburg, Germany, where gunsmiths would carve spiral grooves into iron bars. A firearm from this period with four such barrels still exists today and is currently on display at the Germanisches Nationalmuseum in Nuremberg, Germany.
4. By 1650, flintlock weapons were common.
The very first flintlock firearms date back to around 1575 but were not widely available until 1650 when French gunsmith Marin le Bourgeoys created a reliable version of this new ignition system. Flintlock firearms used a piece of flint to create a spark that would ignite the powder in the firearm’s chamber and fire the weapon, which was different from older firearms that required sparks from steel striking pyrite. By 1690, all muskets were made with this ignition system and flintlock weapons remained popular until around 1850.
5. Early guns were not very accurate.
As early as 1400, gunsmiths began to create firearms that had rifled barrels; however, it wasn’t until 1835 when an American named Jacob Howe invented the first true rifle with spiral grooves inside a barrel. The most impressive thing about this invention was that Howe won a U.S. government contract in 1848 to supply .52 caliber, single-shot rifled muskets (early rifles) to the army–in only two years.
The downside to Howe’s invention is that early rifles tended to have accuracy problems due to the fact they were not sufficiently strong enough to handle the power needed when using large amounts of gunpowder in cartridges. To solve this problem, American firearms inventor Walter Hunt developed a type of firearm in 1849 known as the Volition Repeating Rifle, which was similar in design to rifles of the time but had a tubular magazine inside the stock. Hunt’s rifle was capable of firing 29 shots in under 10 minutes before it had to be reloaded, which is unheard of for early firearms.
It is important to note that the first firearms evolved from early cannons, which were used as early as 1326; however, it wasn’t until 1835 with Jacob Howe’s invention of the true rifle and improved ammunition (bullets) with rifling inside a barrel that firearms began to evolve into what we know them as today.