The History of the Gun

I’m slow this morning but I PROMISE I wrote this yesterday and had it saved and scheduled. So I messed up somehow and I’m sorry. Me and computers…NOT an easy co-existance.

I remember a cable special, the History Channel I think, about The History of the Gun and it was so interesting, especially how ancient the gun really was and how each new patent, improving it, made the creator a fortune.

The one I remember best was the one BEFORE the Matchlock gun. The shooter had to light a little pile of gunpower with a striker or match, so they were one handed, plus the little POOF of fire scared away whatever animal they were hunting for.


1364: First recorded use of a firearm – shooter lit wicks by hand that ignited gunpowder that was loaded into the gun barrel. huochong gun

Contrary to popular belief, the Chinese did not use gunpowder only for fireworks. In fact, the earliest surviving recipes for gunpowder can be found in the Chinese military treatise Wujing zongyao of 1044 AD, which contains three: two for use in incendiary bombs to be thrown by siege engines and one intended as fuel for smoke bombs.

14th century China: The matchlock firearms were first mentioned in . The matchlock appeared in Europe some time in the mid-1400s, although the idea of the serpentine appears some 40 years previously in an Austrian manuscript. The first dated illustration of a matchlock mechanism dates to 1475, and by the 1500s they were universally used.

The Matchlock secured a lighted wick in a moveable arm which, when the trigger was depressed, was brought down against the flash pan to ignite the powder. This allowed the musketeer to keep both hands on the gun, improving his aim drastically.


1630: Flintlock guns – the flintlock did two things mechanically, it opened the lid of the flash pan and provided an igniting spark. Flintlock is the general term for any firearm based on the flintlock mechanism. Introduced about 1630, the flintlock rapidly replaced earlier firearm-ignition technologies, such as the matchlock and wheellock mechanisms. It continued to be in common use for over two centuries, replaced by percussion cap


percussion gun1825: 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 exposive cap on it that exploded when struck  The percussion cap, introduced around 1830, was the crucial invention that enabled muzzle-loading firearms to fire reliably in any weather.

The percussion cap system was made obsolete by:


1835: Colt revolver – first mass-produced, multi-shot, revolving firearms

Samuel Colt invented the first revolver, a gun named after its inventor “Colt”, and after its revolving cylinder “revolver”. In 1836, Samuel Colt was granted a U.S. patent for the Colt revolver, which was equipped with a revolving cylinder containing five or six bullets and an innovative cocking device.

Before the Colt revolver only one and two-barrel flintlock pistols had been invented for hand held use. Colt revolvers were all based on cap-and-ball technology until the Smith and Wesson license on the bored-through cylinder (bought from Rollin White) expired around 1869.

“Abe Lincoln may have freed all men, but Sam Colt made them equal.”


gun rifle winchester 731873: Winchester rifle

One of the most successful, and certainly one of the most famous Winchester rifles was the Winchester Model 1873. The Winchester ‘73 was produced in such quantities that they became a common sight in the American West, leading to the rifle being nicknamed “The Gun that Won the West.”


In researching for a book I found out so much about the development of the gun that I gathered these milestone styles. The Winchester and Colt are a big part of many western novels and movies. There’s even a movie called Winchester ’73.

Chime in if you’ve got a comment about the settling of the west and the part guns played in it.




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Author of Romantic Comedy...with Cowboys including the bestselling Kincaid Brides Series

17 thoughts on “The History of the Gun”

  1. More dental work today. Two weeks ago when I posted I was late because of a crown I’m having put on. Last week was the chiseling part. Today they just glued in the crown. I realized while I was sitting there it was my day on Petticoats and Pistols. What are the chances it’ll happen again?

  2. Terrific post. It’s not late for me here in CA. Loved this piece — loved the quote about the colt. I think it’s a timely piece since are Second Amendment rights are under so much attack of late. The quote I think says it all — Colt made all men equal — hishe is were still true today.

  3. Mary, sorry for your troubles today. Wonder if the planets are in some kind of weird alignment? We’ve all had our crosses to bear this week.

    Great post, by the way! I can’t imagine picking up a western romance or straight western fiction without it having a gun or guns in the story. And I sure can’t imagine the west being settled without them and not to kill people with. We needed guns to kill animals for food and also for protection against wild animals. We couldn’t very well club them to death like the cavemen, now could we? lol I’m picturing some tough, gritty cowboy armed with nothing but a club. Too funny.

    Thanks for the enlightening post! I hope you’re not in too much pain from your dental work. 🙂

  4. Can you imagine how slow those first guns were? There were so many steps to complete before you could fire the darn things. But, I’m thinking there would sure be less killings today if the shooter had to take the time to do everything.

  5. I remember, in that special about the history of the gun (I’ve never seen it again btw, weird) the hunter holding his rifle, aimed, in one hand while with the other he had … I can’t remember if it was a little piece of burning wood or some kind of striker. He’d touch that fire to his gun. A really loud pop would go off, a plume of smoke would blast straight up. The animal would run away, and THEN the gun would fire.
    Pretty funny really. NOT a great weapon. Between the big “WARNING” light and noise and the poor aim, I think a lot of hunters prefered a bow and arrow back then.

  6. You’re right about it being way to easy now, Linda. I remember a Star Trek episode about two planets warring who had been at war for centuries. It was all electronic. One planet would get zapped. A grid would light up saying who was killed and those people would have to report to the ‘extermination’ chamber.
    The thought being this was so much better than all the REAL bombs destroying their world.
    Captain Kirk destroyed the electonics and said, “I’ve given you back the horrors of war. Maybe then you’ll make peace.”

  7. I had a book on my wish list for a LONG time and finally broke down and bought it a year or so ago. THE PEACEMAKERS, Arms and Adventure in the American West. by R.L. Wilson.

    Not only is a a big sparkling goldmine of info, but the photographs are incredible, and I’m a huge photo nut.

    Check it out!

  8. Mary – What a great blog! One of my favorite research books is THE GUNFIGHTERS in the TL Old West Series. But I don’t recall a matchlock – probably b/c it’s from a different era. Interesting.

    Cheryl – thanks for the tip on THE PEACEMAKERS.

  9. Great stuff, Mary. And good luck with the crown. Have had many LOL but today was just a fang cleaning…I love that the Colt 45’s nickname is the Peacemaker. I found a neat obscure gun, the Baby LeMat that I found a place for in The Outlaw’s Woman…supposedly Winchester’s widow went crazy thinking about all the mayhem her hubby’s invention caused so she spent the rest of her life fixing up “the Winchester Mystery House” in San Jose CA with useless staircases etc. I think she thought as long as she built, she’d never die? Forgot the entire legend…

    I love visiting the junction: I learn so much and it isn’t a thing like school LOL. And thanks to Cheryl from me as well for the tip.

  10. I had a gun, a double barrel shotgun as I recall, in a book I wrote and, when I went to revise the book I tried to find the exact same gun again…I mean I had brand, calibre, really exact stuff referenced in that book.
    the hero reached for his fifty caliber double barreled Sharps shotgun. (only that isn’t what it was, I can’t remember)
    I could NOT find that gun again, not even feeding all those details into Google.
    So, since I needed to refer to that gun again in some way, and couldn’t find the details I needed, I had to abandon the whole gun and find another one from the correct era and hunt through the whole book taking OUT old references and putting in new one.
    That gun had to exist because I would never have made up those details without some kind of online reference.
    Ugh. I know to save research links but I blew it that time.

  11. I’d never heard of the Matchlock before I started doing this time line blog and that was a big step apparently.
    Also, in the blog they refer to a serpentine.
    I think today we’d call that a fuse. They’d light this fuse and it’d burn down and POW. So maybe that was what I remember from that special, kicking up all that smoke. It probably took a few seconds to burn down, alerting all the in danger animals in the area. But it’d give the rifleman a chance to get both hands on the gun for a two handed aim.

  12. I love to see a gun called “Peacemake” in a book! LOL..I dont know why, but I just love it!

  13. ok…I wish we could edit on here…as I hate typos…

    let me correct myself….Peacemaker!!! LOL.. sorry

  14. Hi, Melissa and Estella. Researching guns is fascinating, more about what it says about entreprenuer ship and success through creativity and hard work, than the actual guns.
    There was a fortune to be made and that’s a huge incentive to struggle. The same could be said of cars, and planes and computers and cell phones and Hamburger Helper.

  15. Thanks for all the information, Mary. Entertaining
    and instructional, all at the same time!

    Hope your dental work is completed soon – I know you
    will be glad when it is finished!

    Pat Cochran

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