The history of the firearm is definitely intriguing, although it is highly overlooked by most people nowadays who are only interested in the implications of the Second Amendment. Nonetheless, in this article, we would like to go back to the first firearm invented.
Interestingly enough, the first record of a firearm in Europe goes as far as the year 1364. It goes without saying that the very first pieces of weaponry had little in common with the guns used today for shooting at maximum range. Essentially, over the decades that followed, handguns became widely used around Europe. To that end, until 1380, people from all over the European continent were knowledgeable regarding the existence of the firearm.
Nevertheless, the question is what is the origin of the firearm?
The Invention of Gunpowder
Before the invention of the firearm, people had gunpowder. According to historians, though, the invention of gunpowder can be traced back to 850 A.D., somewhere in China. Around that time, Chinese alchemists pointed out the explosive properties of gunpowder – which entails a mixture of sulfur, potassium nitrate and charcoal. They came up with this concoction as they were looking for an elixir of life.
To that end, supposedly the earliest reference to the account of this substance belongs to a Chinese Buddhist alchemist. Originally, black powder – as it was referred to around that time, would be used for creating fireworks. Over the course of time, it would be used in the field of weaponry as well. With that in mind, we could argue that among the earliest weapons that used gunpowder, the ones worth mentioning are cannons and grenades. The ones that followed afterward were primitive handheld guns.
In their incipient phase, the first handheld guns featured a hollow bamboo tube, which included small projectiles and gunpowder. As you can expect, the range of these guns was limited. To that end, they were used almost exclusively in hand-to-hand combat.
The 1400s Record the Invention of the Matchlock
Before the invention of the matchlock, guns were fired by holding a burning wick. The burning wick was used to touch hole in the barrel so that it would ignite the powder. Hence, the shooter used a prop to steady the gun and the hand for firing. To that end, the very first lock used on a gun was the matchlock.
Of course, over the decades, the original matchlock that was first invented in the 1400s went through several improvements, as firearms were continually enhanced with the appearance of new technologies.
1498 – The Discovery of the Rifling Principle
The next most noteworthy invention in the timeline of the first firearms was the breakthrough of the rifling principle. Without the need for a wick to keep it lit, the wheel lock made it easier for a gun to be used, not to mention that the degree of reliability of the gun was increased. The years that followed noted the invention of the wheel lock.
Although wheel locks were notably more reliable than the matchlocks, they were more expensive to produce. This is primarily why matchlocks still remained commonplace for the decades that followed.
Moreover, after the arrival of the American colonists in the 15th century, the design of the firearm has gone through significant innovations. To that end, it’s also worth noting that weapons were a part of each journey to the New World. Perhaps one of the most commonly used guns by the early colonists was the German-made blunderbuss. This was a very early version of the shotgun. Its design facilitated fast and easy loading. Colonists also utilized matchlock muskets, as we pointed out above.
The Contribution of American Gunsmiths
We would like to outline that gunsmithing is a valuable, cherished trade, whose history is very rich. Even if the very first firearms were invented in China, over the decades that followed, the technology made its way to Europe, where the first firearm was assembled by Italian craftsmen.
As for the first groups of gunsmiths, they were in Germany, according to official reports. It goes without saying that being a gunsmith around that time required a lot of skill, determination, and patience. In order to produce a single firearm, one had to direct nearly 400 hours of work.
Apprentice gunsmiths would toil for many years until they would eventually master the skill of creating guns themselves.
After America was populated by colonists, gunsmithing became a widespread occupation. This had to do with the fact that the pioneers established in wild areas, and the settlements were rather small. This is what made guns essential for their general safety and welfare.
The gunsmiths that actually developed the renowned American long rifle were based in the US. On occasions, the rifles were beautifully embellished with decorations, whereas others were carved with specific detailing. Nonetheless, in spite of the decorative elements, the most important quality of a rifle was its extended barrel, which had twisting grooves on the interior bore. These grooves directed the lead ball or another projectile, spinning it inside the barrel. This is what ensured a straight line of shooting, while significantly enhancing the aim of the gunner.
The early settlers of the Americas depended on these guns to support their families, as they hunted game as a means of subsistence. Hence, the enhanced aim was life-changing for them.
The Bottom Line
On the whole, there would be a lot to say about the origins and history of the firearm. Our article includes a range of important events that eventually influenced the development of the firearm. It is definitely interesting to observe how far humankind has come. And this is easily observable in all domains, including that of guns and firearms.
Jay Chambers – Pro Free Speech Writer, Disaster Survivalist, Business Owner. Believes in Resiliency and Self Sufficiency in an Increasingly Unpredictable World.