Who invented the first gun? A brief history of firearms.

Michael Crites


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Who invented the fist gun?

Table of Contents

The Evolution of Weaponry

Weaponry and humans have a long history. Weapons were used as far back as 400,000 BC. Throughout human history, they have been used for hunting, for sport, and for both law enforcement and criminal activities.

Weapons have created entertainment, envied collections, and self-defense strategies for as long as there has been written history. Weapons have evolved in purpose and materials throughout time to suit the users’ needs and take advantage of available technologies.

Prehistory and The Ancient World

neolithic weapons

Initially, weapons were made directly from the Earth and were made of stone and other natural materials.

Stone tips, arrows, and bows are the earliest known weapons. With some technological advancements of the ancient world, weapons were then created using various metals and modified natural materials.

The Sumerians and Akkadians


The ancient Sumerians and Akkadians are the earliest known civilizations of Mesopotamia. These groups used chariots and spears, maces, swords, clubs, and slings to protect themselves from the attacks of outsider Barbarian tribes; which was a fairly common occurrence because of their locations.

Mesopotamia, the cradle of civilization has birthed us many important and innovative tools that were the foundation for advancements in weaponry and so much more.

The Egyptians

ancient egypt

Egyptians did not have an army for many years as their location provided its own form of defense. For many years, Egypt was considered a nation of peace.

However, after it experienced attacks, it raised an army equipped with the first horse-drawn chariots, chain-mail armor, and improved bows and arrows. The Egyptians used these advancements to barter when conquering other lands and forming alliances. For many years, the Egyptians did not have cavalry troops as their horses were bred to be small and quick.

After getting horses from the Hyskos charioteers, the Egyptian cavalry became a force to be reckoned with.

Assyrian Empire


The Assyrian Empire was a barbaric and blood-thirsty empire that started in the 18th century and was known for its war-driven culture. They were the first known to use iron in their weapons, and they also added a third crew member to their chariot teams to protect them from the rear.

The Assyrians had schools to teach warfare methods and were the first to introduce cavalry troops in warfare.

Ancient Greek Weapons

ancient greece long gone

Enemies, including Persia and Rome, surrounded ancient Greek. They needed to focus on defense strategies, and although they used spears, shields, helmets, and breastplates in their warfare, their biggest weapon was strategy.

They employed strategic weapon and strategy development explicitly built to combat their enemies’ specific strategies.

The Romans


The Romans did not focus their efforts on revolutionizing weaponry but instead on perfecting their leadership and training.

This, coupled with strategic alliances, created an army, unlike anything that had been seen up to this time.

Early & Later Middle Agesmedieval weapons

There were profound weaponry changes in the Middle Ages, from stone bow-and-arrow-carrying barbaric troops to sword-yielding, chainmail-wearing cavalry troops.

Warriors and later soldiers were heralded as heroes in many societies. As weapons, both literal and strategic, became more advanced, the face of warfare changed all over the world.

20th Century Weapons

Army inspectors and engineers working on National Match 1911 pistols in the 1940s and 1950s

The 20th century brought in an enormous advancement in weaponry development but also introduced new and potentially harmful side-effects of these weapons.

WWI saw the first use of chemical warfare and fighter plane dog fights. Ship bombs, for the first time, had guide-to-target capabilities. The atomic bomb was tested and used for the first time in 1945.

21st Century Weapons

A Dutch Korps Commandotroepen holds an HK416

In the 21st century, guided weapons became more common as they decrease soldier fatality and increase effectiveness.

The first actual laser weapon was developed, and technology continues to advance in all aspects of weaponry evolution.

A Timeline of Gun & Firearm History

When were guns invented? What was the first recorded use of a firearm? When did guns become common in warfare and homes? We dive deep into the history of guns and firearms with the below timeline.

If you want deep reading about firearms

There are a few books that provide very detailed information about the origin, design, and history of firearms. We have included links to those throughout this guide where appropriate.

Pre 1000 CE

During the Han Dynasty, a man named Wei Boyang was the first to write anything about gunpowder. He wrote about a mixture of three powders that would “fly and dance” violently.142
Chin dynasty scientist named Ge Hong wrote down the ingredients of gunpowder and described the explosion.300
The first reference to gunpowder is probably a passage in the Zhenyuan miaodao yaolüe, a Taoist text tentatively dated to the mid-800s850
The prevailing academic consensus is that gunpowder was discovered in the 9th century by Chinese alchemists searching for an elixir of immortality even though the Chinese were manufacturing firearms using bamboo tubes and stones as projectiles in 904900
Earliest known representation of a gun (a fire lance), Dunhuang1000

Further reading:

Details the history of gunpowder – from the first Chinese alchemists to its full revolutionary potential

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1000 - 1300 CE

Earliest known written formula for gunpowder from the Chinese Wujing Zongyao1044
As early as the 11th century, the government of the Song Dynasty was concerned that foreign enemies might break its monopoly on gunpowder technology.1100
Gunpowder goes west with Chinese traveling in Mongol Empire1200
The first record of the use of gunpowder in Europe is a statement by Bishop Albertus Magnus in 1280 that it was used at the Siege of Seville.1247
Roger Bacon gives an account of gunpowder in his Opus Majus. [Between 1257 and 1265, Bacon wrote a book of chemistry called Opus Majus which contained a recipe for gunpowder]1267

Further Reading:

The most influential of Bacon’s works – containing his observations of the natural world and original gunpowder recipe.

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1300 - 1400 CE

The invention of cannon preceded by a century that of small-arms, and it was by a gradual reduction in the size of the former that the latter were produced.

There is speculation about earlier use of cannon but there is evidence of their use at the battle of Cressey, in 1346

The traditional date for the German monk Berthold Schwartz to “invent” gunpowder.1354

The earliest picture of a gun is in a manuscript dated showing a pear-shaped cannon firing an arrow.

“De Nobilitatibus Sapientii Et Prudentiis Regum” Walter de Milemete, 1326.

When were the first guns made? References to gunnis cum telar (guns with handles) were recorded in1350
First recorded use of a firearm.1364
Handguns were known in Italy in 1397, and in England they were used1375
Gunpowder arrived in India by the mid-1300s1350

Further Reading:

Traces the history of firearms from their invention in China in the 1100s up through the 1700s.

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1400 - 1500 CE

Hand Gonne – firearm [The earliest ‘hand gonne’ was developed in the fifteenth century, but was not a great influence in battle.

It was a small cannon with a touch-hole for ignition. It was unsteady, required that the user prop it on a stand, brace it with one hand against his chest and use his other hand to touch a lighted match to the touch-hole.

Effective range of only about thirty to forty yards.

The first mechanical device for firing the handgun made its appearance Records show armor being penetrated by bullets and the handgun becoming a weapon capable of rudimentary precision1424

Matchlock (“arquebus”) introduced. Uses a “serpentine” to arc taper into the flash pan loaded with a finer grade of gun powder.

Guns were fired by holding a burning wick to a “touch hole” in the barrel igniting the powder inside.

The Matchlock was a welcome improvement in the mid-fifteenth century and remained in use even into the early 1700s, when it was much cheaper to mass-produce than the better classes of firearms with more sophisticated ignition systems.

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.


Invention of the arquebus or bow-gun.

A spring let loose by a trigger threw the match, which was fastened to it, forward into the pan which contained the priming powder. It was from this spring that the gun took its name.

The arquebus (sometimes spelled harquebus, harkbus or hackbut; from Dutch haakbus, meaning “hook gun”) was a primitive firearm used in the 15th to 17th centuries.

Like its successor, the musket, it was a smoothbore firearm, although somewhat smaller than its predecessors, which made it easier to carry.

Invention of the arquebus or bow-gun. A spring let loose by a trigger threw the match, which was fastened to it, forward into the pan which contained the priming powder. It was from this spring that the gun took its name. [The arquebus (sometimes spelled harquebus, harkbus or hackbut; from Dutch haakbus, meaning “hook gun”) was a primitive firearm used in the 15th to 17th centuries. Like its successor, the musket, it was a smoothbore firearm, although somewhat smaller than its predecessors, which made it easier to carry.1475
The arquebus is mentioned by Philip de Comines, in his account of the battle of Morat1476

Henry VII organized the corps of Yeomen of the Guard, half of whom were to carry bows and arrows while the other half were equipped with harquebuses*.

This represents the first introduction of firearms as an official weapon of the Royal Guard.


Rifling* was invented.

The first rifled gun barrels were made in the 1400s. This early date may be surprising, however, it makes sense when one considers that arrow makers had learned to angle the fletchings on an arrow’s shaft to make it spin as it flew through the air, giving it greater stability.

This technique carried over to firearms.

Rifled barrels were rare until improvements in manufacturing techniques in the 1800s made them easier to fabricate


1500 - 1600 CE

The first wheel lock (fire-lock) or “rose lock” was invented.

Some believe Leonardo da Vinci was the inventor

Firearms were recognized as hunting arms – in particular hunting rifles.1515

The Wheel Lock introduced.

Uses iron pyrite rather than flint.[It is also said to have been invented by Johann Kiefuss of Nuremberg in 1517, and the idea probably came from the spring-driven tinder lighter in use at the time.

The idea of this mechanism is simple. A flint held by a hammer-cock was dropped onto a spinning metal wheel the friction of which showered sparks, igniting the gun powder in a pan, which in turn ignited the powder in the barrel firing the weapon.

Beretta Firearms founded [Sold 185 Arquebus barrels to the Arsenal of Venice]1526
A book was published (Balleates Mosetuetas y Areabuces Pablo del Fucar, Naples, 1535) on sporting firearms1535

Rifling appears in firearms.

Rifling refers to helix-shaped pattern of grooves (cuts) and lands (raised part of groove) that have been formed into the barrel of a firearm.

It is the means by which a firearm imparts a spin to a projectile around its long axis, to gyroscopically stabilize it to improve accuracy and stability.

The hair-trigger was invented in Germany1540

“Corning” of gunpowder makes it coarser and burns better.

European powdermakers began adding liquid to the constituents of gunpowder to reduce dust and with it the risk of explosion.

The powdermakers would then shape the resulting paste of moistened gunpowder—known as mill cake—into “corns,” or granules, to dry.

Not only did “corned” powder keep better because of its reduced surface area, but gunners also found that it was more powerful and easier to load into guns. The main advantage of corning is that each corn contains the ideal proportion of the three gunpowder components.

Prior to corning, gunpowder would gradually demix into its constitutive components and was too unreliable for effective use in guns


Further Reading:

Want to know how to build your own wheellock rifle? This has step-by-step guides with illustrations.

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Exhibition catalogue highlights forty wheellock firearms from the Royal Armouries collection.

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1600 - 1700 CE

The snaphaunce* lock, the forerunner of the flintlock, was invented.

Around 1600 in Holland there was a band of marauders known as snaphausen, or poulty-stealers. They were unable to incur the expense of the wheel-lock, and the match-lock which they were using, by its burning igniting cord light, exposed them on their nightly expeditions.

They invented a gun-lock better adapted to their purposes.

The result of their work was the lock which was named after its inventors was called the snaphause. It consisted of a flat piece of steel, furrowed like the edge of the wheel in the wheel-lock, which was screwed on the barrel beyond the priming-pan on a hinge.

By bringing it over the pan, and pulling the trigger, the flint in the cock struck against the steel, and the spark was produced.

The simplicity and cheapness of this lock soon rendered it common, and the transition from it to the ordinary flint-lock followed.


The muzzleloading, smoothbore flintlock musket was invented as an improvement on the matchlock and wheel lock muskets.

The Flintlock was developed in France around 1612.

A key contributor to this development was Marin le Bourgeoys who was assigned to the Louvre gun shops by King Louise XIII of France.

The Flintlock’s manufacture slowly spread throughout Europe, and by the second half of the century, it became more popular than the Wheel Lock and Snaphaunce.

The main difference between the Flintlock and Snaphaunce is that in the Flintlock the striking surface and flashpan cover are all one piece, where in the Snaphaunce they are separate mechanisms.

This made the mechanism even simpler, less expensive, and more reliable than its predecessor.

The standard flintlock gun introduced.

The flintlock solved a longstanding problem. Sometime in the late 1500s, a lid was added to the flash pan design. To expose or protect the powder, the lid had to be moved manually.

The flintlock mechanism was designed to push back the lid and spark a flint at the same time.

The flintlock ignition system reigned for two centuries, with virtually no alteration. Flint could be used for around 50 shots after which a new edge would be needed cut by the expert hands of a “Knapper”.


First use of firearms proof-marks

Proofing. The testing and certification service for firearms in order to prove their quality of construction, particularly in terms of the resistance of barrels to explosion under firing conditions.


The screw or cannon barrel pistol.

French gun makers produced some of the finest sports guns of the 17th century.

One has three revolving chambers, each fitted with its own striker and sprint. This type of multi-shot weapon risked a dangerous chain reaction, in which Firing one chamber set off all the other chambers.

The bayonet was introduced by the French; it was a long narrow blade with a wooden plug handle and was simply dropped into the muzzle of the musket1640
Flintlock Revolving Rifle1670
A ring attachment was added to the bayonet so that it no longer served as a muzzle plug1680
The earliest known English breech-loading rifle was made by Willmore1689
The “Brown Bess” was known in Ireland as a “King’s Arm” from its use by William at the Battle of the Boyne and would be used by the British Army for over 100 years1690

Further Reading

A pattern-by-pattern, full-color guide to the Brown Bess – the weapon of the Red Coats & Britain’s Most Famous Musket.

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Examines the role the flintlock played in combat on European and other battlefields.

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1700 - 1800 CE

The whole English army was equipped with flintlocks in Snaphaunces* were made in Europe until this time.1700
The socket bayonet had appeared and was adopted in the British service1710

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 multi-shot 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 large box-lock type of pistol1730
Brown Bess Musket [Name derived from the German words “braun buss” meaning “strong gun”]1742

The French introduced the double-necked hammer and the steel ramrod.

The double-necked hammer or cock was not a new invention, it is found on dog locks of 1670 and other early arms.


The use of pistols for dueling purposes became general as the practice of carrying the rapier or small sword died out.

Duels were fought with horse pistols prior to this date.

Double shotguns – under and over revolving barrel type1760
Flint double-barrel shotgun – the firing mechanism, including the flint was concealed in a box as part of the lock1760
The French introduced the muzzle band with a funnel or guide for the ramrod and acorn sight integral with the band.1763

The Ferguson rifle, designed in 1774, was the first English breech-loading rifle made for military use.

Never developed beyond an initial order of 100 rifles.

American Revolution1776

Dueling pistols became officially standardized weapons.

It was ruled that they should be “9 or 10 inch barreled, smooth bore flintlocks of 1 inch bore, carrying a ball of 48 to the pound.”

The top rib in double-barreled guns1780
Richard Watson DD FRS, Bishop of Llandaff, who was also a professor of chemistry, ordained that for general purposes the proportions be saltpeter 75%, charcoal 15%, sulfur 10% – and for British gunpowder, they have remained the same ever since.1781
The first patent for single trigger locks for double arms (James Templeman, Pat. No. 1707)1789
Single trigger pistols, with side by side, and also under and over barrels, made 17891789
The acorn pattern trigger guard extension toward the barrel used up to1790
The dueling pistol perfected1790-1800
Joseph Manton’s first patent (No. 1865) introduces the “break-off” breech, into which the barrel fits with a lump instead of being secured by a tang and screw as previously used1792
Springfield Armory established1795

Further Reading:

Tells the important story of Springfield Armory, its growth, its products, and its people.

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1800 - 1900 CE

Pistols appear to have been rarely used in the Middle and FarEast before1800

The First Baker Rifle* was issued.

The Infantry Rifle, hereafter known by its modern name “Baker Rifle”, was the first standard-issue, British-made rifle accepted by the British armed forces.

Previously, rifles had been issued on a limited basis and consisted of parts made to no precise pattern, often brought in from Germany. The Baker rifle has a ¼ twist of rifling for the entire barrell and that is the essence of a Baker rifle.

That is the rifling twist rate “having only one quarter of a turn in the rifle”. Baker’s barrel was only 30 inches.

The half stocked pistol with the lower rib beneath the barrel fitted to carry the ramrod1800

The Percussion Cap ignition system developed and patented.

Developed by the Reverend John Forsyth of Aberdeenshire, Scotland. This firing mechanism was a great advancement from its predecessors because it does not use an exposed flash-pan to begin the ignition process.

Instead, it has a simple tube, which leads straight into the gun barrel.

The key to this system is the explosive cap, which is placed on top of the tube. The cap contains fulminate of mercury, a chemical compound that explodes when it is struck.

This is the same compound used in the paper or plastic caps in a child’s cap gun.

The revolving principle is as old as firearms, but manufacturing methods permitting adequate accuracy of workmanship and boring precision for a safe cylindered or chambered weapon date from1810-1820

The first serious military breechloader was an American invention, Colonel John H. Hall’s patent.

This was made first as a flintlock, then as percussion, and is the first breech loader officially adopted by any army. The flintlocks were made till 1832, the percussion model from 1831.

The copper percussion cap was invented1814-1816
The saw handle or pistol grip was very popular, both in flint and percussion pistols about1816-1825
Flints were converted to percussion cap from1820
The percussion cap came into universal use on private arms1826

The Delvigne* (French) service rifle was invented.

French army officer and inventor who designed innovative rifles and helped introduce the cylindrical bullet.

Delvigne joined the French army as a youth. Delvigne led the way when he designed a muzzle-loading rifle to fire a new type of bullet.

In 1826, Delvigne built a unique rifle barrel with an independent gunpowder chamber at its breech, which was narrower than the barrel.

This chamber was separated from the rest of the barrel by a strong lip, beyond which the powder could pass, but not the bullet.

In the earliest models, after the chamber was filled with gunpowder, Delvigne rammed a standard soft, round lead ball down the barrel and pounded it against the lip with the ramrod until it flattened just enough to grip the rifling grooves.

He soon discovered, however, that the pounding disfigured the ball and greatly reduced its accuracy, so he designed an elongated, cylindrical bullet with a flat base that would expand more evenly under the ramrod blows.

In 1840, Delvigne even received a patent for an explosive bullet of this general design.

In time, Delvigne’s design proved unsuitable for general military use; the powder chamber quickly became clogged, and the bullet still ended up too deformed for accurate flight.

The back action lock made its appearance1830
The Robert rifle was invented by Robert, a gunsmith of Paris1831
The British army adopted the percussion cap in1834
Percussion cap locks fitted with a pierced platinum disc below the nipple gradually fell into disuse and are seldom found in arms subsequent to1835
The rimfire cartridge evolved naturally out of the percussion cap, and was first made by Flobert of Paris1835
The Enfield percussion carbine – .65 inch calibre with hinged spring triangular bayonet folding below the barrel was made for Constabulary service1835

Samuel Colt 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.

Samuel Colt developed the first mass-produced, multi-shot, revolving firearms.

Various revolving designs had been around for centuries, but precision parts couldn’t be made with available technologies. Colt was the first to apply Industrial Age machining tools to the idea.

Mass production made the guns affordable. Reliability and accuracy made the Colt a favorite of soldiers and frontiersmen.

The British army squanders a unique opportunity in bullet design.

As early as 1818, Captain John Norton of the British 34th Infantry began experimenting with bullet design.

Norton shaped the nose of his new bullet like a cone with a rounded point and made its cylindrical base hollow. The hollow base was the bullet’s definitive feature.

It allowed the bullet to be cast a bit narrower than the bore’s diameter to allow easy loading since when the gun was fired, the pressure expanded the base to fit the barrel’s rifling grooves tightly.

The inspiration for the bullet came to Norton while he was stationed in India and observed natives using blowpipes as weapons.

He discovered that the base of the blowpipe arrow was made of elastic locus pith.

When the natives blew, the pith expanded to form an airtight seal against the pipe’s inner walls. It seemed a small jump from there to making a bullet with a base that would expand from the pressure of firing.

In 1836, a London gunsmith named William Greener found a way to improve Norton’s design for the expansion of the bullet base.

He inserted into the hollow area a wooden plug that would push forward when the gun was fired and force the bullet’s base outward.

The result was that the bullet fit more uniformly inside the barrel, producing more reliable and accurate fire.

Norton’s bullet with Greener’s refinement eventually came before the British army for approval for use in the field, but the army’s old-school officers rejected it.

It was an overly conservative decision that squandered the opportunity to develop this innovative design into a truly remarkable weapon.] Pin-fire cartridge

Pin-fire Cartridge1840
Breech-loading needle gun cartridge patented (Wm. Bush, Pat. No. 8513)1840
The Brunswick rifle superseded the Baker model1840
The U.S. Army followed the British lead and adopted the percussion system1841

(JonannVon) Dreyse breech-loading needle gun (Prussia) 1st gun with firing pin.

Dreyse produced a rifle with a simple turn-down bolt, terminating in a needle that penetrated the length of a linen cartridge to detonate a percussion cap in the base of the Mimie bullet.

The advent of the brass cartridge (and the need for brass catchers) made the rifle obsolete, but the Prussians used it to defeat the French in the Franco-Prussian War of 1871.

A few service arms were converted to the percussion cap system in 1839, and it was officially adopted1842
The service percussion musket was mainly experimental until1844
A double-barreled 26-inch barrel, .67 inch caliber arm was issued for British Police use1845

Invention of the Minié ball by the French Army captains Claude Etienne Minié of the Chasseurs d’Orléans and Henri-Gustave Delvigne.

In 1849, Minié came up with one that closely resembled Norton’s British bullet – see above.

Like Norton’s bullet, Minié’s had a hollow cylindrical base and a rounded conical nose.

Minié also incorporated a plug in the bullet’s hollow base to assist expansion, just as Greener had done to Norton’s design.

Instead of a wooden plug, however, Minié used an iron cup, which in effect served the same purpose as Thouvenin’s metal post.

The explosion of the gunpowder would drive the iron cup forward and expand the bullet’s base to fit the rifling grooves snugly.


The Minié rifle was an important French rifle in the 19th century, developed in following the invention of the Minié ball in 1847.

The rifle was designed to allow rapid muzzle loading of rifles, an innovation that brought about the widespread use of the rifle as a mass battlefield weapon.

It was developed following difficulties encountered by the French army in Northern Africa, who were regularly outranged by the handcrafted but long-barreled weapons of their Algerian opponents.

The rifle used a conical-cylindrical soft lead bullet, slightly smaller than the barrel bore, with three exterior grease-filled grooves and a conical hollow in its base.

When fired, the expanding gas pushed forcibly on the base of the bullet, deforming it to engage the rifling.

This provided spin for accuracy, a better seal for consistent velocity and longer range, and cleaning of barrel detritus. Before this innovation, the smooth-bore gun was the only practical field weapon.

A few rifled guns had been in use since the Renaissance, but they required hammering the munition inside the barrel, and created considerable cleaning problems]

The shot-gun or fowling-piece began its separation from the musket in the latter half of the 18th century1850
The Minie (English) service rifle was introduced1850

Minie’s patent for the self-expanding bullet was purchased and adopted by the British Government for the Enfield rifle.

The French army never adopted the new bullet. It took the British army to use it in their new 1851 Enfield rifles, paying Minié 20,000 pounds for his patent.

National Rifle Association (NRA) was incorporated in 1871 to provide firearms training and encourage interest in the shooting sports1871
Muzzleloading was so unassailably established that there was not a single breech-loading cartridge weapon shown by a British firm at the Great Exhibition1851

Sharps Carbine introduce.

Christian Sharps devised his breech-loading system in 1848. During the American Civil War, the Union Army bought over 80,000 Sharps carbines for its cavalry Regiments.

U.S. Secretary of War Jefferson Davis, future president of the Confederacy, adopted the rifle-musket and Minié bullet for the U.S. Army in 1855. An improved version of the rifle-musket—the 1861 model built by the federal armory in Springfield, Massachusetts—became the principal infantry weapon of Northern soldiers in the Civil War.

In the early 1850s, James H. Burton, a master armorer at the U.S. arsenal at Harpers Ferry, Virginia, gave the minié bullet the form it would take into the Civil War. By lengthening the bullet slightly and thinning the walls of its hollow base, Burton was able to dispense with the iron plug.

The base of the improved bullet expanded just as well as Minié’s but was much easier and cheaper to mass-produce.

By the mid-1850s, the fully evolved minié bullet made it possible to build an infantry weapon as easy to load as the old smoothbore musket but with the accuracy and range of a rifle.

The term rifle-musket reflected the weapon’s lethal combination of attributes.] Colt 1851 Navy Model introduced. .36 cal, octagonal barrel Colt delivered a lecture on Colt revolvers before the Institute of Civil Engineers during his visit to London in

Charles Lancaster brought out his central fire under lever gun with extractor and the first true centre fire cartridge1852
Smith & Wesson founded – Horace Smith & Daniel Wesson1852
Colt procured a factory at Thames, Bank, Pimlico, London, and produced replicas of his standard pistols marked on the barrel “Address Col. Colt, London” during the period1853-1857

The Pritchett bullet, a plain lead cylindroconoidal plug with a shallow base depression, was selected as the best type of bullet for the new Enfield rifle.

Later this was superseded by the Enfield bullet

Crimean War. This war was the last to use muzzleloaders. Note: 25,000 Enfield rifles were made in America1854-1856
Whitworth rifles were produced in1857
Smith & Wesson invent 1st practical self-contained rimfire cartridge1858
France – Chassepot Percussion Carbine introduced1858
The first recorded European revolver for central fire cartridges was patented by Perrin and Delmas1859

Spencer Rifle.

The first effective and widely used magazine repeater was the Spencer carbine, patented in the U.S.A. Fired a rimfire .52 black powder round.

Introduced at the start of the Civil War, Spencer repeating guns were technically advanced, used cartridges (a recent development), and could fire 7 shots in 15 seconds.

But the Army didn’t want a repeating gun, fearing that soldiers would fire more often, constantly need fresh ammunition, and overtax the supply system.

But in 1863, President Lincoln test-fired a Spencer. His approval led to the purchase of 107,372 Spencer repeating carbines and rifles (of 144,500 made), and the Spencer became the principal repeating gun of the Civil War]


The Henry Repeating carbine, the successor of the Volcanic Arms invention And predecessor to the Winchester (USA).

American .44 caliber rimfire, lever-action, breech-loading rifle designed by Benjamin Tyler Henry in the late 1850s.

Breech loaded guns in common use.1861
In the American Civil War, both breech and muzzleloader were used1861-1865

Centrefire cartridge Patented by Houiller or Lefaucheux, Paris gunsmiths, in 1847 or 1850.

A centerfire cartridge is a cartridge in which the primer is located in the center of the cartridge case head.

Unlike rimfire cartridges, the primer is a separate and replaceable component. The centerfire cartridge has replaced the rimfire in all but the smallest cartridge sizes.

Except for low-powered .22 and .17 caliber cartridges, and a handful of antiques, all modern pistol, rifle, and shotgun ammunition is centerfire.

Breech loaders were coming into general use1861
Doctor Richard Gatling patented his design of the “Gatling Gun”, a six-barreled weapon capable of firing 200 rounds per minute1860
The first central fire repeater – Ball’s carbine made by the Lamson Arms Co., Windsor, Vermont, U.S.A., in1863
Metallic cartridges were not widely introduced until1863-1864

Gattling gun introduced. 1.0 cal.

Rotary hand-cranked weapon with 10 barrels arranged around a central axis and fired 280 rounds per minute.

The first cartridge repeater shot-gun – Roper1866
Oliver Winchester founded Winchester-Repeating Arms Company1866

The Snider service rifle was issued.

Jacob Snider, an American, invented a method of converting muzzle-loading rifles into breech-loading rifles, known as the Snider-Enfield.


The Henry was merged into the Winchester.

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.


Choke boring for shotguns introduced by Pape of Newcastle.

Fred Kimble, an Illinois market hunter, is credited with the idea of squeezing the muzzle of a shotgun to constrict the shot string about 1870, but there are others who shared in the development.

English gunmaker W.R. Pape patented a system of choke boring in 1866; however, according to W.W. Greener, whose book The Gun dates to 1881, there was choke-boring in the 1700s.

Center-fire cartridge introduced.1869
England – Martini-Henry rifle was issued1869
The first European magazine military arm was the Swiss Vetterli rifle1869-1871
In 1866, the Chassepot was authorized and all branches of the French army were equipped with the weapon1866
The Franco-German War Breach-loaded guns are dominant.1870-1871
First cartridge revolver1871
The first hammer-less gun appears to have been that of Murcott1871
Germany – Mauser bolt action rifle introduced with the M/71 [Peter Paul Mauser]1872

Winchester Rifle introduced.

Winchester rifles were affordable, and produced in such great numbers, that the Winchester became the generic rifle.

Edge rifle, the first bolt action military repeater1874-1875

Introduction of the Anson & Deeley boxlock shotgun mechanism.

Many shooters have some idea of the working mechanism of a side-by-side double-barreled shotgun, even if the knowledge comes from action movies.

There is a lever on top of the tang that the shooter moves to the right. The gun opens, which cocks the internal hammers.

The shooter drops in a couple of shells. The safety is flicked off, and the shooter fires, first one trigger, then the second trigger.

The shooter again moves the lever to the right, the gun opens, | and the shooter either extracts the empty hulls or the gun ejects the empty shells. Repeat.

Pretty simple, huh?

That’s the Anson & Deeley boxlock design. Prior to the development of the Anson & Deeley boxlock, shotguns had external hammers.

Custer defeated at LittleBig Horn1876
First double-action revolver1877

Lee patented his box magazine.

The most popular type of magazine in modern rifles and handguns, the box magazine stores cartridges in a parallel column, or stack, one above the other.

This allows pointed bullets to be used, which are generally more accurate and perform better at longer ranges.

Box magazines may be built into the firearm (internal, integral, or fixed) or may be removable (detachable).

August Fiedler (Stronsdorf), forestry commissioner of Prince Reuss, managed to build the first working telescopic sight. A rifle scope is a refractor telescope used on a rifle.1880

Invention of smokeless gun powder.

Paul Vieille invented smokeless gunpowder called Poudre B, made from gelatinized guncotton mixed with ether and alcohol.


Maxim Machine Gun invented.

Hiram Maxim was born in Sangersville, Maine in 1840 and was the inventor of the Maxim Machine Gun and the Maxim Silencer.

The French adopted the Lebel rifle1886
The Gras-Kropatschek rifle was issued for the French Marines1886-1887
Winchester first repeating shot-guns introduced1887
The Maxim was officially adopted in the army as a machine gun1887
The Lee-Metford rifle was adopted by Great Britain1888
Russia – Mosin-Nagant 1891 named after its designers. Used by the Red Army as a sniper rifle until the 1960s1891
The first automatic pistol was created by Joseph Laumann1892
The first automatic weapon to appear on the market with a separate magazine in the grip was the Borchardt pistol1893
The Bergmann pistol appeared1894
The first Mannlicher automatic pistol was introduced1894
Up until this time rifle bullets were blunt or round-nosed1894
The first pistol caliber carbines begin making their way into the market with the proliferation of brass cartridge ammo.1894
Winchester .30-30 cartridge – the first smokeless civilian round1885
Winchester model 1895 broke with Winchester’s past by having a box Magazine instead of the classic tubular magazine of preceding models.1895
The Mauser C/96 combination automatic pistol or carbine, the wooden holster serving as a stock attachment – fixed 10 round magazine forward of the trigger1896
Browing Model 1897 Pump-action shotgun (Model 1893 was a failure)1897
The Browning automatic pistol of .32 inch caliber1898

1900 - Current

Historical firearms period concludes – contemporary period begins1900

Springfield M 1903.

Impressed by the Mauser rifles US troops encountered During the war against Spain in 1898, The US Ordnance Dept negotiated a License to the build a Mauser design of its own, the 030-03 M 1903.

All automatic pistols were small-bore until1903
The Winchester Firearms Company brought out the first widely sold self-loading rifle – .22 rimfire Winchester Model 19031903
The Webley self-loading .455 inch pistol was adopted for the British Navy1905
1909 Colt 1911A. pistol .45 cal Automatic Colt Pistol (ACP)1909

Browning 1917 Machine gun introduced. .30-06 cal.

During one trial a single gun fired 40,000 rounds and jammed twice, both the fault of the ammunition.


England: Lewis Light Machine Gun.

Original design by Samuel MacLean (UK), modified by Colonel Isaac of the US Army.

England – Vickers Mk1 Machine Gun1912

Browning automatic rifle (BAR) introduced and stayed in service until the 1950s.

The BAR saw little action in WWI in part because the U.S. Army was reluctant to have the BAR fall into enemy hands.

Thompson M 1921 submachine gun. Tommy Gun. .45 ACP1921
Walther PPK. 7.65mm (.32 cal) James Bond gun1930
Canadian, John Garand invented the M1 semiautomatic rifle1934
.357 round developed1934
Browning M2 HB Heavy Machine gun. .50 cal (12.7mm)1936
Czeckoslovakia: Bren machine gun replaced the Lewis gun.1937
Germany: MP 40 submachine gun in 9mm Parabellum1940

USA: M3/M3A1 Grease Gun submachine gun. .45ACP.

Low-cost substitute for the Thompson submachine gun.

M1 Carbine. Designed as a replacement for the pistol and rifle. 30 cal1942

Germany: Sturmgewehr 44 (Mascinen Pistole 43)

The name was chosen for propaganda reasons and literally means storm rifle as in “to storm a bunker.”

After the adoption of the StG44, the English translation “assault rifle” became the accepted designation for this type of infantry small arm.

Sturmgewehr 44 (StG44) was an assault rifle developed in Nazi Germany during World War II and was the first of its kind to see major deployment.

It is also known by the designations Maschinenpistole 43, Maschinenpistole 44 (MP43 and MP44, respectively) which denotes earlier versions of the same weapon.

Germany MG42 Machine gun (7.92 x 57 Mauser)1943

Ruger Firearms is founded.

Israel: Uzi submachine gun/pistol- 9mm Parabellum.

The Uzi is a family of guns that started with a compact, boxy, and lightweight submachine gun.

Smaller and newer variants are considered machine pistols. The first Uzi submachine gun was designed by Uziel Gal in the late 1940s.

It was manufactured by Israel Military Industries, FN Herstal, and others.


USSR AK-47 Assault Rifle evolves from the SKS.

The most manufactured weapon in the word – perhaps 100 million.

Its popularity is due not to its firepower or accuracy but to its reliability and that it needs minimal maintenance to keep functioning regardless of environmental conditions.

Smith & Wesson .44 Magnum Model 29 (Dirty Harry’s gun 1971)1955

USA M14.

To accommodate the new 7.62 NATO round, the US developed a version of Garand’s 20-year-old M1, with fully automatic fire and a larger magazine.

The AR-15 rifle was created by Armalight (later sold to Colt)

USA: M60 machine gun. 7.62mm NATO1962
Germany: Heckler & Koch MP5 9mm1966
Colt M16 rifle first issued to American Soldiers in Vietnam1968

Israel Galil Assault Rifle In 1968 Israel Military Industries was ordered to produce a weapon similar to the AK-47.

It chooses a design by Israel Galil, a near-copy of the Finnish Valmet M62, itself an AK-47 derivative but fired the US 5.56x 45 round.


Beretta Model 92 FS 9mm Parabellum introduced – became the US Military’s official side-arm in the 1980’s.

The word “parabellum” is derived from the Latin meaning “if you seek peace, prepare for war”.

Sig Sauer Founded.

The first red dot sight brought to market by Aimpoint AB.


Glock 17 introduced – the first “plastic” handgun.

The Glock 17’s frame was fabricated entirely from plastic, with four steel rails to act as guides for the metal parts.

The gun’s designation derives from it being Gaston Glock’s 17th patent, rather than its unusually large magazine capacity.

The first true AR9, the Colt 9mm SMG, is introduced — leading the way for the creation of interchangeable AR9 components such as AR9 upper receivers.


Desert Eagle handgun .50cal made by the Israel Military Industries (IMI)

10MM automatic cartridge developed by U.S. Marine Jeff Cooper for the Bren Ten pistol, leading to a new class of pistol – the 10mm handgun.

The Saiga-12 magazine-fed, AR-style shotgun is introduced.1997
Magpul industries founded with their magazine-pull product (and shortly after magazines, AR furniture and load of other accessories)1999

The .458 SOCOM round is designed by Marty ter Weeme of Teppo Jutsu and Tony Rumore of Tromix.

The 6.5 Grendel cartridge is officially approved by SAAMI.

300 AAC Blackout was approved by SAAMI and quickly introduced via both rifles and .300 Blackout uppers.2011
Executive Actions to expand background checks on private gun purchases White House Executive Order Press Release.2016
The .224 Valkyrie was approved by SAAMI and introduced in both rifles and upper receivers.2018



Based on A History of Firearms by Major H.B.C. Pollard From “Notable Gun Dates” in Edgar Howard Penrose, Descriptive Catalog of the Collection of Firearms in the Museum of Applied Science of Victoria [Australia], by, Museum of Applied Science of Victoria Handbook No. 1, 1949. Firearms, by Howard Ricketts. 1962, G.P. Putnam’s Sons. Library of Congress Catalog 62-13080 Weapons: an international encyclopedia from 5000 BC to 2000 AD. 1990, St. Martin’s Press www.silcom.com

See W. Y. Carman, A History of Firearms from Earliest Times to 1914 (1955); A. J. Cormack, Small Arms in Profile (1972); E. C. Ezell, Small Arms of the World (11th ed. 1977); J. Ellis, The Social History of the Machine Gun (1973). Gun – a visual history – featuring material from Weapon Civil War Weapons Graham Smith

Frequently Asked Questions

Did they have guns in the 1500s?

Yes – wheellock guns were first created in the early 1500s. Wheellocks were some of the first firearms that could be fired with one hand thanks to the fact they were the first self-igniting firearms.

When was the first gun made and why?

Historians typically recognize Chinese fire lances, which were invented in the In the 10th century simple tubes made from bamboo or metal fired flames and shrapnel at their targets. Cannons first appeared in Italy in the early 1300s as European nations deployed them with their many wars.

When did guns become common in war?

The 14th century. While guns were originally used as an upgraded form of archery or ranged weapon rather than replacements for infantry weapons during the 100 Years War guns were deployed more universally.

What is the oldest gun in the world?

The Heilongjiang hand cannon is thought to be the oldest known gun in the world. A precursor to modern guns, the hand cannon isn’t a gun as we think of them today but it is one of the first firearms ever created.

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