Firearms: The History and Science of Progress and Uses

No doubt the general public is familiar with how a gun functions — point and shoot, right? The physics behind the operation and the technology that has led to centuries of upgrades is not as commonly known. Through progressions and components, here is a general timeline of the firearm.

Early firearms

The first use of a firearm on record occurred in 1364. By the 1380s all of Europe was familiar with this invention called the firearm, but it wasn’t until 20-30 years later that the concept received its first upgrade with the introduction of the matchlock gun.

The first firearm required the shooter to hold the gun with one hand and touch a lit wick to the barrel with the other in order to ignite the gunpowder. However, the matchlock moved the powder to a flash pan, allowing the shooter to light it and then hold the gun with both hands, resulting in an incredible improvement in aiming.


In essence, most guns work using the same principle. They require a force of pressure to ignite an explosion that sends a projectile through a barrel. But it wasn’t until the wheel lock was invented in 1509 that the spark needed for ignition could be initiated mechanically, without the use of a wick.

Rifles, a new design for the body of a firearm, surfaced around 1540, but the next most impressive invention to aid in the practicality of shooting came in 1630 with the flintlock mechanism. Finally, a system was developed to push the cover of the flash pan off the powder while simultaneously igniting a spark, a system so effective that no major alterations were considered for over 200 years.

Changes in production

Samuel Colt brought firearms into the age of Industrial Revolution with the mass-production of his multi-shot, revolving firearm in 1835. Though “revolvers” had been in existence for years, it was not until the technology of the assembly line surfaced that precision parts for the design could be made with relative ease. The Mexican War in 1846 solidified Colt’s claim to gun fame as the U.S. military commissioned 1,000 revolvers from him.

The late 1800s saw a rapid succession of gun improvements. Cartridges — which included the casing, powder, rim and primer — were introduced. Carbine, meaning rapid fire, was patented, and firearms like the Gatling gun and Winchester rifle came to be.

Into the 1900s, modern firearms were as varied as the people who chose to own them.


Variations and applications

Firearms also have a varied list of applications. Outside of military use, guns are used for hunting, home protection and even sport.

A safer shoot-off of the rifle is the modern day airsoft gun. Created by the Japanese, rumored because firearms were illegal, the first airsoft gun appeared in the mid-1970s.

The differences in mechanics between regular firearms and airsoft guns are slight. The early models were derived from semi-automatic pistol designs and were spring-powered. Airsoft guns expel a pellet rather than a shell and use force of air rather than gunpowder although many modern models include an explosive cap that replicates the sound of a gun firing.

Though a controversial topic, firearms have a long and interesting history of scientific progression and application. Who knows what the future of firearms may hold?


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