Fire Arms 1440-1885 Page Co., IA.
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Fire Arms

Section 2.2 1440-1885
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In 1247 A.D., BACON recorded a newly discovered formula in China which he called "Gunpowder". It consisted of 75% saltpeter, 15% charcoal, and 10% sulfur. The "cannon" also originated in China to make use of this newly discovered explosive. Cannons were made from tiny hand guns to huge wheeled models, but the basic principal of the common cannon, the solid breech for holding the charge and the touch-hole for lighting the powder within the barrel, remained the same for the next 600 years.

The "First True Firearm" was the 1440 "MATCH-LOCK MUSKET". This was a smoldering wick soaked in saltpeter which was clamped in a serpentine shaped holder, to ignite the powder in a "flash pan", which in turn ignited the charge in the barrel through the touchhole. The Pilgrims brought 10 of these "Match-Lock Muskets" with them to this new world when they landed on Plymouth Rock in 1620. They were useless in windy or rainy weather.

The next musket was in 1521 called the "WHEEL-LOCK MUSKET" This was a toothed wheel which was spring-wound for each shot. When the trigger was pulled the "toothed wheel" revolved against the stationary "flint" or "pyrites", causing sparks to ignite powder in the "flash pan", similar to a present day cigarette lighter. These were too costly for general use.

In 1580 a Dutch invention originally called "SNAP-HAUNCE IGNITION MUSKET". It was brought into use by certain marauding bands, who by the Dutch were called "Snaphaans" <197> hen snappers, or poultry stealers. These worthies could not afford the "WHEEL-LOCKS" and the lighted matches for the "MATCH-LOCK" muskets were liable to lead to detection, so they devised their own "snap-haunce", little suspecting, doubtless, that their ingenious invention would be universally adopted and would maintain its supremacy for nearly three centuries.

The "SNAP-HAUNCE MUSKET" flint or pyrites was held in the jaws of a spring activated hammer. When the trigger was pulled, flint struck a stationary angles plate, throwing sparks into the flash pan. Much simpler and less costly than the "WHEEL-LOCK" The Pilgrims brought 50 of these "Snap-Haunce Muskets" with them to this new world when they landed on Plymouth Rock in 1620.

In 1630 the "FLINT-LOCK MUSKET" was invented. This was really a improvement for the "Snap-Haunce Musket", flint was held in the jaws of a cocked hammer which, when the trigger was pulled, struck a hinged steel plate called the "frizzen" or "battery", which normally covered the powder to keep it dry, but flew open when the flint struck it. The resulting sparks ignited the powder in the flash pan that led through the touchhole into the barrel chamber, where the explosion took place.

It was learned in 1547 that by cutting spiral groves inside a firearm barrel, causing the bullet or shot to spin more accurately to its target. The Germans called it "Riffelin" meaning to groove. Thus the word "Rifle" originated. This made the "Musket" obsolete.


In 1710, at Lancaster, Pennsylvania, the gateway to the frontier at this time, Mr. MERTIN MEYLIN made the first "flint-lock" "Kentucky Rifle" He fired lead balls wrapped in greased linen that followed the grooved barrel and spun to the target with deadly accuracy. Before the development of the "Kentucky-Rifle" the muskets were required to hammer a lead ball with a ramrod (and sometimes with a mallet) to pack and expand the ball to fit the grooves, a very slow process. The "Kentucky-Rifleman" merely wrapped his "shot ball" of slightly smaller diameter than the bore, in a greased leather or linen patch, (carried the "Patch- Box"on the side of the stock) and slid the ball into the barrel more easily with the ramrod. DANIEL BOONE helped make the "Kentucky-Rifle" popular.

Each "Kentucky-Rifle" was hand made, with the basic fundamental features as follows: long barrel, slender graceful stock inlaid with symbols or Indian signs, sharp drop, curved butt plate, hinged brass covered wadding compartment (Patch-Box), with an average bore of 45 caliber. This rifle was truly the Colonist weapon and assisted greatly in the birth of our nation.

Its interesting to note that in the days when men loaded their muskets with "shot-ball", they would make their shot-balls by pouring molten lead from a tower 60 to 100 feet high. By the time it hit the ground it had cooled and formed a round ball. These pellets were then passed through screens of different meshes to grade them for various sizes. This method of make shot-balls was used for hundreds of years.

In 1789, before ELI WHITNEY, invented of the "Cotton-Gin" (Patent 1793) he contracted with the United States Government to make 10,000 muskets with interchangeable parts. It took him 11 years and was the very beginning of "mass production", so prevalent in the United States today.

The Spanish in 1790, developed a modern counterpart of the sawed- off shotgun. It had a funneled barrel which was not for spreading the charge, but for quick loading. Guns of this sort was loaded with black powder, broken glass, nails and stones. It was commonly called "BLUNDERBUSS", they were used to guard prison walls, and on shipboard to tear up pirate masts and sails.

In 1800, the forerunner of the "Percussion Cap" rifle was the "TUBE-LOCK", the lock having an ordinary percussion type hammer with no cup, being flat on the end. The hammer struck a firing pin through a hinged metal piece similar to the frizzen on the "FLINT-LOCK". A tube of priming under this hinged piece ignited the charge through a touchhole, when struck by the firing pin.

Seven years later, in 1807 Rev. FORSYTH patented the "Percussion Cap" Rifle, which exploded instantly when hit with a hammer, this discharge in turn exploded the powder. It replaced the "FLINT- LOCK". 41 years later in 1848, and 2 years (1850 Patent) before FLOBERT'S self contained cartridge, the United States Government ordered all of its 600,000 "FLINT-LOCK" muskets converted to the percussion system.

In 1811, HALL patented the first rifle with a hinged breech between the barrel and stock, making it possible to load the barrel from the rear, called the "BREECH-LOADER".


SAMUEL COLT, (b. 1814, d. 1862, at the age of 48 years), an circus performer in 1835, patented the first ratchet action locking cylinder firearm, when he was only 20 years of age. His first sale was a revolving rifle, similar to this. He started manufacturing them in 1836 as the "PATENT ARMS MFG. COMPANY" About 7, 000 of these Colt patent rifles were used in the Civil War.

The Colt Rifle was the very first to shoot a multiple of shots through the same barrel without re-loading. It was a 56 caliber with percussion cap ignition, using ball and powder front end loading.

As time went on the "Colt" revolver proved more practical than the "Colt" rifle because the rifle caused powder burns on the shooter's left forearm. Col. SAMUEL COLT never lived to see a metallic cartridge used in his revolvers. He died a millionaire in 1862, 9 years before the "Colt" revolver was converted from percussion to metallic cartridge in 1871.

In 1871 the Patent Arms Mfg. Co. came out with its famous "Colt Peacemaker" revolver. or the "Colt Frontier Six Shooter" which ever you called it this breach loading revolver used the same .44 caliber cartridge that the "Winchester Saddle Gun Model 73" (Carbine) thus allowing the frontier-man's to carry only one size cartridge. Over some 300,000 "Peacemakers" were sold between 1873, and 1907. (they also made in .45 caliber.)

In 1850, the first "Double Barrel Muzzle Loader" was developed by the WESTLEY-RICHARDS Co. of England. It was called the "DAMASCUS - TWIST" A piano wire coiled to form the tube, then fused together became the barrel. It carried quite a "wallop" both "for'd" and "aft", but it was a real "Wild Flower". It proved a very practical market hunter's gun in its day.

As mentioned before Mr. FLOBERT, in 1850, invented the first metallic self-contained, "rim-fire" cartridge, a .22 caliber, with the bullet attached, as is still used today. This made the "Repeater" possible.


The great firm of SMITH and WESSON stands as a living, growing monument to the development of manufacturing know-how in America. HORACE SMITH and DANIEL BAIRD WESSON were among out country's pioneers in gun development. They were among the first to recognize the need for complete interchangeability of parts, to achieve volume production with no sacrifice of quality. There could have been no better time to apply these principles to the firearms industry during the period of tension and unrest before the Civil War.

Both men inherited mechanical skills. HORACE SMITH's father worked at Springfield Armory. Young HORACE SMITH also served an 18-year apprenticeship there, earning the title of "Master Gunmaker".

DANIEL B. WESSON's father was a plow manufacture in Worcester, while young DANIEL's two brothers were gunmakers. DANIEL first worked with his brother EDWIN WESSON, then after several other associations in the firearms field, DANIEL WESSON went with the ALLEN and LUTHER Co. in Worcester. It was there that he met HORACE SMITH.

Forming their partnership in 1852, SMITH and WESSON first tackled the manufacture of what was to become the "Volcanic Magazine" pistol. While the Volcanic cartridge was a disappointment, it did have a great impact of the gun's mechanical principle upon the firearms industry.

In 1856, with 25 employees, the partners commenced manufacture their famous "Model No. 1" Smith & Wesson Revolver, a breech loader made under the ROLLIN WHITE patent, and chambered for a revolutionary new cartridge which DANIEL B. WESSON invented and patented. With only minor changes, this exists today as the familiar .22 rim-fire!

The Model No. 1 was a four year success, and led to the introduction of a .32 "Rimfire" revolver in 1861. During the Civil War, thousands of soldiers spent their own funds for these in order to be armed with the very latest and best handgun.

Note One: In 1869, the SMITH & WESSON first "centerfire", large- caliber .44 revolver made its appearance. It has been reported that "BUFFALO BILL CODY (William Fredrick Cody, b. 1846 - d. 15, Jan. 1917, 71-yrs. age See Sarratt/Cody Families) used this while guiding the "GRAND DUKE ALEXIS, of Russia on a hunting trip, this powerful .44 impressed the Duke that it led to order for 250,000 of the "RUMAN MODEL" revolvers during the next 5 years.

HORACE SMITH retired from SMITH and WESSON in 1874, and DANIEL B. WESSON's three sons came into the company. On 04 Aug. 1906, Mr. DANIEL B. WESSON died at the age of 81.

Note 1. This source was from "Sports Afield" - April 1959, this writer could NOT find any record of this in the classic autobiography "THE LIFE OF THE HONORABLE WILLIAM F. CODY - Known as Buffalo Bill, the Famous Hunter, Scout and Guide" by WILLIAM F. CODY, Pub. Hartford, Conn. Fort E. Bliss, 1879, Page 107 @NOTE 1 = ..."Buffalo Bill loaned Buckskin Joe (Cody's Horse) to the Grand Duke for the occasion and also let him use his old gun Lucreata Borgia (this was a 1869 - Sharps Buffalo Gun, a .45 caliber, 120 grain of powder and 550 grain bullet weight). First the Duke tried to hit a buffalo with his pistol, but with no success".....

In 1860, with the advent of the self contained cartridge, (FLOBERT, Patent 1850), the first "under-lever" repeating rifle was patented by CHRISTOPHER SPENCER. It was a .45 caliber, 7 shot "rim fire" "Spencer Carbine". The cartridge tube inserted through the butt plate.

President ABRAHAM LINCOLN approved the "Spencer Rifle" himself in 1863 and ordered over 200,000 to be delivered the "Union Army".

The same year of 1860 with the advent of the self contained cartridge the "Shot-Gun" shell was developed. This made the Pin- Fire, Breach Lock, Double Barrel Shotguns popular.


B. TYLER HENRY, was a machinist for the "SMITH and WESSON" Company when they sold out to "VOLCANIC REPEATING ARMS COMPANY" in 1855, which failed in 1857.

A gentleman by the name of OLIVER B. WINCHESTER, one of the stockholder's of the de-funked Volcanic Repeating Arms Co. took over and formed a new company called "NEW HAVEN ARMS WORKS". Mr. Winchester hired B. Tyler Henry as the new plant manager. Tyler Henry was designing an .44 caliber, rim-fire, 15 cartridges, under-lever, repeating rifle. (similar to the Spencer 7 cartridge). It was in production by 1860, and it was so well designed that there has been only a few basic changes in the Winchester to this day.

Their were approximately 10,000 manufactured by the New Have Arms Company for the Union Army. It weighed only 9 1/2 pounds. It has been reported that it was used by the Union forces in General SHERMAN'S march through Georgia and could fire 10 shots per minute. Described by the Confederates as "that dammed Yankee rifle that is loaded on Sunday and fired all week."

The "Winchester Model 1866" was the first rifle to bear the Winchester name (issued in 1866). It was made by the "Winchester Repeating Arms Company in Bridgeport, Connecticut, established in 1866. It was a improved version of the .44 rifle the B. TYLER HENRY originally designed, chambered for both flat and pointed .44 cartridges.

The Model 66 was loaded by means of a port on the side and the tubular magazine was unslotted. As a tribute to Mr. HENRY's achievement, Mr. OLIVER B. WINCHESTER has always stamped the letter "H" on the head of every rim-fire cartridge it made.

In 1869, the SHARPS MFG. CO., although the firm failed in 1874, introduced the "SHARPS BUFFALO GUN". Even though only some 2,000 of these rifles were made they obliterated the Buffalo. These powerful rifle was a .45 caliber, 120 grains of powder (the Winchester Model 73 was only 40 grains) and 550 grains bullet weight (the Model 73 was only 200 grains). In a short period of 35 years (1869 to 1904) some 50 million buffalo were slaughtered on the Nebraska and Kansas plains.

Often the only thing that was taken was the bison's "tongue". The wanton slaughter of these beasts caused many Indian attacks, for the Indians depended on the buffalo for food and shelter. By 1905 only a mere 900 buffaloes left in the entire United States. It was decided at that time to put the buffalo under protection?

In 1873 the Winchester Repeating Arms Company introduced a new lightweight magazine type repeating rifle. The "Winchester Saddle Gun" a repeating carbine. It was originally center fire, 12 cartridge, .44 caliber, 40 grains of powder, 200 grain bullet (44-40-200). This rifle was very popular in opening the West, 250,000 were sold between 1874 and 1924.

The Winchester Model 73, was the rifle the Sioux Indians, under the leadership of "Crazy Horse, wiped out General George Armstrong Custer and his 241 men at the battle of the Little Big Horn on June 25, 1876. These rifles were bought by the Indians with "Black Hills" Gold, which was discovered on their land in 1874.

Custer's men were "sitting targets" armed with their single shot rifles of the Civil War vintage, against the Sioux who literally "mowed them down" with their newer type 12 shot repeater Winchester Model 73.

In 1880, the Winchester Repeating Arms Company introduced the "Wild Flower's Dream Gun". This was a lever action shotgun, of 8, 10, and 12 gauges. The Shotgun gauges are handed down from the days of the musket, when the gauge was determined by the number of balls that could be made from a pound of lead that would fit into the barrel.

In 1885, Mr. VIEILLE, worked out the world's first successful formula for smokeless powder. No longer was it necessary to step to the side to see if your shot reached its mark.

Source: 1. Page Co., Iowa
Some Early Marriages 1850 to 1899
Compiled by Paul R. Sarrett, 7117 E. Clydesdale Ave.,
Orange Co., CA. 92667, Phone 714-771-8410 Copyrighted 1983-1989

Source & Reference: Section 8.


E-Mail: Paul R. Sarrett, Jr. Page Co., Coordinator

Text - Copyright © 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000 Paul R. Sarrett, Jr.
Created: Dec. 01, 1996; Revised: Mar. 13, 2000