Featured Image Caption: Classic American Civil War Rifle, Wild West Rifle and Revolver
The rifle has been a vaunted weapon in its various forms for hundreds of years since its inception. Around the world, animals have been hunted, wars have been fought, and records have been made with rifles. Even the history of how the rifle came to be is a global story. Have an interest in firearm history? Read on for an intriguing look into the history of these long-used and long-praised tools.
The Flintlock: The Rifle’s First Form
The original version of the rifle was the flintlock. The origins of the weapon are still a little hazy, but it is thought to have first been produced in western Europe at least 500 years ago. These early models ignited gunpowder, a substance commonly understood to hail from China, in order to fire ammunition. Flintlocks quickly became in high demand, although there were problems with the firing mechanism initially.
Later on down the line, a solution was found via a new invention: the percussion ignition. This mechanism consisted of using a cap as the source of a small explosion of pressure which induced ignition. Now, a flint was no longer needed, and newer, more modernized rifles were thriving on the world stage.
The Kentucky Rifle
The new and improved flintlock continued its reign as one of the most valuable weapons out there for roughly two centuries. During this era of advancement, gunmakers were hard at work learning more about ammunition, firing mechanisms, and accuracy before they made the next breakthrough in rifle design.
Sometime in the 18th century, European immigrants with backgrounds as gunsmiths arrived in the United States. They took the muskets used at the time by the English, and incorporated features from German firearm technology to produce a hybrid dubbed the Kentucky rifle. American settlers often used this new model, and it was a staple in the American Revolution. Kentucky rifles are commonly recognized by their overlong barrels and iconic puff of smoke after firing each round.
The Buffalo Rifle
In the early 19th century, the Hawken rifle was developed by American gunsmiths Samuel and Jacob Hawken. Their creation was a muzzleloader, and its barrel was shorter than earlier hunter’s rifles were. This firearm was perfect for pioneers hunting on the plains, so naturally, one of its nicknames was the “buffalo gun”. Their long-range accuracy made the buffalo rifle the indisputable tool of choice for hunters and trappers and hunters in the great plains and the early wild west.
Continued Innovation Today
As the industrial revolution kicked off in the mid 1800s, the rate at which firearm technology advanced skyrocketed. The breechloading rifle was invented, and used loyally by the Prussians. To this day, the vast majority of firearms are loaded breech, that is, rear-loading. This saves on reload time; one of the most famous breechloading weapons is the double-barrel shotgun.
As the technology evolved, then came the repeating rifle, which held a magazine containing multiple cartridges. Being able to fire multiple shots without reloading was a game changer and revolutionized the industry forever. All repeaters at this point were lever action. After that came semi-automatic and automatic rifles.
The amount of history and innovation behind every one of these models is staggering, and proves the ingenuity of human invention and imagination. With 21st century technology, there is no telling what heights the ingenuity of gunsmiths will reach in the future. As we learn more through modern rifles, breakthroughs will continue to happen as more and more research and development are conducted. There’s no telling where our innovations will go next.
By Dixie Somers
who is a freelance writer based in Arizona.