By: Ben Jimenez
Firearms have changed a great deal in the last thousand years or so since they began to replace swords and spears as the principal weapon used by Western armies.
Some of the most famous guns in the world, such as Smith & Wesson or Ruger pistols, were developed and used in the United States. Some were developed for reasons other than warfare; others became famous due to their use and reliability during combat.
Here are our picks for four of the most famous guns in history, based on their longevity and breakthrough technology at the time:
The Kentucky Long Rifle
The Kentucky Long Rifle was first made in Pennsylvania in the 1730s by immigrant German craftsmen. Most agree this gun was one of the first true rifles. The Kentucky Long Rifle helped the American colonies win the Revolutionary War.
Before the Kentucky Long Rifle, soldiers and hunters used heavy muskets like the Brown Bess, the standard gun issued to British soldiers before and during the American Revolution.
Muskets were not only heavy and wasted a lot of powder per shot, but were also highly inaccurate.
The Kentucky Long Rifle was slender, relatively lightweight compared to a musket, and, most importantly, had a rifled barrel. The rifled barrel imparted spin to the bullet as it left the barrel, forcing the bullet to travel in a relatively straight line, greatly improving accuracy. A skilled marksman could hit a target at 200 yards with this weapon. In comparison, British regulars could accurately hit a target at no more than 60 yards.
The perfect hunting weapon of the time, the gun quickly became a necessity for frontier living. When the Revolutionary War started, General Washington actively recruited American frontiersmen and their guns. During the war, these frontier units dressed in buckskin rather than regular military uniforms. The British forces learned to give any buckskin-wearing soldiers a wide berth due to the devastation this gun could cause at such great distances.
On more than one occasion, General Washington took advantage of this and sometimes would dress up several squads of his musket-carrying soldiers in buckskin to fool the British.
The Gatling Gun
Most consider the Gatling Gun as the first real machine gun. This weapon was developed by Dr. Richard Gatling during the American Civil War and was first used in battle by the Union Army in 1864.
Ironically, its creator had hoped that the lethal and precise nature of the weapon he had invented would make the soldiers and all Americans understand the folly of war and discourage the large-scale battles that characterized the Civil War.
The Gatling Gun worked by rotating a cluster of 10-gun barrels when you turned a crank. The guns loaded and fired automatically during a single rotation. Gravity loaded the barrels during the first half rotation, and the spent cartridges ejected during the second half.
In 1866, the U.S. Army adopted the Gatling Gun as standard weaponry and, very quickly, every unit in the army had at least one. General Custer and his 7th Cavalry had two Gatling Guns but, unfortunately, decided to leave them behind during the ill-fated Battle of Little Bighorn.
The Gatling Gun saw action during the Indian Wars and the Spanish American War and was eventually replaced in the early 20th century by the Maxim, which became famous during World War I.
The Colt Peacemaker
One of the most famous handguns of all time is the Colt Peacemaker.
Before the 1870s, most revolvers used percussion caps. Every time you pulled the trigger, the hammer would hit a percussion cap full of mercury fulminate. This caused a flame that ignited a paper cartridge containing black powder and the bullet.
Percussion caps, due to moisture in the air, often misfired if kept in a weapon too long. Wild Bill Hickok, for example, would fire both his percussion-cap handguns into the air each morning and load fresh cartridges into the chambers to help minimize the chance of a misfire.
By the mid-1800s, the invention of center and rim-fired metallic cartridges that enclosed the primer, black powder, and bullet all in one brass cartridge became popular. These bullets were water-resistant and eliminated the need to ram the bullet and powder to the rear of the cylinder.
Colt developed a new, .45 caliber M1873 handgun for the U.S. Army in 1873, nicknamed “The Peacemaker.” A few years later, Colt marketed a civilian version, the .44 caliber Colt sidearm.
This weapon quickly became one of the most popular handguns ever on the Western frontier. This model used the same caliber ammunition as the popular Winchester Model 1873 rifle, so hunters, lawmen, and others only needed to carry one type of ammunition.
The U.S. Army’s version of the Colt Peacemaker was so reliable that it remained the official service weapon until the .45 caliber automatic officially replaced it at the beginning of World War II.
The M1 Garand
In 1936, the M1 Garand was the first semi-automatic rifle to be issued to the U.S. Army. Like the AK-47, this rifle is a gas-piston-operated long-stroke firearm. Its operating handle also doubles as a forward assist. It weighs between 9 and 10 pounds, depending on the wooden material used for the stock.
Most armies at the time still used bolt action rifles. A semi-automatic rifle allowed a soldier to fire much more quickly, and just as accurately, than standard guns used by other countries.
The M1 Garand was simple to disassemble, easy to clean, durable, reliable, and very accurate at 100 yards.
The Garand saw a lot of use during World War II and Korea. Even though the gun was officially retired from the U.S. inventory in 1957, many American soldiers still carried it during the Vietnam War. Other countries continued to use the M1 Garand until the 1980s.
The firearms industry continues to evolve and change. Gun development and innovation continues. Recently, the U.S. military began to deploy lasers, a mainstay of science fiction stories, on battleships to defend against hypersonic missiles.
Who knows what gun will become famous in the future?
Ben Jimenez is Director of Marketing at Concealment Express. Contact him at [email protected].