May 15, 1718: A London lawyer, James Puckle, patents the world’s first machine gun. The lawyer was interested in defense and invented his gun which was first demonstrated in 1718. The multi-shot gun was mounted on a tripod and could fire up to nine times per minute. It was a single barrel flintlock weapon fitted with a revolving cylinder. It was intended for use aboard ships. The barrel was three feet long and each cylinder held 11 charges. It could fire 63 shots in seven minutes while the best a man loading his own weapon could achieve was three shots per minute. There were two versions of the Puckle gun produced. One was for use on Christians while the other with square bullets was to be used against Muslims.
While this was the first machine gun patented, it was not adopted or produced. It did help with future designs of revolvers, however. In 1777 Philadelphia gunsmith Joseph Belton offered a “new improved gun” to the Continental Congress which could fire twenty shots in five seconds. Congress asked for a modified gun firing fewer times per minute but withdrew their order when the cost was too high. More refinements took place and by the mid-1800s there was a flurry of multi-shot guns being offered.
The Agar Gun or coffee-mill gun, was invented early in the US Civil War era. Ammo was loaded into a hopper above the weapon and a hand crank loaded the single barrel. President Lincoln was impressed with a demonstration and order 10 [at a cost of $1,300 each or about $33,000 each today] right away. Eventually 54 Agar Guns were used. At the same time, Richard Jordan Gatling patented his Gatling gun. This gun had machine loading of prepared cartridges and also used a hand-operated crank for rapid firing. It saw limited use in the Civil War, but was improved and used extensively in the Franco-Prussian War.
Next came the Maxim gun, invented in 1884 by Sir Hiram Maxim. It was the first self-powered machine gun. The recoil action of the previous bullet loaded the next to be fired. This offered a much higher rate of firing. He also used water to cool the gun by having a water jacket around the barrel. This gun was used extensively in World War I. During that time, the Vickers machine gun and the Hotchkiss machine gun were also put on the market. Submachine guns were also used for the first time during World War I.
“In front of us was not a line but a fortress position, twenty miles deep, entrenched and fortified, defended by masses of machine-gun posts and thousands of guns in a wide arc. No chance for cavalry!” – Philip Gibbs
“On the steps is a machine-gun ready for action. The square is empty; only the streets that lead into it are jammed with people. It would be madness to go farther – the machine-gun is covering the square.” – Erich Maria Remarque
“We may find in the long run that tinned food is a deadlier weapon than the machine-gun.” – George Orwell
“Anyone with a gun can go out and commit an act of terrorism, even without a political affiliation.” – Aaron McGruder