Evolving over thousands of years, humankind has used weapons for hunting, foraging, self-defense and war. Invented in 1260 in China, it took nearly three centuries for gunpowder to evolve into a useful weapon. Later, these weapons rapidly spread through trade and commerce across Europe, Africa and the Middle East
The firearm that is similar to today’s models is the fire lance, which was a black-powder tube that attached to a spear. This weapon’s primary use was as a flamethrower. Early warriors would place shrapnel inside the barrel, which would cause flames and projectiles to rain from the sky, harming enemies.
To make weapons more efficient, China eventually began to use metal barrels, which replaced the common bamboo and paper mixtures of ancient times. Efficient projectiles that closely mimicked the shape and size of the barrel provided consistent results and accurate aim. These eventually replaced the old-style shrapnel. The ratio of saltpeter was experimented with, helping to increase the distance and power of explosive powders. With these advancements, the first primitive gun emerged, featuring a metal barrel and a projectile that used high-nitrate gunpowder to propel it. Archaeologists believe the oldest surviving gun dates to 1288 and was made of bronze. It was located in the modern-day Archeng District in China, an area where written records indicate several battles and wars once occurred.
In the 14th century, the Middle East obtained firearms. The Battle of Ain Jalut used history’s first recorded cannon; however, conflicting reports say the Mongols introduced gunpowder to this region.
Eventually guns made their way into more civilized regions, such as Europe. Archeologists believe there are two possible explanations for how guns arrived in Europe. Once theory is that the ancient Silk Road trading path, which joined the Middle East and Europe, helped facilitate gun trading. The second theory is that Mongols brought guns during their invasion of Europe during the 13th century. Russia reports having guns that date to 1382 and Europe from Otepää, Estonia, in 1396.
Eventually, these ancient guns, which were similar to hand-held cannons, evolved into a more convenient form of weaponry – the flintrock rifle. This led to the development of the breechloader and then ultimately today’s automatic weapons.
Repeating and automatic loading firearms date to the Spanish-America War and were manufactured in Springfield, Massachusetts, at the Springfield Armory. These modern bolt-action guns made appearances in several worldwide battles. The first rapid-fire firearm, which was invented by Richard Gatling, dates to the American Civil War.
The first self-loading rifle that became an instant success is credited with being designed by Mexican general Manuel Mondragón. This weapon appeared in many wars, including the Mexican Revolution, World War I and even Vietnam.
The advanced gun designs created by humankind are nothing short of brilliant. Forever changing how countries conduct war, the advent of modern-day firearms has helped forge peace with nations, promote alliances, generate positive World War outcomes and allowed America to become the world’s foremost superpower.
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