Development of Cartridqes

As mechanical improvements continued, the idea of incorporating the detonating cap as an integral part of the fixed charge was inevitable. This 20-vear period (1856-76) saw more varied and distinct types of breech-loacling arms devel oped than any other equal period in the history of arms. Many of these required their own peculiar type of cartridge.

Christian Sharps' self-consuming cartridge made of linen was introduced in 1852. it was made at his Fairmount, Pennsylvania, gun factory. This was a definite improvement over the fragile paper-filled envelopes previously used. The linen could be held in shape and would stand more abuse than the pa per cartridge. That cartridges, in one form or another, were beginning to be used throughout the service is verified by a record showing the purchase of 393,304 paper cartridges by the United States Army in 1851.

Col. Samuel CoIl collaborated with the Fly brothers of England in making further improvements on his patented self-consuming cartridge. This cartridge was made of a stiller and more durable paper, and could be held to close manufacturing tolerances. The paper cartridge ease was impregnated with a mixture of potassium nitrate. The explosion of the powder charge completely consumed the cartridge case. The

percussion cap hacl sufficient force to rupture the paper and drive fire through to the powder charge.

Smith and Wesson of Springfield, Mass., in 1857 manufactured the first really successful rim-fire version of a metallic cartridge, self-contained and reasonably waterproof. This ammunition, with added improvements, to the present day is still produced by various American companies.

On 22 January 1856, the unusual method of housing both detonator and propelling charge in the base of a bullet was introduced and patented. The Winchester Arms Co. made a repeating weapon called the "Volcanic" using this odd principle. As the propelling ingredients were all contained in the bullet itself, there was naturally no problem of case ejection. This radical design was to compete with the impregnated self-consuming paper cartridge eases.

The volcanic bullet had a small charge of finely granulated powder, and a larger portion of fulminate of mercury mixture housed in a thin metal cup, all of which was protected from the elements bv a thin cork insert. When the ball was fed into the arm, a spring-loaded firing pin was cammed forward and forced through the cork until it was brought to bear on the primer cup. A smart blow from the hammer ignited the detonating mixture, forcing the flame through the openings provided, and exploded the powder in the upper conical cavity of the bullet.

During the middle of the nineteenth century, the introduction of various methods of producing cartridge cases, the development of the conical bullet, and the idea of integrating the detonating cap in the cartridge were undoubtedly responsible for the rapid and radical designs of the innumerable weapons constructed to fire them.

Even skin cartridge cases were used successfully. They not only furnished a waterproof container, but also were easily made into the self-consuming case that seemed to be a military "must." of the day. To produce this cartridge case, pig's intestines were used. After cleaning and while still wet, they were stretched over forms of the required cartridge dimensions. When dried, the powder and bullet were put in place. The skin case was then treated with a compound consisting of "eighteen parts by weight of nitrate of potassium, pure, and seventeen parts of sulphuric acid—pure, after which it was washed to free it from the soluble salts and excess of acids, and then dried by blotting . . . in order to render it perfectly waterproof, a light coat: of shellac varnish was applied."

It is easy to sec how multifiring weapon development went hand in hand with cartridge design. As each different type of cartridge was introduced, inventors followed closely with a mechanical firing system, designed to use the new idea. No matter how radical a departure any new cartridge may have been from the hereto

fore accepted methods, there was a gun with an equally original design to shoot it.

The greatest problem in ammunition development was finally solved by George W. Morse's invention in 1858—the first true attempt at a metallic cartridge with a center fire primer and an inside anvil. It marked ihe most important step in the whole history of cartridge design. All oilier methods, experiments, and alleged improvements were but attempts to do what Morse successfully accomplished.

But experimentation and development had gone too far to be stopped suddenly by the issuing of this patent. In fact, it was many years before the idea was universally used, and the gun people and cartridge makers continued on in an orgy of original development.

As soon as a patent was filed on an obvious improvement, it seemed to be a challenge to the rest of the profession to see in how many ways the original idea could be circumvented. To compete against the expensive, hard-to-manufac-turc brass cartridge case, a steel tube wit h a percussion nipple on the end was often used. This could be easily loaded by shoving a self-consuming paper cartridge into the forward end, and quickly securing a copper detonating cap on the nipple. With this progressive step, the inventor had at his disposal the nucleus of a practical, reliable weapon with increased firepower.

Was this article helpful?

0 0

Post a comment