Ezra RTpley of Troy, N. Y., took advantage of the paper cartridge to patent a machine gun. Sustained volley fire was obtained by a compact firing assembly that allowed the gunner to fire
one shot, or the whole volley, by a quick turn of the handle.
The weapon consists of a scries of barrels, grouped around a common axis, that are open at both ends for breech loading. The barrels remain stationary during firing.
The breechblock made in the shape of a revolving cylinder is loaded with the conventional paper cartridge from the forward end of the chamber. On a nipple that protrudes from the center rear of the chamber is placed the percussion cap. The cylinder is then placed on the brecch end of the weapon—t he holes in the cylinder alining with the rear end of the barrels.
The breech is locked in place by securing the operating handle. This feature makes accidental firing of the weapon impossible before the breech is locked. With a clockwise turn of the handle, the firing pin is forced rearward by the action of a ratchet-type cam which compresses the firing pin spring. Upon alinement with the nipple, it sears off the high point of the cam, allowing it to snap forward and fire the piece.
The weapon can be prepared for firing by releasing a spring-loaded catch that locks the handle in place. The gunner then pulls the firing assembly rearward and removes the empty chambered cylinder for inserting the paper cartridges. By reversing the procedure, the gun is ready for action. The firing arrangement gives the operator a choice ol firing rates, from single shot to slow and rapid fire.
As a number of preloaded cylinders were made available, the individual soldier was able to produce more sustained fire than could a company of men using the standard muzzle loading musket. The Ripley weapon also showed for the first time a consideration for weight saving in field pieccs that had been previously ignored. If the weapon is closely studied, it will show many basic features that greatly influenced machine gun design for years to come.
The Ripley gun was no exception to the rule that success depends as much on the personality of the inventor as it does on careful details of design. To introduce a complete innovation of ordnance to the conservative authorities of the day was, in itself, a feat requiring abilities superior to those necessary for actually inventing the weapon.
This gun was light enough in weight to be very mobile, with a desirable method of loading rapidly from the breech end, and it had a simple, foolproof way to control rates of fire. Why it was passed over in favor of the many crude types of organ guns can only be answered by presuming that Ripley let the matter drop after his idea was greeted with skepticism and objections to everything from overheating of barrels to problems of ammunition supply.
The weapon may never have fired a shot, and it is doubtful if a working model was ever made. Yet Ezra Ripley certainly did originate many newr and basic principles, which he coupled with the most progressive ideas of others, and patented these features in a weapon thai had very definite possibilities. •
The Colt revolver and similar weapons enjoyed the confidence of the public as it began to push westward and demanded the best in weapons that money could buy. All the New England gun makers were operating at peak capacity. The war with Mexico had come to a conclusion, Texas was being settled, and gold had been discovered at Suiter s Mill. Colt's name was a household byword, but fine weapons were also being produced by many others. Among them were the Wesson brothers, Oliver Winchester, Elihu Remington, Henry Deringer, James Cooper, Edmund Savage and Christian Sharps. Their factories began to attract the finest mechanical skill. They invited competition, feeling it presented a means of showing their ability, and prided themselves on being able to present a mechanical solution to any firearms problem brought to their attention.
The industry was built on strict competition to meet public demand. There was practically no encouragement from the government by military orders for improved weapons.
After 36 years of civilian use had proved the reliability of the percussion cap. the army finally gave tip the time-honored flintlock, but seemed content to advance no further. Many predicted that even this modern step was too extreme and the army would rue the day it had discarded the flintlock. General Winficld Scott is credited with outfitting a regiment of his own with flintlocks, after the adoption of the percussion system was approved over his strenuous objection.
Fortunately, civilian demand made up for the lack of military orders for the various firearms improvements. The market was practically equal to the adult population; for each male citizen, physically able to do so, usually owrned and often carried some form of firearm.
During this period, the military ordered little more than the conventional small arms. For this reason guns like the Ripley were of little or no interest to firearm factories. The military would not consider such guns, and the civilians had no use for them.
Had there been an incentive, and a ready market, no doubt the head engineers of the big companies would have produced a reliable manually operated machine gun at this time. For in no other era have there been more gifted men in actual competition in gun production than during this period: Forclyce Bcals and John Rider of Remington; Warner and Leavitt of Wesson Brothers: Tyler Henry of Winchester; Eben Starr: Christopher Spencer; John H. Hall: Simon North; Christian Sharps—to name all the outstanding gunsmiths would easily fill a direc tory. Any of these, 110 doubt, could have produced some mechanical means of sustained fire, as advanced as the many reliable hand and shoulder weapons they perfected.
There were many experiments, conducted by individuals, that resulted in reliable repeating shoulder weapons. The most successful variation was that of combining a shoulder stock with the cumbersome revolver. Thus six shots could be fired with great rapidity, and with remarkable accuracy. To increase the range, the revolvers were made with abnormally long barrels, and deeper recessed chambers. The increased powder charge caused the large caliber bullet to jump the lands and resulted in an unstable trajectory and damage to the rifling of the barrel.
To overcome this, the Colt Co. resorted to "progressive" rifling, whereby the lands and grooves gained in twist as they progressed through the barrel.
This system of rifling became quite popular— especially with large bore weapons designed for high velocities. Progressive rifling, with lands and grooves machined to a parabolic curve, was the only way to overcome the error of having a soft lead bullet propelled by an abnormally large powder charge. The experiments, if of no other value, proved the need for a metal jacket bullet; as the various methods of rifling used were but an expensive mechanical attempt to obtain results that could be gotten with a properly balanced metal-covered projectile.
Of all the designs suggested along this line, perhaps the most unusual was that patented by A. Schneider. He proposed to give the lands a progressive clockwise twist half the length of the bore. At this point the rifling abruptly became counterclockwise. This latter twist would continue increasing to the muzzle end. Just how this sudden reverse torque on the bullet, when it was halfway through the bore, was expected to stabilize the projectile better in flight or increase range and muzzle velocity must ever remain a o /
mystery. It is an example of the extremes resorted to by inventors, when a new idea became popular. The gain twist adequately served its purpose, and gradually disappeared when the problem of bullet design became more fully understood.
The United States was going through an industrial revolution. Lack of transportation and British repressive legislation had thwarted the national aptitude for inventions in the colonial period. Now, for the first time, Yankee ingenuity was beginning to make itself felt. In the isolation of the farms during the long winters, many clever devices were conceived. Since weapon development was a great problem of the clay, it naturally received a large share of attention, and an amazing number of new methods of approach were devised to solve current difficulties. But re gardless of how obvious ail improvement might be, it was worthless unless put into production. As the earliest gun producing plants were in Connecticut, and the Government's manufacturing arsenal was close by in Massachusetts, gun inventors trekked toward ibis area. If an idea were accepted by the public, its originator stayed on to practice his professional skill in production or in further improvements.
In order to protect himself from his enemy, man has been forced from prehistoric time to the present to produce more effective weapons. While his sole idea might be to create and produce a superior weapon, sometimes the means devised to accomplish this could be used even more successfully in the pnxluction of other things that had no relation to guns. For instance, the conception and perfection of machine tools first came into being in this area as an attempt to speed up and to economize on weapon production. The methods spread rapidly to other fields.
In the history of weapon progress, the advent of the machine age rivals the discovery of gunpowder. Power tools accomplished the impossible with the guns of the day. and opened means for the progressive inventor to write an unequaled chapter of development.
The influence of machine tools in modern life is little appreciated by the average person. The New York Museum of Science and Industry has on its wall a panel stating that the origin of machine tools has made possible all generated light, heat, and power; all modern transportation by rail, water, and air; all forms of electric communication; and has likewise caused to be produced all the machinery used in agriculture, textiles, printing, paper making, and all the instruments used in every science. "Everything we use at work, at home, at play, is either a child or a grandchild of a machine tool." But the Adam and Eve of the machine tool, and its application to mass production, were the early Connecticut and Massachusetts gunsmiths.
Good mechanics have been found in every nation, yet for some reason, most of the important machine tools used throughout the world orig-
inatcd in only two places: Great Britain and New England. The English craftsmen, traditionally lovers of the hand-finished product, bene fited little from this fact. They have furnished no serious competition in this field since the 1850's when undisputed leadership shifted to New England. This section of the United States became, practically, a manufacturing arsenal. Its mechanics were recognized as the world's best. In fact, some of their contributions to the power tool industry have affected the course of history more through industrial progress than their fine weapons did on the battlefield.
Among the little-known inventions of these men can be found the first milling machinc with a power feed which was devised by the original Eli Whitney; it was the direct predecessor of what, is known today as the power miller. Chris topher M. Spencer, who was noted for his repeating rifles, patented a great improvement on the drop hammer, and perfected a cam control, or "brain wheel," whereby the operation of lathes was made automatic. This invention was one of die few for which the original drawing was so perfectly devised that it is still used today. Another gunsmith, Henry Stone, developed the turret principle for lathes. The high speed automatic lathe of today is a combination of the work of Spencer and Stone. The two men originated many improvements which extend from farm machinery to silk winding machines, but their first success was in weapon design.
Francis A. Pratt was one of the best designers of machine tools. After founding the Pratt & Whitney Co. for manufacturing guns, he found other products so profitable that, today, few people know of the influence of firearms on this outstanding manufacturing concern.
Asa Cook, a brother-in-law of Pratt, and a former Colt mechanic, was the inventor and manufacturer of machines to make screws and bolts automatically. Eli J. Manville, a former Pratt 8c Whitney engineer, established with his five sons at Water bury, Conn., a plant which has been conspicuous in the design of presses, bolt headers, and thread rollers for the brass industry.
The arms plants proved training schools for inventors. Guns were made as long as profitable, but with changing times these versatile men began to make things entirely unrelated to firearms. Many became so successful in other manufacturing ventures that today it is often hard to associate a large telescope company or a success ful sewing machine plant with its original founder, a master craftsman, working patiently on the development of a new firearm. Yet the fact still remains that American domination of manufacturing "know how" came largely from the honest effort of gun producers just before the Civil War to compete with each other in providing the world's finest weapons.
It did not take long for American gun makers to carry the gospel of machine tool performance across the seven seas. As early as 1851, a Vermont firm showed at a London fair guns with interchangeable components manufactured by mass production methods. The British government was so impressed that it ordered the making of 20,000 Enfield rifles in American factories by this method. Three years later Great Britain ordered from the company that made these weapons 157 gun milling machines, which were the first automatic tools to be used in Europe. Among them was the eccentric lathe invented by Thomas Blanchard of the Springfield Armory. This device allowed wooden gun stocks to be machine carved with great rapidity in lieu of the laborious hand method formerly employed. The machine turned out irregular (eccentric) forms, from patterns, with automatic speed and precision; and has undergone practically no change in design since it was invented by Blanchard. Like innumerable other weapon-inspired tools, it contributed not only to American domination of the armament business but also helped to reshape the entire structure of the manufacturing world.
Colt Revolving Rifle, Model 1855
The early civilian method of fastening a shoulder stock on the heavy barrel revolvers and
making a serviceable repeating shoulder arm led the Colt Co. to apply the same idea to a full fledged rifle. Consequently the 1855 model revolving rifle was produced. It became the first repeating rifle adopted by the armed service of the United States. This caliber .58 weapon had a full length rifle barrel. The cylinder was long enough to hold the large powder charge and conical bullet. The Colt method of ramming the charge in the cylinder by a hinged lever was employed, a device which had proved popular on revolvers.
The Colt Revolving Riile,
One of the features of the weapon failed to work properly under field conditions. The nipples that held the percussion cap were set in a recessed opening in an attempt to protect the cap and primer from weather conditions, which they did successfully. Hut in field use. as the soldier loaded the cylinders, he placed too much pressure on the loading lever. This force would rupture the paper cartridge where it bottomed at tlie aft end of the cylinder, causing loose powder to spill through the hole in the nipple. Since it was too dangerous to cover the nipple with a percussion cap while loading, the grains of powder would lodge in the recess connected to other nipples.
During firing the heavy rifle barrel had to be supported by hand. This had not been necessary in the revolver equipped with the shoulder stock. Sometimes loose powder from a faulty cap or gas leak would cause other chambers to be ignited. When this happened, the soldier using the piece lost his hand or the portion of his arm that happened to be in front of the exploding cylinder.
One such accident in a regiment destroyed not only confidence in the weapon, but the morale of soldiers and olliccrs alike. Before the Civil War many a regular was on the pension roll for having lost his hand in line of duty—the duty being, in most cases, nothing more than target practice with the new repeating rifle.
These accidents had become so common that some company commanders ordered the men to lower the loading lever and to hold it in the left hand. This placed the hand out of range of the gas leak where the cylinder chamber alined with the bore of the barrel. Thus, should the chamber explode, the shooter was safe from the hail of lead and steel. Other officers protected their men in a different manner, having the soldiers load just one of the chambers. Hv this simple method of converting to a single shot weapon, they eliminated the hazard of blowing up the piece.
The total failure of the Armv's first official at-
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