1838. Except for one undated specimen in Paris in the M usee d' Artillerie, the Dreyse seems to mark the first application of this very simple locking system, a fact difficult to understand when we consider that the door bolt from which it evolved had been in common use for centuries. When the bolt was withdrawn, a paper cartridge was inserted. A primer was attached to the base of
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the bullet, behind it was fastened the bag with the powder. A long needle inside the bolt functioned as the modern striker. When the trigger was pulled, the needle was driven ahead by its spring, its point passed through the powder and hit the primer ahead. The theory was that this placement of the primer would give more complete combustion of the charge. In this form the bolt action could not seal the breech properly because of the paper cartridges used; while the needle corroded rapidly and was subject to breakage.
The really outstanding American breech-loading development of this period was the mechanism first patented in 1848 by Christian Sharps. This arm was the true forerunner of a tremendous line of dropping block actions, over forty of which were still in European manufacture at the beginning of World War II.
Originally designed in cap-lock days to be breech loaded with a paper cartridge, the design was carried on and modified into the metallic cartridge era. Even at the time of its introduction, it afforded a comparatively tight breech seal. The breechblock was lowered in its mortises in the receiver walls by action of the triggerguard lever. On closing the breech, the paper at the end of the cartridge was automatically cut by an edge on the top of the breechblock, thus enabling the primer to flash directly into the powder charge. In later models a knife-like blade was added to the block. The early types were also intended to be muzzle loaded in the event of excessive breech fouling, some models carrying ramrods for this purpose.
The Sharps was extensively used in the Civil War, and in its metallic cartridge form was the rifle which was responsible for the annihilation of the buffalo. It passed through many phases and alterations, all of which are discussed in Winston O, Smith's book The Sharps Rifle.
Three other designs of this period are worthy of mention because they represent the beginnings of the development of effective breech seals by the use of cartridges. The first was Gilbert Smith's .52 caliber Breech Loader patented in 1856 and made by the American Arms Co., Chicopcc Falls, Mass., among others. Thirty thousand sixty-two of these guns were purchased by the Government during the Civil War, and the arm received considerable attention in Europe. It hinged at the breech somewhat in the manner of the common shotgun, the release being a small forward trigger within the triggerguard. It was loaded with a freak India rubber cartridge whose base was perforated to permit a common cap to be used on a vent to fire the powder. Some were later altered to the queer Crispin metallic cartridge. Over 13,000,000 of these Smith cartridges were produced during the Civil War.
The second of this group was invented by General A. F. Burnside. It used a special brass cartridge of conical type with a hole at the rear to permit the cap to flash through into the powder. Records show that 55,567 of these rifles and 21,819,200 cartridges were made in the original model.
The third was the Maynard. Jake the Burnside and the Smith it was fired by percussion cap but used a freak brass cartridge case. The case had a rimmed base with a hole in the center to permit the cap to flash through. The barrel was hinged down for loading by pushing the triggerguard lever. The Maynard i
system was employed on later true cartridge arms. It was the invention of the Washington dentist, Dr Edward Maynard who earlier had invented the widely used Maynard tape-primer already described, a device still used in children's toy cap pistols.
The Jennings was the most important development of this era, for it paved the way for the transitional Volcanic which in its turn evolved into the rim fire metallic Henry rifle, the basis for the first Winchester rifle.
The Repeating Rifle of Lewis Jennings was patented December 25, 1849, No. 6,973. It was manufactured at Windsor, Vermont by the firm of Robbins and Lawrence.
The standard Jennings was equipped with an automatic pellet priming system, housed in a "pill-box" which might be mistaken for a Maynard tape container. The now familiar tube below the barrel carried twenty hollow conical bullets, the powder charge being in the hollow base of the bullet. This was a gravity loader, and the muzzle was elevated high enough to let the bullets slide back until the first cartridge to be fed dropped on the carrier which was operated by a ratchet through a ring trigger. The movement involved was about three inches each wav.
This weapon is the earliest appearance of the below-barrel magazine in any arm commercially produced. It is also the direct parent of the toggle-locked breech in all its future developments. This fact has never been properly appreciated. While its toggle locking system is a far cry from that of its successor, the Volcanic, it is nevertheless the first use of this form of breech locking and we can trace its progress through a series of world famous designs.
This toggle principle as modified in the Volcanic was transferred to the Henry and then to the first Winchester. Iliram Maxim's first successful autoloader was an early Winchester fitted with a false butt with springs and a change in the leverage. From this experimentation developed the toggle-lock of the famous Maxim machine gun, an arm used by the Germans even in World War TI. The British Vickers gun is an adaptation of this Maxim principle with the toggle inverted.
In the field of pistols the line of toggle development can also be traced. Hugo Borchardt. inventor of the pistol of that name which later developed into the widely known German Luger, was employed at Winchester for a time. His lock is an adaptation of the toggle-lock of the early Winchesters, the Luger toggle buckling up instead of down. Current Swiss machine weapons, notably the Furrer, also use a modification of the toggle principle; and even the American B.A.R. locks on a variant of this idea.
The Volcanic Rifle represented a really important improvement in design with its introduction of the double-toggle lock joint (pat. 10535 Smith and Wesson filed on Feb. 14, 1854). Tyler Henry, who had helped build the original Jennings rifle at the Robbins and Lawrence plant, was engaged to combine the Jennings and the Smith patents to produce the first Volcanic.
Originally introduced as the Smith & Wesson, and manufactured both as a rifle and as a pistol, at Norwich, Connecticut in 1854, the arm was taken over
Details of the Jennings lock and cartridge.
by a corporation formed in July 1855 and renamed the Volcanic. In 1856 the company moved to New Haven, and Daniel B. Wesson soon left to found his own pistol company. When the company was thrown into bankruptcy in 1857, Oliver F. Winchester, one of the original stockholders, bought up the assets and formed the New Haven Arms Company.
The ammunition consisted of a hollow based conical bullet having a charge of black powder kept in placc in the hollow by a cardboard disc containing the primer. Since there was no gas seal the system was unsatisfactory.
The Volcanic vanished from the American scene within six years after its optimistic introduction, but the toggle principle of breech action remains with us yet.
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Deer hunting is an interesting thing that reminds you of those golden old ages of 19th centuries, where a handsome hunk well equipped with all hunting material rides on horse searching for his target animal either for the purpose of displaying his masculine powers or for enticing and wooing his lady love.