The Pre-1800 Flintlock Gun Technology and its Impact on Warfare

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The Pre-1800 Flintlock Gun Technology and its Impact on Warfare


Weaponry has always been a major factor in every nation’s pursuits of technological advancement. The world has always been on an arms race among nations seeking to either ensure their citizens are well protected or to expand their territories. The technology used to make weapons before the year 1800 had a lasting effect on organization of warfare. One of these weapons that significantly changed the way armies either won or lost a battle was the flintlock rifle. The technology used to make flintlock rifles introduced the employment of lighter field artillery from as early as the 1600s. This was a period that saw an increase in the size and scale of warfare. Soldiers armed with firearms had the potential of inflicting serious damage at a moderate distance. The growth of modern warfare therefore can be traced back to the early weapon technologies like the flintlock gun technology. This makes it imperative to have a clear understanding of this technology and how it affected warfare in the pre-1800 era.

History of the Flintlock Technology

The history of guns goes back to the days of the cannon which according to the World Book encyclopedia began around the year 1350 AD. Guns manufacturing is one of the oldest technologies still being practiced today. In the days before rifles had been discovered, cannons were the height of advanced weaponry. They were actually simple devices made of strong metal tubes plugged at one end. The fuse entered the tube through a small hole and gunpowder was loaded from the open end as well as the cannon ball. The gunpowder was ignited by a lit fuse causing an explosion that shot the cannon ball away at very high speed.

Naturally, the idea of making guns was based on cannon technology since the first guns were actually handheld versions of small cannons. These guns were essentially small tubes loaded with gunpowder which was ignited from outside. Handheld cannons were common at around the year 1400. Their contribution to the development of rifle technology can be attributed to two useful considerations. The first one was the need for a shape that would give the shooter a firm and better handle on the gun instead of the stick shape. This led to the current shape of all guns. The second consideration that contributed to the development of rifles was the need to have a quicker method of lighting the gunpowder. It was from this consideration that the current button operated trigger evolved.

Every gun has a lock which is actually its ignition mechanism. Before the advent of the flintlock, matchlocks were already much in common use. A matchlock was a simple slow-burning rope that the shooter would light beforehand and rotated with the finger into position. It was probably the first trigger. However, the matchlock had several limitations. First was the inconvenience of having to light the rope beforehand and secondly was the fact that the rope would sometimes burn itself out before the gun was fired. Thirdly, the matchlock was quite difficult to operate in rainy or windy weather when it would easily be put out. Lastly, the glowing rope made night camouflage or concealment impossible since it glowed brightly. However, the matchlocks remained in common use for over two centuries as they were a better option than lighting the gunpowder by hand and could easily be built.

What the gun manufacturers needed at this time was an instant method for igniting gunpowder inside the barrel and one that could be relied on in all weather. This new technology needed to be easy and affordable to manufacture. The flintlock provided the solution to all these problems. Gunsmiths in the mid 1600s had been experimenting with various types of firearms for foot soldiers with the aim of making the firearms lighter and more accurate. The problem of heavy and bulky guns had dominated the English Civil War where monopods with fork attachments on one end were used to support the heavy weight of the guns. The introduction of the matchlock was of great help but not in making the guns less bulky or more accurate. Interestingly, even the most capable marksman could not fire a matchlock gun twice in a minute.

It is also worth mentioning that in the last days of the matchlock a more radical invention of a lock called a Wheelock was introduced in the guns industry. The Wheelock incorporated an iron pyrite held against a rough edged wheel by a hammer. Pulling the trigger would cause the wheel to make quick rotations that would grate off pieces of flaming metal into a small gunpowder charge which would then ignite the main charge inside the barrel. The Wheelock though more effective than the matchlock was very expensive to manufacture. The Wheelock also relied on a special key to crank the wheel which could easily be lost or broken. The Wheelock was thus short-lived with the emergence of the flintlock system.

The Flintlock Mechanism

            Anyone who has ever studied the American history has probably heard of the flintlock rifle. Incidentally, this was one of the first truly reliable and affordable technologies for firing a gun with the best convenience in the entire American colonies between the mid 1500s and the 1600s. At this tie the British had developed it in their Brown Bess guns. The brown Bess which used the flintlock technology still remained famous because of its effectiveness in the American Revolutionary war until after the 1800s when it was replaced by the new technology of he percussion cup lock. By the time of the Civil war, when all gun manufacturers used the percussion cup, the flintlock technology had been around for almost 300 years.

One might ask, what made the flintlock technology such a fascinating device owned by the most influential people at this time?  There were four factors that put the flintlock ahead of all inventions at this time. The only invention that surpassed the flintlock gun at this time was the pendulum clock. This meant that it was the most technologically advanced weapon at this time. The importance of the flintlock gun at this time could not be underrated in history. There were so many people who depended on it especially the colonial Americans for food and protection. The flintlock by itself was the most amazing mechanical technology. Lastly it provided the foundation for all the modern guns. A close observation of the flintlock gun would give anyone the basic idea of how modern guns work. It is the simplest and most reliable gun in terms of technology.

As previously stated, a lock is any met.............

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