Most important firearm innovation


November 2, 2008, 01:37 AM
I have been a student of history so this sort of thing interests me. With the exception of gunpowder, what is the most important invention in firearms history? And, why do you feel that way?

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November 2, 2008, 01:52 AM
With the exceptions of gunpowder and the gun, the most important invention is the metallic cartridge.
Without it, repeaters would never be possible.

November 2, 2008, 02:06 AM
Not so, there were several BP repeaters Louis L'amour mentions his character Jubal Sackett carrying two in "Jubal Sacket"

To answer the question probably the day JMB's parents met

Kind of Blued
November 2, 2008, 02:42 AM
Honestly, I think "America" or "the Second Amendment" might be the answer. :) Sure they're not "fiream innovations", but if it wasn't for the discovery and founding of America, as well as the establishment of the freedom for industrious, forward-thinking citizens to own firearms, I think we'd be living 50-100 years in the past today.

Unless I'm mistaken, a blackpowder revolver is a repeater in that you can fire more than one shot without reloading.

Nevertheless, I'd say that the metallic cartridge is right near the top if not there.

Barrel rifling is an innovation which could give it a run for it's money.

Big Boomer
November 2, 2008, 04:05 AM
Nope, the history channel says it's rifling!

General Geoff
November 2, 2008, 06:12 AM
Definitely rifling, followed closely by metallic cartridge ammunition.

November 2, 2008, 08:03 AM
1) 2nd Amendment
2) metalic cartidge

The History Channel can say what they want, but a smoothbore is adequate at self defense ranges.

November 2, 2008, 08:33 AM
#1. Smokeless powder
#2. Rifling
#3. Metallic Cartridges (or maybe this took us in the wrong direction :scrutiny:)


November 2, 2008, 08:42 AM
I say self-contained ammunition.

November 2, 2008, 09:05 AM
One should think something that is so important that it's an essential part of almost every firearm, antique or modern.

All firearms use gunpowder in one form or another. So I would say gunpowder is the most important innovation.

Trigger-controlled firing mechanism is also pretty important, because it makes possible to aim and fire the gun at the desired moment. But crossbows have it also, so it is not unique for firearms.

November 2, 2008, 09:18 AM
All firearms use gunpowder in one form or another. So I would say gunpowder is the most important innovation.

Quoted directly from the OP

With the exception of gunpowder,

The OP is six lines long guys, is it that hard to read and understand?

November 2, 2008, 09:33 AM
That's a great question; sort of like the question of the chicken and the egg. It could almost be argued that they're all interconnected in a way, and that each one compliments the others in terms of the whole weapons delivery system. Another interesting aspect of this question is what was, and still is to some degree, the driving force behind such innovations, like barrel rifling, metallic cartridges, smokeless powder, and so on. Most of these design breakthroughs have come about primarily for military application, and their demands for more efficient and more capable weapon systems. Think of all the weapon designs out there that were pretty much market driven, that is to say, there was a government contract waiting for someone who could build the better mousetrap, so to speak. The fact that these designs might find their way to the civilian market would have been secondary to the bigger payoff of the lucrative government bid. So perhaps the greatest, and most driving innovation in firearms history, has been the rise in power of a nationalistic military industrial complex throughout our world history.

November 2, 2008, 09:34 AM
The OP is six lines long guys, is it that hard to read and understand?

Seems to be for me :( sorry. So, I'll say it's the trigger then.

The Bushmaster
November 2, 2008, 09:42 AM
The chinese? (Inventers of gun powder...)

November 2, 2008, 10:38 AM
The Glock :neener:

November 2, 2008, 10:47 AM
Primers. Without them metallic cartridges would be nothing more then single-use powder horns, and forget about any semblance of multi-shot firearms.

November 2, 2008, 10:56 AM
I would have to say the trigger.

Before the trigger, you would set a fuse with a smoldering ember, quickly put the musket to the aimed position and wait for the gunpowder charge to go off.

A proper trigger that set off the mechanism, allows you to aim the rifle first and fire it while still on target and usually at just the right time. You can also decide not to fire, instead of the 5-10 second delay you got with the fuse that was going to go off, like it or not.

This is probably followed by rifling, breech loading weaponry, and the self contained ammunition.

The Lone Haranguer
November 2, 2008, 10:58 AM
Self -contained, rigid case, centerfire cartridges. (Neither pinfire nor rimfire cartridges are truly reliable, and repeating arms could not have worked with metal foil or paper cartridges, although these were technically self contained.)

November 2, 2008, 11:31 AM
Hmmm... Trigger mechanisms predate firearms, so I'll disclude them.

Rifling - important, yes, but nearly 50% of firearms manufactured today lack rifling.

On the other hand, discluding deliberately anachronistic firearms used for historical purposes or expanding hunting seasons/tags, effectively 100% of firearms today are fixed cartridge breech loading.

Gunpowder? True gunpowder, the combination of charcoal, sulfer, and saltpeter(potassium nitrate), is used today more in fireworks than guns.

Even said deliberately anachronistic pieces often use a smokeless/lower smoke substitute. By the same token, most also use percussion caps. Primers enabled fixed cartridges, with metallic mostly winning out.

So, oddly enough, I'd almost rate the percussion cap/primer over even that of gunpowder in importance.

November 2, 2008, 11:35 AM
I'm with -V-. I think primers or primer compound is the most significant. Making sparks with flint and steel or carrying a burning match cord is a real PITA. Primers or at least percussion caps made the breech loader practical and allowed for self-contained metallic cartridges.

November 2, 2008, 12:09 PM
And according to SAAMI, more .22 rimfire is consumed than any other single type of cartridge in the world.

Perhaps Curator is right to nominate 'priming compound' rather than primers or percussion caps.

November 2, 2008, 12:21 PM
Exreme Shock ammo

November 2, 2008, 12:40 PM
It's the combination of all 4 that have left cartridges pretty much unchanged for 100 years. Primers, metallic case, rifling, and smokeless powder. Since all of these problems have been solved, the technology has remained static. Other innovations like caseless ammo or electronic primers haven't been successful.

Other things to consider, high quality optics. Good scopes made it much easier for a regular guy to hit targets hundreds of yards out. Sabots are the next evolution of using energy, particularly in tank guns. While not exactly new, Gatling guns solve the problem of automatic guns reaching the limit of how fast you can fire with only one action. I'll give credit to Browning for the locking lugs on the 1911, I doubt he was the first to figure out how to stop a pistol from cycling until the bullet has left the barrel, but I'm pretty sure he made it the most practical and reliable, setting up other designers to evolve the idea. The striker-fired pistol seems to be taking a long-term hold.

Neither America nor the Second Amendment originated anything having to to with the right to bear arms.

November 2, 2008, 12:42 PM
Exreme Shock ammo

O.k. That's just not funny. I offer another vote for the reuseable metalic cartridge.

November 2, 2008, 01:33 PM
IMO, the invention of rifling is the most significant contribution to firearms.

Prior to the advent and adoption of rifled barrels, fire arms were not much more than an extension of the sling, long bow, or cross bow. As archers and slingers were best used in mass formations to concentrate their projectiles, so were early fire arms.

The fire arm did not live up to it's potential until the mass availability of rifled barrels occurred.

While advances in bullets, and cartridges are significant contributions, without rifling, they would simply be used to send inaccurate rounds down range in greater quantities.

November 2, 2008, 01:41 PM
Gotta go with rifling . . .

November 2, 2008, 05:16 PM
I know I started this thread. I and I have enjoyed reading what people thought. I would like to offer this innovation for consideration though. The Minie Ball was the first conical shaped bullet to find widespread use. The Minie Ball was designed slightly smaller than the bore of the rifled muskets because the Minie ball was slightly smaller that the bore of the rifle the bullet could be seated quicker than its round shot counterparts. The Minie Ball had a small iron wedge at the base that when the powder was touched off the pressure caused the iron wedge to drive into a hollow in the base to the lead expanding the lead and causing it to grip the rifling of the musket.

Rifled Barrels had been in existence for years but not used extensively in the military. It took to long for a rifled musket to be reloaded with traditional round shot. At the time of the American Revolutionary war some of the militiamen were self-armed with rifled muskets but the majority of combatants on either side of the war were armed with smoothbore muskets. At the time and with the tactics used, rate of fire was king of the battlefield.

This was the bullet that the majority of soldiers in the American Civil War were armed with. The bullet allowed for the use of rifled muskets; therefore, extending range and accuracy of the weapons. The Minie Ball is in part responsible for the horrific causalities of that war. In addition the Minie ball is the most likely ancestor for all modern bullets.

Mark K. C.
November 3, 2008, 01:09 PM
I'm going to chime in here and say that the optics that are available are pretty impressive.

November 3, 2008, 01:20 PM
The assembly line. I would've hated to see us responding to pearl harbor without the use of such a thing.

November 3, 2008, 01:28 PM
I wondered if anyone was going to bring up assembly lines and interchangable parts.

November 3, 2008, 02:01 PM
Sniper Flash Cards ( are the most important firearm innovation that I know of.

I'd hate to imagine what fast-paced urban combat would be like with those ridiculous slide rules that designated markmen used to use. :)

November 3, 2008, 02:12 PM
The GLOCK "Safe Action" trigger mechanism.

November 3, 2008, 02:56 PM
manual safties
then metalic cartridge
then smokless powder

November 3, 2008, 03:08 PM
I wondered if anyone was going to bring up assembly lines and interchangable parts.
Right, I almost forgot interchangable parts. If it weren't for interchangeable parts, caliber wars would be endless. "Oh yeah? My .456 Mag is much better than your stupid .483 long!" This is one of the things I was taught in school that actually mentioned firearms :)

November 3, 2008, 03:42 PM
While I don't disagree that the cartridge is a huge innovation in firearms, I'm not certain it's the most important one. If for no other reason than some of the next generation firearms are now moving away from cartridged ammunition.

While not in wide use yet(partly because of production costs, and some working out the kinks in technology) you have the evolution of several weapon systems that will rely on caseless ammo.

The caseless ammo ( used in the HK G-11 is one such example. The Metal Storm ( firing system is another, and as we see Electronics and arms manufacturing begin to blend I wouldn't be surprised if the Metal Storm system sees scalable solutions or if other Electronic innovations help to remove cartridges from the picture. Keep in mind, that cost pressures and weight allowances make removing cartridges from the architecture attractive so I won't be surprised if cartridges end up going the way of the muzzle loader.

Like I said, we don't see wide spread uses of these yet, but should they become adopted in wide scale, and the cartridge reduced in use, then cartridges would've really had about a 100 to 150 year run, which from a historical stand point is barely a blink.

November 3, 2008, 03:46 PM
The metallic cartridge.

It's possible to have a repeating firearm without a self-contained metallic cartridge. It's just not possible to have one that's not cumbersome and limited in firepower. Anyone who disagrees is invited to a duel. You start with an unloaded Navy Colt. I'll start with an unloaded S&W Model 10. The first one with ONE loaded chamber gets to shoot the loser.

The only alternative to the metallic (or synthetic) self-contained cartridge is to completely divorce the propellant from the projectile. This can be done either by:

Use of separate liquid/gaseous propellant tanks and projectile magazines. The problem with this is the complex and delicate metering system required. It's been mooted about for years. Still nothing.

The application of external sources of power to a "propellant" which in fact may not be combustible. Apply enough electric current to tap water metered into a combustion/expansion chamber and it'll launch a separately fed projectile at high velocity. The only problem is supplying the energy. Too bad there are no backpack nuclear sources like in "Ghost Busters".

November 3, 2008, 05:27 PM
I'll vote for rifling. From the straight grooves down the barrel in order to provide a "space" for fouling, to the idea that, gee, if 30 inch grooves in a thirty inch barrel work to ease the fouling problem, why not make the grooves even longer by twisting them along the length of the barrel?

"Holy cow, it's more accurate!" (Even with round balls.)

From there, it was but a short step to elongated projectiles, which had greater sectional density (so they would carry further), greater accuracy (so fewer projectiles would be needed), and which could carry a greater payload, in the case of artillery shells.

Without that increase in accuracy and without that increase in carrying power, there would have been little impetus to develop anything further in the same time frame.

I think interchageable parts would have been developed anyhow, disunirregardless of their use in assembling firearms, so I don't see that as being all that important in their conceptual development as firearms.

Terry, 230RN

November 4, 2008, 05:14 AM
mercury fulminate

November 5, 2008, 06:52 PM
You will have to forgive my ignorance but what are sniper flash cards.

November 5, 2008, 06:56 PM
Oh.... Sniper Flash Cards was a link. I checked out the link. Sorry still didn't help.

November 5, 2008, 06:57 PM
The AK47 design.

Makes it possible for illiterate people
in 3rd world places to challenge Elite infantry
sent by superpowers.

November 5, 2008, 07:13 PM
Without a doubt: a) self-contained ammunition, b) groved barrels, c) manual safteys, that would be my three. Might even throw in smokless powder.

November 5, 2008, 07:25 PM
I put my money on Rifling.

November 5, 2008, 07:30 PM
Steel, no doubt the most important invention in the firearm industry. Black powder and wood don't go togeter very nice...

November 6, 2008, 01:17 AM
Previously I said that the most important innovation was the trigger. But after thinking a bit more, I'd say that an even more profound innovation was the barrel. Putting the charge into a closed tube makes a much more efficient heat engine than just putting some gunpowder into a jug and using a ball as a stopper.

November 6, 2008, 02:17 AM
Primers and percussion caps.

And the assembly line.

November 6, 2008, 12:55 PM
The copper jacket.

November 6, 2008, 01:23 PM
lets go folks ,think outside the box. the answer is "drum roll ,please" the TRIGGER FINGER. jwr

November 6, 2008, 02:29 PM
Rimfire don't use primers

Then what do they use?

#1 The self contained cartridge
#2 Polymer
#3 CNC machines

November 6, 2008, 02:58 PM
I would not be so quick to rule out the cartridge for caseless ammo for like metalstorm or the g11 caseless, as both example weapons are fundamentally and commercially, failures. They reside as nice experiments that won't go anywhere for a variety of very good reasons.

Interchangable parts is a big candidate, since it allowed standard designs and standard calibers.

Primer and priming compounds are a big 2nd, since without them you wouldn't even have percussion caps or rimfires.

I think the minnie ball as the forerunner of the modern bullet design is a good third since it allowed rifling to be relevant and effective for armies.

A.M. Baer
November 6, 2008, 03:07 PM
1 - John Moses Browning
2 - The Second Amendment
3 - Rifling
4 - metallic cartridge

Dr. Tad Hussein Winslow
November 6, 2008, 03:08 PM
Probably rifling, followed closely by the self-contained metallic cartridge.

November 6, 2008, 08:46 PM
Primers. Without them metallic cartridges would be nothing more then single-use powder horns, and forget about any semblance of multi-shot firearms.

Bingo. We can all be thankful to a duck hunting preacher :D

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