This Day in History (15-May-1718) – James Puckle, a London lawyer, patents world’s 1st machine gun

Since the 14th Century, there had been many attempts to produce a small calibre, rapid-fire weapon. The advantages were controllable recoil together with many projectiles which together seemed a good formula to cause maximum casualties to the opposition. Many devices were tried, few actually saw action. Leonardo da Vinci designed one, although it probably never left the drawing board. In 1718, James Puckle of London, England, demonstrated his new invention, the “Puckle Gun,” a tripod-mounted, single-barreled flintlock gun fitted with a multishot revolving cylinder. This weapon fired nine shots per minute at a time when the standard soldier’s musket could be loaded and fired but three times per minute. It was designed for ship-board use, to prevent boarding.

Puckle demonstrated two versions of the basic design. One weapon, intended for use against Christian enemies, fired conventional round bullets, while the second variant, designed to be used against the Muslim Turks, fired square bullets, which were believed to cause more severe and painful wounds than spherical projectiles and would convince the Turks of the benefits of the Christian civilization. While this seems rather racist today, it should be seen in the context of the time. The Turks were pushing into Eastern Europe, one of the cradles of Christianity, converting the conquered to Islam.

The “Puckle Gun” failed to attract investors and never achieved mass production or sales to the British armed forces. One newspaper of the period observed following the business venture’s failure that “those are only wounded who hold shares therein.” Even though the Puckle Gun was a failure at the time, it is the father of the machine gun and laid the seeds of innovation that would later be adopted into the revolver we still use today. This weapon might have been way ahead of it’s time, but it is such an important piece of firearm history, and James Puckle’s invention would eventually change the world.