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Thread: The role of civilians in the development of firearms.

  1. #1

    Default The role of civilians in the development of firearms.

    While we often talk about the obvious role of the military in the development of guns, I don't think enough credit is given to the role non civilians played in the development of firearms. The military often adapted and utilized inventions that were first made by civilians for the civilian market.

    * The percussion cap was invented by a civilian, an avid bird hunter who was tired of missing his favorite quarry because of the delay between the spark of the flintlock and when gun actually fired.

    * The metal cartridge was invented by civilian gunsmiths, and first used in civilian applications.

    * The Henry repeating rifle, ancestor of the famous Winchester rifle, was designed in 1860, before the American Civil War began, and was not used by the military. The first customers were civilians.

    * The first rifles were long used mostly by civilians rather than the military

    * The snaplock, and snaphance firing mechanisms, ancestors of the flintlock, were developed in the 16th century as much to meet the need of civilians than than that of the military. The expensive wheellock as well was developed as much for the needs of hunting and defense as for military applications, based on the richly decorated models you can find. When the royal French gunsmiths invented the first true flintlock, flintlock firing mechanisms had been around for more than a century.

    Without this active civilian market to drive innovation, would European firearm technology have advanced as rapidly as it did? Hunting was a popular past time in Europe not just for the rich, but for the merely well off as well (think Alexander John Forsyth, inventor of the percussion cap) and in frontier areas like the Americas, an essential tool.

    And could the real reason other areas were slow to switch from the matchlock was because those regions, like India and China, lacked a large group of well off civilians (hunters and others) who were driving innovation. While I am sure the rich nobles engaged in hunting in other areas, what about the less noble, the merely middle class, in India and China? Was hunting also a popular past time for them as well, or if they did hunt, did they just prefer to use traditional weapons?

    For example, the crossbow was continued to be used and developed in Europe long after the crossbow ceased to be used in warfare (crossbows are still undergoing development today), while I don't see that same kind of usage and development in China after the crossbow ceased to be used in warfare. (The crossbows that continued to be used in China were by minority groups and the designs did not undergo significant development).

    Could a lot the European firearm development have been driven by a civilian usage of a kind that did not exist in other areas? That European military firearm development often took advantage of the development work done for the civilian market? Just food for thought.

  2. #2
    AqD's Avatar (~‾▿‾)~
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    Default Re: The role of civilians in the development of firearms.

    In China engineers and inventors had no place when firearms were being developed. Hunting or even riding were long gone from middle and upper class for several centuries and only practiced among Manchurians to keep their own military tradition from dying - firearm was not part of that, even though it's already adopted massively in army. There was no civilian market at all.

    So you have a point here. But it's also related to education? Nobody had any basic idea about physics or chemistry. Firearm was more like black magic to the majority of highly educated Chinese...
    Last edited by AqD; October 17, 2019 at 04:24 PM.

  3. #3

    Default Re: The role of civilians in the development of firearms.

    Quote Originally Posted by AqD View Post
    In China engineers and inventors had no place when firearms were being developed. Hunting or even riding were long gone from middle and upper class for several centuries and only practiced among Manchurians to keep their own military tradition from dying - firearm was not part of that, even though it's already adopted massively in army. There was no civilian market at all.

    So you have a point here. But it's also related to education? Nobody had any basic idea about physics or chemistry. Firearm was more like black magic to the majority of highly educated Chinese...

    So the hunting was not a popular past time among the Chinese upper middle class? I had wonder if that were the case.

    i am not sure education would have been an issue. Illiterate, uneducated westerners had no trouble using guns, and for a long time, he actual physics behind how gunpowder worked was unknown. They could tell you it wasn't magic, but the chemistry behind the way gunpowder worked was a matter of speculation. All they really needed to know that it worked.

    Even if they though it was magic, would that really have been an issue? If you recite a spell, and it worked every time when you recite it, as long as it isn't regarded as evil, what is the problem with that? As long as they properly mixed the "magic" ingredients, do you think it would matter if it was magic or how it worked? I think many Americans today could explain how a cell phone works The common soldiers had no problem using guns and gunpowder, and they certainly were not more educated than the rest of China.

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    AqD's Avatar (~‾▿‾)~
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    Default Re: The role of civilians in the development of firearms.

    Not "not popular" - Hunting hasn't been a sport for at least a thousand years. Firearms and weapons in general were kept away from the daily life of people, except in troublesome bordering areas and new land where Han immigrants had conflict with native people or each other.

    Comparing the educated class to modern Americans would be very wrong. Think them more of medieval monks who dedicate their life studying literature and moral and nothing related to basic logic or technology. And such was the leadership and the entire educated class.
    Last edited by AqD; October 18, 2019 at 06:55 AM.

  5. #5

    Default Re: The role of civilians in the development of firearms.

    [QUOTE=AqD;15843957]Not "not popular" - Hunting hasn't been a sport for at least a thousand years. Firearms and weapons in general were kept away from the daily life of people, except in troublesome bordering areas and new land where Han immigrants had conflict with native people or each other.
    [Quote]

    I wonder ifnthar was also true of other societies like.Japan, Korea, and India, whether hunting was popular among the middle classes and not just among the top elite? I know places like India did practice hunting among the upper nobles, but don't know if a merely well off India would enjoy hunting as a popular pastime.

    Comparing the educated class to modern Americans would be very wrong. Think them more of medieval monks who dedicate their life studying literature and moral and nothing related to basic logic or technology. And such was the leadership and the entire educated class.
    The analogy you made might not be a good one. Medieval monks were often invovled in technical innovations, the Cistercian monasteries in particular were noted for their spreading technical innovations in agricultural and iron production. And Buddhist monks were the first to bring writing and printing to Japan. In the case of medieval European monks, labor saving innovations meant monks could devote more time to prayer.

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