Skip to main content

History of Ignitions - 'Gun Stories'

As shooters and hunters were very familiar with the modern centerfire cartridge, and it seems to be a study in simplicity. A metallic case that holds the powder and the bullet, fired by primer in the base of the case. Simple. But getting to that simplicity is nothing short of one of the most fascinating stories in history.

Gunpowder was probably invented in China in the 9th century, and not for the reason you think. Chinese alchemists had been experimenting with salt peter and sulfur, two of the three ingredients of gunpowder for centuries as medicinal concoctions, looking for the mysterious potion of immortality.

Gunpowder and the handgun spread west across Mongolia into the first great Muslim empires. The handgun seems to have arrived in Europe in the late 1300s. In fact, the first use of the phrase handgun is in English history records from 1386.

If you think carrying extra ammunition is a problem today, imagine having to carry a box of glowing coals. This led to the next step in ignition systems, the matchlock.

The revelation of the matchlock was that the whole process could be accomplished with a single hand. Which meant for the first time, the musketeer could use both hands to aim the gun. By the mid 1400s, handheld guns had sights to facilitate that aiming.

Of course, the matchlocks single massive drawback was that the match had to stay lit, something of a problem in rain, snow or damp. But what if the musketeer could generate a spark on demand to ignite the primer powder? Enter the wheellock.

The true origins of the wheellock are lost to time, although they seemed to have emerged from Nuremburg, Germany or Vienna, Austria just as the 16th century dawned. Some historians credit Leonardo Da Vinci with the invention of the wheellock, which he illustrated in 1508 in his Codex Atlanticus.

Wheellocks were only a way station to the future. They were quickly superseded by the snaphaunce, one of the predecessors of the flintlock. Instead of a wheel spinning against a piece of flint, the flint is held in the hammer and struck against the steel anvil above the priming powder.

Watch 'History of Ignitions- Part 2' here.

Current Magazine Cover

Enjoy articles like this?

Subscribe to the magazine.

Get access to everything Guns & Ammo has to offer.
Subscribe to the Magazine

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Recommended Articles

Popular Videos

Savage Arms Impulse Rifle with Straight-Pull Action

Savage Arms Impulse Rifle with Straight-Pull Action

Savage introduces a must-shoot straight-pull rifle, the Impulse, with three hunting configurations.

Red vs. Green Lasers: Visibility in Bright Light

Red vs. Green Lasers: Visibility in Bright Light

In this segment of β€œAt The Range,” Handgunning Editor Jeremy Stafford and contributor Patrick Sweeney compare the visibility of red and green lasers in outdoor, sunny conditions.

Pocket-Pistol Carry Tips and Tricks

Pocket-Pistol Carry Tips and Tricks

Pocket carry, as a method of concealed carry for a defensive firearm, can be a practical option when done right. This is especially true during the colder months when heavy outer garments can obstruct access to a traditional waistline holster. Former U.S. Navy SEAL Jeff Gonzales, president of Trident Concepts, joins G&A contributor Kimberly Heath-Chudwin to discuss guns, training and gear, including Blackhawk's TecGrip holster that can make pocket carry more successful.

See All Videos

Magazine Cover

GET THE MAGAZINE Subscribe & Save

Digital Now Included!


Give a Gift   |   Subscriber Services


Buy Digital Single Issues

Don't miss an issue.
Buy single digital issue for your phone or tablet.

Buy Single Digital Issue on the Guns & Ammo App

Other Magazines

See All Other Magazines

Special Interest Magazines

See All Special Interest Magazines

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Get the top Guns & Ammo stories delivered right to your inbox every week.

Phone Icon

Get Digital Access.

All Guns and Ammo subscribers now have digital access to their magazine content. This means you have the option to read your magazine on most popular phones and tablets.

To get started, click the link below to visit and learn how to access your digital magazine.

Get Digital Access

Not a Subscriber?
Subscribe Now