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Who invented the machine gun?

Read about the man who invented machine guns -- and changed history.

The first successful machine gun was invented by Richard J. Gatling in 1862. [©Shutterstock, 2010]
©Shutterstock, 2010
The first successful machine gun was invented by Richard J. Gatling in 1862.

The Machine Gun is Invented

The first successful machine gun, invented by Richard J. Gatling (1818 - 1903), was patented in 1862 during the Civil War. Its six barrels were revolved by gears operated by a hand crank, and it fired 1,200 rounds per minute. Although there had been several partially successful attempts at building a multi-firing weapon, none were able to overcome the many engineering difficulties until Gatling. In his gear-driven machine, cocking and firing were performed by cam action. The United States Army officially adopted the gun on August 24, 1866.

Machine Guns Evolve

The first automatic machine gun was a highly original design by Hiram S. Maxim (1840 - 1915). In 1884, the clever Maxim designed a portable, single-barreled automatic weapon that made use of the recoil energy of a fired bullet to eject the spent cartridge and load the next.

The Machine Gun in Infamy

The original tommy gun was the Thompson Model 1928 SMG. This 45 caliber machine gun, designed in 1918 by General John Taliaferro Thompson (1860 - 1940), was to be used in close-quarter combat. The war ended before it went into production however, and Thompsons Auto Ordnance Corporation did not do well, until the gun was adopted by American gangsters during Prohibition. The image of a reckless criminal spraying his enemies with bullets from his hand-held tommy gun became a symbol of the depression years. The gun was modified several times and was much used during World War II.

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