Guns and gun culture are both an integral and historical part of American society thanks to the Second Amendment of 1791 which guarantees the rights of the people to keep and bear arms.
This Amendment safeguards not only individual liberties and self-determination, but also the right to protect one’s family and assets.
Nowadays, the United States has more guns than people, thus demonstrating the intrinsic link that still exists between America’s past and present. From the Civil War to the Vietnam War, guns made in American have revolutionized the firearms industry.
Let’s find out more about the history of American guns.
History of American Guns
According to Sen. Bob Smith (R-N.H.) “The first gun in America probably came here in 1607, when the colonists first landed.” While this statement might be a subject of debate, generally speaking, the first guns were brought to America when the first settlers arrived in the 18th century.
Between 1600 and 1800, the weapons most used were muskets, pistols, rifles, and swords. The infantry used muskets, while high-ranking officers had pistols and swords. However, muskets were very slow and took as much as 30 seconds to reload.
Guns Used in the American Civil War
By the time The Civil War started, there was a real technological revolution in weaponry, and muskets pretty quickly became obsolete.
First, there was a transition from shoulder-fired weapons to smooth-bore firearms that had to be reloaded through the muzzle each time a shot was fired, to rifled-barrel firearms, some of which loaded at the breech.
Most of these new guns needed each shot to be loaded, but some guns like the 7-shot Spencer and 16-shot Henry rifles and carbines were also made. The Henry Repeating rifle, in particular, made it possible that a single person had the firepower of an entire squad of musket men.
Still, arguably the most popular gun of the era was the Springfield Model 1861 Rifle, with about a million being produced during the Civil War.
The Springfield, as it was commonly known, was a .58 caliber with a 40-inch-long barrel, that shot a new type of bullet, called the Minié ball.
The LeMat Revolver, a .42 caliber and could hold 9 bullets at once, was the most lethal handgun of the Civil War era. While it was a heavy gun, and perhaps not the most comfortable when it came to carrying, it could fire a single shotgun round with a flip of the switch on the side
The LeMat handgun was actually two guns in one, since it had a second, larger, single-shot barrel capable of firing shotgun rounds. A selector switch on the side of the gun allowed the operator to switch back and forth between handgun and shotgun modes.
With the 19th century came a period of restrictions on carrying firearms. During this time, there were various laws and regulations that limited where individuals could carry firearms. Concealed carry regulations were also established.
Discriminatory laws also denied African Americans the right to bear arms and defend themselves.
Despite the regulations, the firearms industry flourished, and over the course of the century, a couple of groundbreaking developments were made. One notable development was the rise of gun manufacturing titans in the 1800s. These four manufacturers played a crucial role during the era of European imperial expansion
During this period, the United States also made significant progress in the field of firearm production, catching up with, and eventually surpassing, their European counterparts.
In 1836, inventor Samuel Colt patented his first revolver design. Colt revolvers were the go-to weapon for a big portion of the 19th century. Colt 1847, Colt M1848 Dragoon, Colt Army Model 1860, and Colt Single Action Army were all used in the armed forces. Without a doubt, the most popular Colt design was the Colt Army Model 1860, with over 200,000 made by 1873.
Another influential American gun of the era is the Winchester Model 1866, a.k.a., the “Yellow Boy”, due to its distinctive brass colored frame. The Winchester was also referred to as the “Improved Henry.”
It was the first rifle ever produced by Winchester, and so it was called the Winchester rifle. It is a lever-action rifle that played a crucial role in the American West. Its production ran from 1866 to 1898, and nearly 160,000 were made.
Influential American Guns in WWI and WWII
The United States entered World War I (1914-1918) relatively late in 1917, and they quickly realized that their weapons needed an upgrade to match the new weapon systems they were faced with in Europe.
Thus, the M1903 Springfield rifle came into play. The M1903 Springfield was a bolt-action rifle adopted by the U.S. military in 1903 during the Spanish-American War. It served as the standard infantry weapon for U.S. troops during World War I, and it was also used in World War II.
In World War II (1939-1945), American made guns like the M1 Garand, the M1919 Browning machine gun, and the M1911 pistol proved to be highly influential.
The M1 Garand rifle was one of the most significant American weapons used in the Second World War. It was a semi-automatic rifle that replaced the bolt-action rifles used in World War I and other conflicts. It was praised for its reliability, precision, and firepower, and it played a major role in the triumph of the U.S. military during World War II.
Another influential gun of World War II was the M1919 Browning machine gun. Adopted by the U.S. military in 1919, it was used in every major conflict from World War I to the Vietnam War. During World War II, it was used as both a ground and aircraft weapon and was praised for its reliability and firepower.
Finally, the M1911 pistol, first designed by John Browning in the 1890s, was also widely used by the U.S. military during World War II. The M1911 was praised for its reliability, accuracy, and stopping power. It became a standard sidearm of US troops.
American Weapons of the Vietnam War
The Vietnam War (1955-1975) was at the time the longest war in American history, where nearly 60,000 Americans lost their lives.
Influential American-made weapons included the M16 rifle, the M60 machine gun, and the M79 grenade launcher.
The M16 rifle served as the primary infantry weapon for American troops during the conflict. It was a compact, magazine-fed, air-cooled rifle with a 5.56mm NATO caliber, known for its selective fire capabilities. The M16 was praised for its accuracy and reliability, although it initially faced some reliability issues early on in the war.
The M60 machine gun was a general-purpose machine gun that played a significant role during the Vietnam War. It was employed as both a squad automatic weapon and a vehicle-mounted weapon. The M60 provided sustained fire support and was known for its high rate of fire, although it did require a crew to operate it effectively, due to its weight.
Another popular weapon during this time was the M79 grenade launcher, also known as the “blooper”. It was a shoulder-fired, single-shot weapon that could fire a 40mm grenade and was highly effective in engaging enemy forces and fortified positions.
The history of firearms in America is rich and not without its role in the development of weapons worldwide. From the Civil War to the Vietnam War, and modern times, American made guns are a symbol of quality, reliability, and efficiency.
Are you aware of any other iconic American guns that we didn’t mention in this article? Let us know in the comment section, and stay tuned for part two of reviewing American guns through the ages, where we will take a look at the iconic modern-day US guns.
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