The history of air guns is a story that goes back centuries, and some
even believe that to find the origins of the use of this technology we would
need to set our sights back several millennia. Following this line of
research, the blowpipe could be considered the first gun to use the force of
air to propel a projectile. It was for this reason that the blowpipe became
a predecessor to subsequent air guns; clearly they evolved significantly,
however there is no doubt that they were developed using a similar system:
the power offered by propelled air.
The blow pipe is considered the predecessor of subsequent compressed air guns because they use similar technology
To situate the origins of air rifles and pistols of this kind, it would be necessary to go back to the 15th and 16th centuries AD. There is no unanimity amongst historians as regards the exact moment when this type of guns appeared. This is due to the fact that material remains are very scarce; unfortunately today we haven't retained a huge number of ancient air rifles. Based on archaeological opinion, the year 1580 marks a turning point in the history of compressed air guns, as this is the date belonging to the oldest air gun that has been preserved. This piece is stored in the Livrustkammaren Museum in Stockholm and is a spring rifle, also called a piston, as the role of this piece is to compress the existing air within the cylinder of the weapon, which then propels the shot which is fired.
BSA Supersport model modern compressed air rifle
The most widespread use of compressed air guns during the 15th century was for hunting. As high cost weapons, it was the nobility who used them most frequently. They were highly effective weapons, capable of taking down large targets such as wild boar and deer in a single shot.
The compressed air rifle has huge advantages over the traditional firearm
The latter has been considered by some specialists in the subject as
the first PCP or pre-compressed air rifle in history. It was invented by the
Italian gunsmith Girandoni Bartolomeo in 1780 for the Austrian army, in the
context of the Napoleonic wars between France and Austria. The name for this
Austrian model in German was Windbüchse, in other words, wind rifle. As
mentioned above, it was a 51 calibre rifle capable of firing up to 20
bullets a minute. The speed of this rifle was a great novelty at the time,
especially when compared to the fire rifles used by the Napoleonic army
which could only manage to shoot up to three bullets a minute. In addition
these rifles were much less precise than the Girandoni air rifle. The weapon
was so effective that Napoleon went so far as to give an order to execute
any enemy soldier who possessed a compressed air rifle.
The Girandoni air rifle was used for the first time in the Napoleonic wars
One of the most famous compressed
air rifles in history was found in the American continent. It was the rifle
used by Lewis and Clark in an expedition to the Pacific through the lands of
the west during the years from 1803 to 1806. As indicated by recent research
performed, this was a 31 calibre pneumatic rifle manufactured in
Philadelphia. This rifle, which was used by Captain Lewis for hunting,
fascinated the Indian tribes, who named the weapon the “smokeless bolt of
Lewis and Clark's expedition in which the famous American air rifle was used
The manufacture of
air rifles and pistols was not only limited to the western half of the
planet (America and Europe), but was also developed in the East. Twenty
years after Captain Merriwether Lewis used his rifle in America, more
specifically during the decade from 1820 to 1830, the Japanese inventor
Kunitomo Ikkansai created an air rifle applying the knowledge he had
acquired from western technology, focusing his work on Dutch models.
Air gun created by the Japanese Kunitomo in imitation of western models
The use of compressed air guns had some disadvantages which was the reason why this type of guns were ousted again by firearms, especially in the war environment. Air rifles required deposits which were very expensive and awkward to handle as they required great physical strength. In addition they required certain basic knowledge in mechanics which not all soldiers had; on the other hand, the deposits were very delicate and ran the risk of explosion.
The use of compressed air guns has experienced a peak in recent years especially for sporting competitions
Complete kit with compressed air rifle for shooting
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