Throwback Thursday: What's the Most Historically Important Machine Gun?

The very first machine guns appeared in the late 19th century ... but which one cast the longest shadow? American Rifleman TV investigates.

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posted on November 16, 2023

Did you know that full-automatic firearms (also known as machine guns) are not new? They aren't, not at all. Leonardo da Vinci designed a multi-shot cannon over 500 years ago, in 1480. It was never produced due to a lack of funding, but modern ballisticians believe that it would have worked as designed.

The first full-automatic gun to be produced was the Gatling machine gun, and it was first produced in the middle of the American civil war (1862). The Gatling required hand-cranking, but the next iteration of a full-auto gun didn't. That machine gun was and is known as the Maxim machine gun, and it was first produced 140 years ago, in 1883. But who invented it?

It would seem that the obvious answer would be "Hiram Maxim," and that's where history has landed. But it wasn't actually that simple at all. Like Tesla and Marconi, the invention of a fully automatic, recoil-operated machine gun happened more or less simultaneously an ocean apart. A Brit named William Cantelo designed one just like Maxim's, and then he just ... vanished. Disappeared from the face of the earth. And then it got really weird. (Check out this great article for more on one of history's strangest mysteries!)

In this great video from our friends at American Rifleman TV, you'll get to find out more about the Maxim machine gun, and why it beat out nine other hugely significant machine guns to reach the #1 spot!

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