RJ Gatling – The Man Who Made The Modern Machine Gun

Posted by oldglory on July 6, 2015

Firearms from Old Glory Guns and AmmoMost people who know even a moderate amount about firearms are likely to have heard the term “Gatling Gun” more than once, enough to understand that it refers to a type of machine gun. To be specific, a Gatling Gun is a machine gun which features multiple rotating barrels and a gravity-fed ammunition loading clip system. It was one of the first successful modern machine guns, being capable of firing over 200 rounds of ammunition per minute, and is the direct ancestor of the M61 Vulcan and the Mini Gun. What many people might not be aware of, however, is that the word “Gatling” was not a reference to the mechanical sound created by the manually powered firing mechanism. Rather, the Gatling Gun was named after it’s inventor – Dr. Richard J. Gatling.

Richard Gatling was born in 1818 in North Carolina. Even though he had been an inventor since the age of 21, he never went to school for any form of engineering. Rather, after becoming interested in medicine, he earned a medical doctorate degree in 1850 from Ohio Medical College. He would never actually practice medicine, however, being far too interested in his career as an inventor. This passion eventually reached a pinnacle of achievement in 1861, (the same year the Civil War started), with his invention of what has gone down in history as the Gatling Gun.

Surprisingly, the invention of the Gatling machine gun was not inspired by a desire to produce more death on the battlefield, but rather to diminish the loss-of-life potential of a conflict. The idea began to form within his mind after he noticed that during the Civil War more soldiers were lost to the ravages of disease rather than actual battle wounds. He reasoned that the creation of a gun which would allow one man to become as lethal as a group of 100 or so would help decrease the necessity of large armies. This would not only reduce the number of lives subjected to the traumas of the battlefield, but would also hamper the spread of disease throughout the army on account of its smaller size.

The design for the Gatling Gun was actually based off of Gatling’s earlier patented design for a seed planting machine. In 1862, he founded the Gatling Gun Company to manufacture and sell the weapon. It didn’t see much action during the Civil War, however, with only 20 weapons known to have seen service – 8 fitted on gunboats, and 12 personally purchased by individual Union commanders, (and not by the US Government). In fact, the US Government would not accept the weapon until 1866 when the Civil War at last came to an end. Undaunted that his signature invention was unable to have the life-saving impact he envisioned for it during the Civil War, Gatling continued to manufacture and refine his designs until the Gatling Gun Company was fully absorbed by Colt in 1897. Gatling died in 1903, and was buried in Indianapolis, Indiana.

While you are not likely to be able to walk into any New Hampshire gun shop or Massachusetts gun shop and find an original model Gatling Gun for sale or display, you can most certainly admire its many descendants. The grand-daddy of all modern machine guns has a large and proud family tree, and we invite you down to Old Glory Guns & Ammo to come and check out the many members of that the Gatling Gun’s offspring that we currently have in stock.

Call us at 603-878-2854 today!