First Pistols: Their Origin and Purpose

Key Point: First pistols were designed for mounted soldiers, providing a means to fire before engagement. Despite their military origin, pistols quickly found civilian use due to their small size, with barrels ranging from 6 to 9 inches and weighing 2 to 3 pounds.

This article will cover the first pistols ever created. Why they were made, how powerful were they, and of course how they were used. So, if you were ever curious about the first pistols then by the end of this article you will have all the information you wanted.

Now before we carry on with the article let’s see when the first pistols were created and why they proved very popular.

Here it is:

The first pistols were created in the late 16th century. They were designed as small handheld weapons to give the mounted soldiers a way to fire at their enemy before engaging. Despite its purpose being a military one the pistols quickly became used in civilian life as well. The practicality of the pistols stems from the fact that the earliest pistols were pretty small. They had barrels ranging from 6 to 9 inches and the weight of one pistol was between 2-3 pounds.

Here you can see the parts of the early pistols:

Parts of early matchlock pistols

That was the short summary. Now, let’s proceed with the history and origin of the first pistol.

The Origin Of First Pistols

The first pistols were created in the late 1500s and early 1600s. They were made by local gunsmiths by hand. At this time an industrialized way of producing firearms was still not available. This meant that not everyone in the army had the same type of gun.

The first pistols were a type of handgun that were designed to be used with one hand. This made them easier for cavalry soldiers to use. They could fire one bullet at a time and needed to be reloaded after each shot. Which was a problem, given the reloading time of the early pistols. But we will get to that in the next segment.

A surprising fact is that the first pistols were not very popular at first. But as time went on and firearms technology improved, they became more widely used. By the 1600s, pistols were starting to be used by soldiers in many different armies around the world. They were even used by sailors and pirates because they were easy to carry on a ship.

Overall, the first pistols were created to help soldiers during battle and make it easier for them to defend themselves while on horseback. Despite their many drawbacks (which we will discuss later), they were still useful in their time, since they made cavalry soldiers more lethal.

Now, that we got the history part out of the way, let’s examine how early pistols worked.

How First Pistols Worked?

The first pistols were small handheld weapons that operated using the matchlock mechanism. So, what is the matchlock mechanism you ask?

A matchlock is a firing mechanism that uses a burning match cord to ignite the gunpowder. The match cord was held in a serpentine, which is a curved arm that holds the burning match. When the trigger was pulled, the serpentine would release the burning match into the pan, igniting the gunpowder and firing the bullet.

The process of loading a matchlock pistol was similar to that of a flintlock. The shooter would have to pour gunpowder into the pan and the barrel of the gun, insert a bullet into the barrel, and use a ramrod to push the bullet all the way down to the back of the barrel.

The matchlock mechanism was the most common firing system used in pistols during the 16th and early 17th centuries. However, it had some disadvantages, as we will discuss in the next segment.

The Advantages And Disadvantages Of Early Pistols

Let’s start with the advantage. It gave a cavalry soldier a way to harm his enemy at a relatively safe distance. This made them more lethal. Imagine you are charging at an enemy. You can fire a shot, that harms, or at least confuses him, which leads to an opening for you. Pistols were used as a secondary weapon after all. So, after firing a shot, you had your saber (sword) you could use to finish the job.

That is the upside. But what about the downside? What were the downsides of early pistols?

The Downside Of Pistols

The early pistols were very inaccurate at anything above short distances. And it could take up to several minutes to reload one. Making it very impractical very early on. On top of that the matchlock mechanism used to fire the pistol relied on a piece of burning “string” so to speak. In damp, and wet environments the firing mechanism just stopped working. That is why the successor to the matchlock, the flintlock pistol was so effective. So, the triggering system was a problem, to say the least.

Don’t get me started on wet gunpowder. So, in short, what was the drawback of early pistols?

The drawback of early pistols was:

  • The matchlock mechanism made the pistol ineffective in wet or humid environments
  • First pistols were very inaccurate
  • It took a very long time to reload and fire a pistol at that time

In Conclusion

Thank you for taking the time to read this article. I hope you learned a thing or two. If you wish you can continue learning by taking looking at my article on the weirdest-looking pistol ever you can check it out here. Or you can check out my article on the specific type of pistol called the howdah pistol by going here.

Take care!

Sources: “Firearms: An Illustrated History” by DK Publishing