The Complete History Of Cartridge Guns

Key Point: Cartridge guns are firearms that use self-contained cartridges, combining bullets, gunpowder, and primer in a single unit, making loading and firing more efficient and quicker than traditional muzzle-loading firearms.

In this article, we will take a look at cartridge guns. Discover what are they, and why they were a huge improvement over the earlier firearms. So by the time you finish reading this article, you will have a more firm understanding of the history of cartridge guns than 99% of people out there.

As always I will provide you first with a short summary of the entire article that gives you the main takeaway. So, what are Cartridge guns? And why were they such an improvement?

Cartridge firearms, also known as breech-loading firearms, are a type of gun that use a self-contained unit of ammunition, called a cartridge, to fire a single shot. Compared to their muzzle-loading predecessor’s cartridge guns are:

  • more reliable
  • easier to use
  • faster to reload

That is the quick takeaway of the entire article. Now, let’s go deeper into the history of cartridge guns and how they developed, and how they are still in use today.

The Origin Of Cartridge Guns

The origins of cartridge firearms can be traced back to the mid-19th century, with the invention of the self-contained cartridge. Prior to this, firearms were muzzle-loading. This means that the bullet, powder, and primer had to be loaded separately into the barrel of the gun. This process was time-consuming and often resulted in misfires or other malfunctions. If you ever watched a Hollywood movie on some battle where soldiers lined up in long lines and fired at each other … well then you saw muzzle-loading in action.

It was as time-consuming as it looked and clumsy as well. But back to the history lesson.

So who was the brainchild behind the cartridge technology?

Casimir Lefaucheux in the 1830s was the first to patent a revolver using cartridge-like technology. Lefaucheux’s invention was a revolver that used a self-contained pinfire cartridge. Roughly at the same time, Samuel Colt patented a revolver that used a self-contained metallic cartridge. It is unclear if Colt copied the Frenchman’s work. But the French guy was first no doubt.

All in all the invention of the cartridge made firearms more reliable, faster to reload, and easier to use. This led to the widespread adoption of cartridge firearms, particularly in the military and for hunting.

Now that was a brief history concerning breechloading firearms or cartridge guns. Whichever way you prefer to call them. Now let’s go on to the next chapter where you will see what exactly made the cartridge guns such an improvement over the other option.

Why Cartridge Firearms Were Superior To Other Firearms

The main reasons why cartridge guns were better than their muzzleloading counterparts can boil down to 4 things:

  • They were far more reliable
  • They were easier to use
  • Their effectiveness

Let’s examine each of these points one by one.

They Were More Reliable

Cartridge firearms are more reliable than muzzleloading firearms because they use self-contained cartridges that have the bullet, gunpowder, and primer all in one unit. This eliminates the need to separately load each component into the barrel of the gun. This greatly reduces the chance of misfires or other malfunctions.

Additionally, the use of smokeless powder in cartridges results in a cleaner and more efficient burn, leading to less fouling in the barrel of the gun, which can also cause misfires. The use of brass casings for the cartridges also makes them more resistant to humidity and other environmental factors that could affect the performance of the gun. All of these factors combined make cartridge firearms far more reliable than muzzleloaders.

Now that we got reliability out of the way let’s go to their ease of use.

They Were Easier To Use

Cartridge guns were easier to use because of 2 main things:

  1. Its easier to load something from the back of the gun than from the front
  2. With cartridge guns, you put just one thing in the barrel instead of 2 or 3 (like with the muzzleloaders)

Or to put it into more words.

Cartridge firearms are easier to use than muzzleloading firearms because they are loaded from the back of the gun, rather than from the front of the gun, where the bullet comes out. This eliminates the need to pour gunpowder and put the bullet in the front of the gun before firing. This makes the reloading process much faster and more efficient. Additionally, the use of self-contained cartridges eliminates the need to separately load each component.

Now it’s time we take a look at their effectiveness.

Cartridge Guns Were More Effective

Cartridge guns represented a major bump in effectiveness due to several factors. One of them was that you had the propellant and the bullet in one casing. You did not have to stuff two things inside the barrel, you could do it with just one. The second factor was because of the smokeless powder they used.

Let me explain.

The use of smokeless powder in cartridges results in a cleaner and more efficient burn. This lead to less fouling in the barrel of the gun and increased the energy transfer to the bullet. This made the shots more powerful. This increase in power can result in greater accuracy over longer distances. The use of brass casings for the cartridges also makes them more resistant to humidity and other environmental factors that could affect the performance of the gun.

The Effect Of Breechloading Guns On World Events

One of the most pivotal events of the 19th century was the Franco-Prussian war. This war ultimately lead to the creation of the unified German state. And that definitely played a part later down the line in the 20th century. Now, why do I mention this?

This is pretty much the first war where the cartridge gun was pitted against its muzzleloading counterpart in large numbers. The French were almost solely armed with muzzleloaders while the Prussians were all in on Cartridge rifles. This is one of the reasons why the Prussians kicked ass. That and a more professional and faster-mobilized army.

But that one war showed every army in the world its time to ditch muzzleloaders. And so they did. By WW1 cartridge guns were pretty much the only guns in use out there.

In Conclusion

Even in the modern-day era cartridge gun technology is still in use in a wide variety of firearms. They are used in militaries and police around the world.

Thank you for taking the time to read this article. If you wish, you can continue learning about the history of firearms by taking a look at my article on the weird-looking pepperbox pistol right here. And I will see you at the next one.

Take care!