Richard Jordan Gatling life and biography

Richard Jordan Gatling picture, image, poster

Richard Jordan Gatling biography

Date of birth : 1818-09-12
Date of death : 1903-02-26
Birthplace : Maney's Neck, North Carolina, U.S.
Nationality : American
Category : Science and Technology
Last modified : 2011-10-07
Credited as : machine gun, inventor, Gatling guns

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Richard Jordan Gatling was an American inventor, born in Hertford County, North Carolina, on the 12th of September 1818. He was the son of a well-to-do planter and slaveowner, from whom he inherited a genius for mechanical invention and whom he assisted in the construction and perfecting of machines for sowing cotton seeds, and for thinning the plants. He was well educated and was successively a schoolteacher and a merchant, spending all his spare time in developing new inventions. In 1839 he perfected a practical screw propeller for steamboats, only to find that a patent had been granted to John Ericsson for a similar invention a few months earlier. He established himself in St. Louis, Missouri, and taking the cotton-sowing machine as a basis he adapted it for sowing rice, wheat and other grains, and established factories for its manufacture. The introduction of these machines did much to revolutionize the agricultural system in the country. Becoming interested in the study of medicine through an attack of smallpox, he completed a course at the Ohio Medical College, taking his M.D. degree in 1850. In the same year he invented a hemp-breaking machine, and in 1857 a steam plow. At the outbreak of the Civil War he was living in Indianapolis, and devoted himself at once to the perfecting of firearms. In 1861 he conceived the idea of the rapid fire machine gun which is associated with his name. By 1862 he had succeeded in perfecting a gun that would discharge 350 shots per minute; but the war was practically over before the Federal authorities consented to its official adoption. From that time, however, the success of the invention was assured, and within ten years it had been adopted by almost every civilized nation. Gatling died in New York City on the 26th of February 1903.

Gatling invented the Gatling gun after he noticed that a majority of the soldiers fighting in the Civil War were lost to disease rather than gunshots. In 1877, he wrote:

It occurred to me that if I could invent a machine - a gun - which could by its rapidity of fire, enable one man to do as much battle duty as a hundred, that it would, to a large extent supersede the necessity of large armies, and consequently, exposure to battle and disease [would] be greatly diminished.

The gun was based on Gatling's seed planter. A working prototype was developed in 1861. In 1862, he founded the Gatling Gun Company in Indianapolis, Indiana to market the gun. The first 6 production guns were destroyed during a fire in December 1862 at the factory. All 6 of them had been manufactured at Gatling's expense. Undaunted, Gatling arranged for another 13 to be manufactured at the Cincinnati Type Factory.

Though the gun was developed during the Civil War, it saw very little action. This is partly due to the fact that Gatling was accused of being a copperhead because of his North Carolina roots, but this was never proven. Gatling was never affiliated with the Confederate States government or military, nor did he live in the South during the Civil War. Although General Benjamin F. Butler bought 12 and Admiral David Dixon Porter bought one, it wasn't until 1866 that the US Government officially purchased Gatling Guns. In 1870 he sold his patents for the Gatling gun to Colt. Gatling remained president of the Gatling Gun Company until it was fully absorbed by Colt in 1897.

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