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First machine-gun patented, 1718

Jan 12, 2018
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The son of a merchant of the same name, James Puckle was born sometime in or before 1667 in London. He inherited his father’s estate in 1690 to add to the wealth he accrued as a notary public and a stock-jobber. He published pamphlets on trade and a series of prose dialogues describing various members of a fictitious club, which was republished many times after his death in 1724. But it is his design for a portable breech-loading machine gun for which he is best remembered.

On 15th May 1718 he took out a patent for the weapon, which was fired by flintlock. It was mounted on a tripod (making it portable), and could have various six-chambered breeches attached so that it could fire round bullets at Christian targets, and – for some reason – square bullets at Turks. The firer rotated a the breech with a handle, very much like the later Gatling Gun.

Like so many inventions that arrived before their time, Puckle’s Defence Gun was lampooned and failed to attract investment, even though it was successfully demonstrated. According to the London Journal of 31st March 1722, ‘one man discharged it 63 times in seven minutes’ in the pouring rain. The second duke of Montagu took two of the machine-guns to St. Lucia during his failed attempt to take control of the island.

If you wish to learn more about the Defender Gun, the Wedmore family history web site has a page with details of the patent , and the Royal Armouries museum in Leeds has an example of the machine-gun in its collection.

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