gunpowder, guns, firearms

Cannon, Wartburg. ca. 17thc

Gunpowder, 10th century – Outsourced killing to a machine

|firearm – a portable gun, being a barreled weapon that launches one or more projectiles, such as a pistol or rifle. Firearms first appeared in 13th century China when the man portable fire lance (a bamboo or metal tube that could shoot ignited gunpowder) was combined with projectiles such as scrap metal, broken porcelain, or darts/arrows. The technology gradually spread through the rest of Asia and into Europe. In older firearms, the propellant was typically black powder, but modern firearms use smokeless powder or other propellants. Most modern firearms (with the notable exception of smoothbore firearms) have rifled barrels to impart spin to the projectile for improved flight stability.

Modern firearms are typically described by their bore diameter (75mm) or calibre (7.62mm) or gauge (12 ga.), the type of action employed (muzzle, breech, lever, bolt, revolver, semi-automatic, or automatic) together with the usual means of deportment (hand-held or mechanical mounting). They may be further distinguished by reference to the type of barrel used (rifled) and the barrel length (19 inch).

gunpowder in ancient China and trace its movement into Europe.

Gunpowder, also known since the late 19th century as black powder, was the first chemical explosive and the only one known until the mid-1800s. It is a mixture of sulfur, charcoal, and potassium nitrate (saltpetre)—with the sulfur and charcoal acting as fuels, while the saltpetre works as an oxidizer. Because of its burning properties and the amount of heat and gas volume that it generates, gunpowder has been widely used as a propellant in firearms and as a pyrotechnic composition in fireworks.

  • black powder is not normally used in modern firearms—which instead use smokeless powders.


  • ancient China
  • movement into Europe
  • gunpowder weapons
  • cannons,
  • rifles
  • handguns
Longitudinal section of WWII pistol

Learn more…

  • Flash! Bang! Whiz! – An introduction to propellants, explosives, pyrotechnics and fireworks