We know that most bullets are round or spherical, and they are designed so for a reason— they are one of the most efficient shapes that allow the use of heavier bullets without taking up a lot of space in the weapon. In 1718, one person thought out of the box and decided to invent and patent a weapon called Puckle Gun that fired square bullets.
The Puckle Gun was invented by an English lawyer and essayist, James Puckle. It was a manually-operated flintlock with a revolving cylinder— an outstanding feature that overcame most flintlock weapons’ problem of slow fire rate. It was, at that time, a firearm design at the top of technology.
The First Machine Gun?
According to History & Headline, “It consisted of a single barrel and a cylinder pre-loaded with 11 separate firing chambers of a musket ball and powder charge in each.” Puckle Gun was referred to as a “first machine gun,” although it was inaccurate. It was mounted on a tripod and “was capable of firing nine rounds per minute, pathetic by comparison to the 500 to 3000 rounds per minute of today’s machine guns, but not bad when compared to the two rounds per minute (3 rounds per minute only by the best musketeers) of musket wielding soldiers of the day.” It could also swivel in any direction with minimal effort from the operator.
Refine and Redesign
In 1717, Puckle approached the British Navy who was having a problem with Ottoman Pirates. He thought the incredible speed of this Puckle Gun would be perfect for obliterating these pirates circling the perimeter of the Navy ship’s deck. You see, the cannons that the ships were equipped with were slow and ineffective versus these pirates’ small and fast vessels.
The officials from Great Britain’s Board of Ordnance were not impressed after the demonstration, to say the least. One of the reasons was that the flintlock was unreliable, and its system was too complicated to mass-produce.
James Puckle did not let rejection stop him. He immediately returned to work and let his creative juices flow, redesigning and refining his gun. He released his patent no. 418 for defensive purposes for “Bridges, Breaches, Lines and Passes, Ships, Boats, Houses, and Other Places.” He even put an extra effort to include a card that advertised, “A Defence Defending King George your Country and Lawes [sic] Is Defending Your Selves and Protestant Cause.” It included engravings on the guns featuring King George, the image of Great Britain, or some bible verses. It might come as a surprise, for he did not strike as a religious person but looked like he was.
Or was it just a selling technique?
Religion-Boosted Puckle Gun
He even went further with his religious card (to attract more investors) by designing two types of rounds: the conventional ball shape one and the square bullets. The round ones were to be used against the Christian enemies only. While, the square bullets were to be used against the Muslin Turks, as he believed that they would cause a greater amount of damage. According to the patent, these square bullets would “convince the Turks of the benefits of Christian civilization.”
He began selling shares of his company to finance producing more of his religion-boosted Puckle Gun but only attracted a few investors.
In 1722, John Duke of Montagu, the Master-General of Ordnance, bought two Puckle Guns and brought them along their expedition to capture St. Vincent and St. Lucia, but there was no proof that the guns were used.
Only a few were ever produced, and there is no record of them ever being fired in anger. Two samples are on display individually at Boughton House and Beaulieu Palace House. There was also a replica in the Bucklers Hard Maritime Museum in Hampshire. Two others in Communist China’s Forbidden City were given as a gift to the emperor in 1904. It is safe to say that the only harm this early machine gun did was to the investors who sank their money into it.