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A RECORD OF SCIENCE.
TO OUR READERS.
ITH this number we enter on the seventh year of
our existence, and commence not only a new volume, but a NEW SERIES.
At such a time it is but natural to pause a few moments to thank our old subscribers, and inform them of our plans. It will be seen at a glance that several changes have been effected. We now print the journal in new type on better paper. And in order to afford space for further improvements, we have ventured to increase the number of our pages by nearly a hundred in the volume. This will enable us to add to our periodical an account of the doings of our learned societies, as well. as afford space for REVIEWS AND NOTICES OF BOOKS, a department which
end to conduct in the most careful and impartial manner. The Editorial staff has been considerably increased, and no effort will be spared to make the TECHNOLOGIST what it now professes to be, a RECORD OF SCIENCE, its progress, literature, and practical applications.
We beg the reader to observe that this is not a mere money-making periodical; its conductors do not regard it in the light of a commercial speculation. Consequently they will be amply satisfied if their proposed improvements shall increase the circulation sufficiently to defray the extra expense incurred by the enlargement of this New Series. They can therefore confidently appeal to
NEW SERIES. VOL. I.
their old friends to aid them. If each will obtain for us an additional subscriber, our future will be secured. Large promises are sometimes misconstrued. We need only add, therefore, that we wish not only to sustain, but increase the value of our Journal, and the greater our success the more constant will be our endeavours to deserve it.
(Zündnadelgewehr.) HE war which has so recently deluged Europe with
blood has brought one topic into strong relief. The terrible power of slaughter possessed by the Prussians in their boasted Zündnadelgewehr, has made the needle-gun a subject of interest in every circle. What then, is the instrument of death which has enabled the Prussians to carry every thing before them? First of all, it is a breechloader, and those who examined the question when it was so popular, sixteen years ago, will not be surprised to learn that it enables the soldier to fire much more rapidly than he could with any muzzle-loader. But the needle-gun is more than this—its charge is all in one, so that it avoids the loss of time caused by capping. Besides these two qualities, it possesses the important one of consuming its charge backwards. The advantage of this is that the whole of it is consumed in the barrel, and its force spent upon the ball. The name is derived from the means of ignition-a stout wire (the needle), which starts forward when the trigger is pulled, passes through the hinder part of the cartridge, and strikes a fulminating substance in the seat of the papier-maché base of the rifle ball. Much as dispensing with the percussion-cap accelerates the speed of firing, it is probably due to this fact that the needle-gun has been rejected by many competent judges ; for such a rifle must be considered more liable to accidents. Gunpowder by itself is safe enough, and we can scarcely be surprised that the idea of combining all the explosive elements in one charge was considered a dangerous innovation by our Board of Ordnance, as well as by other authorities.
Nor can we join in all the denunciations of our official slowness to adopt a new arm in face of the fact, that at present only one nation has armed itself with this weapon. At the same time, the superiority of breech-loaders has been so attested by experience, that we may approve the decision to supply our troops with guns of this kind as rapidly as possible. It is far from certain that the needlegun is the best of its kind. Not a few judges condemn it as clumsy and insufficient-far surpassed by many other models that we may easily employ. It is freely stated that the composition of the fulminating substance has been kept a secret by the Prussian Government, and that to this cause is to be attributed the reluctance of others to use it.
We believe it to consist of 52.5 of chlorate of potassa, 2995 antimony, and 18 of sulphur. Such a composition would, indeed, afford a terribly explosive material, but a good deal of gas would result, and this is found to be the case in using the needle-gun, a fact that accounts for the Prussian soldiers resting it on the hip to fire, and further accounts for its having been rejected in England on account of the officer's coat who fired it having been injured from this cause. It is interesting to remember that the idea of a breech-loader is by no means new. At the beginning of the century, the Great Napoleon offered a premium for a useful gun of this description, and one was actually completed for him, and rejected by his officers as unsatisfactory. One of the workmen of the maker of this failure, who had studied chemistry under the great Berthollet, watched the experiments with great interest, and after the reverses of the Emperor's fortune, returned to Prussia, of which he was a native, and there occupied himself with the subject, until, having obtained the assistance of competent men from the Government, he produced an arm satisfactory enough to have 60,000 ordered, and in 1841 given out to the army. His name was Dreyse, and it was only after several trials he was thus successful. The apparent extravagance of this order was defended in a Royal decree, the words of which will be noted with peculiar interest in the light of recent events.
Here they are :
“The rifled Zündnadelgewehr is, according to our present conviction, the perfection of military arms, and its practical introduction will, doubtless, lead to its adoption in all branches of the service." The result of numerous experiments made us appreciate this invention as a special dispensation of Providence for strengthening our national resources; and we cherish the hope that the system may be kept secret, until the great part which it is destined to play in history may couple it with the glory of the Prussian arms and the extension of the empire."
This was as long ago as 1841. In 1865, Prussia possessed 660,000 of these guns, and was able to turn out more than 100,000 a year at the Royal arsenals.
Perhaps the most surprising part of the story is the indifference of the Austrian officers who must, during the Danish campaign, have had abundant opportunity of acquainting themselves with its advantages. The value of the repeating rifles employed by the Americans in their civil war seems to have been equally neglected. True, the march of science in improving the instruments of death has been wonderfully rapid. But this is only a reason why England should be ever on the watch to avail herself of every improvement as the necessity of retaining her high place among the nations.
Many are the stories that have been freely circulated about this weapon. We have given an outline of what is vouched for as its correct history. We can scarcely err in adding an extract from a recent publication, cautioning the reader to accept it cum grano salis :
“ It is well known to be the produce of the long study and perseverance of an English officer who, while stationed at a solitary outpost in Canada, amused his leisure hours with experiments in the rough construction of a substitute for the rifle which he had damaged by letting it drop down a precipice while in pursuit of a bear. It was almost by accident that the discovery became pal pable to the solitary hunter in the woods. But no sooner did it become manifest to his senses than he resigned his commission in the army, returned to Europe, and, as a matter of course, hurried to the War-office with his invention, certain of its adoption in the English army, from its evident superiority over the old-fashioned weapons now in use. For more than a year was the inventor kept in suspense, as the Enfield rifle met him at
He was bandied about from one official to another during all this time, merely to be told at last that the Government did not feel disposed to alter the principle of the arms employed. It was then that in disgust he brought his invention to Paris, and by even a more bitter mockery of fate than in London, he obtained an interview with the Emperor, who listened with the greatest interest to the description of the gun, examined the plans and sections brought by the officer, much questioned the