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Girardoni Air Rifle
Girandoni Air Rifle.jpg
Girardoni System Austrian Repeating Air Rifle, Circa 1795, believed to have been taken on the Lewis and Clark Expedition
Type Air rifle
Place of origin  Holy Roman Empire
Service history
In service 1780-1815
Used by Holy Roman Empire
Austrian Empire
United States
Production history
Designer Bartholomäus Girardoni
Designed 1779 or 1780
Specifications
Weight 4.5 kg (9.9 lb)
Length 120 cm (3.9 ft)

Caliber .46
Feed system 20 round vertical hopper
Sights Iron
Recreation of an Austrian Girardoni system Accoutrements Bag, including spare air flasks, air pump, wrenches, bullet mold and ladle

The Girardoni Air Rifle was an airgun designed by Tyrolian inventor Bartholomäus Girardoni circa 1779. The weapon was also known as the Windbüchse ("wind rifle" in German). One of the rifle's more famous associations is its purported use on the Lewis and Clark Expedition to explore and map the western part of North America in the early 1800s.

History and use[edit]

The Girardoni air rifle was in service with the Austrian army from 1780 to around 1815. The advantages of a high rate of fire, no smoke from propellants, and low muzzle report granted it initial acceptance, but it was eventually removed from service for several reasons. While the detachable air reservoir was capable of around 30 shots it took nearly 1500 strokes of a hand pump to fill those reservoirs. Later, a wagon-mounted pump was provided. The reservoirs themselves, made from hammered sheet iron held together with rivets and sealed by brazing, proved very difficult to manufacture using the techniques of the period and were always in short supply.

In addition, the weapon was very delicate and a small break could make it inoperable. Finally, it was very different from any other weapon of the time and any soldier using it needed to be highly trained.

The Lewis and Clark Expedition used the rifle in the demonstrations that they performed for nearly every Native American tribe they encountered on the expedition.[1][2]

The Girandoni Repeating Air Rifle[edit]

Presented here is information which finally develops a fairly clear picture of the features and history of the Girandoni military repeating air rifle. This information has become especially interesting and relevant because so much of it is new. The operation and special features of this gun, even its shortcomings, may be even more important to us than its fabled firepower.

After inventing an ingenious, but unreliable and unsafe, multiple feed system for powder burning firearms in the very late 1700s, Bartholomäus Girandoni (also spelled Girandony, Girardoni, etc.) of Vienna (originally from Ampesso in the Southern Tyrolean Alps) very successfully adapted the system to large bore airguns. Most of the following details are from the presentation of the design and details of this gun recently published by the British gun researchers Geoffrey Baker and Colin Currie (2002, 2006) and the physical research of Ernie Cowan and Rick Keller, both combined with research and analysis by Robert Beeman.

The Girandoni system was adopted, in great secrecy, as the Austrian military repeating air rifle (Hummelberger and Scharer, 1964/65). It has been recorded that the system was invented in 1779 or 1780, but deliveries of these guns to the Austrian army did not begin until between 1787 and 1791. Hoff’s (1977) classic reference on antique airguns and Hummelberger and Scharer (1964/65) indicate that about 1500 Girandoni military airguns were produced and that finally they were retired from service to Olmütz in Bohemia in 1815. Specimens with suggested, but unsupported, dates as early as 1797, and similar versions, but more advanced than the military models, are known from Joseph Lowenz and Joseph Contriner in Vienna. Hoff indicates that other Viennese gunmakers started making most of their copies of the Girandoni system well after the Austrian Army had given up all interest in such guns in 1815. Samuel Staudenmayer also began to make standard and advanced versions of these guns in his London shop from about 1800 to 1823.[3] [4] An example of an early Staudenmayer made Girandoni is in the famous Nunnemacher collection, (item N551), [5]

Design and capabilities[edit]

The rifle was 4 ft (1.2 m) long and weighed 10 lbs (4.5 kg), about the same basic size and weight as other muskets of the time. It fired a .46 caliber ball [6] (caliber is contested, original sources such as Dolleczek [7] describe the caliber as 13mm) and it had a tubular, gravity-fed magazine with a capacity of 20 balls. This gravity operated design was such that the rifle had to be pointed upwards in order to drop each ball into the breech block. Unlike its contemporary, muzzle-loading muskets, which required the rifleman to stand up to reload with powder and ball, the shooter could reload a ball from the magazine by holding the rifle vertically while lying on his back and operating the ball delivery mechanism. The rifleman then could roll back into position to fire, allowing the rifleman to keep a "low profile". Contemporary regulations of 1788 required that each rifleman, in addition to the rifle itself, be equipped with three compressed air reservoirs (two spare and one attached to the rifle), cleaning stick, hand pump, lead ladle, and 100 lead balls, 1 in the chamber, 19 in the magazine built into the rifle and the remaining 80 in four tin tubes. Equipment not carried attached to the rifle was held in a special leather knapsack. It was also necessary to keep the leather gaskets of the reservoir moist in order to maintain a good seal and prevent leakage.[8]

The air reservoir was in the club-shaped butt. With a full air reservoir, the Girardoni air rifle had the capacity to shoot 30 shots at useful pressure. These balls were effective to approximately 150 yards on a full load. The power declined as the air reservoir was emptied.[9]

Importance[edit]

The Girardoni air rifle was an important first. It was the first repeating rifle of any kind to see military service. It was one of the first uses of a tubular magazine. And, although it saw service for only 35 years, it predated and was more advanced in design and mechanical technology than the Henry rifle which arrived fifty years later.

See also[edit]

Footnotes[edit]

  1. ^ Wier, S.K. (2005). "The Firearms of the Lewis and Clark Expedition". p. 12. Retrieved March 12, 2013. 
  2. ^ Girardoni air rifle as used by Lewis and Clark. A National Firearms Museum Treasure Gun. at YouTube
  3. ^ Samuel Staudenmayer, Gunsmith, Cockspur Street, London. By Shaun Brown, Page 90 to 93
  4. ^ Air Rifle Review
  5. ^ The Rudolph J. Nunnemacher Collection of Projectle Arms by John Metschl Milwaukee Public Museum, Milwaukee, Wisconsin
  6. ^ The Beeman article on Girardoni Air Rifles in the sources section and an article in the German gun magazine Visier (issue 1/2007, page 141) claim the caliber was actually .463" (11.75 mm).
  7. ^ Die Entwicklung der Handfeuerwaffen im österreichischen Heere, 1896, Anton Dolleczek
  8. ^ A letter detailing regulations, "Signed, Vienna, 24th January 1788"; reproduced in Baker, G; Currie, C. The Austrian Army Repeating Air Rifle 2nd Ed., 2007.
  9. ^ Military writer August Haller claimed in an 1891 treatise Die österreichische Militär-Repetier-Windbüchse that the first ten shots would be effective to about 150 paces, the next ten shots up to 120-125 paces, the next ten out to 100 paces, and then the remaining air pressure in the reservoir would be too low.

Sources[edit]


Original courtesy of Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Girandoni_Air_Rifle — Please support Wikipedia.
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23 news items

 
Guns.com
Sat, 14 Jun 2014 09:54:46 -0700

The Girandoni repeating rifle may be most famously known in America for its role in the Lewis and Clark expedition of 1804 where the notion of having a gun that didn't require powder, a limited commodity in the uncharted territory, had a lot of appeal.
 
YouTube
Tue, 01 Feb 2011 14:20:37 -0800

http://nramuseum.com Lewis and Clark's secret weapon - a late 18th Century .46 cal. 20 shot repeating air rifle by Girandoni , as used bin the Napoleonic Wars. A Treasure Gun from the NRA National Firearms Museum. See more at http://NRAmuseum.com.

Field and Stream

Field and Stream
Wed, 14 Aug 2013 08:37:00 -0700

Lewis and Clark carried a Girandoni Air Rifle much like this one on their expedition into the American West. With twenty .46 caliber lead balls held in a tubular magazine alongside the barrel, it could be fired as quickly as the hammer could be cocked ...
 
American Thinker (blog)
Sun, 27 Jan 2013 12:00:37 -0800

Behold the Girandoni air rifle, a 20 round high capacity tubular magazine and air reservoir which fired at roughly the same velocity as a modern .45 ACP. It can punch straight through a 2x4 at 100 yards. Invented by Tyrollean Bartholomaus Girandoni ...

AmmoLand.com (press release)

AmmoLand.com (press release)
Mon, 16 Jun 2014 04:03:45 -0700

Florida --(Ammoland.com)- If you ever hear a gun control advocate say that the Founding Fathers could never have imagined and would not have allowed possession of “assault weapons” under the Second Amendment, tell them they don't know much about ...
 
BurlingtonFreePress.com
Mon, 01 Sep 2014 04:04:44 -0700

What year was the 20 shot semi-automatic Girandoni Air Rifle brought into production? Answer 1779 or 12 years prior to the ratification of the Bill of Rights and yes this was an air rifle but it was a killing machine used by the Austrian army and was ...
 
Washington Post
Thu, 29 May 2014 19:02:15 -0700

By the time of the Second Amendment, the state of the art for multishot guns was the Girandoni air rifle, with a 20 or 22 round magazine. Ballistically, it was superior to the powder guns of its time, and had been created for elite marksmen in the ...

Guns.com

Guns.com
Mon, 30 Jun 2014 06:34:09 -0700

He recently wrote an amicus brief explaining that the first magazine to hold more than 10 rounds came sometime during the late 16th century, and by 1791 the Girandoni air rifle, which came with a 20 or 22-round magazine, was in use. The Sunnyvale ban ...
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