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The History Of Black Powder

Moira Kindig

A story of powder that changed history

Over the course of time, the Chinese, Hindus, Greeks, Arabs, English and Germans have all claimed the honor of dis-covering black powder; however, no decisive proof can be found to determine who actually made the first discovery. There are early accounts of Chinese firecrackers, Roman Candles and Greek Fire but; most commonly, the credit is given to Roger Bacon (mid 13th century) of England or Berthold Schwartz (early 14th century) of Germany as both monks left written records of their experiments. In their documents, they proved that they had identified the explosive property of sulfur, carbon, and potassium nitrate. It is highly probable that several countries independently came up with the same conclusion at approximately the same time . . . black powder.

Black powder was introduced to America about three hundred years ago in 1675 with the founding of Milton Mill near Boston, MA. As a general rule though, the American powder was of lower quality. England still restricted the manufacturing and accumulation of black powder among the colonists. It was not until the American Revolution, when rebels discovered they had a very limited supply, that small mills sprang up in the forests to aid the American cause.

After the war, the powder mills continued, but English powder, though more expensive, was still a better quality. Nothing changed until Irénée du Pont decided that the United States needed to improve its powder industry. The first DuPont powder was produced in 1804 and they quickly became the leading American powder producer. Laflin & Rand and the Hazard Powder company eventually joined the production scene and together the three dominated the industry. An explosion, in the early 1970s, destroyed the DuPont plant. The company decided to abandon the black powder industry and sold their whole operation to Gearhart-Owen.

Gunpowder today is essentially made with the same formula that they used in the 19th century. After the three major ingredients (potassium nitrate, carbon and sulfur) are pulverized, they are mixed with water and alcohol. They are compressed into cakes and those cakes are later broken into smaller chunks and granules by rollers. All equipment that comes in contact with the powder, or its components, are made out of non-sparking material to prevent accidents.

The four most common granulations are Fg (which is the largest), FFg, FFFg and FFFFg. The varying granules are separated by using different size vibrating screens. The black powder is then packaged and ready for market.

For more information on the safe use of black powder for firearms use, contact the Log Cabin Shop at (330) 948-1082. The Log Cabin Shop specializes in black powder firearms and accouterments of the pre-1860 era. A 200-page catalog is available for $5.00. To place an order for our catalog, call our toll free order line at (800) 837-1082.