Reply To: Girandoni air rifle

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Think there is still some debate among scholars as to whether Lewis and Clarke carried a Girardoni or a similar air rifle made by an American air gun manufacturer.  There is a consensus that the gun played an important role in the expedition as the native Americans were most impressed with a gun that did not belch smoke and fire (“any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic”).  It was impressive that the Girardoni was able to achieve such power and efficiency utilizing leather valves; a level of craftsmanship that was impossible to duplicate well into the 20th Century.  I personally marvel at the bravery of soldiers who were willing to shoulder a brazed brass reservoir to their check charged to 800 psi and pull the trigger.

The Girardoni indirectly affects our hobby today.  The rifle was used by the Austrian troops and was devastating to Napoleon’s troop morale.  At a time when the predominant military technology was single-shot, smooth-bore muskets which were slow to reload and boldly announced their user to enemy troops, a multi-shot repeater that could be fired without disclosing the location of the user was quite intimidating.  Hence Napoleon’s decree that any Austrian found with such a weapon should be summarily executed.  Since Napoleonic decrees became the base point of the legal system throughout Europe, this decree greatly hampered the future development of air arms and encouraged firearms to become the dominant technology.  I think one could argue that we’re only now beginning to catch up.