Gun Barons The Weapons That Changed America, and the Men Who Invented Them
In this riveting work of narrative history, veteran reporter John Bainbridge vividly brings to life five charismatic and idiosyncratic men who, living within ninety miles of one another, changed the course of history through the invention and refinement of the repeating firearm – the precursor to today’s automatic weapon.
These men are now household names: the huckster and hard-living Samuel Colt; the seemingly dull but cunning former shirt-maker Oliver Winchester; the constant tinkerer Horace Smith; the resilient and innovative businessman Daniel Wesson; and the skinny abolitionist Christopher Spencer. We follow these men as they compete ferociously, each trying to corner the market for repeating weapons in the years running up to the outbreak of the American Civil War and during the war itself.
Because these innovators had difficulty securing government contracts for their weapons during the war (American government agents believed that repeating weapons ‘used too much ammunition’), they were forced to ply their wares directly to soldiers – sometimes just as the soldiers walked into battle. These guns were fast and powerful: Winchester’s ‘Henry’ rifle fired sixteen shots without reloading at a time when most enemies could only fire two muzzle-loaded shots. When these weapons quickly become coveted possessions, both during the Civil War and then in the conquering of the West, America’s romance with personal ownership of repeating weapons was born.
In this wide-ranging work, Bainbridge tells a gripping story of tenacity, conviction, innovation, debauchery and pure heartless greed.