History Of Gunpowder Essay, Research Paper
Gunpowder is the oldest of all explosives. It was used by the ancient
Chinese, Arabs, and people of India first. But exact directions on how to make
it were not known to the western World until 1242, when Roger Bacon of Oxford
University, in England published a book in which he told the ways to make
gunpowder. Today gunpowder is not used as much as more powerful explosives
After Roger Bacon published his formula for gunpowder, Berthold
Schwarz, a German monk, developed it as a practical explosive in the thirteen
hundreds. Schwarz is said to have invented a firearm which exploded shells by
the action of gunpowder. Gunpowder was being used in cannons as early as
thirteen forty-six. At that time, gunpowder was actually in powder form. It had to
be loaded carefully into the cannon, so that the charge would be packed
properly. If it were packed too tightly, the flame would not light the powder
because it couldn’t get enough oxygen. But if it were packed too loosely, it
couldn’t build up enough gas forces to push the cannonball to it’s target.
A new way to make gunpowder into grains, instead of powder, was
invented in the fourteen hundreds. In this method you would moisten it and
pound it into a cake. Then it was broken into small bits and put into a sieve to be
sifted. The pieces that came through the sieve were different shapes and would
not fit together well enough to pack tightly, so that careful packing of a cannon
was not necessary.
When a long-barreled, rifled cannon came into use, it became necessary
to slow down the burning rate of the gunpowder. Its swift explosive force would
often burst the barrel of the gun, causing the man who fired it to be in almost as
much danger as the man he was attempting to shoot. Captain Rodman of the
United States Army finally developed a gunpowder that was made into grains
shaped into hexagonal prisms. These prisms were large and had several
rounded parallel grooves in them. When the prisms were placed end to end,
these grooves fitted to make a continuous channel. The flame burned outward
from these grooves and inward from the surface of the prisms. This kept up a
continuous flow of gases for long periods, and caused a long, slow push on the
shell. As a result, this kind of explosions could hurl the shell long distance.
Smokeless powder was invented in eighteen eighty-four, and had replaced
gunpowder for use in firing shells by the early nineteen hundreds. But
gunpowder was still made in large quantities in the United States for many years
after that. During World War One, gunpowder was used as a base in many
shells, bombs, and torpedoes.
heavier armor and new types of fighting equipment used in World War
Two required more powerful explosives, but gunpowder was still used as a
primer for the artillery shells. Another guns in artillery or naval guns is as a
charge for military salutes.
An explosive is any material that, when ignited by heat or shock,
undergoes rapid decomposition or oxidation. This process releases energy that
is stored in the material in the form of heat and light, or by breaking down into
gas compounds that occupy a much larger volume that the original . Because
this expansion is very rapid, large volumes of air are pushed aside by the
expanding gasses. This expansion occurs at a speed greater
than the speed of sound, and so a sonic boom occurs. This explains the
mechanics behind an explosion. Explosives occur in several forms: high-order
explosives which detonate, low order explosives, which burn, and primers, which
may do both.
High order explosives detonate. A detonation occurs only in a high order
explosive. Detonations are usually incurred by a shock wave that passes
through a block of the high explosive material. The shock wave breaks apart the
molecular bonds between the atoms of the substance, at a rate approximately
equal to the speed of sound traveling through that material. In a high explosive,
the fuel and oxidizer are chemically bonded, and the shock wave breaks apart
these bonds, and re-combines the two materials to produce mostly gasses.
T.N.T., ammonium nitrate, and R.D.X. are examples of high order explosives.
Low order explosives do not detonate; they burn, or undergo oxidation. when
heated, the fuel(s) and oxidizer(s) combine to produce heat, light, and gaseous
products. Some low order materials burn at about the same speed under
pressure as they do in the open, such as black powder. Others, such as
gunpowder, which is correctly called nitrocellulose, burn much faster and hotter
when they are in a confined space, such as the barrel of a firearm; they usually
burn much slower than black powder when they are ignited in unpressurized
conditions. Black powder, nitrocellulose, and flash powder are good examples of
Primers are kind of different to the explosive field. Some of them, such as
mercury fulminate, will function as a low or high order explosive. They are
usually more sensitive to friction, heat, or shock, than the high or low explosives.
Most primers perform like a high order explosive, except that they are much
more sensitive. Still others merely burn, but when they are confined, they burn
at a great rate and with a large expansion of gasses and a shock wave.
Primers are usually used in a small amount to initiate, or cause to decompose, a
high order explosive, as in an artillery shell. But, they are also frequently used to
ignite a low order explosive; the gunpowder in a bullet is ignited by the
detonation of its primer.
For many centuries gunpowder was mainly used to shoot the shot from
guns. But it has the disadvantage of producing clouds of smoke when it
explodes. Most gunpowder today is used in certain types of safety fuses, in
fireworks, and as an igniter for rockets. It is also sometimes used in industrial
blasting where powerful explosives are not required. When gunpowder is used
as a blasting powder, it contains less saltpeter and more sulfur and charcoal.
Modern gunpowder, usually called black powder, is a mixture of sulfur,
charcoal, and saltpeter (potassium nitrate). Saltpeter usually makes up 75
percent of the mixture, charcoal makes up 15 percent, and sulfur makes up 10
percent. After it is mixed, the moist material goes to a mill where it is run
between heavy rollers. It is the placed in another machine that makes it into a
meal. The meal is compressed in a press to form a solid cake. this cake is then
broken into grains of the desired sizes. The grains are glazed to break off sharp
points and to fill the pores in the grains so that the powder will not get wet or
dusty. After the grains have been glazed, they are dried and joined together.
Sometimes gunpowder grains are molded into prisms.
Gunpowder has been used in many major plot and schemes to over throw
the government or assassinations. Like the Gunpowder Plot. The gunpowder
plot was a plan to blow up the English Houses of Parliament on November 5,
1605, When King James the first was to be present. A group headed by Robert
Catesby and Guy Fawkes originated the plan . This group resented the hostile
attitude of the government toward the Roman Catholic church. But the plot was
discovered and most of the people in the group were killed. Public hostility
toward Catholics increased in England.
The English hold an annual festival on November 5, When they burn Guy
Fawkes in effigy. In memory of the Gunpowder Plot a formal search of the
vaults beneath the houses of Parliament is still made before each new session.
A grenade was one of the first actual explosives that the army used in
combat against other people. A grenade is a small explosive bomb that may be
thrown*, or may be fired from a rifle. Fragmentation grenades contain a notched
wire or coil that would shatter into many pieces when the grenade exploded and
would go flying every where. Chemical grenades are filled with gas, smoke, or
white phosphorous. Illuminating grenades are used at night to light up land
areas so troops could see. Grenades were originally used in the 1400’s. In the
1600’s and 1700’s specially trained men used them. Today, they are a common
weapon of all infantry soldiers. yes, that’s right they there used to a profession in
the army of certain countries specifically for throwing grenades. These men
were called Grenadiers. A grenadier was a French solider in the 1600’s trained
to throw hand grenades. Grenadiers were selected for their strength, nerve, and
initiative. They wore distinctive, colorful uniforms. Gradually, other European
countries created grenadier units. They took the best soldiers from other units to
organize these elite battalions. Improvements in small arms made grenade
bowling suicidal by 1800. But armies still maintained grenadier units as key
reserves. Some European armies still have regiments that carry grenadier titles.
For example, the British Grenadier Guards, which traces its title to Waterloo in
1815, helps guard Buckingham Palace in London.
And now to discuss the most common use of gunpowder today other than
in bullets and explosives, Fireworks. Fireworks are combinations of gunpowder
and other ingredients that explode with loud noises and colorful sparks and
flames when they burn. Fireworks are also called pyrotechnics. Fireworks that
only make a loud bang are called firecrackers. Fireworks are dangerous
because they contain gunpowder they should be handled only by adult or with
adult supervision. Fireworks handled improperly can explode and cause serious
injury to the people within the range of the explosion.
Most fireworks are made by packing gunpowder and other chemicals into
cardboard tubes. Coarse gunpowder is used shoot rockets into the air. Finer
and more loosely packed gunpowder explodes to destroy the rocket once it is in
the air. Manufactures add small amounts of special chemicals to the gunpowder
to create colors. They add sodium compounds to make yellows, strontium
compounds to make red, and copper and barium compounds for blue and green.
Charcoal is another substance that can be added. It provides the rocket with a
sparkling flaming tail.