Ammo 101: History of the Bullet

When it comes to ammunition, few argue against the bullet being, perhaps, the most important aspect of the cartridge. It is, after all, the projectile that spins towards your target and makes an impact. Throughout the history of the bullet, the lead ball changed men’s lives and the history of the world.

It’s lead men into battle and women safely to their cars after work. Bullets have endured hunting trips and everyday, they keep 16 million Americans secure tucked away in a CCW.

The history of the bullet is a rich one, full of ups and downs, twists and turns. Over a thousand years since its conception, the bullet has changed in many ways. Yet, in just as many, it stayed the same.

History of the Bullet: Pre-Bullet

  • Around 950, China. Bamboo gun barrels appear in China and use gun powder to propel pellets made from metal, stones, and pottery shards
  • 1044, China. Daoist alchemist records the first official chemical formula for gunpowder
  • 1247, Europe. First documented use of gunpowder in the West
  • 1327,  Europe. The Western world begins to use the cannon
  • 1364, Europe. The hand canon, the prelude to the handgun and possibly the first small arms, is developed, using stone as a projectile

History of the Bullet: The Bullet Begins

  • 1425, Europe. Documented evidence of damage to body armor created by a metal ball from a hand cannon
  • 1500s, Europe. Projectiles begin to include small balls cast from melted iron
  • 1600s, Europe. People replace iron with cast lead balls for culverin and cannons
  • 1830, France. Among other innovations, Henri-Gustave Delvigne developed the cylindroconoidal bullet, improving its stability
  • 1830-1832, France. Francois Tamisier improved Delvigne’s design, adding groves and progressive rifling to the lead ball, increasing its range and accuracy
  • 1832, England. Captain John Norton developed the first pointed bullet, one with a hollow base that expanded when under pressure
  • 1847, France. Claude-Etienne Minie created what became the Minie ball, a bullet made of soft lead, responsible for 90% of the Civil War’s battlefield deaths

History of the Bullet: Birth of the Modern Bullet

  • 1850, United States. Building off the Frenchman Louis Flobert’s design, Daniel Wesson (co-founder of Smith & Wesson) created the first brass cartridge ready for the hunt or battlefield
  • 1866, United States. Hiram Berdan makes the first centerfire ammunition with what became known as the Berdan primer
  • 1882, Switzerland. Lt. Colonel Eduard Rubin of the Swiss Army developed the first copper-jacketed bullet (which lovingly became known as a full metal jacket)
  • 1898, France. The creation of the first Spitzer bullet, aka spire point bullet, lead to far better aerodynamics, improving accuracy, range, and energy conduction
  • 1915, England. Tracer rounds developed to mimic the trail of smoke that older firearm bullets created when fired, allowing  shooters to see their bullet’s trajectory

As the 20th century waxed, then waned, the bullet saw few changes. Sure, ballistic tips, frangible cartridges, and p+ ammo emerged. Yet when it comes down to pure form and function, the bullet is very much the same as it was a hundred years ago.