May
14
2009

Who invented Gunpowder

The invention of gunpowder has had one of the most profound influences on the history of warfare for the last thousand years, even though gunpowder was known to alchemists for another thousand years or more before the first use as an explosive in a military situation.

Gunpowder is used in military applications such as cannons and rifles, as well as in fireworks, and is primarily made by mixing sulfur, charcoal, and potassium nitrate into a compound that burns quickly. It as also known as saltpeter, and usually gunpowder can be used to describe other substances with similar burning properties.

gunpowder Who invented Gunpowder

The very first mention of gunpowder in writing dates back to around 140 AD in China when an alchemist of the Han dynasty court named Wei Boyang described the mixture and how it would create a lot of commotion when a flame was applied. Nobody is sure if Wei Boyan invented gunpowder, though it is possible since gunpowder doesn’t seem to have been known before this time.

Gunpowder as an explosive was known to the Chin dynasty only a hundred years later, though it was described by Ge Hong as dangerous since it couldn’t be controlled despite many alchemists trying, and unfortunately dying from the unpredictable results of poor mixtures. Several hundred years later T’ang dynasty scientists had invented gunpowder powered rifles using hollowed out bamboo tubes.

One end of the tube was packed with gunpowder and a small ball placed in the tube. When lit the gunpowder would explode and propel the ball into the enemy. Rifles and cannons made of iron took some time to invent, not being common until the Song dynasty of the 12th century, though reinforcing the original bamboo tube rifles with metal clasps which made it easier to hold and aim had been done since the end of the T’ang dynasty in the early 10th century.

Gunpowder spread from China to the Islamic world and the Byzantine Empire in around the time the Song dynasty was developing rifles and cannons, and their devastating use of gunpowder to destroy enemy armies and towns very quickly got the attention of foreign powers who rushed to copy and improve Chinese designs.

European gunpowder makers of the 15th century invented the corn cakes, a mixture of gunpowder and water that was shaped into a cake and allowed to dry, and then could be used inside cannons to produce a more consistent propellant that would burn completely before exploding, and paving the way for smaller yet more powerful cannons.

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Peter is the founder of WhoGuides - The History Website. He's always happy to share his passion for history. Use the contact form if you want to get in touch with him.

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