Brother Richard J. Gatling

Discussion in 'Notable Freemasons' started by Blake Bowden, Oct 24, 2011.

  1. Blake Bowden

    Blake Bowden Administrator Staff Member


    From a very young age he seemed to develop a special talent for invention and improvement. As a young boy he always looked forward to assisting his father, Jordan Gatling, who was also a gifted inventor, and invented several interesting machines.

    While he was still in his teen years he helped his father, invent two very important machines of the day. One was for sowing cotton, and the other was for thinning young cotton plants. The word invention in the Gatling family was indeed an every day word, and as the young boy grew to manhood his father constantly taught him how to think creatively.

    Then in 1839, at the age of 21, he invented a steamboat screw propeller. However, another person quickly filed a patent on it before Brother Gatling could do so. Later that same year, he invented and patented a machine for sowing rice, and when he moved to St. Louis in 1844, adapted it to drilling wheat. This invention made him a wealthy man in the later years of his life. In the 1840's, an outbreak of smallpox left him interested in medicine. He attended Ohio Medical College, and graduated in 1850 but after graduating he soon lost interest in medicine and decided to continue his career in the field of inventing.

    For the next few years he continued to invent and improve upon his many already existing inventions, and it was not until 1857 that he invented a steam driven plow. Although he patented the plow, it was not well accepted by farmers, and failed to show much of a profit.

    Following the outbreak of the Civil War, he turned his attention to the invention of firearms, and by 1862 he had completed and patented the Gatling Gun, making it his eleventh patent.

    He is best known as the inventor of the "Gatling Gun," the world's first practical repeating gun that drastically changed the tactics of warfare throughout the world. He first conceived the idea of his revolving battery gun in 1861, however, the first gun was actually not produced until 1862, when it was introduced at Indianapolis Indiana.

    Of that first early model he produced 12 guns, which were used in battle by General Butler on the James River in Virginia. The U.S. Navy had adopted the gun in 1862, and installed several on it's ships in that year.

    By 1865, he had changed the gun so that it could fire a metal cartridge, and in 1866 the U.S. Army finally officially adopted it. It rapidly became known around the world and before long it was in demand in Europe. Thereafter it began to be manufactured in Austria and England and was then used by several other European governments.

    The first gun fired about 250 rounds per minute, but later improvements including a motor drive raised it to 3,000 rounds per minute. The gun was a rapid fire, hand cranked weapon and solved the enormous problems of rapid loading and rapid firing. He was 44 at the time, and he spent the rest of his life improving and living off the monetary benefits he received from his invention of the Gatling Gun.

    Although those who thought he was a pacifist have accused him of being a hypocrite, he really saw the invention of the gun as something, which would save many lives. This proved to actually be true when the Union Army began finding that they could field with many less numbers of troops. In some cases it was said that one gun and 5 soldiers could do the work of 100 soldiers without a Gatling.

    In fact, he invented the Gatling gun after he noticed that the majority of dead returning from the American Civil War died of illness, rather than gunshots. In 1877, he wrote: "It occurred to me that if I could invent a machine - a gun - which could by its rapidity of fire, enable one man to do as much battle duty as a hundred, that it would, to a large extent supersede the necessity of large armies, and consequently, exposure to battle and disease [would] be greatly diminished."

    He continued working to improve the gun for several years following the Civil War, and many years later the Gatling Gun Company merged with the Colt Patent and Fire Arms Manufacturing Company. It is interesting to note that the Gatling Gun was used in many wars, both domestic and foreign before the gun was declared obsolete in 1911.

    The war in which the gun saw it's first truly major action in was the Spanish-American War, where it was used in close support of the American troops. In the interim he continued developing the device, and while experimenting with improving the Gatling gun he developed an electric motor, which thereafter powered the gun. This created the first "Minigun".

    Miniguns and electric powered Gatling cannons of various sizes would go on to be used as on airplanes and helicopters starting in the early 1960's . Ground forces used some as well. The United States Army declared the hand-cranked Gatling gun obsolete in 1911.

    Much later other arms designers developed the Vulcan Gun, a three barreled machine gun that used most of the basic principles of the Gatling Gun. The Vulcan Gun is also still used on helicopters and planes today, and it is well known that it can destroy heavily armored vehicles like tanks.

    In 1943, during World War II, the U.S. Government named a new destroyer the USS Gatling, in honor of the service he performed to his country. Brother Gatling died in New York City on February 26, 1903 and was buried at Crown Hill Cemetery in Indianapolis, Indiana.

    Brother Richard J. Gatling was a member of Center Lodge No. 23, Indianapolis, Indiana. Brother Gatling was born on September 12, 1818 on the Gatling family plantation located in the small town of Money's Neck, in Hertford County, North Carolina.

    Source: Brother Luis J. Orozco, II, PM, FM

Share My Freemasonry