While Guttenberg’s forge was working to bring about the Renaissance, a more common use was to create weapons to kill one another. One of the most noteworthy is the musket.


Early muskets were more like small cannons than the later-day rifles. Sometimes two-people needed to operate the earliest weapons due to their weight. Armies responded by building even heavier armor.

However, by the mid-1600s, technology began to miniaturize. The flintlock enabled dramatically smaller and less expensive muskets. Single soldiers could carry and operate a musket. Armor made little difference. Avoidance, instead of armor, became the most effective means of defense.

By the 1700s, the musket was in common use for both fighting and hunting. Miniaturization continued and the pistol, a mini-musket, eventually evolved as a weapon in its own right.

Muskets are different from rifles in that they’re less accurate but easier to load, fire, and require less cleaning. Since even the most accurate rifle at the time could barely hit the side of a barn the extra cost wasn’t worth the hassle.

Use & Impact

The US and French revolutions, plus countless other wars, featured muskets as a primary weapon. Many soldiers fought in the US Civil War in the 1860s with old flintlocks despite the availability by then of better technology.

Musket manufacturing led to the creation of standardized parts, the American Manufacturing System. French arms maker Honoré Le Blanc originally developed standardized parts. However, the French government rejected his methods due to the perceived effect of automation on jobs. Then ambassador Thomas Jefferson brought the new system to American Eli Whitney, and the method drove US innovation for the next century.

The musket had profound changes to military and civilian culture by simplifying hunting, largely eliminating the usefulness of armor. Furthermore, it created the notion that one person with a gun can make a difference, an idea later popularized by Sam Colt.

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