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John Hall designed the first breechloading rifle to be used by the United States military, and the first breechloader issued in substantial numbers by any military worldwide. His carbines would later be the first percussion arms adopted by any military force. Hall developed a breechloading flintlock rifle in 1811, had it tested by the military in 1818, and formally adopted as a specialty arm in 1819.
Hall’s contribution actually goes well beyond having a novel and advanced rifle design. He would be the first person to devise a system of machine tools capable of producing interchangeable parts without hand fitting, and this advance would be the foundation of the American system of manufacturing that would revolutionize industry worldwide. Hall did this work at the Harpers Ferry Arsenal, where he worked from 1819 until his death in 1841.
I plan to expand on the details of a variety of Hall rifle models in future videos, and today is meant to be an introduction to the system. Because it was never a primary arm in time of major war, Hall is much less well recognized than he should be among those interested in small arms history.
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Hey guys thanks for tuning in to another Video on forgottenweapons.com i’m ian Mccollum and i’m here today at ria With the very first american military Breech loading rifle this is a model of 1819 Hall breech loader and it’s really cool It’s perhaps More cool and interesting than you may Realize now This is in fact the first breach loading Rifle adopted on a wide basis By a military force it’s not the Absolute first breach loader to be used By a military Guns like for example the ferguson rifle Do predate this By in fact a couple of decades but those Were only issued in very small numbers Ferguson in particular was something Like 100 guns where The hull its very first military Contract was a thousand guns and the Quantities only went up from there This was not a u.s primary infantry Rifle that would remain in fact a muzzle Loading smoothbore musket For quite some time but this was A specialist’s weapon sort of this was To be issued to Specialized units who could make the Most use of them really Now the design comes from one john hall Of maine and he patented this system in
1811 Really really early for a breech-loading Rifle and Started making them commercially in Maine while attempting to get some Government interest And eventually he was able to it it was Delayed for a number of years by the war Of 1812 But finally in 1817 he convinces the us Government to purchase 100 of his rifles for 25 apiece And they accept this deal which is Really kind of a an Outlier in military procurement this is Not normally how this sort of thing Works but paul was able to do it Probably because the nation was So very young at that point and then There were fewer people there was Less military innovation and to be Honest he had A really good innovative and effective Design here he had used those years Between 1811 and 1817 to make guns Commercially And refine his design now Hall also had some very interesting Ideas about manufacturing technology And these would go hand in hand with the Rifles so he initially Submits 100 guns for basically military Testing And they really pass with flying colors
They’re in fact really good Guns what the military finds is that This this rifle and it is in fact rifled At a time when the standard u.s Military arm was a smooth-born musket This Rifle is more accurate than The military rifles that were then in Use and it’s faster firing than the Smoothbore muskets that were then in use So at this time the trade-off you had And the reason why Smoothbore guns continued in service was That you could load a smoothbore Once a smoothbore rifle you could load a Smoothbore musket a lot faster than you Could load a rifled Musket the reason is of course with Rifling you have to Ram a bullet down engraving the rifling On it as it goes you have to get a tight Fit into that rifling or else it’s not Going to be particularly accurate or You’re going to get gas blow by With a smooth bore it’s a lot easier Once you’ve got that Bullet or ball uh swaged down to the Size of the bore it just Slides back relatively easily so it was A Well-known and accepted thing that you Could get a much higher rate of fire out Of troops with Smoothbores than rifles however on the
Other hand The rifles are more accurate so which do You want it’s a trade-off And hall was able to completely break That paradigm In fact in one of the very early Military tests I’m skipping forward a little bit here After they had gotten the first batch of A thousand Production rifles from hull uh they went And took uh like 38 men and A couple groups of them and gave one Group rifles and one group smoothbore Muskets and one group Hall rifles and had them all fire for 10 Minutes at a target 100 yards away and Then they Counted up how many shots and how many Hits there had been from each group and They found in fact that the hall Was the fastest firing of all three Rifles and it was the most accurate And that’s really impressive at the time Anyway Once the us military decides that it is Going to in fact Adopt these or congress actually at that Point decided it was going to adopt These On a limited basis not as a standard Rifle for everybody but as a Specialist’s rifle to equip certain Units that could
You make the most out of this sort of Firepower because say these are Definitely more expensive guns than your Typical smooth bar musket Once they decide to do that they need to Set up production and they do this At the harpers ferry armory or arsenal In virginia It’s close to washington dc which kind Of makes sense However this is not the easiest thing to Make and they bring john hall Down from maine to supervise and assist In the manufacturer and he would end up Staying at harpers ferry for the entire Rest of his life ultimately he would be A sign He would take command or take charge of A major part well Of the rifle works at the whole arsenal And i started to get into hall had Some interesting ideas about Manufacturing technology specifically Parts interchangeability now there are a Couple other manufacturers firearms Manufacturers who can put out a claim To being the first or very early Adopters of interchangeable parts the Idea of course is that you could take Multiple guns Disassemble them all mix up the parts Rebuild the guns and they would all work And this was not normal early in you Know at this time period every gun would
Have normally been hand fitted So if you need to replace a part you Have to get a gunsmith who is a True smith of firearms who can hand Fit parts to fit whatever’s broken there Is an obvious advantage to Interchangeable parts now Eli whitney in his some of his early Work and simeon north in some of his Early work they both Claimed to have interchangeable parts And they did in fact you could Mix up the parts from multiple guns and They’d all work however the way that They achieved that Was by hand fitting every part to A set of jigs so that while the end Product was interchangeable they were Not able to develop Automated machine tools that would spit Out interchangeable parts everything had To be hand-fitted They just hand-fit everything to the Same standard so it became Interchangeable What john hall did over the course of About almost 10 years Setting up the rifle works at harper’s Ferry which by the way he got that first Contract in 1819 There were no guns delivered until like Late 1824 Early 1825 what he did was develop Machine tools that would actually spit
Out parts that were interchangeable The way that he built these guns in Batches of a thousand at harper’s ferry Was to manufacture he had like one big Set of Machine tools and he would manufacture One part at a time he would do All of part a a thousand of them and He’d make a thousand of part b And a thousand a part c and couldn’t Assemble a single rifle until he had Finished The very last part and had all these Bins of a thousand parts each and then Because they were interchangeable you Could take a stock and a barrel and an Action in one of every other part And bolt them all together and have a Functioning rifle and the us Was leery of this the military didn’t Necessarily believe him and so they did A test On i think it was a hundred of his guns They Stripped down 100 guns randomly mixed up The parts put them all back together and What do you know They all actually worked so i have been Going on at some length About the origins of hall let’s go ahead And actually take a closer look at how This rifle works This is certainly a unique looking arm And it definitely would have attracted
Some attention anywhere it went It does not have a lock on the side of The stock which is a huge departure from Everything that was standard At that time instead the locks on the Very top now The way this works is you have this hook On the bottom and if you push Or pull that back you can lift up this Whole Breech block assembly and in effect You’re really Still muzzle loading the gun but you’re Muzzle loading it from here back Instead of from all the way at the front End of the barrel What you have here is basically a Separation between the chamber And the actual barrel and this is the Chamber so you would pour your powder Charge in there Uh press in a projectile and then You can close this back down it will Lock in place and there are a couple of Big locking lugs Right there to keep this From coming backwards under recoil and Then you have your Flint lock here you would uh prime it One of the other interesting advantages That Maybe isn’t obvious at first glance Is that the priming hole on this is Vertical it just goes straight down
Into the powder charge on a typical Flintlock that’s Where the locks out on the side of the Gun the priming hole is actually Horizontal You have a priming pan out here and then A hole that goes over into the chamber And so It’s a little more difficult well i Should say this is going to give you a Little more reliable ignition Because powder grains can go all the way Down that Priming hole and make for more well more Reliable ignition Anyway we’ve got the Flintlock system there it’s it’s kind of Crazy to think about this as a Reach loading flintlock there just were Very few guns that combined That sort of old style and new style Technology Anyway there are our markings on the Breech block itself J.h hall that’s john hall from harpers Ferry us And this is a relatively late production Gun from 1837 But even at that point the long rifles Were still being made as Flintlocks i should point out that Late in the production run these guns Would also be subcontracted to simeon North
So you will run into guns manufactured By north And the whole story of north developing Parts that were interchangeable With hulls harper fairy parts that’s a That’s a whole story On itself now we’ve got a lot of fairly Conventional features for the rest of The rifle This is actually a very nice handling Rifle the trigger guard extends down Here to give it In effect a pretty substantial fake Pistol grip that is Quite comfortable to hold we have a Sling swivel Back here which is typical for the Period Nothing in particular on the butt stock Here is our front sling swivel right There so you’d run it from the front of The trigger guard to the barrel band Nose cap cleaning rod front sight you’ll Notice the front sight Is not centered it is offset just Slightly to the left and the rear sight Here is also offset Slightly to the left that’s done of Course because you have this big Flintlock mechanism That’s sitting mostly in the center of The action so your line of sight Can come right down here along the side Of the lock
Now i can take the breech block out of This and you can really get a feel for The Sort of industrial production vibe of The rifle that i think is Pretty cool all i have to do is take This front screw out This is what the breech block is Pivoting on So we take that out and then we just hit That release Trigger There we go and presto That is the breech block for a haul Rifle Uh we can see basically see all the Parts right here it’s Really pretty simple you’ve got a couple Of flat springs on the bottom They’re going to put pressure on the Locking latch And on the trigger when i go to [ __ ] This You can see that this rotates back and That’s going to hit a locking sear So that when you pull the trigger down It’ll release it i don’t want to do that Because i don’t want that to snap on me Uh the there was no obturation with the Hull So what you had to seal the gun was a Simple Metal to metal tight fit between this Surface
On the front and this surface On the back of the rifle and that wasn’t Perfect there was gas leakage I do also want to point out while we’re In here that you’ve got these metal bars Forming a receiver and then this is the Surface the block that pivots against These two uh shoulders on the front of The breech block Anyway with regard to gas leakage It’s i think important to remember that This is a flintlock Uh part of what people expect part of The regular Process of shooting is that you’re going To have this big flash of powder and Smoke From the priming pan and so if you have That going off here A little bit of gas leakage a few inches Forward of that Isn’t necessarily something that people Are going to be particularly concerned About or Maybe even notice now that would change A bit when the guns were Adapted to and converted to percussion Firing but By that time they’re guns that are Already in service and so there wasn’t This question of should we build this System or not Back when they were flintlocks i just i Just don’t think that was
All that big of a deal there is There are vent holes slight slots here On the side of the action To allow some of that gas to escape Rather than burn the inside of the stock And of course as the guns were fired More and more More and more that gas leakage would Increase But it’s not really a fundamental It’s a fundamental flaw in the guns but It’s not one that would really interfere With their ability to work Production of the hull was by today’s Standards kind of relatively slow Over several decades of time now there Would be a few improvements to the gun There would be technical improvements to It just tweaks to make things easier to Manufacture and more durable over the Long term That sort of thing that you always see There would be a few changes In or new variations they had some Dragoon muskets Or dragoon rifles in larger caliber The standard hull by the way is 52 and a Half caliber the Dragoon muskets that they built were 69 Caliber They would make carbine versions perhaps The most Substantial change that they made over The course of production was to
Eventually adopt A percussion system instead of a Flintlock system that would in fact be The first Percussion rifle adopted by any military And that would be one of the hull Carbine patterns Later on a lot of the flintlock versions Would be converted into Percussion guns because that’s really Fairly simple to do on this system The guns didn’t see a lot of military Combat I think that’s probably part of the Reason why they’re not all that well Recognized compared to Other military arms of the period the First actual combat use of these wasn’t Until 1834 and that was in the blackhawk War in What was then the northwest which would Today be like Iowa or thereabouts um against Blackhawk and a couple tribes of native Americans They were also used in the seminal wars These saw Some use in the civil war but not a Whole lot uh by that point the guns were Relatively old They were a lot of them were worn out And they weren’t They had never been standard universal Issue weapons so
A grand total of 51 52 000 of them Were manufactured in all patterns and That’s not a lot by civil war standards So there are a few interesting anecdotes At one point In 1820s the u.s marine corps discovers That these things are being manufactured And wow a breach loading rifle and it’s Fast and accurate we Like the idea of that uh army could you Like loan us a thousand of them to try Out and see what see what they’re like And the army replied that no they would Not they would be happy to sell them to The marine corps or you know Transfer them with you know compensation For the value but They didn’t expect that the rifles would Be in firing condition by the time the Marines were done with them Thus suggesting that the the marine Corps stereotype has been around since At least the 1820s Ultimately hall would pass away in 1841 His rifle would continue to see a little Bit of development after that but he Really is a i think a fundamentally Under-appreciated contributor to Firearms design and general industry in The united states While his interchangeable parts you know He only built firearms but it was his System of interchangeable parts And machine-made interchangeable parts
Not just hand-fitting everything to the Same standard that would really lead the Way In what would become known as the American system of manufacture That would revolutionize a you know a Whole swath of industry Worldwide so there are a lot of versions And iterations of the hall that i would Like to go into and We’ll cover those in some future videos For the time being i just wanted to give You an introduction to a rifle that You may have heard of but you may not Have actually looked at up close so Hopefully you enjoyed this thanks for Watching