Morse Carbine: If the Army Says No, Sell it Commercially!

George Morse was one of the most significant American inventors in the development of modern ammunition. In 1856 he received a patent for the first completely self-contained brass cartridge, and a breechloading firearm to use it. Morse’s cartridge was made of several parts, a solid brass case head with a case body made of a piece of flat brass rolled into a cylinder and soldered down its seam, and then soldered to the case head. At the base, a standard percussion cap was seated and sealed in place with a rubber washer.

Morse entered his rifle in a US military trial in 1857, where is did very well but ultimately lost out to the Burnside carbine. In order to generate some cash flow while pursuing a contact to convert military muzzleloaders to his breechloading system, Morse contracted with the unmaking company of Muzzy & Co to make 100 of his guns for commercial sale. These were marketed as cased sets with one receiver and a carbine barrel, a rifle barrel, and a shotgun barrel (calibers varied, .48-.54 for the rifled barrels and 12 or 16 gauge for the shotgun barrel). The price for these sets was $125, quite a lot of money in 1857. The guns did not sell well, much to Morse’s dismay.

However, he was able to get a contract with the US military for a $5 royalty on each of 2000 guns they would convert to Morse’s system. This work had stalled by 1860, when it was moved to the Harper’s Ferry arsenal. No long after that, the Civil War would erupt, and needless to say the conversion project ended with the sacking of the arsenal. Morse would side with the Confederacy, and pursue production of his rifles in the South, which is the subject for a separate video…

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