Gunpowder

Gunpowder

Overview
Gunpowder, also known since in the late 19th century as black powder, was the first chemical explosive and the only one known until the mid 1800s. It is a mixture of sulfur
Sulfur
Sulfur or sulphur is the chemical element with atomic number 16. In the periodic table it is represented by the symbol S. It is an abundant, multivalent non-metal. Under normal conditions, sulfur atoms form cyclic octatomic molecules with chemical formula S8. Elemental sulfur is a bright yellow...

, charcoal
Charcoal
Charcoal is the dark grey residue consisting of carbon, and any remaining ash, obtained by removing water and other volatile constituents from animal and vegetation substances. Charcoal is usually produced by slow pyrolysis, the heating of wood or other substances in the absence of oxygen...

, and potassium nitrate
Potassium nitrate
Potassium nitrate is a chemical compound with the formula KNO3. It is an ionic salt of potassium ions K+ and nitrate ions NO3−.It occurs as a mineral niter and is a natural solid source of nitrogen. Its common names include saltpetre , from medieval Latin sal petræ: "stone salt" or possibly "Salt...

 (saltpetre) - with the sulfur and charcoal acting as fuel
Fuel
Fuel is any material that stores energy that can later be extracted to perform mechanical work in a controlled manner. Most fuels used by humans undergo combustion, a redox reaction in which a combustible substance releases energy after it ignites and reacts with the oxygen in the air...

s, while the saltpeter works as an oxidizer. Because of its burning properties and the amount of heat and gas volume that it generates, gunpowder has been widely used as a propellant
Propellant
A propellant is a material that produces pressurized gas that:* can be directed through a nozzle, thereby producing thrust ;...

 in firearms and as a pyrotechnic composition
Pyrotechnic composition
A pyrotechnic composition is a substance or mixture of substances designed to produce an effect by heat, light, sound, gas or smoke or a combination of these, as a result of non-detonative self-sustaining exothermic chemical reactions...

 in fireworks
Fireworks
Fireworks are a class of explosive pyrotechnic devices used for aesthetic and entertainment purposes. The most common use of a firework is as part of a fireworks display. A fireworks event is a display of the effects produced by firework devices...

.

Apparently discovered in the 9th century by Chinese alchemists
Chinese alchemy
Chinese alchemy, a part of the larger tradition of Taoism, centers on the tradition of body-spirit cultivation that developed through the Chinese understandings of medicine and the body. These Chinese traditions were developed into a system of energy practices...

 searching for an elixir of immortality
Elixir of life
The elixir of life, also known as the elixir of immortality and sometimes equated with the philosopher's stone, is a legendary potion, or drink, that grants the drinker eternal life and or eternal youth. Many practitioners of alchemy pursued it. The elixir of life was also said to be able to create...

 gunpowder led to the invention of fireworks
Fireworks
Fireworks are a class of explosive pyrotechnic devices used for aesthetic and entertainment purposes. The most common use of a firework is as part of a fireworks display. A fireworks event is a display of the effects produced by firework devices...

 and the earliest gunpowder weapons in China.
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Encyclopedia
Gunpowder, also known since in the late 19th century as black powder, was the first chemical explosive and the only one known until the mid 1800s. It is a mixture of sulfur
Sulfur
Sulfur or sulphur is the chemical element with atomic number 16. In the periodic table it is represented by the symbol S. It is an abundant, multivalent non-metal. Under normal conditions, sulfur atoms form cyclic octatomic molecules with chemical formula S8. Elemental sulfur is a bright yellow...

, charcoal
Charcoal
Charcoal is the dark grey residue consisting of carbon, and any remaining ash, obtained by removing water and other volatile constituents from animal and vegetation substances. Charcoal is usually produced by slow pyrolysis, the heating of wood or other substances in the absence of oxygen...

, and potassium nitrate
Potassium nitrate
Potassium nitrate is a chemical compound with the formula KNO3. It is an ionic salt of potassium ions K+ and nitrate ions NO3−.It occurs as a mineral niter and is a natural solid source of nitrogen. Its common names include saltpetre , from medieval Latin sal petræ: "stone salt" or possibly "Salt...

 (saltpetre) - with the sulfur and charcoal acting as fuel
Fuel
Fuel is any material that stores energy that can later be extracted to perform mechanical work in a controlled manner. Most fuels used by humans undergo combustion, a redox reaction in which a combustible substance releases energy after it ignites and reacts with the oxygen in the air...

s, while the saltpeter works as an oxidizer. Because of its burning properties and the amount of heat and gas volume that it generates, gunpowder has been widely used as a propellant
Propellant
A propellant is a material that produces pressurized gas that:* can be directed through a nozzle, thereby producing thrust ;...

 in firearms and as a pyrotechnic composition
Pyrotechnic composition
A pyrotechnic composition is a substance or mixture of substances designed to produce an effect by heat, light, sound, gas or smoke or a combination of these, as a result of non-detonative self-sustaining exothermic chemical reactions...

 in fireworks
Fireworks
Fireworks are a class of explosive pyrotechnic devices used for aesthetic and entertainment purposes. The most common use of a firework is as part of a fireworks display. A fireworks event is a display of the effects produced by firework devices...

.

Apparently discovered in the 9th century by Chinese alchemists
Chinese alchemy
Chinese alchemy, a part of the larger tradition of Taoism, centers on the tradition of body-spirit cultivation that developed through the Chinese understandings of medicine and the body. These Chinese traditions were developed into a system of energy practices...

 searching for an elixir of immortality
Elixir of life
The elixir of life, also known as the elixir of immortality and sometimes equated with the philosopher's stone, is a legendary potion, or drink, that grants the drinker eternal life and or eternal youth. Many practitioners of alchemy pursued it. The elixir of life was also said to be able to create...

 gunpowder led to the invention of fireworks
Fireworks
Fireworks are a class of explosive pyrotechnic devices used for aesthetic and entertainment purposes. The most common use of a firework is as part of a fireworks display. A fireworks event is a display of the effects produced by firework devices...

 and the earliest gunpowder weapons in China. In the centuries following, gunpowder weapons began to spread from China, through the Middle East
Middle East
The Middle East is a region that encompasses Western Asia and Northern Africa. It is often used as a synonym for Near East, in opposition to Far East...

, and then into Europe.

Gunpowder is classified as a low explosive
Explosive material
An explosive material, also called an explosive, is a reactive substance that contains a great amount of potential energy that can produce an explosion if released suddenly, usually accompanied by the production of light, heat, sound, and pressure...

 because of its relatively slow decomposition rate and consequently low brisance
Brisance
Brisance is the shattering capability of an explosive. It is a measure of the rapidity with which an explosive develops its maximum pressure. The term originates from the French verb "briser", which means to break or shatter...

. Low explosives deflagrate
Deflagration
Deflagration is a term describing subsonic combustion that usually propagates through thermal conductivity; hot burning material heats the next layer of cold material and ignites it. Most "fire" found in daily life, from flames to explosions, is deflagration...

 at subsonic speeds, whereas high explosives detonate
Detonation
Detonation involves a supersonic exothermic front accelerating through a medium that eventually drives a shock front propagating directly in front of it. Detonations are observed in both conventional solid and liquid explosives, as well as in reactive gases...

, producing a supersonic wave. Ignition of the powder packed behind a bullet must generate enough pressure to force it from the muzzle at high speed, but not enough to rupture the gun barrel
Gun barrel
A gun barrel is the tube, usually metal, through which a controlled explosion or rapid expansion of gases are released in order to propel a projectile out of the end at a high velocity....

. Gunpowder is thus less suitable for shattering rock or fortifications. Gunpowder was widely used to fill artillery shells and in mining and civil engineering to blast rock roughly until the 2nd half of the 19th century, when the first high explosives (nitro
Nitro compound
Nitro compounds are organic compounds that contain one or more nitro functional groups . They are often highly explosive, especially when the compound contains more than one nitro group and is impure. The nitro group is one of the most common explosophores used globally...

-explosives) were discovered. Gunpowder is no longer used in modern explosive military warheads, nor is it used as main explosive in mining operations due to its cost relative to that of newer alternatives like ANFO
ANFO
ANFO is a widely used bulk industrial explosive mixture. It consists of 94 percent porous prilled ammonium nitrate , that acts as the oxidizing agent and absorbent for the fuel — six percent Number 2 Fuel Oil...

.
In American English
American English
American English is a set of dialects of the English language used mostly in the United States. Approximately two-thirds of the world's native speakers of English live in the United States....

, the term gunpowder also refers broadly to any gun propellant. Gunpowder (black powder) as described in this article is not normally used in modern firearms - which instead use smokeless powder
Smokeless powder
Smokeless powder is the name given to a number of propellants used in firearms and artillery which produce negligible smoke when fired, unlike the older gunpowder which they replaced...

s.

Composition and characteristics


The term black powder was coined in the late 19th century, primarily in the United States
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

, to distinguish prior gunpowder formulations from the new smokeless powder
Smokeless powder
Smokeless powder is the name given to a number of propellants used in firearms and artillery which produce negligible smoke when fired, unlike the older gunpowder which they replaced...

s and semi-smokeless powders, in cases where these are not referred to as cordite
Cordite
Cordite is a family of smokeless propellants developed and produced in the United Kingdom from 1889 to replace gunpowder as a military propellant. Like gunpowder, cordite is classified as a low explosive because of its slow burning rates and consequently low brisance...

. Semi-smokeless powders featured bulk volume properties that approximated black powder, but had significantly reduced amounts of smoke and combustion products. One difference between them is that the older black powder burns at nearly the same rate in the open as when contained, while in smokeless powders the burn rate accelerates more rapidly within a closed chamber, making for a sharper rise in pressure which could rupture older weapons designed for black powder. Smokeless powders ranged in colour from brownish tan to yellow to white. Most of the bulk semi-smokeless powders ceased to be manufactured in the 1920s.

Black powder is a granular mixture of
  • a nitrate
    Nitrate
    The nitrate ion is a polyatomic ion with the molecular formula NO and a molecular mass of 62.0049 g/mol. It is the conjugate base of nitric acid, consisting of one central nitrogen atom surrounded by three identically-bonded oxygen atoms in a trigonal planar arrangement. The nitrate ion carries a...

    , typically potassium nitrate
    Potassium nitrate
    Potassium nitrate is a chemical compound with the formula KNO3. It is an ionic salt of potassium ions K+ and nitrate ions NO3−.It occurs as a mineral niter and is a natural solid source of nitrogen. Its common names include saltpetre , from medieval Latin sal petræ: "stone salt" or possibly "Salt...

     (KNO3), which supplies oxygen for the reaction;
  • charcoal
    Charcoal
    Charcoal is the dark grey residue consisting of carbon, and any remaining ash, obtained by removing water and other volatile constituents from animal and vegetation substances. Charcoal is usually produced by slow pyrolysis, the heating of wood or other substances in the absence of oxygen...

    , which provides carbon and other fuel for the reaction, simplified as carbon (C);
  • sulfur
    Sulfur
    Sulfur or sulphur is the chemical element with atomic number 16. In the periodic table it is represented by the symbol S. It is an abundant, multivalent non-metal. Under normal conditions, sulfur atoms form cyclic octatomic molecules with chemical formula S8. Elemental sulfur is a bright yellow...

     (S), which, while also serving as a fuel, lowers the temperature required to ignite the mixture, thereby increasing the rate of combustion
    Combustion
    Combustion or burning is the sequence of exothermic chemical reactions between a fuel and an oxidant accompanied by the production of heat and conversion of chemical species. The release of heat can result in the production of light in the form of either glowing or a flame...

    .

Potassium nitrate is the most important ingredient in terms of both bulk and function because the combustion process releases oxygen from the potassium nitrate, promoting the rapid burning of the other ingredients. To reduce the likelihood of accidental ignition by static electricity
Static electricity
Static electricity refers to the build-up of electric charge on the surface of objects. The static charges remain on an object until they either bleed off to ground or are quickly neutralized by a discharge. Static electricity can be contrasted with current electricity, which can be delivered...

, the granules of modern black powder are typically coated with graphite
Graphite
The mineral graphite is one of the allotropes of carbon. It was named by Abraham Gottlob Werner in 1789 from the Ancient Greek γράφω , "to draw/write", for its use in pencils, where it is commonly called lead . Unlike diamond , graphite is an electrical conductor, a semimetal...

, which prevents the build-up of electrostatic charge.

Charcoal does not consist of pure carbon; rather, it consists of partially pyrolyzed cellulose, in which the wood is not completely decomposed.

The current standard composition for the black powders that are manufactured by pyrotechnicians
Pyrotechnics
Pyrotechnics is the science of using materials capable of undergoing self-contained and self-sustained exothermic chemical reactions for the production of heat, light, gas, smoke and/or sound...

 was adopted as long ago as 1780. Proportions by weight are 75% potassium nitrate
Potassium nitrate
Potassium nitrate is a chemical compound with the formula KNO3. It is an ionic salt of potassium ions K+ and nitrate ions NO3−.It occurs as a mineral niter and is a natural solid source of nitrogen. Its common names include saltpetre , from medieval Latin sal petræ: "stone salt" or possibly "Salt...

 (known as saltpeter or saltpetre), 15% softwood charcoal, and 10% sulfur. These ratios have varied over the centuries and by country, and can be altered somewhat depending on the purpose of the powder. For instance, power grades of black powder, unsuitable for use in firearms but adequate for blasting rock in quarrying operations, is called blasting powder rather than gunpowder with standard proportions of 70% nitrate, 14% charcoal, and 16% sulfur; blasting powder may be made with the cheaper sodium nitrate
Sodium nitrate
Sodium nitrate is the chemical compound with the formula NaNO3. This salt, also known as Chile saltpeter or Peru saltpeter to distinguish it from ordinary saltpeter, potassium nitrate, is a white solid which is very soluble in water...

 substituted for potassium nitrate and proportions may be as low as 40% nitrate, 30% charcoal, and 30% sulfur. French war powder in 1879 used the ratio 75% saltpetre, 12.5% charcoal, 12.5% sulfur. English war powder in 1879 used the ratio 75% saltpetre, 15% charcoal, 10% sulfur. The British Congreve rockets used 62.4% saltpeter, 23.2% charcoal and 14.4% sulfur, but the British Mark VII gunpowder was changed to 65% saltpeter, 20% charcoal and 15% sulfur. The explanation for the wide variety in formulation relates to usage. Powder used for rocketry needs a slower "push" effect, whereas powders to be use in black powder weapons such as flintlocks, caplocks or matchlocks needs a faster ignition and burn rate.

Serpentine


Serpentine (apparently a reference to Satan
Satan
Satan , "the opposer", is the title of various entities, both human and divine, who challenge the faith of humans in the Hebrew Bible...

) was a dry-compounded black powder used in fifteenth century Europe and in other regions surrounding the Mediterranean Sea
Mediterranean Sea
The Mediterranean Sea is a sea connected to the Atlantic Ocean surrounded by the Mediterranean region and almost completely enclosed by land: on the north by Anatolia and Europe, on the south by North Africa, and on the east by the Levant...

. It was difficult to ignite properly in cannons. Wooden plugs had to be used to prevent the mixture from physically separating during firing. Twentieth century experiments showed that serpentine packed with tight wooden plugs was capable of producing muzzle velocities comparable to that of later (corned) gunpowder. Serpentine also had the tendency to separate in components during transport, thus it had to be remixed before using, raising clouds of explosive dust—a risky proposition in combat conditions. Later gunpowder was mixed in a water or urine
Urine
Urine is a typically sterile liquid by-product of the body that is secreted by the kidneys through a process called urination and excreted through the urethra. Cellular metabolism generates numerous by-products, many rich in nitrogen, that require elimination from the bloodstream...

 medium, dried, then cut. This was called corned powder, and it was more powerful (it had more propulsive energy per unit of mass), but also burned more rapidly, making it unsafe in old guns. By 1500 corned powder became the standard propellant for new guns, but older, potentially unsafe guns were used with serpentine into the seventeenth century.

Corning


Corning is a process in which black powder is compressed into cakes, crushed, and then screened into different size categories. This process improves gunpowder's reliability by making its burn rate more consistent and inhibiting the separation of its constitutive components. During the centuries when gunpowder was the universal propellant for all types of firearms, the coarse powder was used for cannon
Cannon
A cannon is any piece of artillery that uses gunpowder or other usually explosive-based propellents to launch a projectile. Cannon vary in caliber, range, mobility, rate of fire, angle of fire, and firepower; different forms of cannon combine and balance these attributes in varying degrees,...

s, and the fine grained one for priming and handheld guns. Fine-grained powder tended to be unsafe in cannons, causing them to burst before the projectile could move down the barrel, due to the initial spike in pressure. The underlying reason for this, not discovered until the mid-nineteenth century, is that the burning rate within a grain of black powder is about 0.20 fps, while the rate of ignition propagation from grain to grain is around 30 fps, over two orders of magnitude faster.

The process, if done using modern components, is slightly endothermic, due to the concentration of the KNO3 reacting with the water. If "black powder" is made by such a process in quantities of 1kg or greater care must be taken to avoid brittle containers such as glass as these can crack from the rapid cooling.

Modern types


Modern corning first compresses the fine black powder meal into blocks with a fixed density (1.7 g/cm³). In the United States
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

, gunpowder grains were designated F (for fine) or C (for coarse). Grain diameter decreased with a larger number of Fs and increased with a larger number of Cs, ranging from about 2 mm for 7F to 15 mm for 7C. Even larger grains were produced for artillery bore diameters greater than about 17 cm (7 inches). DuPont
DuPont
E. I. du Pont de Nemours and Company , commonly referred to as DuPont, is an American chemical company that was founded in July 1802 as a gunpowder mill by Eleuthère Irénée du Pont. DuPont was the world's third largest chemical company based on market capitalization and ninth based on revenue in 2009...

 manufactured Mammoth gunpowder grains the size of golf and tennis balls for use in 20-inch (50-cm) Rodman gun
Rodman gun
Rodman gun refers to a series of American Civil War-era columbiads designed by Union artilleryman Thomas Jackson Rodman . The guns were designed to fire both shot and shell. These heavy guns were intended to be mounted in seacoast fortifications. They were built in 8-inch, 10-inch, 13-inch,...

s during the American Civil War
American Civil War
The American Civil War was a civil war fought in the United States of America. In response to the election of Abraham Lincoln as President of the United States, 11 southern slave states declared their secession from the United States and formed the Confederate States of America ; the other 25...

. By the late 20th century manufacturing focused on standard grades of black powder from Fg used in large bore rifles and shotguns, through FFg (medium and smallbore arms such as muskets and fusils), FFFg (smallbore rifles and pistols), and FFFFg (extreme small bore, short pistols and most commonly for priming flintlock
Flintlock
Flintlock is the general term for any firearm based on the flintlock mechanism. The term may also apply to the mechanism itself. Introduced at the beginning of the 17th century, the flintlock rapidly replaced earlier firearm-ignition technologies, such as the doglock, matchlock and wheellock...

s). A coarser grade for use in military artillery blanks
Blank (cartridge)
A blank is a type of cartridge for a firearm that contains gunpowder but no bullet or shot. When fired, the blank makes a flash and an explosive sound . Blanks are often used for simulation , training, and for signaling...

 was designated A-1. These grades were sorted on a system of screens with oversize retained on a mesh of 6 wires per inch, A-1 retained on 10 wires per inch, Fg retained on 14, FFg on 24, FFFg on 46, and FFFFg on 60. Fines designated FFFFFg were usually reprocessed to minimize explosive dust hazards. In the United Kingdom
United Kingdom
The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern IrelandIn the United Kingdom and Dependencies, other languages have been officially recognised as legitimate autochthonous languages under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages...

, the main service gunpowders were classified RFG (rifle grained fine) with diameter of one or two millimeters and RLG (rifle grained large) for grain diameters between two and six millimeters. Gunpowder grains may alternatively be categorised by mesh size: the BSS sieve mesh size
Mesh (scale)
Mesh material is often used in determining the particle size distribution of a granular material. For example, a sample from a truckload of peanuts may be placed atop a mesh with 5 mm openings. When the mesh is shaken, small broken pieces and dust pass through the mesh while whole peanuts are...

, being the smallest mesh size on which no grains were retained. Recognised grain sizes are Gunpowder G 7, G 20, G 40, and G 90.

Owing to the large market of antique and replica black powder firearms in the US, modern gunpowder substitute
Black powder substitute
thumb|300px|Pyrodex, a modern black powder substitute for [[muzzleloader|muzzleloading]] rifles, in FFG sizeA black powder substitute is a replacement for black powder used in muzzleloading and cartridge firearms...

s like Pyrodex pellets have been developed since the 1970s. These products, which should not be confused with smokeless powders, aim to produce less fouling (solid residue), while maintaining the traditional volumetric measurement system for charges. Claims of less corrosiveness of these products have been controversial however. New cleaning products for black powder guns have also been developed for this market.

Combustion characteristics


A simple, commonly cited, chemical equation
Chemical equation
A chemical equation is the symbolic representation of a chemical reaction where the reactant entities are given on the left hand side and the product entities on the right hand side. The coefficients next to the symbols and formulae of entities are the absolute values of the stoichiometric numbers...

 for the combustion of black powder is
2 KNO3
Potassium nitrate
Potassium nitrate is a chemical compound with the formula KNO3. It is an ionic salt of potassium ions K+ and nitrate ions NO3−.It occurs as a mineral niter and is a natural solid source of nitrogen. Its common names include saltpetre , from medieval Latin sal petræ: "stone salt" or possibly "Salt...

 + S
Sulfur
Sulfur or sulphur is the chemical element with atomic number 16. In the periodic table it is represented by the symbol S. It is an abundant, multivalent non-metal. Under normal conditions, sulfur atoms form cyclic octatomic molecules with chemical formula S8. Elemental sulfur is a bright yellow...

 + 3 C
Carbon
Carbon is the chemical element with symbol C and atomic number 6. As a member of group 14 on the periodic table, it is nonmetallic and tetravalent—making four electrons available to form covalent chemical bonds...

 → K2S
Potassium sulfide
Potassium sulfide is the inorganic compound with the formula K2S. The colourless solid is rarely encountered, because it reacts readily with water, a reaction that affords potassium bisulfide and potassium hydroxide .-Structure:...

 + N2
Nitrogen
Nitrogen is a chemical element that has the symbol N, atomic number of 7 and atomic mass 14.00674 u. Elemental nitrogen is a colorless, odorless, tasteless, and mostly inert diatomic gas at standard conditions, constituting 78.08% by volume of Earth's atmosphere...

 + 3 CO2
Carbon dioxide
Carbon dioxide is a naturally occurring chemical compound composed of two oxygen atoms covalently bonded to a single carbon atom...

.


A balanced, but still simplified, equation is
10 KNO3 + 3 S + 8 C → 2 K2CO3
Potassium carbonate
Potassium carbonate is a white salt, soluble in water , which forms a strongly alkaline solution. It can be made as the product of potassium hydroxide's absorbent reaction with carbon dioxide. It is deliquescent, often appearing a damp or wet solid...

 + 3 K2SO4
Potassium sulfate
Potassium sulfate is a non-flammable white crystalline salt which is soluble in water...

 + 6 CO2 + 5 N2.


Carbon
Carbon
Carbon is the chemical element with symbol C and atomic number 6. As a member of group 14 on the periodic table, it is nonmetallic and tetravalent—making four electrons available to form covalent chemical bonds...

 differs from charcoal
Charcoal
Charcoal is the dark grey residue consisting of carbon, and any remaining ash, obtained by removing water and other volatile constituents from animal and vegetation substances. Charcoal is usually produced by slow pyrolysis, the heating of wood or other substances in the absence of oxygen...

. Whereas charcoal's autoignition temperature is relatively low, carbon's is much greater. Thus, a black powder composition containing pure carbon would essentially burn in comparison to a match head, at best.

Although charcoal's chemical formula varies, it can be best summed up by its empirical formula: C7H4O

An even more accurate equation of the decomposition of regular black powder with the use of sulfur can be described as:
4 KNO3 + C7H4O + 2 S —> 2 K2S + 4 CO2 + 3 CO + 2 H2O + 2 N2


Black powder without the use of sulfur:
6 KNO3 + C7H4O —> 3 K2CO3 + CO2 + 6 CO + 2 H2O + 2 N2


The burning of gunpowder does not take place as a single reaction, however, and the byproducts are not easily predicted. One study's results showed that it produced (in order of descending quantities): 55.91% solid products: potassium carbonate, potassium sulfate, potassium sulfide, sulfur, potassium nitrate, potassium thiocyanate
Potassium thiocyanate
Potassium thiocyanate is the chemical compound with the molecular formula KSCN. It is an important salt of the thiocyanate anion, one of the pseudohalides...

, carbon, ammonium carbonate
Ammonium carbonate
Ammonium carbonate is a commercial salt with the chemical formula 2CO3. It is used when crushed as a smelling salt. It can be crushed when needed in order to revive someone who has fainted...

. 42.98% gaseous products: carbon dioxide, nitrogen, carbon monoxide
Carbon monoxide
Carbon monoxide , also called carbonous oxide, is a colorless, odorless, and tasteless gas that is slightly lighter than air. It is highly toxic to humans and animals in higher quantities, although it is also produced in normal animal metabolism in low quantities, and is thought to have some normal...

, hydrogen sulfide
Hydrogen sulfide
Hydrogen sulfide is the chemical compound with the formula . It is a colorless, very poisonous, flammable gas with the characteristic foul odor of expired eggs perceptible at concentrations as low as 0.00047 parts per million...

, hydrogen, methane, 1.11% water.

Black powder made with sodium nitrate tends to be hygroscopic, unlike black powders made from saltpeter
Potassium nitrate
Potassium nitrate is a chemical compound with the formula KNO3. It is an ionic salt of potassium ions K+ and nitrate ions NO3−.It occurs as a mineral niter and is a natural solid source of nitrogen. Its common names include saltpetre , from medieval Latin sal petræ: "stone salt" or possibly "Salt...

. (In this article, "saltpeter"--also spelled "saltpetre"--means potassium nitrate
Potassium nitrate
Potassium nitrate is a chemical compound with the formula KNO3. It is an ionic salt of potassium ions K+ and nitrate ions NO3−.It occurs as a mineral niter and is a natural solid source of nitrogen. Its common names include saltpetre , from medieval Latin sal petræ: "stone salt" or possibly "Salt...

 and not any of the other nitrates that are also sometimes called "saltpeter.") Because black powder made with saltpeter is less affected by moisture in the air, it can be stored unsealed for centuries without degradation if it is kept dry. Muzzleloader
Muzzleloader
A muzzleloader is any firearm into which the projectile and usually the propellant charge is loaded from the muzzle of the gun . This is distinct from the more popular modern designs of breech-loading firearms...

s have been known to fire after hanging on a wall for decades in a loaded state, provided they remained dry. By contrast, black powder made with sodium nitrate must be sealed from the moisture in the air to remain stable for long periods.

Advantages


In quarrying, high explosives are generally preferred for shattering rock. However, because of its low brisance
Brisance
Brisance is the shattering capability of an explosive. It is a measure of the rapidity with which an explosive develops its maximum pressure. The term originates from the French verb "briser", which means to break or shatter...

, black powder causes fewer fractures and results in more usable stone compared to other explosives, making black powder useful for blasting monumental stone such as granite
Granite
Granite is a common and widely occurring type of intrusive, felsic, igneous rock. Granite usually has a medium- to coarse-grained texture. Occasionally some individual crystals are larger than the groundmass, in which case the texture is known as porphyritic. A granitic rock with a porphyritic...

 and marble
Marble
Marble is a metamorphic rock composed of recrystallized carbonate minerals, most commonly calcite or dolomite.Geologists use the term "marble" to refer to metamorphosed limestone; however stonemasons use the term more broadly to encompass unmetamorphosed limestone.Marble is commonly used for...

. Black powder can also store massive energy when fired.

Black powder is well suited for blank rounds, signal flare
Signal Flare
Signal Flare is the name of several fictional characters in the various Transformers universes.-Transformers: Energon:Signal Flare is a young Omnicon. Signal Flare is one of the greatest Energon welders of his kind. His Omnicon brothers depend greatly on his skills and experience...

s, burst charge
Burst charge
In fireworks, a burst charge is an energetic pyrotechnic mixture placed in a shell which is ignited when the shell reaches the desired height in order to pass fire to and spread the stars. Burst charge compositions are usually coated onto rice hulls or other low-density fillers, which increases...

s, and rescue-line launches. Black powder is also used in fireworks
Fireworks
Fireworks are a class of explosive pyrotechnic devices used for aesthetic and entertainment purposes. The most common use of a firework is as part of a fireworks display. A fireworks event is a display of the effects produced by firework devices...

 for lifting shells, in rocket
Rocket
A rocket is a missile, spacecraft, aircraft or other vehicle which obtains thrust from a rocket engine. In all rockets, the exhaust is formed entirely from propellants carried within the rocket before use. Rocket engines work by action and reaction...

s as fuel, and in certain special effect
Special effect
The illusions used in the film, television, theatre, or entertainment industries to simulate the imagined events in a story are traditionally called special effects ....

s.

Disadvantages


Black powder has a low energy density
Energy density
Energy density is a term used for the amount of energy stored in a given system or region of space per unit volume. Often only the useful or extractable energy is quantified, which is to say that chemically inaccessible energy such as rest mass energy is ignored...

 compared to modern "smokeless" powders, and thus to achieve high energy loadings, large amounts of black powder are needed with heavy projectiles. In military applications black powder also produces thick smoke as a byproduct, which may give a soldier's location away to an enemy observer. The smoke may also impair aiming for additional shots.

Combustion converts less than half the mass of black powder to gas. The rest ends up as a thick layer of soot
Soot
Soot is a general term that refers to impure carbon particles resulting from the incomplete combustion of a hydrocarbon. It is more properly restricted to the product of the gas-phase combustion process but is commonly extended to include the residual pyrolyzed fuel particles such as cenospheres,...

 inside the barrel. In addition to being a nuisance, the residue from burnt black powder is hygroscopic and with the addition of moisture absorbed from the air, this residue forms a caustic substance. The soot contains potassium oxide
Potassium oxide
Potassium oxide is an ionic compound of potassium and oxygen. This pale yellow solid, the simplest oxide of potassium, is a rarely encountered, highly reactive compound...

 or sodium oxide
Sodium oxide
Sodium oxide is a chemical compound with the formula Na2O. It is used in ceramics and glasses, though not in a raw form. Treatment with water affords sodium hydroxide....

 that turns into potassium hydroxide
Potassium hydroxide
Potassium hydroxide is an inorganic compound with the formula KOH, commonly called caustic potash.Along with sodium hydroxide , this colorless solid is a prototypical strong base. It has many industrial and niche applications. Most applications exploit its reactivity toward acids and its corrosive...

, or sodium hydroxide, which will corrode wrought iron
Wrought iron
thumb|The [[Eiffel tower]] is constructed from [[puddle iron]], a form of wrought ironWrought iron is an iron alloy with a very low carbon...

 or steel
Steel
Steel is an alloy that consists mostly of iron and has a carbon content between 0.2% and 2.1% by weight, depending on the grade. Carbon is the most common alloying material for iron, but various other alloying elements are used, such as manganese, chromium, vanadium, and tungsten...

 gun barrels. Black powder arms must be well cleaned both inside and out to remove the residue. The Matchlock
Matchlock
The matchlock was the first mechanism, or "lock" invented to facilitate the firing of a hand-held firearm. This design removed the need to lower by hand a lit match into the weapon's flash pan and made it possible to have both hands free to keep a firm grip on the weapon at the moment of firing,...

 musket or pistol (an early gun ignition system), as well as the flintlock
Flintlock
Flintlock is the general term for any firearm based on the flintlock mechanism. The term may also apply to the mechanism itself. Introduced at the beginning of the 17th century, the flintlock rapidly replaced earlier firearm-ignition technologies, such as the doglock, matchlock and wheellock...

 would often be unusable in wet weather, due to powder in the pan being exposed and dampened. Because of this unreliability, soldiers carrying muskets, known as musketeers, were armed with additional weapons such as swords or pikes. The bayonet
Bayonet
A bayonet is a knife, dagger, sword, or spike-shaped weapon designed to fit in, on, over or underneath the muzzle of a rifle, musket or similar weapon, effectively turning the gun into a spear...

 was developed to allow the musket to be used as a pike, thus eliminating the need for the soldier to carry a secondary weapon.

Transportation


The UN Model Regulations on the Transportation of Dangerous Goods
Dangerous goods
Dangerous goods are solids, liquids, or gases that can harm people, other living organisms, property, or the environment. They are often subject to chemical regulations. "HazMat teams" are personnel specially trained to handle dangerous goods...

 and national transportation authorities, such as United States Department of Transportation
United States Department of Transportation
The United States Department of Transportation is a federal Cabinet department of the United States government concerned with transportation. It was established by an act of Congress on October 15, 1966, and began operation on April 1, 1967...

, have classified gunpowder (black powder) as a Group A: Primary explosive substance for shipment because it ignites so easily. Complete manufactured devices containing black powder are usually classified as Group D: Secondary detonating substance, or black powder, or article containing secondary detonating substance, such as firework, class D model rocket
Model rocket
A model rocket is a small rocket that is commonly advertised as being able to be launched by anybody, to, in general, low altitudes and recovered by a variety of means....

 engine, etc., for shipment because they are harder to ignite than loose powder. As explosives, they all fall into the category of Class 1.

Energy content


Gunpowder contains 3 megajoules per kilogram
Kilogram
The kilogram or kilogramme , also known as the kilo, is the base unit of mass in the International System of Units and is defined as being equal to the mass of the International Prototype Kilogram , which is almost exactly equal to the mass of one liter of water...

, and contains its own oxidant. For comparison, the energy density of TNT is 4.7 megajoules per kilogram, and the energy density of gasoline
Gasoline
Gasoline , or petrol , is a toxic, translucent, petroleum-derived liquid that is primarily used as a fuel in internal combustion engines. It consists mostly of organic compounds obtained by the fractional distillation of petroleum, enhanced with a variety of additives. Some gasolines also contain...

 is 47.2 megajoules per kilogram.

Sulfur-free gunpowder


The development of smokeless powder
Smokeless powder
Smokeless powder is the name given to a number of propellants used in firearms and artillery which produce negligible smoke when fired, unlike the older gunpowder which they replaced...

s, such as Cordite
Cordite
Cordite is a family of smokeless propellants developed and produced in the United Kingdom from 1889 to replace gunpowder as a military propellant. Like gunpowder, cordite is classified as a low explosive because of its slow burning rates and consequently low brisance...

, in the late 19th century created the need for a spark-sensitive priming charge
Blasting cap
A blasting cap is a small sensitive primary explosive device generally used to detonate a larger, more powerful and less sensitive secondary explosive such as TNT, dynamite, or plastic explosive....

, such as gunpowder. However, the sulfur content of traditional gunpowders caused corrosion
Corrosion
Corrosion is the disintegration of an engineered material into its constituent atoms due to chemical reactions with its surroundings. In the most common use of the word, this means electrochemical oxidation of metals in reaction with an oxidant such as oxygen...

 problems with Cordite Mk I and this led to the introduction of a range of sulfur-free gunpowders, of varying grain sizes. They typically contain 70.5 parts of saltpetre and 29.5 parts of charcoal. Like black powder, they were produced in different grain sizes. In United Kingdom, the finest grain was known as sulfur-free mealed powder (SMP). Coarser grains were numbered as sulfur-free gunpowder (SFG n): 'SFG 12', 'SFG 20', 'SFG 40' and 'SFG 90', for example; where the number represents the smallest BSS sieve mesh size
Mesh (scale)
Mesh material is often used in determining the particle size distribution of a granular material. For example, a sample from a truckload of peanuts may be placed atop a mesh with 5 mm openings. When the mesh is shaken, small broken pieces and dust pass through the mesh while whole peanuts are...

 on which no grains were retained.

The main purpose of sulfur in gunpowder is to decrease the ignition temperature. A sample reaction for sulfur-free gunpowder would be
4 KNO3 + C7H8O → 3 K2CO3 + 4 CO2 + 2 H2O + 3 N2

History





Gunpowder was invented, documented, and used in China
China
Chinese civilization may refer to:* China for more general discussion of the country.* Chinese culture* Greater China, the transnational community of ethnic Chinese.* History of China* Sinosphere, the area historically affected by Chinese culture...

 where the Chinese military forces used gunpowder-based weapons technology (i.e. rocket
Rocket
A rocket is a missile, spacecraft, aircraft or other vehicle which obtains thrust from a rocket engine. In all rockets, the exhaust is formed entirely from propellants carried within the rocket before use. Rocket engines work by action and reaction...

s, guns
Güns
Güns or Guens may refer to:* Kőszeg, Hungary * Kőszeg Mountains, Hungary * Akiva Güns , birth name of Akiva Eger, a Hungarian-Polish rabbi- See also :* Guns * Gün, a surname...

, cannon), and explosives (i.e. grenades and different types of bombs) against the Mongols
Mongols
Mongols ) are a Central-East Asian ethnic group that lives mainly in the countries of Mongolia, China, and Russia. In China, ethnic Mongols can be found mainly in the central north region of China such as Inner Mongolia...

 when the Mongols attempted to invade and breach the Chinese city fortifications on the northern borders of China. After the Mongols conquered China and founded the Yuan Dynasty, they used the Chinese gunpowder-based weapons technology in their invasion of Japan. Chinese also used gunpowder to fuel rocket
Rocket
A rocket is a missile, spacecraft, aircraft or other vehicle which obtains thrust from a rocket engine. In all rockets, the exhaust is formed entirely from propellants carried within the rocket before use. Rocket engines work by action and reaction...

s.

The mainstream scholarly consensus is that gunpowder was invented in China, spread through the Middle East, and then into Europe, although there is a dispute over how much the Chinese advancements in gunpowder warfare influenced later advancements in the Middle East and Europe.

A major problem confronting the study of the early history of gunpowder is ready access to sources close to the events described. Often enough, the first records potentially describing use of gunpowder in warfare were written several centuries after the fact, and may well have been colored by the contemporary experiences of the chronicler. It is also difficult to accurately translate original alchemy texts, especially medieval Chinese texts which employ metaphor to describe unexplained phenomena, into contemporary scientific language with its rigidly defined terminology. The difficulty in translation has given rise to errors or loose interpretations bordering on artistic licence
Artistic licence
Artistic licence is a colloquial term, sometimes euphemism, used to denote the distortion of fact, alteration of the conventions of grammar or language, or rewording of pre-existing text made by an artist to improve a piece of...

. Early writings potentially mentioning gunpowder are sometimes marked by a linguistic process where old words acquired new meanings
Semantic change
Semantic change, also known as semantic shift or semantic progression describes the evolution of word usage — usually to the point that the modern meaning is radically different from the original usage. In diachronic linguistics, semantic change is a change in one of the meanings of a word...

. For instance, the Arabic word naft transitioned from denoting naphta to denoting gunpowder, and the Chinese word pao evolved from meaning catapult to referring to cannon. According to science and technology historian Bert S. Hall: "It goes without saying, however, that historians bent on special pleading, or simply with axes of their own to grind, can find rich material in these terminological thickets."

China




Saltpeter was known to the Chinese by the mid-1st century AD and there is strong evidence of the use of saltpeter
Potassium nitrate
Potassium nitrate is a chemical compound with the formula KNO3. It is an ionic salt of potassium ions K+ and nitrate ions NO3−.It occurs as a mineral niter and is a natural solid source of nitrogen. Its common names include saltpetre , from medieval Latin sal petræ: "stone salt" or possibly "Salt...

 and sulfur
Sulfur
Sulfur or sulphur is the chemical element with atomic number 16. In the periodic table it is represented by the symbol S. It is an abundant, multivalent non-metal. Under normal conditions, sulfur atoms form cyclic octatomic molecules with chemical formula S8. Elemental sulfur is a bright yellow...

 in various largely medicinal
Medicine
Medicine is the science and art of healing. It encompasses a variety of health care practices evolved to maintain and restore health by the prevention and treatment of illness....

 combinations. A Chinese alchemical text dated 492 noted saltpetre burnt with a purple flame, providing a practical and reliable means of distinguishing it from other inorganic salts, thus enabling alchemists to evaluate and compare purification techniques; the earliest Arabic and Latin accounts of saltpeter purification are dated after 1200.

The first mention of a mixture resembling gunpowder appeared in Taishang Guaizu Danjing Mijue by Qing Xuzi (c. 808); it describes mixing six parts sulfur to six parts saltpeter to one part birthwort
herb (which would provide carbon). The first reference to the incendiary properties of such mixtures is the passage of the Zhenyuan miaodao yaolüe, a Taoist text tentatively dated to the mid-9th century AD: "Some have heated together sulfur
Sulfur
Sulfur or sulphur is the chemical element with atomic number 16. In the periodic table it is represented by the symbol S. It is an abundant, multivalent non-metal. Under normal conditions, sulfur atoms form cyclic octatomic molecules with chemical formula S8. Elemental sulfur is a bright yellow...

, realgar
Realgar
Realgar, α-As4S4, is an arsenic sulfide mineral, also known as "ruby sulphur" or "ruby of arsenic". It is a soft, sectile mineral occurring in monoclinic crystals, or in granular, compact, or powdery form, often in association with the related mineral, orpiment . It is orange-red in colour, melts...

 and saltpeter
Potassium nitrate
Potassium nitrate is a chemical compound with the formula KNO3. It is an ionic salt of potassium ions K+ and nitrate ions NO3−.It occurs as a mineral niter and is a natural solid source of nitrogen. Its common names include saltpetre , from medieval Latin sal petræ: "stone salt" or possibly "Salt...

 with honey
Honey
Honey is a sweet food made by bees using nectar from flowers. The variety produced by honey bees is the one most commonly referred to and is the type of honey collected by beekeepers and consumed by humans...

; smoke and flames result, so that their hands and faces have been burnt, and even the whole house where they were working burned down." The Chinese word for "gunpowder" is /xuou yɑʊ/, which literally means "Fire Medicine"; however this name was only came into use some centuries after the mixture's discovery. By the 9th century Taoist
Taoism
Taoism refers to a philosophical or religious tradition in which the basic concept is to establish harmony with the Tao , which is the mechanism of everything that exists...

 monks or alchemists
Chinese alchemy
Chinese alchemy, a part of the larger tradition of Taoism, centers on the tradition of body-spirit cultivation that developed through the Chinese understandings of medicine and the body. These Chinese traditions were developed into a system of energy practices...

 searching for an elixir of immortality
Elixir of life
The elixir of life, also known as the elixir of immortality and sometimes equated with the philosopher's stone, is a legendary potion, or drink, that grants the drinker eternal life and or eternal youth. Many practitioners of alchemy pursued it. The elixir of life was also said to be able to create...

 had serendipitously stumbled upon gunpowder. The Chinese wasted little time in applying gunpowder to the development of weapons, and in the centuries that followed, they produced a variety of gunpowder weapons, including flamethrowers, rockets, bombs, and land mines, before inventing guns as a projectile weapon.

The Chinese "Wu Ching Tsung Yao
Wujing Zongyao
The Wujing Zongyao was a Chinese military compendium written in 1044 AD, during the Northern Song Dynasty. Its authors were the prominent scholars Zeng Gongliang , Ding Du , and Yang Weide , whose writing influenced many later Chinese military writers. The book covered a wide range of subjects,...

" (Complete Essentials from the Military Classics), written by Tseng Kung-Liang between 1040–1044, provides encyclopedia references to a variety of mixtures which included petrochemicals, as well as garlic and honey. A slow match for flame throwing mechanisms using the siphon principle and for fireworks and rockets are mentioned. The mixture formulas in this book do not contain enough salpeter to create an explosive however; being limited to at most 50% salpeter, they produce an incendiary. The Essentials was however written by a Song Dynasty
Song Dynasty
The Song Dynasty was a ruling dynasty in China between 960 and 1279; it succeeded the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms Period, and was followed by the Yuan Dynasty. It was the first government in world history to issue banknotes or paper money, and the first Chinese government to establish a...

 court bureaucrat, and there's little evidence that it had any immediate impact on warfare; there is no mention of gunpowder use in the chronicles of the wars against the Tanguts in the eleventh century, and China was otherwise mostly at peace during this century. The first chronicled use of "fire spears" (or "fire lances") is at the siege of De'an in 1132.

Middle East



The Arab
Arab
Arab people, also known as Arabs , are a panethnicity primarily living in the Arab world, which is located in Western Asia and North Africa. They are identified as such on one or more of genealogical, linguistic, or cultural grounds, with tribal affiliations, and intra-tribal relationships playing...

s acquired knowledge of gunpowder some time between 1240 and 1280, by which time Hasan al-Rammah had written, in Arabic, recipes for gunpowder, instructions for the purification of saltpeter, and descriptions of gunpowder incendiaries. Gunpowder arrived in the Middle East, possibly through India, from China. This is implied by al-Rammah's usage of "terms that suggested he derived his knowledge from Chinese sources" and his references to saltpeter as "Chinese snow", fireworks as "Chinese flowers" and rockets as "Chinese arrows". However, because al-Rammah attributes his material to "his father and forefathers", al-Hassan argues that gunpowder became prevalent in Syria and Egypt by "the end of the twelfth century or the beginning of the thirteenth".

Al-Hassan claims that in the Battle of Ain Jalut
Battle of Ain Jalut
The Battle of Ain Jalut took place on 3 September 1260 between Mamluks and the Mongols in eastern Galilee, in the Jezreel Valley, not far from Ein Harod....

 of 1260, the Mamluk
Mamluk Sultanate (Cairo)
The Mamluk Sultanate of Egypt was the final independent Egyptian state prior to the establishment of the Muhammad Ali Dynasty in 1805. It lasted from the overthrow of the Ayyubid Dynasty until the Ottoman conquest of Egypt in 1517. The sultanate's ruling caste was composed of Mamluks, Arabised...

s used against the Mongols
Mongols
Mongols ) are a Central-East Asian ethnic group that lives mainly in the countries of Mongolia, China, and Russia. In China, ethnic Mongols can be found mainly in the central north region of China such as Inner Mongolia...

 in "the first cannon in history" gunpowder formula with near-identical ideal composition ratios for explosive gunpowder. Other historians urge caution regarding claims of Islamic firearms use in the 1204-1324 period as late medieval Arabic texts used the same word for gunpowder, naft, that they used for an earlier incendiary naptha. Khan claims that it was invading Mongols
Mongols
Mongols ) are a Central-East Asian ethnic group that lives mainly in the countries of Mongolia, China, and Russia. In China, ethnic Mongols can be found mainly in the central north region of China such as Inner Mongolia...

 who introduced gunpowder to the Islamic world and cites Mamluk
Mamluk
A Mamluk was a soldier of slave origin, who were predominantly Cumans/Kipchaks The "mamluk phenomenon", as David Ayalon dubbed the creation of the specific warrior...

 antagonism towards early musketeers in their infantry as an example of how gunpowder weapons were not always met with open acceptance in the Middle East. Similarly, the refusal of their Qizilbash forces to use firearms contributed to the Safavid rout at Chaldiran
Battle of Chaldiran
The Battle of Chaldiran or Chaldoran occurred on 23 August 1514 and ended with a victory for the Ottoman Empire over the Safavid Empire of Persia . As a result, the Ottomans gained immediate control over eastern Anatolia and northern Iraq...

 in 1514.

The earliest surviving documentary evidence for the use of the hand cannon, considered the oldest type of portable firearm
Small arms
Small arms is a term of art used by armed forces to denote infantry weapons an individual soldier may carry. The description is usually limited to revolvers, pistols, submachine guns, carbines, assault rifles, battle rifles, multiple barrel firearms, sniper rifles, squad automatic weapons, light...

 and a forerunner of the handgun
Handgun
A handgun is a firearm designed to be held and operated by one hand. This characteristic differentiates handguns as a general class of firearms from long guns such as rifles and shotguns ....

, are from several Arabic manuscripts dated to the 14th century. Al-Hassan argues that these are based on earlier originals and that they report hand-held cannons being used by the Mamluks at the Battle of Ain Jalut in 1260.

Hasan al-Rammah included 107 gunpowder recipes in his text al-Furusiyyah wa al-Manasib al-Harbiyya (The Book of Military Horsemanship and Ingenious War Devices), 22 of which are for rockets. If one takes the median of 17 of these 22 compositions for rockets (75% nitrates, 9.06% sulfur, and 15.94% carbon), it is near identical with the modern reported ideal gunpowder recipe of 75% potassium nitrate, 10% sulfur, and 15% carbon.

Mainland Europe


Several sources mention Chinese firearms and gunpowder weapons being deployed by the Mongols against European forces at the Battle of Mohi
Battle of Mohi
The Battle of Mohi , or Battle of the Sajó River, was the main battle between the Mongol Empire and the Kingdom of Hungary during the Mongol invasion of Europe. It took place at Muhi, Southwest of the Sajó River. After the invasion, Hungary lay in ruins. Nearly half of the inhabited places had...

 in 1241. Professor Kenneth Warren Chase credits the Mongols for introducing into Europe gunpowder and its associated weaponry.

C. F. Temler interprets Peter, Bishop of Leon, as reporting the use of cannon in Seville
Seville
Seville is the artistic, historic, cultural, and financial capital of southern Spain. It is the capital of the autonomous community of Andalusia and of the province of Seville. It is situated on the plain of the River Guadalquivir, with an average elevation of above sea level...

 in 1248.

In Europe, one of first mentions of gunpowder use appears in a passage found in Roger Bacon's Opus Maius and Opus Tertium in what has been interpreted as being firecrackers. The most telling passage reads: "We have an example of these things (that act on the senses) in [the sound and fire of] that children's toy which is made in many [diverse] parts of the world; i.e. a device no bigger than one's thumb. From the violence of that salt called saltpetre [together with sulphur and willow charcoal, combined into a powder] so horrible a sound is made by the bursting of a thing so small, no more than a bit of parchment [containing it], that we find [the ear assaulted by a noise] exceeding the roar of strong thunder, and a flash
brighter than the most brilliant lightning." In early 20th century, British artillery officer Henry William Lovett Hime proposed that another work tentatively attributed to Bacon, Epistola de Secretis Operibus Artis et Naturae, et de Nullitate Magiae contained an encrypted formula for gunpowder. This claim has been disputed by historians of science including Lynn Thorndike
Lynn Thorndike
Lynn Thorndike was an American historian of medieval science and alchemy...

, John Maxson Stillman
John Maxson Stillman
John Maxson Stillman was a pioneer of the history of science in the United States. He was also the first head of the chemistry department at Stanford University, as well as its first Chemistry Professor...

 and George Sarton
George Sarton
George Sarton was a Belgian chemist and historian who is considered the founder of the discipline of history of science. He left Belgium because of the First World War and settled in the United States where he spent the rest of his life researching and writing about the history of science...

 and by Bacon's editor Robert Steele
Robert Steele (medievalist)
Robert Steele was a British scholar, best known for editing between c. 1905 and 1941 the 16-volume Opera hactenus inedita Rogeri Bacon....

, both in terms of authenticity of the work, and with respect to the decryption method. In any case, the formula claimed to have been decrypted (7:5:5 saltpeter:charcoal:sulfur) is not useful for firearms use or even firecrackers, burning slowing and producing mostly smoke because.


The Liber Ignium
Liber Ignium
The Liber Ignium ad Comburendos Hostes is a medieval collection of recipes for incendiary weapons, including Greek fire and gunpowder, written in Latin and allegedly written by a certain Marcus Graecus —a person...

, or Book of Fires, attributed to Marcus Graecus, is a collection of incendiary recipes, including some gunpowder recipes. Partington dates the gunpowder recipes to approximately 1300. One recipe for "flying fire" (ingis volatilis) involves saltpetre, sulfur, and colophonium, which, when inserted into a reed or hollow wood, "flies away suddenly and burns up everything." Another recipe, for artificial "thunder", specifies a mixture of one pound native sulfur, two pounds linden or willow charcoal, and six pounds of saltpeter. Another specifies a 1:3:9 ratio.

Some of the gunpowder recipes of De Mirabilibus Mundi of Albertus Magnus
Albertus Magnus
Albertus Magnus, O.P. , also known as Albert the Great and Albert of Cologne, is a Catholic saint. He was a German Dominican friar and a bishop, who achieved fame for his comprehensive knowledge of and advocacy for the peaceful coexistence of science and religion. Those such as James A. Weisheipl...

 are identical to the recipes of the Liber Ignium, and according to Partington, "may have been taken from that work, rather than conversely." Partington suggests that some of the book may have been compiled by Albert's students, "but since it is found in thirteenth century manuscripts, it may well be by Albert." Albertus Magnus died in 1280.

A common German folk-tale is of the German priest/monk named Berthold Schwarz
Berthold Schwarz
Berthold Schwarz is a legendary or semi-legendary German alchemist of the late 14th century, credited with the invention of gunpowder in literature of the 15th and 16th centuries....

 who independently invented gunpowder, thus earning it the German name Schwarzpulver or in English Schwarz's powder. Schwarz is also German for black
Black
Black is the color of objects that do not emit or reflect light in any part of the visible spectrum; they absorb all such frequencies of light...

 so this folk-tale, while likely containing elements of truth, is considered problematic.

The major and uniquely European advancement of gunpowder was corning: the addition of moisture to the gunpowder to form regular greater grain
GRAIN
GRAIN is a small international non-profit organisation that works to support small farmers and social movements in their struggles for community-controlled and biodiversity-based food systems. Our support takes the form of independent research and analysis, networking at local, regional and...

s which much increased the reliability and consistency of gunpowder. This occurred around the late 15th century CE, as European powdermakers began adding moisture to gunpowder to reduce dust and with it the risk of dust explosion
Dust explosion
A dust explosion is the fast combustion of dust particles suspended in the air in an enclosed location. Coal dust explosions are a frequent hazard in underground coal mines, but dust explosions can occur where any powdered combustible material is present in an enclosed atmosphere.- Conditions for...

. The powdermakers would then shape the resulting mush of dampened gunpowder, known as mill cake, into corns, or grains, to dry.

The new "corned" powder remained potent and more reliable to store as it was far less hygroscopic than the former powder (due to net reduced surface area). Gunners also found it was more powerful and easier to load measures of it into guns. An advantage of corning is that the combustion flame spreads evenly between the grains, thus igniting all grains before significant gas expansion (when the gunpowder actually "explodes"). Gunpowder not corned results in much unburnt powder blown away from the ignition flame and combustion chamber due to localized miniature gas expansions within the powder.

Europeans innovated by experimentation and discovering different kernel sizes combusted at differing rates, and thus were more suitable for one gun or for another. Molerus notes that without corning, gunpowder, like all dry mixtures, has a tendency to gradually separate back to its components and thus was too unreliable for effective use in guns as mixtures would not be of uniform composition, noting the use of corning technique is commonplace in the modern pharmaceutical industry
Pharmaceutical company
The pharmaceutical industry develops, produces, and markets drugs licensed for use as medications. Pharmaceutical companies are allowed to deal in generic and/or brand medications and medical devices...

 to ensure uniform proportions of active ingredients for each tablet
Tablet
A tablet is a pharmaceutical dosage form. It comprises a mixture of active substances and excipients, usually in powder form, pressed or compacted from a powder into a solid dose...

.

Shot and gunpowder for military purposes were made by skilled military tradesmen, later called firemakers, and were also required to craft fireworks for celebrations of victory or peace. During the Renaissance
Renaissance
The Renaissance was a cultural movement that spanned roughly the 14th to the 17th century, beginning in Italy in the Late Middle Ages and later spreading to the rest of Europe. The term is also used more loosely to refer to the historical era, but since the changes of the Renaissance were not...

, two European schools of pyrotechnic thought emerged, one in Italy
Italy
Italy , officially the Italian Republic languages]] under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages. In each of these, Italy's official name is as follows:;;;;;;;;), is a unitary parliamentary republic in South-Central Europe. To the north it borders France, Switzerland, Austria and...

 and the other at Nuremberg
Nuremberg
Nuremberg[p] is a city in the German state of Bavaria, in the administrative region of Middle Franconia. Situated on the Pegnitz river and the Rhine–Main–Danube Canal, it is located about north of Munich and is Franconia's largest city. The population is 505,664...

, Germany
Germany
Germany , officially the Federal Republic of Germany , is a federal parliamentary republic in Europe. The country consists of 16 states while the capital and largest city is Berlin. Germany covers an area of 357,021 km2 and has a largely temperate seasonal climate...

. The Italian school of pyrotechnics emphasized elaborate fireworks, and the German school stressed scientific advancement. Both schools added significantly to further development of pyrotechnics, and by the mid-17th century fireworks were used for entertainment on an unprecedented scale in Europe, being popular even at resorts and public gardens.

By 1788, as a result of the reforms for which Lavoisier was mainly responsible, France
France
The French Republic , The French Republic , The French Republic , (commonly known as France , is a unitary semi-presidential republic in Western Europe with several overseas territories and islands located on other continents and in the Indian, Pacific, and Atlantic oceans. Metropolitan France...

 had become self-sufficient in saltpeter, and its gunpowder had become not only widely considered the best in Europe but more importantly, inexpensive.

The introduction of smokeless powder
Smokeless powder
Smokeless powder is the name given to a number of propellants used in firearms and artillery which produce negligible smoke when fired, unlike the older gunpowder which they replaced...

 in the late 19th century led to the contraction of the gunpowder industry.

British Isles



Gunpowder production in Britain appears to have started in the mid 14th century AD with the aim of supplying The English Crown
Kingdom of England
The Kingdom of England was, from 927 to 1707, a sovereign state to the northwest of continental Europe. At its height, the Kingdom of England spanned the southern two-thirds of the island of Great Britain and several smaller outlying islands; what today comprises the legal jurisdiction of England...

. Records show that gunpowder was being made, in England, in 1346, at the Tower of London
Tower of London
Her Majesty's Royal Palace and Fortress, more commonly known as the Tower of London, is a historic castle on the north bank of the River Thames in central London, England. It lies within the London Borough of Tower Hamlets, separated from the eastern edge of the City of London by the open space...

; a powder house existed at the Tower in 1461; and in 1515 three King's gunpowder makers worked there. Gunpowder was also being made or stored at other Royal castles, such as Portchester
Portchester Castle
Portchester Castle is a medieval castle built within a former Roman fort at Portchester to the east of Fareham in the English county of Hampshire. Probably founded in the late 11th century, Portchester was a baronial castle that was taken under royal control in 1154. The monarchy controlled...

. By the early 14th century, according to N.J.G. Pounds's study The Medieval Castle in England and Wales, many English
England
England is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. It shares land borders with Scotland to the north and Wales to the west; the Irish Sea is to the north west, the Celtic Sea to the south west, with the North Sea to the east and the English Channel to the south separating it from continental...

 castles had been deserted and others were crumbling. Their military significance faded except on the borders. Gunpowder had made smaller castles useless.

Henry VIII of England
Henry VIII of England
Henry VIII was King of England from 21 April 1509 until his death. He was Lord, and later King, of Ireland, as well as continuing the nominal claim by the English monarchs to the Kingdom of France...

 was short of gunpowder when he invaded France in 1544 AD and England needed to import gunpowder via the port of Antwerp.

The English Civil War
English Civil War
The English Civil War was a series of armed conflicts and political machinations between Parliamentarians and Royalists...

, 1642–1645, led to an expansion of the gunpowder industry, with the repeal of the Royal Patent in August 1641.

Two British physicists, Andrew Noble and Frederick Abel, worked to improve the properties of blackpowder during the late 19th century. This formed the basis for the Noble-Abel gas equation for internal ballistics
Internal ballistics
Internal ballistics, a subfield of ballistics, is the study of a projectile's behavior from the time its propellant's igniter is initiated until it exits the gun barrel...

.

The introduction of smokeless powder
Smokeless powder
Smokeless powder is the name given to a number of propellants used in firearms and artillery which produce negligible smoke when fired, unlike the older gunpowder which they replaced...

 in the late 19th century led to a contraction of the gunpowder industry. After the end of World War I
World War I
World War I , which was predominantly called the World War or the Great War from its occurrence until 1939, and the First World War or World War I thereafter, was a major war centred in Europe that began on 28 July 1914 and lasted until 11 November 1918...

, the majority of the United Kingdom gunpowder manufacturers merged into a single company, "Explosives Trades limited"; and number of sites were closed down, including those in Ireland. This company became Nobel Industries Limited; and in 1926 became a founding member of Imperial Chemical Industries
Imperial Chemical Industries
Imperial Chemical Industries was a British chemical company, taken over by AkzoNobel, a Dutch conglomerate, one of the largest chemical producers in the world. In its heyday, ICI was the largest manufacturing company in the British Empire, and commonly regarded as a "bellwether of the British...

.
The Home Office
Home Office
The Home Office is the United Kingdom government department responsible for immigration control, security, and order. As such it is responsible for the police, UK Border Agency, and the Security Service . It is also in charge of government policy on security-related issues such as drugs,...

 removed gunpowder from its list of Permitted Explosives; and shortly afterwards, on 31 December 1931, the former Curtis & Harvey's Glynneath
Glynneath
Glynneath , also spelt Glyn Neath, is a small town, community and electoral ward lying on the River Neath in the county borough of Neath Port Talbot, Wales. It was formerly in the historic county of Glamorgan...

 gunpowder factory at Pontneddfechan, in Wales
Wales
Wales is a country that is part of the United Kingdom and the island of Great Britain, bordered by England to its east and the Atlantic Ocean and Irish Sea to its west. It has a population of three million, and a total area of 20,779 km²...

, closed down, and it was demolished by fire in 1932.

The last remaining gunpowder mill at the Royal Gunpowder Factory, Waltham Abbey
Waltham Abbey Royal Gunpowder Mills
The Royal Gunpowder Mills, Waltham Abbey, an Anchor Point of the European Route of Industrial Heritage, , set in of parkland and containing 21 buildings of major historical importance, mixes history, science, and attractive surroundings...

 was damaged by a German parachute mine
Parachute mine
A parachute mine is a parachute naval mine dropped from an aircraft. They were mostly used in World War II by the Luftwaffe and initially by the Royal Air Force Bomber Command.-Blast effects:...

 in 1941 and it never reopened. This was followed by the closure of the gunpowder section at the Royal Ordnance Factory
Royal Ordnance Factory
Royal Ordnance Factories was the collective name of the UK government's munitions factories in and after World War II. Until privatisation in 1987 they were the responsibility of the Ministry of Supply and later the Ministry of Defence....

, ROF Chorley
ROF Chorley
ROF Chorley was a UK government-owned, munitions filling, Royal Ordnance Factory . It was planned as a Permanent Royal Ordnance Factory with the intention that it, unlike some other similar facilities, would remain open for production after the end of World War II; and, together with ROF Bridgend...

, the section was closed and demolished at the end of World War II
World War II
World War II, or the Second World War , was a global conflict lasting from 1939 to 1945, involving most of the world's nations—including all of the great powers—eventually forming two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis...

; and ICI Nobel's Roslin
Roslin, Midlothian
Roslin is a pretty village in Midlothian, Scotland, 7 miles to the south of the Scottish Capital city Edinburgh. It is situated approximately 12 miles from Edinburgh Airport.-The name:...

 gunpowder factory which closed in 1954.

This left the sole United Kingdom gunpowder factory at ICI Nobel's Ardeer
Ardeer, Scotland
Ardeer lies at the head of the Ardeer peninsula, now part of Stevenston, North Ayrshire, and was a dominant global supplier of explosives to the mining and quarrying industries and a major player in the design and development of products for the chemical and defence industries during the 20th...

 site in Scotland
Scotland
Scotland is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. Occupying the northern third of the island of Great Britain, it shares a border with England to the south and is bounded by the North Sea to the east, the Atlantic Ocean to the north and west, and the North Channel and Irish Sea to the...

; it too closed in October 1976. Since then gunpowder has been imported into the United Kingdom. In the late 1970s / early 1980s gunpowder was bought from eastern Europe, particularly from what was then the East Germany
German Democratic Republic
The German Democratic Republic , informally called East Germany by West Germany and other countries, was a socialist state established in 1949 in the Soviet zone of occupied Germany, including East Berlin of the Allied-occupied capital city...

 and former Yugoslavia
Yugoslavia
Yugoslavia refers to three political entities that existed successively on the western part of the Balkans during most of the 20th century....

.

India


It was written in the Tarikh-i Firishta (1606–1607) that Nasir ud din Mahmud
Nasir ud din Mahmud
Nasir ud din Mahmud, Nasir ud din Firuz Shah was the eighth sultan of the Mamluk Sultanate . He was the youngest son of Shams ud din Iltutmish , and he succeeded Ala ud din Masud after the chiefs replaced Masud when they felt that he began to behave as a tyrant.As a ruler, Mahmud was known to be...

 the ruler of the Delhi Sultanate
Delhi Sultanate
The Delhi Sultanate is a term used to cover five short-lived, Delhi based kingdoms or sultanates, of Turkic origin in medieval India. The sultanates ruled from Delhi between 1206 and 1526, when the last was replaced by the Mughal dynasty...

 presented the envoy of the Mongol ruler Hulegu Khan with a dazzling pyrotechnics
Pyrotechnics
Pyrotechnics is the science of using materials capable of undergoing self-contained and self-sustained exothermic chemical reactions for the production of heat, light, gas, smoke and/or sound...

 display upon his arrival in Delhi
Delhi
Delhi , officially National Capital Territory of Delhi , is the largest metropolis by area and the second-largest by population in India, next to Mumbai. It is the eighth largest metropolis in the world by population with 16,753,265 inhabitants in the Territory at the 2011 Census...

 in 1258 AD. Nasir ud din Mahmud
Nasir ud din Mahmud
Nasir ud din Mahmud, Nasir ud din Firuz Shah was the eighth sultan of the Mamluk Sultanate . He was the youngest son of Shams ud din Iltutmish , and he succeeded Ala ud din Masud after the chiefs replaced Masud when they felt that he began to behave as a tyrant.As a ruler, Mahmud was known to be...

 tried to express his streingth as a ruler and tried to ward off any Mongol attempt similar to the Siege of Baghdad (1258). Firearms known as top-o-tufak also existed in many Muslim
Muslim
A Muslim, also spelled Moslem, is an adherent of Islam, a monotheistic, Abrahamic religion based on the Quran, which Muslims consider the verbatim word of God as revealed to prophet Muhammad. "Muslim" is the Arabic term for "submitter" .Muslims believe that God is one and incomparable...

 kingdoms in India by as early as 1366 AD. From then on the employment of gunpowder warfare
Gunpowder warfare
Early modern warfare is associated with the start of the widespread use of gunpowder and the development of suitable weapons to use the explosive, including artillery and handguns such as the arquebus and later the musket, and for this reason the era is also summarized as the age of gunpowder...

 in India was prevalent, with events such as the "Siege of Belgaum
Belgaum
Belgaum is a city and a municipal corporation in Belgaum district in the state of Karnataka, India. It is the fourth largest city of the state of Karnataka, the first three being Bangalore, Mysore, Hubli-Dharwad....

" in 1473 by Sultan
Sultan
Sultan is a title with several historical meanings. Originally, it was an Arabic language abstract noun meaning "strength", "authority", "rulership", and "dictatorship", derived from the masdar سلطة , meaning "authority" or "power". Later, it came to be used as the title of certain rulers who...

 Muhammad Shah Bahmani.

The shipwrecked Ottoman
Ottoman Empire
The Ottoman EmpireIt was usually referred to as the "Ottoman Empire", the "Turkish Empire", the "Ottoman Caliphate" or more commonly "Turkey" by its contemporaries...

 Admiral
Admiral
Admiral is the rank, or part of the name of the ranks, of the highest naval officers. It is usually considered a full admiral and above vice admiral and below admiral of the fleet . It is usually abbreviated to "Adm" or "ADM"...

 Seydi Ali Reis
Seydi Ali Reis
Seydi Ali Reis was an Ottoman admiral.He commanded the left wing of the Ottoman fleet at the naval Battle of Preveza in 1538....

 is known to have introduced the earliest type of Matchlock
Matchlock
The matchlock was the first mechanism, or "lock" invented to facilitate the firing of a hand-held firearm. This design removed the need to lower by hand a lit match into the weapon's flash pan and made it possible to have both hands free to keep a firm grip on the weapon at the moment of firing,...

 which were utilized against the Portugese
Portugal
Portugal , officially the Portuguese Republic is a country situated in southwestern Europe on the Iberian Peninsula. Portugal is the westernmost country of Europe, and is bordered by the Atlantic Ocean to the West and South and by Spain to the North and East. The Atlantic archipelagos of the...

 during the Siege of Diu (1531)
Siege of Diu (1531)
The Siege of Diu occurred when an Ottoman imperial fleet captured the Indian city of Diu in 1531, then held by the Portuguese. The conquest was partly the result of Muslim firepower over the Portuguese deployed by Mustafa Bayram, an Ottoman expert. As a result of the victory the Portuguese were...

. And ever since a diverse variety of firearms; large guns in particular, became visible in Tanjore, Dacca, Bijapur
Adil Shahi
The Adil Shahi or Adilshahi dynasty ruled the Sultanate of Bijapur in the Western area of the Deccan region of Southern India from 1490 to 1686. Bijapur had been a province of the Bahmani Sultanate , before its political decline in the last quarter of the 15th century and eventual break-up in 1518...

 and Murshidabad
Murshidabad
Murshidabad is a city in Murshidabad district of West Bengal state in India. The city of Murshidabad is located on the southern bank of the Bhagirathi, a distributary of the Ganges River. It was the capital of undivided Bengal during the Mughal rule. Nawabs of Bengal used to rule Bengal from this...

. Guns made of bronze were recovered from Calicut
History of Kozhikode
Kozhikode , also known as Calicut, is a city in the southern Indian state of Kerala. It is the third largest city in Kerala and the headquarters of Kozhikode district....

 (1504)- the former capital of the Zamorins

But it was the Mughal Emperor Akbar who mass produced Matchlocks in the Mughal Army
Mughal Army
The Mughal Army was the army of the Mughal Empire.Mirza Najaf Khan was commander in chief of the Mughal Army from 1772 till his death in April 1782.The art of Mughal warfare brought about a complete change in the way wars were fought in the Indian...

. Akbar is personally known to have shot a leading Rajput
Rajput
A Rajput is a member of one of the patrilineal clans of western, central, northern India and in some parts of Pakistan. Rajputs are descendants of one of the major ruling warrior classes in the Indian subcontinent, particularly North India...

 commaneder during the Siege of Chittorgarh
Siege of Chittorgarh
Siege of Chittor, Siege of Chittorgarh, In October 1567, well equipped Mughal forces of approximately 5000 men led by Akbar surrounded and besieged 8000 Hindu Rajputs in Chittorgarh Fort and within a few months Akbar's ranks expanded to over 50,000 men and possibly more than 60,000 troops during...

. The Mughal
Mughal Empire
The Mughal Empire ,‎ or Mogul Empire in traditional English usage, was an imperial power from the Indian Subcontinent. The Mughal emperors were descendants of the Timurids...

s then began to utilize Bamboo
Bamboo
Bamboo is a group of perennial evergreens in the true grass family Poaceae, subfamily Bambusoideae, tribe Bambuseae. Giant bamboos are the largest members of the grass family....

 rocket
Rocket
A rocket is a missile, spacecraft, aircraft or other vehicle which obtains thrust from a rocket engine. In all rockets, the exhaust is formed entirely from propellants carried within the rocket before use. Rocket engines work by action and reaction...

 (mainly used for signalling) and Sapper
Sapper
A sapper, pioneer or combat engineer is a combatant soldier who performs a wide variety of combat engineering duties, typically including, but not limited to, bridge-building, laying or clearing minefields, demolitions, field defences, general construction and building, as well as road and airfield...

s were special units that laid gunpowder under heavy stone fortifications.

The Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan
Shah Jahan
Shah Jahan Shah Jahan (also spelled Shah Jehan, Shahjehan, , Persian: شاه جهان) (January 5, 1592 – January 22, 1666) Shah Jahan (also spelled Shah Jehan, Shahjehan, , Persian: شاه جهان) (January 5, 1592 – January 22, 1666) (Full title: His Imperial Majesty Al-Sultan al-'Azam wal Khaqan...

 is known to have introduced much more advanced Matchlock
Matchlock
The matchlock was the first mechanism, or "lock" invented to facilitate the firing of a hand-held firearm. This design removed the need to lower by hand a lit match into the weapon's flash pan and made it possible to have both hands free to keep a firm grip on the weapon at the moment of firing,...

s, their designs were a combination of Ottoman
Ottoman Empire
The Ottoman EmpireIt was usually referred to as the "Ottoman Empire", the "Turkish Empire", the "Ottoman Caliphate" or more commonly "Turkey" by its contemporaries...

 and Mughal
Mughal Empire
The Mughal Empire ,‎ or Mogul Empire in traditional English usage, was an imperial power from the Indian Subcontinent. The Mughal emperors were descendants of the Timurids...

 designs. Shah Jahan
Shah Jahan
Shah Jahan Shah Jahan (also spelled Shah Jehan, Shahjehan, , Persian: شاه جهان) (January 5, 1592 – January 22, 1666) Shah Jahan (also spelled Shah Jehan, Shahjehan, , Persian: شاه جهان) (January 5, 1592 – January 22, 1666) (Full title: His Imperial Majesty Al-Sultan al-'Azam wal Khaqan...

 also countered the British
British Empire
The British Empire comprised the dominions, colonies, protectorates, mandates and other territories ruled or administered by the United Kingdom. It originated with the overseas colonies and trading posts established by England in the late 16th and early 17th centuries. At its height, it was the...

 and other Europeans in his province of Gujarāt, which supplied Europe saltpeter for use in gunpowder warfare during the 17th century. Bengal
Bengal
Bengal is a historical and geographical region in the northeast region of the Indian Subcontinent at the apex of the Bay of Bengal. Today, it is mainly divided between the sovereign land of People's Republic of Bangladesh and the Indian state of West Bengal, although some regions of the previous...

 and Mālwa participated in saltpeter production. The Dutch, French, Portuguese, and English used Chāpra
Chapra
Chapra can refer to the following:* Chapra, Nadia in Nadia district in the Indian state of West Bengal* Chapra, Nadia - assembly constituency in Nadia district in the Indian state of West Bengal...

as a center of saltpeter refining.

Ever since the founding of the Sultanate of Mysore by Hyder Ali
Hyder Ali
Hyder Ali was the de facto ruler of the Kingdom of Mysore in southern India. Born Hyder Naik, he distinguished himself militarily, eventually drawing the attention of Mysore's rulers...

, French
France
The French Republic , The French Republic , The French Republic , (commonly known as France , is a unitary semi-presidential republic in Western Europe with several overseas territories and islands located on other continents and in the Indian, Pacific, and Atlantic oceans. Metropolitan France...

 military officers were employed to train the Mysore Army. Hyder Ali and his son Tipu Sultan were the first to introduce modern Cannon
Cannon
A cannon is any piece of artillery that uses gunpowder or other usually explosive-based propellents to launch a projectile. Cannon vary in caliber, range, mobility, rate of fire, angle of fire, and firepower; different forms of cannon combine and balance these attributes in varying degrees,...

s and Musket
Musket
A musket is a muzzle-loaded, smooth bore long gun, fired from the shoulder. Muskets were designed for use by infantry. A soldier armed with a musket had the designation musketman or musketeer....

s, their army was also the first in India to have official uniforms. During the Second Anglo-Mysore War
Second Anglo-Mysore War
The Second Anglo-Mysore War was a conflict in Mughal India between the Sultanate of Mysore and the British East India Company. At the time, Mysore was a key French ally in India, and the Franco-British conflict raging on account of the American Revolutionary War helped spark Anglo-Mysorean...

 Hyder Ali
Hyder Ali
Hyder Ali was the de facto ruler of the Kingdom of Mysore in southern India. Born Hyder Naik, he distinguished himself militarily, eventually drawing the attention of Mysore's rulers...

 and his son Tipu Sultan
Tipu Sultan
Tipu Sultan , also known as the Tiger of Mysore, was the de facto ruler of the Kingdom of Mysore. He was the son of Hyder Ali, at that time an officer in the Mysorean army, and his second wife, Fatima or Fakhr-un-Nissa...

 unleashed the Mysorean rockets
Mysorean rockets
Mysorean rockets were the first iron-cased rockets that were successfully deployed for military use. Hyder Ali, the 18th century ruler of Mysore, and his son and successor, Tipu Sultan used them effectively against the British East India Company...

 at their British opponents effectively defeating them on various occasions. The Mysorean rockets
Mysorean rockets
Mysorean rockets were the first iron-cased rockets that were successfully deployed for military use. Hyder Ali, the 18th century ruler of Mysore, and his son and successor, Tipu Sultan used them effectively against the British East India Company...

 inspired the development of the Congreve rocket
Congreve rocket
The Congreve Rocket was a British military weapon designed and developed by Sir William Congreve in 1804.The rocket was developed by the British Royal Arsenal following the experiences of the Second, Third and Fourth Mysore Wars. The wars fought between the British East India Company and the...

, which the British widely utilized during the Napoleonic Wars
Napoleonic Wars
The Napoleonic Wars were a series of wars declared against Napoleon's French Empire by opposing coalitions that ran from 1803 to 1815. As a continuation of the wars sparked by the French Revolution of 1789, they revolutionised European armies and played out on an unprecedented scale, mainly due to...

 and the War of 1812
War of 1812
The War of 1812 was a military conflict fought between the forces of the United States of America and those of the British Empire. The Americans declared war in 1812 for several reasons, including trade restrictions because of Britain's ongoing war with France, impressment of American merchant...

.

Indonesia


The Javanese Majapahit Empire was arguably able to encompass much of the modern day ASEAN due to its unique mastery of bronze-smithing and use of a central arsenal
Arsenal
An arsenal is a place where arms and ammunition are made, maintained and repaired, stored, issued to authorized users, or any combination of those...

 fed by a large number of cottage industries within the immediate region.
Documentary and archeological evidence indicate that Arab
Arab
Arab people, also known as Arabs , are a panethnicity primarily living in the Arab world, which is located in Western Asia and North Africa. They are identified as such on one or more of genealogical, linguistic, or cultural grounds, with tribal affiliations, and intra-tribal relationships playing...

 or India
India
India , officially the Republic of India , is a country in South Asia. It is the seventh-largest country by geographical area, the second-most populous country with over 1.2 billion people, and the most populous democracy in the world...

n traders introduced gunpowder, gonnes, musket
Musket
A musket is a muzzle-loaded, smooth bore long gun, fired from the shoulder. Muskets were designed for use by infantry. A soldier armed with a musket had the designation musketman or musketeer....

s, blunderbuss
Blunderbuss
The blunderbuss is a muzzle-loading firearm with a short, large caliber barrel, which is flared at the muzzle and frequently throughout the entire bore, and used with shot and other projectiles of relevant quantity and/or caliber. The blunderbuss could be considered to be an early form of shotgun,...

es, and cannon to the Javanese, Acehnese
Acehnese people
The Acehnese are a people in Aceh, Indonesia. Their homeland is located in the northern-most tip of the island of Sumatra and had a history of political struggle against the Dutch...

, and Batak
Batak (Indonesia)
Batak is a collective term used to identify a number of ethnic groups predominantly found in North Sumatra, Indonesia. The term is used to include the Toba, Karo, Pakpak, Simalungun, Angkola and Mandailing, each of which are distinct but related groups with distinct, albeit related, languages and...

 via long established commercial trade route
Trade route
A trade route is a logistical network identified as a series of pathways and stoppages used for the commercial transport of cargo. Allowing goods to reach distant markets, a single trade route contains long distance arteries which may further be connected to several smaller networks of commercial...

s around the early to mid 14th century CE.
Portuguese and Spanish invaders were unpleasantly surprised and occasionaly even outgunned on occasion.
The resurgent Singhasari
Singhasari
Singhasari was a kingdom located in east Java between 1222 and 1292. The kingdom succeeded Kingdom of Kediri as the dominant kingdom in eastern Java.-Foundation:...

 Empire overtook Sriwijaya and later emerged as the Majapahit whose warfare featured the use of fire-arms and cannonade.
Circa 1540 CE the Javanese, always alert for new weapons found the newly arrived Portuguese weaponry superior to that of the locally made variants. Javanese bronze breech-loaded swivel-guns, known as meriam, or erroneously as lantaka
Lantaka
Lantaka is a type of bronze cannon mounted on merchant vessels travelling the waterways of Malay Archipelago. Its use was greatest in precolonial South East Asia especially in the Philippines, Malaysia, and Indonesia...

, was used widely by the Majapahit navy as well as by pirates and rival lords. The demise of the Majapahit empire and the dispersal of disaffected skilled bronze cannon-smiths to Brunei
Brunei
Brunei , officially the State of Brunei Darussalam or the Nation of Brunei, the Abode of Peace , is a sovereign state located on the north coast of the island of Borneo, in Southeast Asia...

, modern Sumatra
Sumatra
Sumatra is an island in western Indonesia, westernmost of the Sunda Islands. It is the largest island entirely in Indonesia , and the sixth largest island in the world at 473,481 km2 with a population of 50,365,538...

, Malaysia and the Philippines
Philippines
The Philippines , officially known as the Republic of the Philippines , is a country in Southeast Asia in the western Pacific Ocean. To its north across the Luzon Strait lies Taiwan. West across the South China Sea sits Vietnam...

 lead to widespread use, especially in the Makassar Strait
Makassar Strait
Makassar Strait is a strait between the islands of Borneo and Sulawesi in Indonesia. To the north it joins the Celebes Sea, while to the south it meets the Java Sea.The Mahakam River of Borneo empties into the strait....

.

A Chinese
China
Chinese civilization may refer to:* China for more general discussion of the country.* Chinese culture* Greater China, the transnational community of ethnic Chinese.* History of China* Sinosphere, the area historically affected by Chinese culture...

 pirate or commercial shipwreck
Shipwreck
A shipwreck is what remains of a ship that has wrecked, either sunk or beached. Whatever the cause, a sunken ship or a wrecked ship is a physical example of the event: this explains why the two concepts are often overlapping in English....

 site yeilded a paired swivel gun
Swivel gun
The term swivel gun usually refers to a small cannon, mounted on a swiveling stand or fork which allows a very wide arc of movement. Another type of firearm referred to as a swivel gun was an early flintlock combination gun with two barrels that rotated along their axes to allow the shooter to...

, for rapid firing: one barrel would fire whiles its opposite was being reloaded, though this remains a rare find. Other archeological finds have unearthed triple-barrel and double-barrel swivel-guns, though they were not widely duplicated.

Saltpetre harvesting was recorded by Dutch and German travelers as being common in even the smallest villages and was collected from the decomposition process of large dung hills specifically piled for the purpose.
The Dutch punishment for possession of unpermitted gunpowder appears to have been amputation. Ownership and manufacture of gunpowder was later prohibited by the colonial Dutch
Netherlands
The Netherlands is a constituent country of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, located mainly in North-West Europe and with several islands in the Caribbean. Mainland Netherlands borders the North Sea to the north and west, Belgium to the south, and Germany to the east, and shares maritime borders...

 occupiers. According to a colonel McKenzie quoted in
Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles, The History of Java (1817), the purest sulphur was supplied from a crater from a mountain near the straits of Bali
Bali
Bali is an Indonesian island located in the westernmost end of the Lesser Sunda Islands, lying between Java to the west and Lombok to the east...

.

Manufacturing technology



For the most powerful black powder meal
Meal powder
Meal powder is the fine dust left over when black powder is corned and screened to separate it into different grain sizes. It is used extensively in various pyrotechnic procedures, usually to prime other compositions...

, a wood
Wood
Wood is a hard, fibrous tissue found in many trees. It has been used for hundreds of thousands of years for both fuel and as a construction material. It is an organic material, a natural composite of cellulose fibers embedded in a matrix of lignin which resists compression...

 charcoal
Charcoal
Charcoal is the dark grey residue consisting of carbon, and any remaining ash, obtained by removing water and other volatile constituents from animal and vegetation substances. Charcoal is usually produced by slow pyrolysis, the heating of wood or other substances in the absence of oxygen...

 is used. The best wood for the purpose is Pacific willow
Willow
Willows, sallows, and osiers form the genus Salix, around 400 species of deciduous trees and shrubs, found primarily on moist soils in cold and temperate regions of the Northern Hemisphere...

, but others such as alder
Alder
Alder is the common name of a genus of flowering plants belonging to the birch family . The genus comprises about 30 species of monoecious trees and shrubs, few reaching large size, distributed throughout the North Temperate Zone and in the Americas along the Andes southwards to...

 or buckthorn
Buckthorn
The Buckthorns are a genus of about 100 species of shrubs or small trees from 1-10 m tall , in the buckthorn family Rhamnaceae...

 can be used. In Great Bitain between the 15th to 19th centuries charcoal from alder buckthorn was greatly prized for gunpowder manufacture.
The ingredients are mixed as thoroughly as possible. This is achieved using a ball mill
Ball mill
A ball mill is a type of grinder used to grind materials into extremely fine powder for use in mineral dressing processes, paints, pyrotechnics, and ceramics.-Description:...

 with non-sparking grinding apparatus (e.g., bronze
Bronze
Bronze is a metal alloy consisting primarily of copper, usually with tin as the main additive. It is hard and brittle, and it was particularly significant in antiquity, so much so that the Bronze Age was named after the metal...

 or lead
Lead
Lead is a main-group element in the carbon group with the symbol Pb and atomic number 82. Lead is a soft, malleable poor metal. It is also counted as one of the heavy metals. Metallic lead has a bluish-white color after being freshly cut, but it soon tarnishes to a dull grayish color when exposed...

), or similar device. Historically, a marble
Marble
Marble is a metamorphic rock composed of recrystallized carbonate minerals, most commonly calcite or dolomite.Geologists use the term "marble" to refer to metamorphosed limestone; however stonemasons use the term more broadly to encompass unmetamorphosed limestone.Marble is commonly used for...

 or limestone
Limestone
Limestone is a sedimentary rock composed largely of the minerals calcite and aragonite, which are different crystal forms of calcium carbonate . Many limestones are composed from skeletal fragments of marine organisms such as coral or foraminifera....

 edge runner mill, running on a limestone bed was used in Great Britain; however, by the mid 19th century CE this had changed to either an iron shod stone wheel or a cast iron
Cast iron
Cast iron is derived from pig iron, and while it usually refers to gray iron, it also identifies a large group of ferrous alloys which solidify with a eutectic. The color of a fractured surface can be used to identify an alloy. White cast iron is named after its white surface when fractured, due...

 wheel running on an iron bed. The mix is sometimes dampened with alcohol
Alcohol
In chemistry, an alcohol is an organic compound in which the hydroxy functional group is bound to a carbon atom. In particular, this carbon center should be saturated, having single bonds to three other atoms....

 or water during grinding to prevent accidental ignition.

Around the late 14th century CE, European powdermakers began adding damp to the constituents of gunpowder to reduce dust and with it the risk of explosion. The powdermakers would then shape the resulting paste of dampened gunpowder, known as mill cake, into corns, or grains, to dry. Not only did corned powder keep better because of its reduced surface area, gunners also found that it was more powerful and easier to load into guns. Before long, powdermakers standardized the process by forcing mill cake through sieves instead of corning powder by hand.

During the 18th century gunpowder factories became increasingly dependent on mechanical energy. Despite mechanization, production difficulties related to humidity control, especially during the pressing, were still present in the late 19th century. A paper from 1885 laments that "Gunpowder is such a nervous and sensitive spirit, that in almost every process of manufacture it changes under our hands as the weather changes." Pressing times to the desired density could vary by factor of three depending on the atmospheric humidity.

Other uses


Besides its use as an explosive, gunpowder has been occasionally employed for other purposes; after the Battle of Aspern-Essling
Battle of Aspern-Essling
In the Battle of Aspern-Essling , Napoleon attempted a forced crossing of the Danube near Vienna, but the French and their allies were driven back by the Austrians under Archduke Charles...

 (1809), the surgeon of the Napoleonic Army Larrey combated the lack of food for the wounded under his care by preparing a bouillon
Bouillon (broth)
Bouillon, in French cuisine, is simply a broth. This name comes from the verb bouillir, meaning to boil. It is usually made by the simmering of mirepoix and aromatic herbs with either beef, veal, or poultry bones and/or with shrimp, or vegetables in boiling water.This is not to be confused with...

 of horse meat
Horse meat
Horse meat is the culinary name for meat cut from a horse. It is a major meat in only a few countries, notably in Central Asia, but it forms a significant part of the culinary traditions of many others, from Europe to South America to Asia. The top eight countries consume about 4.7 million horses...

 seasoned with gunpowder for lack of salt.
It was also used for sterilizing on ships when there was no alcohol.

Christiaan Huygens experimented with gunpowder in 1673 in an early attempt to build an internal combustion engine
Internal combustion engine
The internal combustion engine is an engine in which the combustion of a fuel occurs with an oxidizer in a combustion chamber. In an internal combustion engine, the expansion of the high-temperature and high -pressure gases produced by combustion apply direct force to some component of the engine...

, but he did not succeed in making a practical engine.
Fireworks
Fireworks
Fireworks are a class of explosive pyrotechnic devices used for aesthetic and entertainment purposes. The most common use of a firework is as part of a fireworks display. A fireworks event is a display of the effects produced by firework devices...

 and Firecrackers also use gunpowder but use different brands and different chemicals.

For a while in the first half of the 20th century gunpowder was used in rivet guns, stun guns for animals, splicing cable and other high powered industrial construction tools, until portable air and hydraulic units replaced it as a safer alternative.

Black powder is still used in delay-trains in modern arms. For instance, in a hand grenade, a mechanical striker ignites a percussion primer which ignites a slow black powder delay. The delay burns a few seconds until it gets to the high explosive primary, which detonates, initiating the grenade fill explosive, thus fragmenting the grenade.

See also

  • Ballistics
    Ballistics
    Ballistics is the science of mechanics that deals with the flight, behavior, and effects of projectiles, especially bullets, gravity bombs, rockets, or the like; the science or art of designing and accelerating projectiles so as to achieve a desired performance.A ballistic body is a body which is...

  • Ballincollig Royal Gunpowder Mills
    Ballincollig Royal Gunpowder Mills
    Ballincollig Royal Gunpowder Mills was one of three Royal gunpowder mills that manufactured gunpowder for the British Government. Located in Ballincollig near Cork city in Ireland, the powder mills were originally opened in 1794 as a private enterprise, before being taken over by the British...

  • Black powder substitute
    Black powder substitute
    thumb|300px|Pyrodex, a modern black powder substitute for [[muzzleloader|muzzleloading]] rifles, in FFG sizeA black powder substitute is a replacement for black powder used in muzzleloading and cartridge firearms...

  • Faversham explosives industry
    Faversham explosives industry
    The Faversham explosives industry: Faversham, in Kent, England, has claims to be the cradle of the UK's explosives industry: it was also to become one of its main centres. The first gunpowder plant in the UK was established in the 16th century, possibly at the instigation of Faversham Abbey...

  • Bulk loaded liquid propellants
    Bulk loaded liquid propellants
    Bulk loaded liquid propellants are an artillery technology that was pursued at the U.S. Army Research Laboratory and U.S. Naval Weapons Center from the 1950s through the 1990s. The advantages would be simpler guns and a wider range of tactical and logistic options...

  • Gunpowder magazine
    Gunpowder magazine
    A gunpowder magazine is a magazine designed to store the explosive gunpowder in wooden barrels for safety. Gunpowder, until superseded, was a universal explosive used in the military and for civil engineering: both applications required storage magazines...

  • Gunpowder Plot
    Gunpowder Plot
    The Gunpowder Plot of 1605, in earlier centuries often called the Gunpowder Treason Plot or the Jesuit Treason, was a failed assassination attempt against King James I of England and VI of Scotland by a group of provincial English Catholics led by Robert Catesby.The plan was to blow up the House of...

  • Berthold Schwarz
    Berthold Schwarz
    Berthold Schwarz is a legendary or semi-legendary German alchemist of the late 14th century, credited with the invention of gunpowder in literature of the 15th and 16th centuries....

  • Gunpowder warfare
    Gunpowder warfare
    Early modern warfare is associated with the start of the widespread use of gunpowder and the development of suitable weapons to use the explosive, including artillery and handguns such as the arquebus and later the musket, and for this reason the era is also summarized as the age of gunpowder...

  • History of gunpowder
    History of gunpowder
    Gunpowder was the first chemical explosive and the only one known until the invention of nitrocellulose, nitroglycerin, smokeless powder and TNT in the second half of the 19th century...

  • Smokeless powder
    Smokeless powder
    Smokeless powder is the name given to a number of propellants used in firearms and artillery which produce negligible smoke when fired, unlike the older gunpowder which they replaced...

  • Technology of the Song Dynasty
    Technology of the Song Dynasty
    The Song Dynasty provided some of the most significant technological advances in Chinese history, many of which came from talented statesmen drafted by the government through imperial examinations....

  • Waltham Abbey Royal Gunpowder Mills
    Waltham Abbey Royal Gunpowder Mills
    The Royal Gunpowder Mills, Waltham Abbey, an Anchor Point of the European Route of Industrial Heritage, , set in of parkland and containing 21 buildings of major historical importance, mixes history, science, and attractive surroundings...


External links