New York inventor Walter Hunt created many items we’re familiar with and still use today. Mr. Hunt patented the lockstitch sewing machine, fountain pen and safety pin. He also attempted to improve ammunition technology in the mid-19th century. His design, known as the Rocket Ball, proved to be far less successful than his other inventions.
Patented in 1848, Hunt’s Rocket Ball design sought to eliminate the need for traditional paper cartridges, which were state-of-the-art for more than a century. Hunt’s creation created a new caseless type of ammunition. (The self-contained metallic cartridge that is ubiquitous today would come later.)
Mr. Hunt’s .31 and .41 caliber bullets had hollow bases packed with a charge of gunpowder. The powder-filled cavity was closed with a waterproof cap. The cap had a small hole through which the ignition source could travel and reach the powder.
When fired, the bullet’s hollow base expanded and engaged the barrel’s rifling, which helped improve accuracy. The cap stayed behind, ending up in front of the next round that was chambered in the gun.
While Hunt’s design was a step forward, it was not without its flaws. Chief among them: its lack of power.
The round’s powder charge was small; it had to fit in the bullet cavity. This created a round that lacked muzzle velocity and effectiveness. By the mid-1850s, the concept had been scrapped and the Rocket Ball design faded into obscurity.
Despite the Rocket Ball’s failure to catch on, it had a profound influence on firearm development.
Hunt’s design created a domino effect through its influence with some big names, such as Horace Smith, Daniel Wesson, Benjamin Tyler Henry and Oliver F. Winchester. As such, Hunt’s failed caseless ammunition paved the way for the iconic lever-action rifles made by Winchester.
Logan Metesh is a firearms historian and consultant who runs High Caliber History LLC. Click here for a free 3-page download with tips about caring for your antique and collectible firearms.