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Aster Revolver

There’s an old rumor floating around that Charles Duell, commissioner of the United States Patent and Trademark Office (1898 – 1901), once said, “Everything that can be invented has been invented.” With that, he quit his job at the end of 1899.

While this has been debunked, one could see how Duell might have been compelled to make that statement upon examination of Joseph Aster’s invention in 1899 – not because Aster’s invention was so incredibly remarkable, but because it was so absurd. Fishy, even.

Near the end of May 1899, Joseph Aster of New York, NY, filed a patent for a revolver he very plainly called a “foot operated revolver.” Upon seeing the drawing he submitted, it is clear that his design was anything but plain.

Designed to be disguised, Aster’s revolver was concealed in the body of a fish. The barrel protruded out from the mouth and the cylinder occupied the largest part of the cavity. A hammer was located further back near the tail.

The fish sat horizontally, balanced on its two bottom fins which were, in fact, the trigger.  When you applied pressure to the top of the fish, the fins were depressed and the gun was discharged. The patent application and drawing that Aster submitted did not mention the size of the fish or the caliber, but the drawing does show six chambers in the cylinder.

Despite the unusual design, Aster received approval for his foot operated revolver in January 1900. He was issued patent number 641,620.

What target audience, exactly, he was trying to reach with a fish revolver you put on the floor and operate with your foot isn’t clear. What is clear, however, is that Aster must have had quite the imagination – and a lot of confidence that people wouldn’t be suspicious about a fish sitting out of water on the floor somewhere.

Some inventors have completely changed the way we live our lives. As such, their names are remembered through the ages: Thomas Edison. Samuel Colt. Henry Ford. There are plenty of others.

Unfortunately, other inventors don’t do such a great job of changing the way we live. This would be the case for Joseph Aster. The only records of him as an inventor exist in their relationship to his fish gun. It isn’t known if his design ever made it to production. If it did, no examples survive. Since Joseph didn’t submit an actual patent model, the foot operated revolver disguised as a fish exists only on paper.

One thing is for sure: if you ever enter a building and there’s a line of odd-looking fish sitting on the floor, you might want to get out of there as soon as possible!

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.

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  1. Someone has any other weapon paperwork starting now.

    Seriously though, more text would be great. This guy must have been something else.

  2. Based upon the alignment of the barrel in the picture, wouldn’t it just shoot into the floor? Perhaps a specially designed plate sits in front to ricochet bullets into the target?

    • I wondered about that. Seems like the best thing this would do is shoot someone in the foot.

      I have to admit though, getting shot in the foot would probably get my attention.

  3. Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day – teach him to fish and you turn him into a weapon of mass destruction

    • That and now he has to get a fishing license but you had to teach him to fish so he wouldn’t starve so now he needs to get a job to buy the license and get into the social security system and pay taxes. After all that he catches his fish and the DNR scream about his open flame and the health department wants to know what he’s gonna do with the scales and guts and writes him a citation for an unsanitary food prep area.

      It gets to be a mess pretty quick.

      • You’re being too kind to “BIG government (leaders) are better, I’ll tell you why …, or else…” (EPA, DEC, PETA (yes, they ARE a NGO GPO -government preferred org), etc…

    • Give a man a fish, and he’ll eat for a day. Teach a man to fish, and he’ll eat for the rest of his life. Teach a man to build a revolver concealed in a fish, and he becomes immortal.

      • Build a man a fire and he’s warm for the night. Set a man on fire and he’s warm for the rest of his life.

  4. The whole thing seems “fishy” to me. Probably was prescient and made a contribution to the Clinton Foundation to get the patent.

  5. Probably just a red herring for something else entirely…

    Wait, I’ve got it…. Made for street musicians who were tired of getting coins stolen from their hats on the ground!

  6. At least you’d only need a fishing license and not a CCW.

    I’d love to the petition asking people to ban high-capacity assault tuna.

  7. In 1861, 37 years earlier , the Ballard rifle was patented, a rimfire cartridge falling block single shot rifle of remarkable accuracy and durability, ant the Gatling gun was patented. Both landmark weapons, both still in use today.

  8. I’m in the packaging industry and can relay the insane about of time inventors spend on a idea or concept, take the time to patent a device only to have no buyers. The single issue most inventors do not account for is throughput. One fellow thought placing an air bubble in the the top seal of a chip bag would revolutionize how a bag opens. When I told him chip bags are filled and sealed between 45 and 120 per minute and how it would be impossible to achieve this rate using his idea, he wasn’t concerned.

    The best item and I have one, is a beautifully machined wheel hole spacing gauge used to identify what wheel fits a particular car. Ponder how many people in the world of steel wheels would ever need one.

  9. I could it see it being worthwhile (except for the whole shooting the floor thing) for criminal bosses and other high-powered individuals who are likely to be threatened in their offices.

    Guy comes in, stands in front of your desk, and threatens to kill you. You calmly raise your hands and step on the fish he dismissed as a tchotchke. He’s been shot, is distracted, you pull out your revolver (or Tommy gun, if that’s how you roll) and end him.

  10. maybe stepping down rotates the cylinder, while the hammer drops upon release. hard to tell, though. that drawing is a load of carp.

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