Enthusiasts of firearms and photography often use similar terms and equipment. Both “shoot” the “target.” Both employ the use of a tripod to steady their aim. Both utilize a trigger (of sorts) to take their shots. Because of this, it should come as no surprise that a 19th century inventor sought to combine the best of both worlds.
Enter the Kilburn Gun Camera.
Inventor Benjamin Kilburn came up with his idea of a camera mounted on a gun stock while shooting photos of wildlife in rough mountainous terrain. There, he realized that the use of a traditional tripod would be difficult at best. The ground was too uneven to deploy a tripod with any degree of stability. Building off of his military experience during the Civil War, Kilburn knew that a modified rifle stock was the perfect solution.
The concept is as simple as it sounds: you mount a camera to a rifle stock and bring it to your shoulder to steady your aim, then pull the trigger to activate the shutter and take a photo.
The Scovill Manufacturing Company produced Kilburn’s invention and offered it in two variations: stock only for use with your own camera, or a stock and camera combo so that was ready to start capturing images right out of the box. Introduced in 1882, the product was short-lived; by 1886, production had stopped.
The gun-meets-camera concept was revisited in Asia after World War II, but their designs were based on pistols and, quite frankly, were likely to get you shot. Check out these examples:
Kilburn’s design has undergone some changes over the decades, but credit must be given to the guys who wrote the original ad copy for Scovill’s sales department, which used plenty of firearms terminology. Here’s some of the best ones:
– “Its ammunition is chemicals instead of powder and lead.
– “It is both breech and muzzle loading.”
– … a dead aim taken … and the trigger pulled.”
– “… dry plates as his stock of ammunition.”
I’ve never seen a Kilburn Gun Camera before. Having only recently learned of their existence, you can bet I’ll have my eyes peeled for one at flea markets and garage sales.
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.