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Revolutionary Weapon in the 18th Century: The Girardoni Air Rifle

Updated: Jan 9

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The Girardoni air rifle was in service with the Austrian army from 1780 to around 1815. Many references to the Girardoni air rifles mention lethal combat ranges of 125 to 150 yards and some extend that range considerably. The advantages of a high rate of fire, no smoke from propellants, and low muzzle report granted it acceptance. It did have problems and was eventually removed from service for several reasons decades after its introduction. There was also a version sold to civilians after it was removed from military service. While the detachable air reservoir was capable of around 30 shots, it took nearly 1,500 strokes of a hand pump to fill those reservoirs. Later, a wagon-mounted pump was provided. The reservoirs, made from hammered sheet iron held together with rivets and sealed by brazing, proved very difficult to manufacture using the techniques of the period and were always in short supply.

In addition, the weapon was very delicate, and a small break in the reservoir could make it inoperable. It was also very different from any other weapon of the time, requiring extensive training to use.

The Lewis and Clark Expedition used the rifle in the demonstrations that they performed for nearly every Native American tribe they encountered on the expedition.

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