Sunday, May 13, 2007

The Invention of Captain Josiah V. Meigs

We currently have two separate bills in Washington DC that would outlaw what some consider high capacity magazines, and one that would assign .50 caliber rifles the same restrictive regulations as fully automatic firearms. The anti's argue that these modern firearms and accessories are not to be trusted in the hands of the citizenry. I wonder what they would think about this, a .50 caliber rifle with a 50 (yes... 50) round magazine?

Just the thought of that is probably enough to make a hopolophobe assume the fetal position and cry for mommy.

One man did much more than think about a rifle such as this, he developed it.

Meigs Breech Loading Rifle

The above rifle was invented by Captain Josiah V. Meigs in 1866. It shot the Meigs .50 caliber magazine rifle cartridge, and it was quick and accurate.

Photo From The American Rifleman, June 1955

I found this rifle while browsing one of my favorite firearm auction sites, Greg Martin Auctions. From the auction catalog:

This unique prototype 50-shot breech-loading magazine rifle, one of only three in existence, was invented by J.V. Meigs under U.S. patent No, 54934 issued May 22, 1866. This rifle is designed with a metallic tube taking the place of the ordinary neck of the stock for the purpose of carrying the magazine; this tube is attached to the walnut cheekpiece and steel buttplate.

Stock With Magazine Tube

The frame of the rifle or receiver carries within it a guard and trigger assembly capable of sliding back and forth, producing the motions necessary to chamber and fire the arm from any position desired. During testing, so little disturbance was created with this action that 50 shots could be fired per minute with ease.

Guard and Trigger Assembly

According to the testing, it was determined that a sufficiently accurate aim can be insured to cover an advancing cavalryman for the entire distance in which he could trot or even gallop his horse, thus rendering escape very limited. As an infantryman can advance but at a rate of 109 yards per minute at double quick, an ensconced soldier armed with this rifle could carefully take aim and fire at his enemy at a rate of one shot for every two steps taken by him, thus firing fifty shots before his enemies arrive at nine yards in his front. With this rifle, no cartridge box was necessary; the weight of the rifle was not excessive. Handled by a man accustomed to the rifle, it can be fired at a rate of FIFTY SHOTS IN NINETEEN SECONDS! A new magazine could be inserted in a very brief time. This experimental prototype rifle was tested in trials for four years during which time 38,000 rounds were fired without failure. A truly unique and historic American weapon.

The American Rifleman, June 1955

Captain Meigs not only developed this firearm, he also invented the self lubricating bullet and a center fire primered cartridge that contained an internal primer suitable for tubular magazines.

I have a pdf file of The American Rifleman article from June 1955 that Covers Captain Meigs, his rifle and his cartridges. If you would like a copy, just send me an email. (Gunny John, yours is already on the way)

This rifle (along with a few hundred more) will be on the auction block in June. The estimate for this particular rifle is $25000 - $35000, a bit beyond my means. To learn more about this rifle, and view some better images, go to the auction catalog page here.


Anonymous said...

Way ahead of his time...Wonder why it wasn't more widely adopted? Probably manufacturing issues, working with the metallurgy and lack of precision possible with the existing manufacturing machinery, but an interesting "what if..." The Confederates thought the lever action Henry could be loaded on sunday and shot all week..this one practically could have done that.
Doug in Colorado

Anonymous said...

I actually looked this up in search of a casing I found in the desert near Ft Seldon, NM. I am pretty sure I now have a match to my search thanks to your article.

This casing I found measures .45 at neck, and .575 at base just above the lip, and is 1.875 inches tall and primered. Does this sound like the same cartridge as the Meigs breech loader?

Thanks for the read.

Anonymous said...

I realize that this posting is around 3 years old now, but I have recently seen one of these rifles for sale at 2 different gun shows. I am far from being able to afford it, but it does intrigue me... do you still have the pdf article you mentioned above? and can I get a copy?