The McCarty Centrifugal Gun

A side view, top down view, and image of the propelling arm of the McCarty gun.

August 1828 found Robert McCarty of New York filing for a patent on a “Machine for Throwing Balls, Shot, Etc.” McCarty’s “gun” featured a round vertically mounted housing that was in two pieces. On the inside of these pieces, “scrolls” on each formed a “barrel” that ran in an arc from the center to the “muzzle” of the weapon. As projectiles were fed into the gun, the “propelling arm” of the gun, pushed shells into the groove and then pushed them out as it rotated. McCarty’s patent application noted that the gun could be used in a horizontal position, but that he preferred to use it vertically, as shown in the drawings in the patent.[i]

McCarty showed considerable determination – his gun, patented in 1838, was still being talked of in 1861.

May 15, 1861, found it being tested “at the foot of 39th Street, North River” in New York. “It is one of the most singular implements of war that has ever been exhibited to the American people,” said the New York Herald, adding that it placed “Winans’ gun entirely in the shade, sending balls at the rate of 480 per minute without any powder or apparent effort.”

Manned by a team of six men “at the cranks,” one feeding shot to the gun, and the inventor, “balls poured out of the gun in a perfect stream, and in appeared that one continuous stream was being hurled against the target.” The target mentioned was three boards of wood, about 50 yards from the gun. The gun was then aimed across the North River – balls dropped into the water just short of the other bank of the river –about one mile away.

The machine tested in New York used 1 inch shot, but McCarty was also working on a steam powered gun to throw 32 pound shot. The smaller gun had been built by J. Cowell of No. 340 West Twenty-Forth Street who was ready to turn out several a week. The account noted that an attempt was being made to interest the war department in it, and that an army office who had witnessed the test was thinking of securing a gun for his regiment.[ii]

Whether the gun was ever put to use in combat is not known at this point, but it is an interesting possibility.

[i] United States Patent # 1049 Machine for Throwing Balls, Shot & Etc., December 31/1838

[ii] Scientific American 5/25/1861


3 Responses to “The McCarty Centrifugal Gun”

  1. about 20 years ago i saw a monument for this steam gun. it waqs in elkridge, md. west of baltomore, on rt. 1 . the plack said it was never used in war. it was captured by the enemy just after the builder tossed the trigering device overboard from the boat it was on.

    • There is a replica of the “Winans Steam” gun in Elkridge – it was built for a reenactment of the capture of the gun by Federal troops that was held during the centennial of the Civil War in the 1860s – neither it nor the McCarty gun were ever used in combat!

  2. Patrick Harris Says:

    A New Invented Cannon
    Geneva Courier, April 14, 1848
    With some other of the press fraternity, we were invited to witness at New York last week, some experiments of a newly invented cannon for discharging ball by mechanical agency alone. No powder or other explosive substances were used. With six men to turn a crank, 300 balls of the size of a grape shot could be discharged in the space of a minute, or as fast as the balls could be pushed into a hole at the centre of the cylinder, on which the cannon was placed, though, but one ball came from the mouth of the cannon at a time. A large cannon, capable of carrying a six pound ball, was been put on board the Revenue Cutter Polk in the New York bay. This was operated by a steam engine. With this force applied to the machine, we were informed that balls are thrown with more force, and at greater distance than can be done with powder. Men will not wish to go to war and meet such machines. Every improvement in the art of killing makes war more and more and more distasteful to the human mind. The love of military glory decreases in the same ratio that the chance of being killed increases.—Springfield Repub.

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