When were bb guns invented

As a fervent collector of air guns, my interest piqued when I started exploring the history of one of the most popular types of air guns – the BB gun. Its intriguing history is something I wanted to share with fellow enthusiasts like you and me.

So, when did the BB guns come into existence? How have they evolved? What are the interesting facts about air rifles that we should all know? Let’s together unravel the captivating history of air guns in our beloved homeland, the US!

Who was the Mastermind Behind the First BB Gun?

Have you heard of William F. “Phil” Markham? He would insist that everyone call him “Captain.” He was quite the character, donning a sailor’s hat everywhere he went, and often boasted about his experience as the head of a fleet of ships. The Navy? Coast Guard? He never really clarified. Oddly, no one ever saw him on water, let alone his alleged fleet.

This fascinating character is credited with inventing the world’s first BB gun in 1887. He lived an extravagant life, full of mysteries and possibly tall tales, making it difficult to separate fact from fiction.

Originally, Markham was a humble craftsman. Around 1886, folks from Plymouth, Michigan (about 30 miles from Detroit) would visit his shop, where he crafted wooden cisterns (above-ground water wells) and cattle feeding troughs. By the time he was 34, he had established a thriving business, thanks to his industrious nature.

Then suddenly, he introduced a BB gun to the world. Not just any BB gun, but the first one. The United States Patent Office credited Markham for the air rifle, which he soon started marketing as the Chicago. Interestingly, Markham had never shown any interest in firearms before. Rumors floated around that he merely took credit for one of his employee’s inventions. Nonetheless, the Chicago air rifle bore Markham’s name.

The Chicago, made primarily of wood and being rather heavy, didn’t resemble a firearm. Its shooting accuracy wasn’t its strongest suit either. Yet, it was the pioneer, paving the way for an industry that today produces millions of BB guns. A local newspaper humorously suggested that the Chicago would be more effective as a club than a BB gun.

Soon after, Markham Air Rifle Company was established. It became one of Plymouth’s main businesses, and other companies, including the one that evolved into Daisy Air Rifles, started manufacturing their own, earning Plymouth the title “The Airgun Capital of the World.”

Markham’s fortune was on the rise. Despite his office being virtually across the street from his home, he chose to commute via a horse-drawn carriage, a clear display of his wealth to his neighbors. He took vacations to Bermuda and even bought a boat, possibly just to validate his captain’s hat.

However, his personal life wasn’t as rosy. After leaving his wife and children for his much younger secretary, he faced the city’s backlash. This scandal, around 1901, became so intense that he was forced to sell his home and relocate.

And where did he choose to settle? Hollywood, California.

Before Hollywood became the hub of the movie industry, it was a tranquil suburb of Los Angeles. Markham invested his BB gun fortune in real estate, acquiring what today would be considered prime properties in Hollywood. He built a home that resembled a palace, and rather unusually, it included a bird sanctuary.

Markham eventually sold his BB gun business to Daisy, and retired comfortably to tend to his birds. He passed away in 1930, leaving behind a legacy that seems almost too incredible to have been lived by one man.

So, When Were BB Guns Invented? The Journey Began in 1886…

So, the question we asked ourselves: when were BB guns invented? Turns out, our trip down air rifle history lane goes quite a ways back — to 1886, to be precise. The first recorded BB gun was conceived by none other than our dear Captain, William F. Markham. His invention, carved out of maple wood and powered by a spring piston, used 0.180-inch lead shotgun birdshot — measured as “BB,” somewhere between the sizes B and BBB.

Though Markham got the credit, the actual inventor is a topic of debate. Some believe it was an employee of Markham’s who crafted the design, while Markham simply claimed it as his own. Regardless of the truth, Markham took this pioneering BB gun to Chicago and started selling them under his own company, the Markham Air Rifle Company.

But what about the modern all-metal (or, more recently, plastic) BB gun? When did it come into existence?

The first revamped design appeared a year later in 1887, crafted by a man named Clarence Hamilton. Hamilton’s BB gun was all metal with a spring piston. He showcased his .22 caliber BB gun to the founder of Plymouth Iron Windmill Company, Lewis Cass Hough, who was so impressed that he decided to manufacture it. The air gun, christened Daisy, gained immense popularity, leading Hough to pivot his company into a BB gun manufacturer. And that’s how the Daisy Manufacturing company was born.

Markham eventually sold his business to Daisy in 1930, and Daisy continues to thrive to this day.

What Were Some of the Key Milestones in Air Rifle History?

We’ve addressed the question, “when were BB guns invented?”, but there’s more to this story. The evolution of BB guns has been a long journey, marked by numerous developments.

The 1900s brought a change in the size of BBs. Initially, 0.180-inch lead BB shot was the preferred choice for BB guns, but it soon shrank to 0.175 inches. This was due to a couple of reasons: lighter ammo required less spring power to shoot (making it easier for youngsters), and smaller ammo was cheaper to produce. Hence, what we now refer to as “BBs” aren’t actually size “BB” anymore.

In the 1920s, Daisy started receiving a lot of BB guns with damaged barrels due to people trying to fire poor-quality steel pellets. These were a cheaper alternative produced by the American Ball Company of Minneapolis. To address this, Daisy came up with a better BB gun barrel design that could handle steel BBs. They signed a deal with the American Ball Company in 1928 to be the sole distributor of their steel “Bulls Eye” ammo. This arrangement lasted until 1939, when Daisy acquired the company and started producing the shot themselves.

The advancement was temporarily halted in the ‘40s due to World War II. Significant changes in air rifle history didn’t occur until the 1960s, which saw the introduction of more innovative air rifles.

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