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RICHARD JORDAN GATLING (1818–1903)

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Originally appearing in Volume V11, Page 530 of the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.
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RICHARD JORDAN GATLING (1818–1903), American inventor, was born in Hertford county, North Carolina, on the 12th of September 1818. He was the son of a well-to-do planter and slave-owner, from whom he inherited a genius for mechanical invention and whom he assisted in the construction and perfecting of machines for sowing cotton seeds, and for thinning the plants. He was well educated and was successively a school teacher and a merchant, spending all his spare time in developing new inventions. In 1839 he perfected a practical screw propeller for steam-boats, only _to find that a patent had been granted to John Ericsson for a similar invention a few months earlier. He established himself in St Louis, Missouri, and taking the cotton-sowing machine as a basis he adapted it for sowing rice, wheat and other grains, and established factories for its manufacture. The introduction of these machines did much to revolutionize the agricultural system in the country. Becoming interested in the study of medicine through an attack of smallpox, he completed a course at the Ohio Medical College, taking his M.D. degree in 185o. In the same year he invented a hemp-breaking machine, and in 1857 a steam plough. At the outbreak of the Civil War he was living in Indianapolis, and devoted himself at once to the perfecting of fire-arms. In 1861 he conceived the idea of the rapid fire machine-gun which is associated with his name. By 1862 he had succeeded in perfecting a gun that would discharge 350 shots per minute; but the war was practically over before the Federal authorities consented to its official adoption. From that time, however, the success of the invention was assured, and within ten years it had been adopted by almost every civilized nation. Gatling died in New York City on the 26th of February 1903.
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