Dr. Richard Jordan Gatling

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Dr. Richard Jordan Gatling

Birthplace: Hertford County, North Carolina, United States
Death: February 26, 1903 (84)
New York, New York, United States
Place of Burial: 700 38th Street, Indianapolis, Marion County, IN, 46208, United States
Immediate Family:

Son of Jordan Gatling and Mary Gatling
Husband of Jemima Taylor Gatling
Father of Mary S. Gatling; Ida Petencost; William Sanders Gatling and Richard Henry Gatling
Brother of Thomas Barnes Gatling; Mary Ann Gatling; James Henry Gatling, Unmarried; William Jesse Gatling, Unmarried; Martha Sarah Gatling and 1 other

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About Dr. Richard Jordan Gatling


Richard Jordan Gatling (September 12, 1818 – February 26, 1903) was an American inventor best known for his invention of the Gatling gun, considered to be the first successful machine gun though is not a true machine gun by modern definitions.


Gatling was born in Hertford County, North Carolina in 1818. At the age of 21, Gatling created a screw propeller for steamboats, without realizing that one had been patented just months prior by John Ericsson. While living in North Carolina, he worked in the county clerk’s office, taught school briefly, and became a merchant. At the age of 36, Gatling moved to St. Louis, Missouri where he worked in a dry goods store and invented a rice-sowing machine and a wheat drill (a machine to aid planting wheat). The introduction of these machines did much to revolutionize the agricultural system in the country. After an attack of smallpox, Gatling became interested in medicine. He graduated from the Ohio Medical College in 1850 with an MD. Although he had his MD, he never practiced; he was more interested in a career as an inventor. At the outbreak of the Civil War, Gatling was living in Indianapolis, Indiana. There he devoted himself to the perfection of firearms. In 1861, the same year the war started, he invented the Gatling gun. A year later, he founded the Gatling Gun Company.

By the early 1850s, Gatling was successful enough in business to offer marriage to Jemima Sanders, 19 years younger than Gatling and the daughter of a prominent Indianapolis physician. They married on October 25, 1854. Her younger sister Zerelda was married to David Wallace, the governor of Indiana. An active member of his Masonic Lodge, he was member of Center Lodge No. 23.

Later in his life, Gatling patented inventions to improve toilets, bicycles, steam-cleaning of raw wool, pneumatic power, and many other fields. He was elected as the first president of the American Association of Inventors and Manufacturers in 1891, serving for six years. Although still quite wealthy at the time of his death, he made and lost several fortunes by his investments.

In his final years, Gatling moved back to St. Louis, Missouri, to form a new company for manufacturing his steam plows, or tractors. While in New York City to visit his daughter and to talk with his patent agency, Gatling died at his daughter's home on February 26, 1903. He is interred at the Crown Hill Cemetery in Indianapolis, Indiana.

His contributions were commemorated by the U.S. Navy during World War II when the Fletcher Class Destroyer DD-671 was christened the USS Gatling.


While being most known for inventing the Gatling gun, Gatling invented and patented a number of other inventions. His inventions include a screw propeller and a wheat drill (a planting device) in 1839, a hemp break machine in 1850, a steam plow (steam tractor) in 1857, the Gatling gun in 1861, a marine steam ram in 1862, and a motor-driven plow (tractor).

Gatling gun https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gatling_gun

Gatling invented the Gatling gun after he noticed that a majority of the soldiers fighting in the Civil War were lost to disease rather than gunshots. In 1877, he wrote:

It occurred to me that if I could invent a machine – a gun – which could by its rapidity of fire, enable one man to do as much battle duty as a hundred, that it would, to a large extent supersede the necessity of large armies, and consequently, exposure to battle and disease [would] be greatly diminished.

The gun was based on Gatling’s seed planter. A working prototype was developed in 1861. In 1862, he founded the Gatling Gun Company in Indianapolis, Indiana to market the gun. The first six production guns were destroyed during a fire in December 1862 at the factory. All six of them had been manufactured at Gatling's expense. Undaunted, Gatling arranged for another 13 to be manufactured at the Cincinnati Type Factory.

Though the gun was developed during the Civil War, it saw very little action. This is partly because Gatling was accused of being a copperhead because of his North Carolina roots, but this was never proven. Gatling was never affiliated with the Confederate States government or military, nor did he live in the South during the Civil War.

Although General Benjamin F. Butler bought 12 and Admiral David Dixon Porter bought one, it was not until 1866 that the US Government officially purchased Gatling guns. In 1870 he sold his patents for the Gatling gun to Colt. Gatling remained president of the Gatling Gun Company until it was fully absorbed by Colt in 1897. In 1893, Gatling patented a Gatling gun that replaced the hand cranked mechanism with an electric motor, a relatively new invention at the time, achieving a rate of fire of 3,000 rounds per minute.

The hand-cranked Gatling gun was declared obsolete by the United States Army in 1911.

Decades later, after World War II, the mechanical concept was resurrected and wedded to electricity-driven cranking in the M61 Vulcan. That cannon has given rise to numerous variations scaled up to as high as 37 mm and down to 5.56 mm calibers offering versions that are gas-operated as well


Richard Jordan Gatling, inventor of the machine gun and numerous other devices, was born in the Maney's Neck section of Hertford County. His father was Jordan Gatling, a slaveholder who owned an almost completely self-sufficient plantation containing more than a thousand acres; his mother was Mary Barnes Gatling. Richard Jordan had three brothers, Thomas B., James Henry, and William J., and two sisters, Mary Ann and Martha. The entire family is remembered for its exceptional intellect. Jordan Gatling was himself an inventor and in 1835 patented machines for planting and for thinning cotton. James Henry, an older brother of Richard Jordan, was greatly interested in heavier-than-air flight by man and in the 1870s constructed a crude hand-powered aircraft with which he experimented unsuccessfully; he also invented and patented devices for chopping cotton stalks and for converting pine into lightwood. It was in this climate of intellectual curiosity that Richard Jordan Gatling spent his boyhood. He had brief formal education at Buckhorn, a local common school. He then became a schoolmaster but gave up teaching to open a country store near the town of Winton. During this period Gatling's inventive genius first found expression. Having observed an experimental steamboat trial while on a visit to Norfolk, Va., in 1841, he conceived the principle of the screw propeller as a substitute for the slow and cumbersome paddle-type wheels then in use. At first his father refused him permission to go to Washington to patent the principle, but relented seven months later. When Gatling arrived in Washington, he learned that the celebrated Scandinavian-American inventor, John Ericsson, had patented the identical invention only a few days before.

Three years later Gatling obtained his first patent. It was for a rice-seed planter. He then left North Carolina and moved to St. Louis to manufacture and market his planter. There, converting his machine to a wheat-planter, he amassed a fortune in the midwestern wheat fields. During the winter of 1845, Gatling contracted smallpox while on a business trip by riverboat. For two weeks, when the steamer was ice-locked, he was unable to obtain medical attention. Upon recovering from this near-fatal illness, he decided to study medicine simply to be able to care for himself and his family. Accordingly, Gatling attended both Indiana Medical College and Ohio Medical College, receiving a diploma as a physician in 1850. At this time he moved to Indianapolis, where he practiced medicine only briefly. Returning to his creative interests, he invented and patented a hemp-breaking machine and later invented a steam-plow.

The outbreak of the Civil War stimulated Gatling to produce the greatest invention of his career and one that revolutionized warfare. This was the machine battery gun that became known the world over as the "Gatling gun."

One of the most interesting aspects of the life of Gatling is his own conception of the meaning of the terrible weapon that he had created. When he invented his famed gun he acted not as a merchant of violence but as a humanitarian who wished to reduce the number of men required to fight wars and thereby reduce the incidence of death. At the beginning of the Civil War, Gatling frequently visited the trains bringing in dead and wounded troops from the battlefields and army camps. From his examinations, he learned that only three out of eighteen died from their bullet wounds; the remainder died from fever, pneumonia, and other illnesses contracted in camp. The loss of life due to illness impressed Gatling with the idea that, if a weapon could be devised to shoot more bullets, fewer men would be required to fight wars and, therefore, fewer and smaller concentrations of men would be necessary. This, he contended, would cut down the rate of death by both illness and combat. He also hoped that the terror created by such a weapon would tend to discourage war altogether.

Although Gatling's humanitarian theories have proved fallacious, the essentially humanitarian conception of his invention was accepted in many respectable quarters, particularly in England where the Gatling gun was early adopted. A British newspaper of the period commented: "The general use of the formidable weapon will tend to diminish the barbarity and actual carnage of warfare, as its known relentless certainty of execution will help to prevent wars and thereby aid in keeping the peace of Christendom." The first gun was tested and patented in 1862. Although crude, it had a firing capacity of more than 200 rounds a minute. There is some evidence that this early model was used by Union forces on the James River near Richmond on 6 May 1864, but the actual facts have never been ascertained. Gatling worked diligently to refine his invention, and in 1865 an improved model was patented. Twelve guns of this model were subsequently manufactured and submitted to the U.S. Army for tests. In 1866, the Gatling gun was officially adopted by the War Department.

The gun consisted of a group of ten rifle barrels grouped around a central shaft that was revolved by gear action and a hand crank. Bullets were automatically fed into the barrels, the hammers of which revolved continuously as the hand crank was turned. A later model was capable of firing 1,200 shots a minute and, before selling his patent rights to the Colt Fire Arms Co., Gatling experimented with a model that stepped up firing to 3,000 shots a minute. The Gatling gun was eventually adopted by every European power except Belgium. It was used with particularly telling effect by the British in the Boer War and by the American armies in Cuba.

In 1854 Gatling married Jemima Sanders, the daughter of Dr. John H. Sanders of Indianapolis. The couple had four children: Mary S. (b. 1855), Ida (b. 1858), Richard Henry (b. 1870), and Robert B. (b. 1872). Gatling became a member of the Methodist church during his boyhood in North Carolina. In Indiana in 1864 he was reported to have been a member of the Order of American Knights, an organization regarded as treasonable by the federal government. He died in New York City at age eighty-four. He and his wife were buried in a family plot in Crown Hill Cemetery, Indianapolis, Ind.

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Dr. Richard Jordan Gatling's Timeline

September 12, 1818
Hertford County, North Carolina, United States
October 5, 1855
September 5, 1858
Indiana, United States
January 24, 1861
March 7, 1870
February 26, 1903
Age 84
New York, New York, United States
Crown Hill Cemetery, 700 38th Street, Indianapolis, Marion County, IN, 46208, United States