Warfare History Network
This Gun Did One Historic Thing: It Made America a Superpower
In the late 19th century, an arms race was in effect among the nations of Europe. Advances in technology were quickly rendering obsolete the weapons that had served relatively unchanged for decades. The muzzle loader gave way to the breech-loading cartridge rifle, which in turn was outclassed by the repeating rifle firing high-velocity cartridges using smokeless powder. Machine guns were still in their infancy, but growing rapidly. Artillery likewise was evolving from brass muzzle-loading guns to quick-firing breechloaders made of steel. These new weapons were expensive to make, but conferred great advantage to those who had them. Resistance to expenditures generally melted away after success on the battlefield.
The ongoing arms race had an effect on the United States, as well. The U.S. Army’s only opponents in the late 1800s were the various tribes of Native Americans who were resisting the continuing loss of their lands in the West. There were few areas in which a conflict with European powers might occur, and American planners gave little thought to the prospect. Eventually, as the nation’s growing power and status caused its eyes to turn outward, the United States began to recognize that it lagged behind Europe in modern weapons.
New Caliber, New Powder