In honor of Patriots’ Day, let’s take a minute to celebrate what is typically deemed the very first American machine gun that didn’t have a hand crank — the Colt Potato Digger.
Created in the 1880s by none other than John Moses Browning (who went on to craft quite a few other machine guns to contain the M1917, M1918 BAR, M1919 and globe-renowned M2 BMG), the “Potato Digger” got its name from its peculiar operating lever that visibly travels whilst the gun is getting fired — which would connect to the ground if the gun was not mounted higher sufficient. In essence, it is a gas-powered lever-action belt-fed machine gun capable of firing at about 400 rounds per minute.
Patented by 1895, Browning shopped the gun to Colt extensively and it was place into production by the Connecticut gun maker that year as the M1895. In a nod to the inventor, these early guns are marked “Made beneath Browning Patent By Colt Pt FA Co.”
Weighing in at 35 pounds, it was nevertheless heavy compared to the machine guns of right now but was significantly lighter than earlier Gatling guns and Sir Hiram Maxim’s water-cooled machine gun styles of its era. As such, it was the very first complete-auto weapon adopted by the U.S. military when the Navy picked up a handful of of the guns for use by ashore parties landing from warships to converse with the locals.
Chambered in 6mm Lee — then the exact same caliber the Navy and Marine’s regular rifle was in — the M1895 saw service in the Spanish-American War with U.S. Marines in 1898. With the National Firearms Act then far into the future, a pair of Potato Diggers had been even privately bought by then-Colonel Theodore Roosevelt’s Rough Riders in 7x57mm for use in the conflict. It should really be noted that the common Army at the time nevertheless applied Gatling guns (which had been also produced by Colt!).
To get an concept of how the Navy and Marines applied the huge Colt M1895 on landing parties, verify out this footage from the 1975 Sean Connery film, The Wind and the Lion, which shows a dramatized account of such a detail at function in 1904 Morocco.
The Army later purchased much more than two,500 Marlin-produced (yes, the lever action rifle maker) M1917/18 Potato Diggers for use in early tanks and aircraft in the course of Planet War I.
Additional, the gun proved well-liked with overseas consumers, getting produced for the Tsar of Russia in 7.62x54R, the Italians in six.5mm Mannlicher–Carcano, and British Commonwealth forces in .303. This kept the gun circulating the globe in former colonies of these nations nicely into the 1960s, exactly where they had been nevertheless photographed in use by rebels in each Yemen and Africa.
These days, transferrable examples of these classic early machine guns, which have not been in production in 100 years, run about $20,000.
Nevertheless, it is an iconic component of American history.