The Girardoni repeating air rifle of 1780 | Air gun weblog


by Tom Gaylord
Writing as B.B. Pelletier

The Girardoni of 1780 was the very first thriving repeating rifle, and it is an airgun!

A history of airguns

This report covers:

  • History
  • Girandoni or Girardoni?
  • 1,000-1,500 rifles
  • Gear
  • Firing the rifle
  • Complications
  • Lewis &amp Clark
  • Replica
  • Summary

Currently will be a distinctive sort of report. Substantially of what I want to show you is in a brief video at the finish. I have determined that videos are a superior way to impart a lot of data that is really hard to clarify but straightforward to see. Hence there will be a lot more videos in my future reports.


In the mid to late 1700s many persons had been attempting to invent a dependable repeating firearm. The military wanted such an arm, as extended as it was dependable. The dilemma was, the gunpowder of the day was what we know now as black powder. Rather of burning like smokeless powder, black powder burns so quick that it explodes when confined inside a tight space. So lots of early repeating firearms exploded, since there had been no cartridges to include the powder.

The son of Bartolomaes Girardoni was killed when an experimental repeating rifle he fired blew up and took off his arm. That, most likely a lot more than something, got Girardoni’s consideration turned toward air rifles. And in 1780 his perfected air rifle repeater was chosen by the Austrian army for restricted use.

Girandoni or Girardoni?

The name has been spelled each strategies. Dr. Beeman traveled to Europe to meet with members of the household and found that the name is spelled GiraRdoni. Apparently a misspelling in print about 50-60 years ago changed the spelling, and thousands of references have been written with the N spelling. Browsing for that spelling will obtain far a lot more information than with the R spelling. But the R spelling is right.

1,000-1,500 rifles

You will obtain references to the reality that the Austrians purchased anyplace from 1,000 to 1,500 Girardoni repeaters for restricted use on the battlefield. Riflemen had been assigned individually to units and treated as snipers are now. That was a lot more since they had a rifle than the reality that they had a repeater. There is a single record of a sergeant getting killed with a single shot at 110 yards. He was standing subsequent to a basic officer who was most likely the actual target.


Every soldier was issued a rifle, two further filled butt flasks that could speedily be changed in the field and a smaller hand pump to refill the flasks. Filling them with the smaller pump was futile — it took forever. So, in the army trains (the logistical location in the rear) there was a wagon-mounted significant pump that was operated by two guys whose only job was to fill flasks as quick as they could.

Dr Beeman has a contemporary replica that he has shot and tells us there are at least a single magazine’s worth of shots and most likely a lot more from a flask.

soldiers pack
Every rifleman carried this leather pack that had two filled butt flasks in addition to the a single on his rifle. There was also a hand pump in the kit, but it is doubtful it was utilised really considerably.

Firing the rifle

The rifle was either .46 or .47 caliber. It carried 21 round balls (all bullets at the time had been round balls) in a tube on the proper side of the receiver. When the rifle was elevated for the hammer to be cocked, the tube was also elevated and the balls rolled to the rear. A steel shuttle was pushed in from the left side of the receiver and a hole permitted a single ball to drop in from the magazine tube. Releasing the shuttle permitted a extended leaf spring to push it back to the left exactly where the ball then aligned with the breech of the barrel. All the shooter had to do was shoulder the rifle and fire. This whole method took much less than 3 seconds. And a educated rifleman could preserve up sustained fire till he ran out of bullets. The Girardoni was the assault rifle of the day.


The largest dilemma was no doubt air leakage. The butt was most likely pressurized to in between 600 and 800 psi, and the leather and animal horn seals of the day had been not airtight. They had been kept lubricated with sperm whale oil which helped, but they nevertheless leaked down more than time. There had been most likely some flasks that remained pressurized for a couple days and other folks that leaked down in hours.

A second dilemma was the upkeep of what at the time was a very complicated mechanism. Armorers (these who repair firearms for the military) had been largely blacksmiths at the time. This repeater referred to as for the expertise of a clockmaker! As a outcome, the Austrian Arms started phasing the rifle out of their inventory just immediately after 1800. They couldn’t preserve it going, but civilians reacted differently! Gunmakers started copying the mechanism and now there are far a lot more Girardoni-variety rifles than there are actual military Girardonis. But a single Girardoni is the most popular rifle of all time — the repeating air rifle carried by Lewis &amp Clark on their expedition of 1803.

Lewis &amp Clark

For lots of years if was believed that the Lewis &amp Clark air rifle was a single-shot produced by Isaiah Lukens. I have examined that airgun and even photographed it partially disassembled. But then Dr. Beeman identified some missing diary pages from the L&ampC expedition that speak of a repeater and of a repair produced to the hammer when in the field. Lo and behold, from forensic examination he found that he owned the precise rifle Lewis &amp Clark had carried! He donated it to the U.S. Army War College museum and it has been shown about the nation ever given that. This rifle kept the Indian tribes at bay as the smaller band of soldiers crossed the continent, since they had been astounded at the “white man’s medicine.” They had never ever noticed a repeating rifle! In reality, really handful of persons ever had!


I have noticed a single military Girardoni at an airgun show. I have most likely noticed 10 or 15 Girardoni-variety airguns if I include things like each the rifles and pistols. Airgun writer and collector Larry Hannusch owns a Contriner repeating rifle that he has shot at massive bore matches and taken smaller Texas deer with. He also owns a gorgeous pair of Girandoni-variety pistols that I have reported on in the previous.

Cantarini pistols
Larry Hannusch boxed this gorgeous pair of Cantarini repeating pistols with all the tools they need.

Cantarini detail
Larry’s pistols are produced for nobility or royalty with no a doubt!

The Girardoni I saw changed hands for $three,500 at the Roanoke airgun show in the 1990s. Knowledgeable airgunners felt it was most likely worth about $eight,000 at the time, but who genuinely knows? Currently a related instance will fetch 50,000 to 90,000 Euro ($55,000 to $99,000). I cannot afford that, but let me show you a single I can afford.

My thanks to John McCaslin for that fabulous present! It now hangs proudly on my living space wall.


If you have any interest in owning a replica Girardoni for your man cave or living space, right here is the man to speak to. Karl Walker at [email protected]


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