Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 2.djvu/74

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62
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

and mechanism, the gaseous motor for gun-projectiles should be composed as at first. The explanation is difficult. Gunpowder occupies a sort of half-way ground between things innocent and things dangerous; a medium quality favoring its many applications. Exploding readily enough for all convenient needs, it never spontaneously explodes—a great point in its favor. Then its power of water-absorption not being very great, it stores tolerably well. But, more than any thing else, gunpowder has held its long and almost exclusive sway over guns and gunners owing to the two following circumstances: it can be made of any desired percentage composition, and it may be corned or grained to any degree of coarseness or fineness. As employed for different purposes, it is necessary that gunpowder should have various strengths. To a considerable extent the strength of gunpowder, by varying the relative amount of its components, can be modified; but the great adjustive resource consists in increasing or lessening the dimension of its grains.

Having taken account of certain special good qualities of gun-powder, we now come to certain of its bad qualities. Safe it indeed is in the sense of not igniting spontaneously; but it deteriorates by keeping, the more especially if in a moist atmosphere. If gunpowder be thoroughly wetted, then may it be considered wholly spoilt. In burning, gunpowder evolves much heat, much smoke; it also deposits much foulness. On the debtor side of gunpowder must be reckoned, also, the danger attendant on manufacture. It would be a great advantage if possible to devise a gunpowder that should acquire its usefully-dangerous qualities with the very last manufacturing touch, whereby in every incipient stage it might be stored without possibility of risk.

It will have been gathered, then, that gunpowder, ordinary black gunpowder, though it has seen some service and done some hard duty in its time, is not so perfect as to fulfil all requisitions desired; wherefore from time to time experiments have been directed to the manufacture of a substitute.

The only substitute yet invented which has met with favorable notice from practical sportsmen is Schultze's wood-powder, which, from its being granulated, and consequently permeated by air, can never generate fire of itself. This explosive, invented by Captain Schultze, a Prussian officer, was originally manufactured at Potsdam, near Berlin, and the factory catching fire in 1868, instead of exploding—ruining the neighborhood, and leaving many widows and orphans, like the recent gun-cotton explosion at Stowmarket—burned quietly to the ground. A company of English gentlemen, fond of field-sports, foreseeing the advantages to be derived from its introduction into England, purchased a site for its production in the New Forest, and thither we must carry our readers on "a visit to the Schultze Gunpowder manufactory," at Redbridge near Southampton.

Here and there, at intervals wide apart, are various buildings of