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    Every Creeping Thing: True Tales of Faintly Repulsive Wildlife: “Conniff is a splendid writer–fresh, clear, uncondescending, and with never a false step; one can’t resist quoting him.” (NY Times Book Review)

    The Species Seekers:  Heroes, Fools, and the Mad Pursuit of Life on Earth by Richard Conniff is “a swashbuckling romp” that “brilliantly evokes that just-before Darwin era” (BBC Focus) and “an enduring story bursting at the seams with intriguing, fantastical and disturbing anecdotes” (New Scientist). “This beautifully written book has the verve of an adventure story” (Wall St. Journal)

    Swimming with Piranhas at Feeding Time by Richard Conniff  is “Hilariously informative…This book will remind you why you always wanted to be a naturalist.” (Outside magazine) “Field naturalist Conniff’s animal adventures … are so amusing and full color that they burst right off the page …  a quick and intensely pleasurable read.” (Seed magazine) “Conniff’s poetic accounts of giraffes drifting past like sail boats, and his feeble attempts to educate Vervet monkeys on the wonders of tissue paper will leave your heart and sides aching.  An excellent read.” (BBC Focus magazine)

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The Minister Who Invented the Modern Bullet

Posted by Richard Conniff on October 11, 2012

The year of 1807 was better for hunters than birds.  In the wetlands north of Aberdeen, Scotland, a Presbyterian minister, Rev. Alexander Forsyth, was engaged in a war of wits with local ducks.

They’d figured out how to dodge a shot by diving when the spark from his flintlock produced a flash of gunpowder in the firing pan of his muzzle-loader.  Dampness on the North Sea coast also frequently caused Forsyth’s weapon to misfire.

After much tinkering, he devised and patented the first percussion-ignition device, a sort of metal perfume bottle for injecting a tiny amount of mercury fulminate into the chamber of the gun, where the impact of a hammer could ignite it and spark the gunpowder charge far more reliably (and without alarming the birds).

Forsyth’s invention, patented in 1807, would lead by mid-century to the development of the metal percussion cap and the modern bullet.  It would prove an essential tool for species seekers, particularly in wet climates—and also the chief instrument of the bloodiest military conflicts in the history of the Earth, from Gettysburg and Gallipoli to the Somme.

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One Response to “The Minister Who Invented the Modern Bullet”

  1. Conor said

    And now I know! 🙂

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