World’s First Full-Auto Firearm was an 1855 Percussion Revolving Rifle ?!

This American revolving rifle is designed by Ralph Mershon and Jehu Hollingsworth. It is a percussion firearm and it is reportedly a select fire one with full-auto fire capability/mode! After loading the cylinder, the shooter had to wind up the built-in spring which would cycle the action (rotate the cylinder, cock the hammer and fire).

For winding up the spring there was a ratchet lever located behind the receiver. You can see that lever raised in this image.

Not to confuse our readers, I have to admit that although many sources state that it was indeed a full-auto firearm, there is no solid proof that I could find. That’s why I put both exclamation and question marks at the end of the title.

My personal opinion is that it absolutely could be full-auto capable. I assume it shouldn’t have been mechanically too big of a challenge for the inventors to design some sort of auto sear mechanism.

Here is a video telling about this rifle:

Later in 1863, Mershon and Hollingsworth also designed a self-cocking revolver, which incorporated the same spring powered mechanism. It was automatically cocking the hammer and rotating the cylinder so that each trigger pull was a light single action pull. Pretty much like the Webley-Fosbery revolver idea, except executed differently and designed much earlier.

If you have any additional information concerning this rifle, please share it in the comments section. Also, let us know what impact on the history do you think this rifle could have should it be manufactured and/or adopted back in 1855?



Hrachya H

Being a lifelong firearms enthusiast, Hrachya always enjoys studying design, technology and history of guns and ammunition. His knowledge of Russian allows him to translate and make Russian/Soviet/Combloc small arms related information available for the English speaking audience.
Should you need to contact him, feel free to shoot him a message at TFBHrachyaH@gmail.com


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  • noob

    A clockwork machine gun? Now **that** is steampunk.

  • Jason Culligan

    “Later in 1963, Mershon and Hollingsworth also designed a self-cocking revolver, which incorporated the same spring powered mechanism.”

    I guess you meant 1863? Otherwise these guys were designing weapons for a LONG time.

    • Hrachya H

      D’oh! Corrected, thank you.

  • Darren Hruska

    I knew about this for a while. It wouldn’t be until another three decades when Ferdinand Mannlicher would design a proper shoulder-fired (semi-)automatic rifle, which is often times deemed to be the first.

  • Edeco

    OK, Davide Pedersoli, make it happen.

  • Bill

    Many blackpowder revolvers were full auto, if you count those that were improperly loaded and chain fired 😉

    • Hrachya H

      Hahaha :))) Good point ! 🙂

    • Blake

      If all the cylinders chain-fire at the same time, technically, is it a shotgun?

      🙂

  • Bradley

    Seems a little fishy. Everyone seems to use these same couple of photographs, and I haven’t found any detailed information. Like what’s with the backwards trigger and weird trigger guard(s)

    • PK

      Agreed, and before a certain point there is nothing – no pictures, discussion, description, nothing in print, no offhand references, no sketches – about this firearm. I suspect it’s a more modern fake, honestly.

      • Edward Franklin

        US Patent US12470 A filed by a Jehu Hollingsworth appears to be this exact firearm and was granted in 1855. The firearm is a clockwork assisted double action rifle. The bulky forend is apparently part of the patent and serves as a gas shield and deflector in the unfortunate event of a chain fire. It looks like their 1860’s revolver would be based off this patent and indeed Colt’s own double action patent makes reference to this clockwork version. This rifle was likely the original proof of concept design from 1854-55 as indicated on the receiver and it simply went nowhere. Of interest their own patent goes into detail about the function of the design so further imventors may use the design so prehaps Jehu was simply tinkering.
        The unusual trigger guard and trigger is a bit unexplained as the patent shows a standard trigger but it appears one might push the trigger forward and the rear loop was simple a grip area of some sort. There could also be damage to the rifle and we may be unable to see a missing trigger, the later post did have a lever to release the spring tension on the action that this rifle seems to lack in it’s present state.

        • PK

          Nice to know there was a patent, and that was in the age of needing a working model to show the patent office… perhaps this isn’t a modern recreation, and is truly the original. I want to believe!

    • Darren Hruska

      The limited sources on the rifle itself describe automatic fire as being attained by having the trigger “locked” in the rear position. From the looks of it, my theory is that it uses a sort of dual-mode trigger, somewhat like the modern SVU-A (albeit not quite the same). If you press forwards on the trigger (the concave part), it’d fire a single shot. However, if you pull back on the trigger (convex part), it’d fire in full automatic mode. Merely a theory.

  • john huscio

    Jehu hollingsworth….the most 19th century nane ever.

  • Cal S.

    Wait, would a full-auto cap-and-ball be an “NFA killer”? It’s not a firearm, per se.

    Oh, the possibilities.

    • Twilight sparkle

      Don’t even need a pesky 16 inch barrel and you could make it in stainless steel to achieve a nickel plated look and that would make cleaning this a bit easier

      • Cal S.

        I’ve already pulled up my CAD software. Time to make us some loophole SMGs! 😉

        • iksnilol

          Make a chain fed cylinder. So that you can have hella mag capacity as well.

          • Twilight sparkle

            I feel like it would be a lot faster to pull out an expended traditional cylinder like on the 1858 and put in a pre loaded loaded cylinder than it would to try to reload a chain fed firearm, you could always make the cylinder slightly larger to accommodate 7, 8 or 9 shots

          • iksnilol

            I was thinking just a hella large chain/belt fed cylinder and then just keep the chain in a box (sorta like on an LMG). That way you could up the mag capacity so you wouldn’t need to reload in a while.

            Though you would end up with what’s most likely the most steampunk rifle to exist.

  • BeGe1

    In theory it shouldn’t even need an auto sear.

    We need auto sears so that there’s a separate sear that only trips after (or right at the end of) the chambering/locking process.

    Assuming it’s self-cocking in the first place (something we don’t actually seem to be sure of) in a gun where the chambers are already loaded the only thing you’d have to do to make it “full” as opposed to “semi” is not put in any mechanism to re-catch and stop the next shot while the trigger is still down. There actually is a lot of mechanics involved in making a semi-auto stay semi-auto…simply not putting those in would make proper full-auto in this particular case since everything is already chambered and ready from the get-go.

    So assuming it does have self-cocking mechanism in the first place, I wouldn’t doubt full-auto capability since it would actually be easier to make that way.

    That said…I kinda doubt the whole premise and that there’s self-cocking going on anyway…

    • Twilight sparkle

      Or you may have to wind up the cylinder whenever you insert it similar to winding up the magazine on a calico or a 75 round drum mag on an ak

      • BeGe1

        That only winds the feeding mechanism, not the firing one. The firing mechanism has to recock for full-auto.

        • Twilight sparkle

          I think you’re missing how this works (though I could be too since I haven’t seen it disassembled) it’s cocking a hammer which happens to be shrouded in this case but that hammer acts the same way that a hammer on most revolvers act, upon cocking the cylinder would also be rotated, that way you don’t need 2 overly complicated mechanism you just need one. I think the link about the self cocking revolver based on this design makes things a little more clear since the hammer isn’t shrouded

    • Out of the Blue

      The description indicates that it was powered by a wound spring, like a pocket watch of the era, so it wouldn’t be self-cocking in the modern sense. More like a primitive chaingun.

      • BeGe1

        That typically only winds the feeding mechanism (i.e. like the m32 grenade launcher), not the firing one. The firing mechanism has to recock for full-auto (which is why m32 is double action, and it would be really hard to make full-auto).

        • Out of the Blue

          I stand corrected then. The primitive chaingun remark is still somewhat accurate due to the wind up nature.

  • Brett baker

    Considering how much resistance there was to other mechanical Mgs, I doubt this would have been adopted.

  • RazorHawk

    It does not have the magazine capacity to be a full auto.

  • mazkact

    Ian needs to look into this. I could not get through the video, um ah you know you know you know um uh ……………..sorry but the audio is just um uh you know.

  • Blake
  • Schmiss

    This website already had an article on this

  • Max Kohnke

    wicked cool

  • t rex

    you forgot about the roman candle gun from the mid 1600’s

  • triangle whip

    How long it takes to reload? after each 6 shots wasted..