America Lost a Lot of Nukes During the Cold War
As the numbers of nuclear weapons in the U.S. arsenal grew quickly during the early years of the Cold War, so did the number of accidents involving nukes. March 10, 1956 A B-47 carrying two nuclear capsules missed a rendezvous with a refueling tanker over the Mediterranean. The aircraft... Read more
Invading Iran
Nov. 4, 1979, marked a turning point in the relationship between the United States and Iran. Less than a year after the Iranian Revolution deposed the last shah of Iran, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, militant students — acting on their own — occupied the American embassy, taking 52 Americans hostages.... Read more
Fold Up Your Tiny Gun, Slip It In Your Pocket
Benjamin Loomis was a Civil War veteran and a successful inventor. One of his most interesting patents, from February 1866, is for a folding revolver. From the patent description, it’s obvious that safety was Loomis’s main priority. “The object of my invention is to secure greater compactness and safety... Read more
This Fountain Pen Is a Pistol
In 1954, Sol Harry Gaylord, Jr. and James Tollinger filed a patent for a “fountain pen pistol.” The U.S. government granted the patent to the inventors’ company in July 1958. The pen pistol features a receiver that resembles a fountain pen, but with a short rifled barrel inside. In... Read more
This Mystery Gun Is Very, Very Weird
This unusual, bolt-action, manually-repeating pistol has three tube magazines running along the barrel. We don’t know who made this weapon, nor when or where. Given its general aesthetic and mode of operation, it likely dates from the 1880s. The prototype, which sold at auction in 2010, is in-the-white and... Read more
In 1941, British and Soviet Troops Invaded Iran
Iran’s aggressive military posture is often attributed to its quasi-theocratic revolutionary government. However, the Middle Eastern state also had the misfortune of experiencing three devastating, unprovoked invasions in the 20th century. The last and best known of these, the Iran-Iraq War from 1980 to 1988, killed hundreds of thousands... Read more
Hiram Maxim’s ‘Hun Stopper’ Was a Lethal Hose
In late 1915 Sir Hiram Maxim, famed inventor of the machine gun, approached the British government with the offer of a “repeating gun firing buckshot for clearing out captured trenches.” Memos from the U.K. Ministry of Munitions describe the gun as firing a cartridge containing eight buckshot and 200 birdshot... Read more
Whitewashing the Vietnam War
Here’s a paradox of the last few decades. As American military power has been less and less effective in achieving Washington’s goals, the rhetoric surrounding that power has grown more and more boastful. The cliché that our armed forces are the best and mightiest in the world — even... Read more
George Reaben’s ‘Torpedo Crossbow’ Seems Problematic
In November 1919 George Birkley Reaben of New York filed a patent for an explosive torpedo that could be fired from a crossbow. Reaben’s patent describes “an arrow which is provided with means for exploding a torpedo upon the arrow striking end foremost the target.” The explosives detonated by... Read more
Wars Are Rarely Fought Sober
Although that was the case throughout most of human history, it seems inconceivable that today’s professional U.S. military would use performance-enhancing drugs to gain an edge against our nation’s formidable adversaries. But you might be surprised. Some of the earliest examples of explicit drug use are found in Homer’s... Read more
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