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A Brief History of Spud Guns

Version 1:

A long time ago, fabled to be about 40 years, somewhere (in America of course) some middle-aged guys were bored so gathered up a bunch of beer cans (they were steel back then), duct tape, gasoline, and at least one tennis ball. Both ends of all cans were removed save one, from which only the bottom was removed; the peel-top hole end was left as is.

Legend has it that it was suggested that if all these cans were securely taped together to make a long tube, the tennis ball could be stuck down it muzzle loader style and fired by putting a small amount of gasoline in the bottom can (with the hole lid as the breech) and one brave soul (the one that had consumed the most beers) holding a lit match or lighter near the peel-top hole. Miraculously the tennis ball was expelled with great velocity. Much whooping and hollering ensued, and the device was promptly reloaded to verify the first shot was not a fluke. Hence the backyard cannon was born.

The earliest recorded use of actual potatoes being fired from a pneumatic cannon involves the British World War 2 Holman Projector, a pneumatic device mounted on convoy vessels intended to project hand grenades which would deter enemy aircraft from coming too close. In moments of boredom these devices were loaded with potatoes and used for impromptu wargames with friendly ships as referenced:

"The twin Lewis which had been on top of the casing aft, had been taken away, and in its place was a new weapon, a Holman Projector, a steam-powered piece of equipment not unlike a bit of fall pipe that comes down from the guttering of a house to allow the rain to find its way to the drains.

We were to find out that this was all that it was fit for. Its crew was supposed to put down this pipe an ordinary hand grenade which nestled in a tin; the lever from the grenade came through a slot in the metal container and was held down by a pin in the safe position on the outside of the container. The drill was that when the crew were going to fire this 'thing', first they had to make quite certain that there was enough steam pressure on the gauge to project the grenade out of the pipe. They then took the pin out of the grenade, dropped the grenade still in its container down the spout of the pipe, banging their foot down on a pedal at the base of the pipe, and at the same time aiming the 'gun' at the target. If the target was a plane, the grenade was supposed to go off in the vicinity of the plane after parting company with the container as it left the mouth of the pipe. In theory I suppose that this was quite a legitimate description of its action if the steam pressure applied to the projector was correct; if it wasn't, the grenade and its container had a nasty habit of just managing to climb out of the end of the pipe, and dropping onto the deck where they separated, rolling about until they either exploded where they were, and fragmented amongst those of the crew who were panicking to throw them over the side, or in the sea out of harm's way if the crew had been successful in doing what they had set out to do.

Most ships' crews found as time passed by that the best use for the Holman Projector was for throwing potatoes or empty cans at their 'chummy ships' as they passed by them in a channel. To be used for the job for which it was really intended was thought to be more dangerous to those actually firing it than to the aircraft supposed to be at the receiving end. Eventually, I believe, these Holmans were taken off most if not all ships."

Version 2:

It appears that Alessandro Volta (as in Volt) built the first electrically fired combustion "spud gun" in the 1780's;

The "electric-phlogopneumatic" pistol was thought up by Volta. It was generally filled with a mixture of hydrogen and air, and then corked up. One of the electrodes was touched with one hand; the other hand touched one of the poles of an electrostatic machine. When the spark went off between them and also inside the pistol, a loud explosion resulted which violently shot out the cork. As Volta himself wrote, these experiments "stupefied the ordinary observer, caused considerable satisfaction among amateurs and those in the know, for these are experiments combining electricity and inflammable air". They responded to the double requirement, which was popular at the time, of "being showy" and of popularizing the latest scientific results.

(from [1], see also [2] and [3])

Apparently, even eighteenth century scientists enjoyed launching random things, with accompanying loud noises, for the shear joy of doing it. So spudders, when asked, you can describe your hobby as "Following in the footsteps of great scientists like Alessandro Volta". --Jimmy101 13:11, 10 May 2007 (EDT)