The First True Machine Gun — The Kjellman Light Machine Gun,
Most people tend to think that the Maxim machine gun was the first true machine gun, and by “true machine gun” I am refering to a weapon that is fully automatic and does not require a hand crank or volley system to function. Of course, it is generally accepted by firearms historians that the Maxin was the 1st, but there is a little known machine gun known as the Kjellman machine gun which beat out the Maxim by a few years. Originally the Kjellman was designed in 1870 by a Swedish officer named Lt. D.H. Friberg. The design was a recoil operated fully automatic design which was fed from a vertically mounted hopper. The first prototypes were produced in 1882, but it was found that the recoil mechanism could not operate using black powder cartridges, which jammed from the grit and residue of black powder. Two years later Hiram Maxim introduced his Maxim gun, which could work with black powder cartridges, so it would be fairer to say that the Maxim gun was the first practical machine gun.
The Kjellman machine gun was forgotten until in 1907 it was rediscovered by Rudolf Henrick Kjellman. He improved upon the design and made it practical by modifying it to use 6.5mm smokeless powder cartridges. He also replaced the vertical hopper with a vertical detachable magazine, added a water cooling sleeve, a buttstock, a forward grip, and a bipod. Hence, the Kjellman also holds the record for being the first light machine gun.
Unfortunately the Kjellman was never adopted, and only ten were produced. However the Kjellman does make one final mark in history, as its locking mechanism used in the action would later be used in the Russian DP28 and German MG42.
An early computer hobbyist’s club in Southern
California has some pretty heady history behind it. You’d be hard
pressed to match the geek cred of some of its members – Steve Jobs and
Steve Wozniak, for example – and Jerry Lawson.
The late Gerald Anderson Lawson, known as Jerry, along with Ron
Jones, were the only two members of color of the Homebrew Computer Club
in Silicon Valley.
The club began
in 1975 when hobbyists, most with an electronic engineering or computer
programming background, met to talk about the Altair 8800 and to
exchange schematics and programming tips.
The Brooklyn, N.Y.-born electronic engineer, taught himself
everything he knew about designing. His impressive creation of the
Fairchild Channel F video game console separated him from his
contemporaries such as Nolan Bushnell and Ralph Baer.
The Fairchild Channel F console
was released by Fairchild Semiconductor in November 1976 and was the
first programmable ROM cartridge-based video game console, as well as
the first console to use a microprocessor. Baer wrote the first video
game played on a TV set, called Chase, and in 1972 Bushnell helped create the game Pong and later that year started Atari Computers.
But it was Lawson’s main distinction as the inventor of the video
game cartridge, something that seems simple now, that set the standard
for how video games were played for the next 30 years. The cartridges
were sold separately, unlike previous games that were built into the
“The whole reason I did games was because people said, ‘You can’t do it.’ I’m one of the guys, if you tell me I can’t do something, I’ll turn around and do it,” said Lawson to San Jose Mercury News reporters.
As we continue to celebrate Black History Month, we are honored to introduce those who are unfamiliar with Lawson’s work and history, and help highlight some significant moments during his career.
1. Lawson Was A Self-Taught Engineer
While growing up in the projects of Queens in New York City, Lawson
got a start on his lifelong tinkering. His love for all things
electronic and gadget-y compelled
him toward the engineer side of things. As a youth, he operated his own
ham radio and as a teenager he made money by repairing his neighbors’
2. Lawson Founded And Ran His Own Company
Videosoft, a video
game development company, was created by Lawson, who used it to produce
cartridges for the Atari 2600. When the 2600 came out, it effectively
made the Channel F obsolete. Unfortunately, the company only released
one, which was a technician’s tool called Color Bar Generator.
3. Lawson Was In A Group That Had Steve Jobs As A Member
The Homebrew Computer
Club, an early collective of computer hobbyists, would go on to produce
such other legends as Apple founders Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak.
Lawson and Jones were the only black members, Jones developed a way to
reprogram inkjet printers to enable desktop computers to produce
silk-screen quality printing, and later came up with the idea for
transforming Nintendo’s Game Boy into a portable music player in 1999.
4. Lawson Was Honored By The International Game Developers Association
On the eve of his eventual passing, in March 2011, Lawson was honored
as an industry pioneer by the International Game Developers
Association. His accomplishments as an engineer and inventor were
appreciated by the IGDA. A month later he passed away from complications of diabetes.
5. Lawson Produced One Of The Industry’s Earliest Arcade Games
Debuting in a southern California pizzeria only a few months after Allan Alcorn’s Pong, Lawson’s Demolition Derby marked
one of the earliest arcade games in the industry. Lawson would go on to
work with the Stanford University mentor program in an attempt to write
a book on his career.
(Photo : Kreg Steppe | Flickr) Atari 2600 game cartridges.
6. Lawson Developed A Game Console That Utilized Interchangeable Cartridges
The Fairchild Channel
F, albeit not reaching the heights of popularity likes the Atari,
Nintendo and Sega, did have one thing above its competition: an
interchangeable game cartridge. Predating the Atari’s video computer system by a year, the Channel F released 26 cartridges that ranged from sci-fi (Space War) to cards (Blackjack) to sports (Bowling). Game machines like the Atari and the Magnavox Odyssey (created by the late, great Ralph Baer) all had their games built into the hardware.
7. Lawson Was The First Major African-American Figure In Video Games
Few within the growing video games industry could believe that a
microprocessor would work independently within a console. Lawson not
only innovated the culture, he also diversified it with his impressive
invention. The Channel F home gaming console was designed by Mr. Lawson
using the Fairchild F8 CPU, which was the first public outing of said
processor. The F8 was very complex in relation to the typical integrated
circuits of the era, and it had more inputs and outputs than other
contemporary chips. Back in that time, chip packaging was not available
with enough pins, but the F8 was fabricated as a pair of chips that were
used together to form a complete CPU.
8. Lawson’s Parents Encouraged His Growth In Gaming
His father, a longshoreman, had a strong affinity for all things
science. At a young age, Lawson was gifted interesting items like an
Irish mail, which is a handcar typically used by railroad workers. His
mother was so vested into his education that she made it so that Jerry
attended a well-regarded elementary school. She eventually became the president of the PTA.
9. Lawson Was Inspired By George Washington Carver
“I had a picture of George Washington Carver on the wall next to my desk,” he told Vintage Computing in
an interview. “And she [my first grade teacher] said, 'This could be
you.’ I mean, I can still remember that picture, still remember where it
10. Lawson’s Geek Cred Was Infallible
From repairing his neighbor’s television
sets to running an amateur radio station out of his housing project,
Lawson taught himself most of what he knew about engineering. He
attended Queens College and the City College of New York before taking
his talents to places like Grumman Electric and Federal Aircraft. He
went from running an antenna out of his window with a radio license to
being an influential part of Silicon Valley.
11. Lawson’s Invention Caught The Attention Of The FCC
Nobody had ever done something like what Lawson was proposing.
Interchangeable cartridges was a new concept. With that said, the FCC
was interested in how Lawson beat them to the punch in creating his own
microprocessor. Every cartridge that Lawson produced (26 to be exact)
had to be approved by the FCC.
12. Lawson Advocated For More African-Americans In STEM
Standing at 6 feet, 6 inches tall, Lawson was a sight to behold in an industry mostly relegated to nerd culture. According to an interview he did with Vintage Computing,
race affected his job prospects “as both a plus and a minus.” If he did
well, he would receive widespread notoriety. If he failed, it would be
marked as an expected disappointment. Through it all, he encouraged
other young black men and women to become invested in science and
This edition of HF’s Book Club features reviews of a group of books which couldn’t cover more varied ground. From the longbow through the blackpowder age right through to the present. Many thanks to the writers of the two reviews submitted and thank you to those who said they’d like to submit next month.
You can read earlier editions of HF Book Clubhere.
The Edge – Mark Urban (2015)
Journalist Mark Urban is perhaps best known for his well
researched historical books, including Rifles, Fusiliers, The Man who broke
Napoleon’s Codes and The Tank War. Urban’s
latest book, The Edge, is a short appraisal of the military forces of the NATO
powers. Urban as the defence editor of
the BBC’S Newsnight program is on the pulse of defence matters and The Edge represents a discussion of the problems, shortcomings and trends he has
identified in the West’s militaries and defence communities.
The issues of proper funding, the huge over spends on
complex projects such as the F-22 and F-35 jets which
have been massively over budget and as a result sufficient numbers to replace
older aircraft cannot be ordered – limiting US capability and reach.
Urban highlights how NATO’s members have increasingly become
‘hollow forces’ whose armed forces have suffered a sustained downturn in
capability, spending and procurement. Urban explains that a ‘hollow force’ is
one which appears on paper or from the outside to be capable in fact lacks the
training, assets and resources to operate independently or properly if deployed
operationally. Urban notes that the US military is suffering many of
the same problems of the European NATO members and its air assets are ageing
rapidly with the average fighter jet around 25 years old. Similarly the author
notes that the US
navy while still being the most powerful in the world is in sharp decline from
its 600-ship peak in the 80s to a projected 230 by 2030.
This examination comes against the backdrop of the US-led
expeditionary campaigns in Iraq
and Afghanistan, the rise of
China in the Pacific, the
reigniting of the Cold War in Europe and the emergence of ISIS in the Middle East. Urban
examines the resurgence of Putin’s Russia
and the descent into fundamentalist chaos in Syria
and Iraq at the hands of ISIS.
Edge suffers in places from an imbalanced focus on the NATO forces which might
face a potential enemy without firmly establishing the size or ability of the
enemy which poses the threat.
Urban extensively quotes private discussions with serving and retired
senior military officers from the US,
and other NATO powers. However, Urban focuses predominantly on the US and
British militaries when a further examination of the ‘hollow forces’ deployed
by other European NATO members would be interesting.
Urban also notes the increasing decline of the US, including its navy and carrier groups, but
emphasises the increasingly important role of technical intelligence gathering
– which the US
excels at. In all ‘The Edge’ offers a
concise and up to date appraisal of the current international situation with
insight into the dangers which lay ahead.
1948: The First Arab Israeli War - Benny Morris (2008)
Morris, in examining the Israeli struggle for independence
and vindication for political efforts, largely succeeds in writing a balanced
and well-sourced book, with a favorable slant towards Israel that is
understandable. Unlike many recent accounts of the Arab-Israeli conflict,
Morris goes back to its historical roots in the 1870s as a way to explain and
trace the development of the conflict. Although Morris firmly believes the
Israelis are in the right, he also does not hesitate to condemn Israeli
atrocities or terrorism as major obstacles to the Israeli state and
independence, as well as poisoning relationships with neighboring Arab states.
Militarily, Morris is careful to point out that the Israelis
enjoyed more favorable treatment by the West, and points to this as a principle
reason, coupled with uncoordinated but dangerous Arab offensives, as the reason
for the IDF’s eventual triumph. In examining key witness statements and
documents concerning the war, however, one finds that the war was touch-and-go
for all belligerents, often at the same time and at the same place, although
for different reasons. All told, “1948” is an excellent primer and introduction
to the historical roots of one of the longest conflicts of the 20th century.
Written by acclaimed archer and medieval combat expert Mike Loades, Longbow offers both a practical but also academic overview of the longbow. Part of Osprey’s ongoing Weapon series Longbow condenses the history of the iconic weapon which came to define the English way of war during the medieval period. Loades examines the origins of the bow as well as a broad overview of the longbow’s use in battle, including its successes and failures.
Longbow looks at the weapon’s limitations including the archer’s susceptibility to cavalry when not in a secured defensive position as at Crecy and Agincourt. Loades also discusses the background and training of English archers as well as how their weapon and the different types of ammunition they used was made. Longbow benefits from Loades’ personal experience from experimenting and training with the bow. As with all of the Osprey Weapon series Longbow offers a brief but authoritative look at one of the most iconic and important weapons of its age.
From Musket to Metallic
Cartridge: A Practical History of Black Powder Firearms -
Øyvind Flatnes (2014)
superb, very informative, concise, and beautifully illustrated book on black
Norwegian black powder competitor and
military historian Øyvind Flatnes’s excellent, well-researched book on the
history and technological development of black powder firearms really hits the
“X ring.” The book is subtitled “a
practical history,” which is spot on for how the book is organized and the
material is presented. As a historian of
the nineteenth century, I have a shelf groaning under the weight of books about
the subject of the rapid changes in firearms technology in the era, many of which
go into considerable—perhaps even excruciating and pedantic—detail, covering
even minutiae about the subject. Flatnes’ compact book, lavishly illustrated
with excellent photos and diagrams, and with clear, explanatory images was
written to appeal to several audiences.
He wrote that its intent was for “shooters, collectors, gun enthusiasts,
and historians.” These competing
readerships might make for a tall order, but the book accomplishes the
objectives quite well. The book urges
collectors to take up shooting their specimens.
Historians should get out of the library every now and then, and get
“hands on” experience afield or at the range.
I well remember being urged to do just that by the late Cuban military
historian Francisco Pérez Guzmán, who shared some of the observations he’d made
about the British siege of Havana during the Seven Years’ War. Frequent
discussions with “living historians”—so-called, or historical
“re-enactors”—about the accoutrements and equipment of particular periods
similarly offers a laboratory for direct, physical contact with such things as
black powder firearms. The book is an excellent single book for firearm
enthusiasts, but also anyone interested in technology and society.
Comparable North American books on the
subject often go into greater depth about load development, and hunting. Most are geared to the history of firearms in
Anglo-America, with a nod to British developments, France, and sometimes
Prussia. British gun books, naturally
enough, have a perspective from the emerald isle, fixed on the guns, muskets,
and rifles of the UK. Flatnes, as a
Scandinavian writer and historian, offers a fascinating perspective, which is
highly informative and does justice to British, French, American, and Prussian
contributions too. How many firearms
cognoscenti, or “history nerds” know that the term “Kentucky rifle” is a
misnomer derived from Jacksonian-era popular culture? Flatnes reveals that it
was most likely jäger troops in his native Norway who first carried rifles
afield for military purposes in the early 18th century. Readers of Alexander Rose’s excellent American Rifle: A Biography, worth the
cover price for the chapter on the American Hall breech loader alone, will
discover in Flatnes’ book that the Hall principle traveled to Norway—then in an
autonomous union with Sweden, but preparing for a pending rupture that might
have resulted in armed clashes—so that in the 1840s, while the world’s armies
retained muzzleloaders, the small armed forces in Norway adopted a breech
loading rifle. And this before the Prussian
state had gone over completely to the Dreyse Zündnadelgewehr or “needle
ignition gun.” Overall the book is well written, with a few awkward sentences
here and there the English editors did not catch. They certainly do not detract much from the
content and its presentation.
If you are on the fence about buying
another book about firearms, or on historic technological innovations in guns,
get this book. For me, the reviewer, as
a novice muzzleloader but a professional historian, the book propelled me to
local rifle-musket skirmishes, first as spectator, later as participant, and to
try my hand at making cartridges of my own for an old obsolete .43 Spanish
single-shot I have long had but never used.
Flatnes’ accessible, well-explicated and vividly illustrated book is
easily one of the best on the subject, and does indeed succeed at appealing to
the different intended audiences.
Since 1821 Greece has been an independent state, but by 1870 it did not have its own national service rifle. Instead the Greek Army was armed with a variety of foreign designs and captured Turkish arms. In 1872 a Greek artillery officer named Major Efstathios Mylonas invented the M1872 infantry rifle.
The M1872 was based upon the Belgian M1870 Comblain rifle, utilizing the same falling block breechloading action. However the Mylonas rifle utilized a lever located in front of the trigger guard which opened the breech, whereas on the Comblain the trigger guard served as the breech lever itself. The Mylonas was chambered for a black powder 11mm cartridge.
At the time Greece had no means to produced the Mylonas rifle, thus all were manufactured by Emile & Leon Nagant in Belgian, famous for the Mosin Nagant rifle and Nagant M1895 revolver. The Mylonas rifle was fielded by Greek soldiers during the Thessaly revolt in 1878, afterwards being replaced by the French M1874 Gras rifle, which was considered a superior firearm. Most Mylona rifles were relegated to use by reserves and police. Only 8,500 Mylonas rifles were produced.
In 1877 Major Mylonas also designed a pistol variant using his Mylonas action. The M1877 Mylonas pistol was a double barrel two breechloading pistol which he marketed as a police weapon. They too were produced by the Nagant brothers in Belgium. The Mylonas pistol was a failure due to lack of popular. By the late 1870’s revolvers were common, and the Mylonas pistol was seen as quaint and outdated.