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Dr. Richard Jordan Gatling (September 12, 1818February 26, 1903) was an American inventor best known for his invention of the Gatling gun, the first successful machine gun.

The son of farmer and inventor Jordan Gatling, Gatling was born in the town of Como, North Carolinamarker in Hertford County and by the age of 21 had invented the screw propeller for steamboats, only to discover it had recently and independently been patented by John Ericsson. He worked as a fisherman, court clerk, teacher, and storekeeper. While running his own store, he invented a wheat drill, a planting device, and manufactured these for sale. By 1845 he was earning enough from this device to devote himself to selling and marketing it full-time.

Gatling graduated from Ohio Medical College in 1850 but was more interested in continuing his career as an inventor than in practicing medicine. By the early 1850s he was successful enough in business to offer marriage to Jemima Sanders, 19 years his junior and the daughter of a prominent Indianapolis physician. They married on 24 October 1854. Her younger sister Zerelda was married to David Wallace, the governor of Indiana.

Gatling invented the Gatling gun after he noticed early in the American Civil War that a majority of the dead were lost to disease rather than gunshots. In 1857, he wrote: "It occurred to me that if I could invent a machine - a gun - which could by its rapidity of fire, enable one man to do as much battle duty as a hundred, that it would, to a large extent supersede the necessity of large armies, and consequently, exposure to battle and disease [would] be greatly diminished."

Although Gatling was accused of being a copperhead because of his North Carolina roots, it was never proven; Gatling was never affiliated with the Confederate States government or military, nor did he live in the South during the Civil War.

After developing and demonstrating a working prototype,in 1862 he founded the Gatling Gun Company in Indianapolis, Indianamarker to market the gun. The first 6 production guns were destroyed during a fire in December 1862 at the factory where they had been manufactured at Gatling's expense. Undaunted, Gatling arranged for another 13 to be manufactured at the Cincinnati Type Factory. While General Benjamin F. Butler bought 12 and Admiral David Dixon Porter bought one it wasn‘t until 1866 that the US Government officially purchased Gatling guns. In 1870 he sold his patents for the Gatling gun to Colt. Gatling remained president of the Gatling Gun Company until it was fully absorbed by Colt in 1897. The hand-cranked Gatling gun was declared obsolete by the United States Army in 1911.

In his later years, Gatling patented inventions to improve toilets, bicycles, steam-cleaning of raw wool, pneumatic power, and many other fields. World-famous, he was elected as the first president of the American Association of Inventors and Manufacturers in 1891, serving for six years. Although still quite wealthy at the time of his death, he had made and lost several fortunes in bad investments.

In his last years, Gatling moved to St. Louis, Missouri to form a new company for manufacturing his steam plows, or tractors. While in New York Citymarker to visit his daughter and to talk with his patent agency, Dr. Richard Jordan Gatling died at his daughter's home on February 26, 1903. He is interred at the Crown Hill Cemeterymarker in Indianapolis, Indianamarker.


  1. Keller. Page 60.
  2. Keller. Page 134.
  3. Paul Wahl and Don Toppel, The Gatling Gun, Arco Publishing, 1971.
  4. Machine Gun by Anthony Smith, 2002
  5. Keller. Page 163.
  6. Keller. Page 179.
  7. Keller. Page 181.
  8. Keller. Page 207.
  9. Keller. Page 210.

Further reading

Julia Keller. 2008. Mr Gatling's Terrible Marvel: The Gun That Changed Everything and the Misunderstood Genius Who Invented It. Viking. ISBN 978-0670018949

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