Long Island, NY Matinicock Point Dudley Power Pneumatic Gun Explodes, Apr 1896



Several Persons Also Made Deaf by the Heavy Detonation – Gen. Mile One of Those Who Escaped Unhurt, Although Not Without the Danger Line – Accident Occurred While Using Dummy Shells – Real Experiment Was Satisfactory.

GLEN COVE, L. I., April 13. – An explosion in the discharging tube of the Dudley Powder-pneumatic gun for throwing high explosives, at Matinicock Point, this afternoon, resulted in serious injury to one man. Two others received slight hurts and several spectators were made deaf. The gun was wrecked and the loss to the Sims-Dudley Defense Company is more than $10,000.

Major Gen. Nelson A. Miles, Commander of the United States Army, was within the line of danger with many distinguished spectators, and escaped harm.

The disaster was an exasperating one for those interested in the first official test of the gun, because it occurred while dummy projectiles were being fired at a target, and after five live shells had been thrown so smoothly and accurately as to thoroughly convince every spectator that the gun is a distinct gain in ordinance, and that no claim made for it was in the least degree exaggerated.

During the trials with the live shells, which were loaded with explosive gelatine (sic), extraordinary precautions were taken against accident, and the lanyard attached to the trigger of the discharging chamber was 100 feet long, and was pulled from a place of absolute security, while the spectators were kept under a bluff 200 yards away.

The firing of the dummy projectiles was begun after luncheon in a summer house on the Leonard Jacob estate. The target was nearly 2,000 yards off, half way up Ridingtown Knoll, to the east. It was painted res, black and white in horizontal stripes. The knoll was well guarded to prevent accidents, and all were warned away when a preliminary signal, the discharge of a shotgun, was given on Matinicock Point and answered on the knoll.

In order that the exact point of impact of the dummy shells might be all the more readily noted when they struck, each was loaded with about four pounds of sporting gunpowder. In other circumstances the dummy shells would have consisted of a brass casing having in its interior and iron rod, with an iron weight to bring the shell up to the weight of a live shell – about thirty-two pounds.

The charging with powder behind the pin and cap necessitated the packing of the shell up to the powder, and from the end that last left the muzzle with wood and lead until this was reached. Behind the powder was cylindrical plug of wood, then lead, and again wood. A result of this arrangement was to upset the centre of gravity so that the projectile when launched by the air cushion created by suddenly released energy – on the same principle as the Zalinsky gun, except that the energy was due to powder and the gun an entirely independent unit – wabbled, and both its velocity and accuracy of line of flight were impaired.

Two shots, both of which fell 150 yards short of the target, had been fired, and a third dummy was put into the discharging tube, with an ordinary fuse with vanes supposed to unlock the safety set of the firing pin on leaving the muzzle of the gun, and make it ready to strike the cap and explode thirty grains of fulminate of mercury and the powder on contact.

These experiments with dummies were considered void of danger, and the spectators and interested persons who numbered about thirty, were allowed to station themselves where they chose to watch the result of the shots. H. P. Elwell, Consulting Engineer of the Sims-Dudley Defense Company, fired the gun, using a lanyard but four feet long. He stood to the left of the gun, close to the sighting gear and the mechanism for elevating and lowering the piece and for moving it laterally.

Two-thirds of the spectators were then within forty feet of the gun, and half of them were within twenty-five feet of it. Gen. Miles has during the previous trials, exhibited an inclination to be nearer the gun than was considered prudent by the army officers who were with him, and yielding to what was a unanimous sentiment, he went down the bluff, which is twelve feet high, and stood on the beach, looking at the target, about fifty feet from the gun, and at an angle of about 45 degrees from its horizontal plane, so that he was behind and to the left of Engineer Elwell.