The Gardner gun was an early type of mechanic machine gun invented in 1874 by William Gardner of Toledo, Ohio. Mr. Gardner had served on the Union side during the American Civil War and had witnessed the power of the Gatling gun (an effective mechanic gun consisted of six barrels mounted in a revolving frame). The success of Gatling’s automatic gun encouraged others to enter the market.
W. Gardner soon came up with his own design of a machine gun in 1874 and made a hand-made prototype, but being unable to finance production he sold the manufacturing rights to the newly formed company of Pratt & Whitney, Hartford, Connecticut and in less than a year they produced a military version of the weapon.
His gun was simple, reliable, easy to disassemble to clear jams, and with a team of loaders, could keep firing with no interruption. It was a hand-operated weapon that had between one and 10 barrels, each of which fired once per turn of the crank. Turning the crank further opened the breechblock and extracted the spent case.
From 1876 to 1881, Pratt & Whitney produced 21 guns which were presented to the war department for testing and evaluation. In November 1875, a 2-barrel and single barrel version were tested at the United States Navy yard, Washington, D.C. It was a successful demonstration, however, they recommended that Pratt and Whitney continue with the development of the system, incorporating improvements to the feed system, which were designed by their senior engineer E.G. Parkhurst.
Parkhurst developed many significant improvements such as an ‘improved’ lock mechanism, water cooled barrels and a two-column gravity feed magazine.
Additional tests were carried out in 1877 to try out the new feed system. However, a small number of Improved Gardner guns were purchased because the Army showed no interest in the Gardner gun, feeling that the Gatling was sufficient for its needs. In August 1879, Gardner formed a company to manufacture his patent gun because his gun was drastically modified by Pratt & Whitney to the design and patents of Edward Parkhurst.
In August 1879, Gardner formed a company to manufacture his patent gun because his gun was drastically modified by Pratt & Whitney to the design and patents of Edward Parkhurst.
The British Royal Navy, which had successfully deployed the Gatling gun, became interested in the weapon, and Gardner was invited to England to exhibit his invention. The English saw prospect in the gun and purchased the rights to produce it in England. Thousands were made and put into service by the British military. Gardner remained in England to supervise the construction of the weapons.
The Army adopted the weapon, although its introduction was delayed because of opposition from the Royal Artillery. It saw action in the Mahdist War (in Sudan), notably at the Battle of Abu Klea, where its mechanism proved vulnerable to the environmental conditions of loose sand and dust.