Until the 19th cent. gunpowder was widely used in most types of firearms. The invention of various smokeless powders led to the ultimate replacement of gunpowder as a propellant in rifles and guns. Probably the first successful smokeless powder was made by Edward Schultze, a Prussian artillery captain, c.1864. After 1870 it was known as Schultze powder. Its rate of burning was less than that of guncotton because of the partial gelatinization of the powder by a mixture of ether and alcohol; however, it still burned too rapidly for use in rifles. Schultze powder is used in shotguns, blank cartridges, and hand grenades and in igniting the dense, propellant powder used in artillery. The main constituent of Schultze powder is nitrocellulose.
About 1885 a smokeless powder suitable for rifled guns appeared. Invented by Paul Vieille, it was called poudre B and was made from nitrocotton and ether-alcohol. Subsequently, Alfred Nobel added to the growing list of smokeless powders a substance called Ballistite. In Ballistite two of the most powerful explosives known at the time were united; it is made from nitrocotton (with a low nitrogen content) gelatinized by nitroglycerin. Another smokeless powder, cordite, was invented by Sir Frederick Augustus Abel and Sir James Dewar in 1889; it contained a highly nitrated guncotton and nitroglycerin blended by means of acetone. Mineral jelly was added to act as a lubricant. Indurite, invented by Charles E. Monroe in 1891, is made from guncotton and is colloided with nitrobenzine; washing with methyl alcohol frees the lower nitrates from the guncotton.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.