Gatling, Richard Jordan, 1818-1903

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Dr. Richard Jordan Gatling (12 September 1818–26 February 1903) was born in Hertford County, North Carolina, to Jordan Gatling (14 May 1783–13 April 1848) and Mary Barnes Gatling (30 October 1795–30 September 1868). Jordan Gatling owned and farmed a large tract of land in Hertford County. Jordan and Mary married on 30 October 1795, and had six children: Thomas Barnes Gatling (29 September 1811–14 May 1857), Mary Ann Gatling (29 September 1813–4 October 1838), James H. Gatling (15 July 1816–2 September 1879), Richard Jordan Gatling, Wa. Jesse Gatling (19 July 1826–6 August 1884), and Martha Sarah Gatling (29 September 1828–22 July 1846).

Richard Jordan Gatling copied records in the office of the county clerk in Hertford County at age 16. At age 19, R. J. took a position teaching school, but he soon abandoned this position to enter the realm of merchandising. Richard Jordan Gatling invented the screw propeller used in steam-vessels, but when he applied for a patent in 1839, he found that a patent had already been granted to someone else for the same invention. Soon after, he invented a seed-sowing machine for sowing rice and received a patent for his invention. He also adapted his machine to sowing wheat in drills. R. J. moved to St. Louis in 1844 and worked as a clerk in a dry-goods store. By 1845, his seed-sowing machines were so popular that he gave up all other occupations to focus on improving and selling these machines.

While traveling from Cincinnati to Pittsburgh by steamboat in the winter of 1845–1846, R. J. Gatling contracted small-pox and lay without medical attention for 13 days because his steamboat was stuck in the ice. It was this experience that led R. J. to study medicine. He took classes at the Indiana Medical College, Laporte, and at the Ohio Medical College at Cincinnati. He concluded his studies in 1850, and then resumed the manufacturing and selling of his seed-sowing machines in Indianapolis. He received many prizes and medals for his drills. Another agricultural invention introduced by R. J. Gatling was a double-action hemp brake. In 1849, he introduced the idea of distributing power from a main source to other points by way of compressed air in pipes laid beneath the ground as gas and water pipes are laid. R. J. invented a steam-plough to be operated by both animal and steam power in 1857, but was unable to work out the details due to ill-health.

Richard Jordan Gatling married Jemima T. Sanders (May 1837–26 September 1908) on 24 October 1854. Richard and Jemima had five children: Mary S. Gatling (5 October 1855–?),Ida Gatling (5 September 1858–13 January 1911), Willie S. Gatling (24 January 1861–?), Richard Henry Gatling (7 March 1870–14 January 1941), and Robert Boone Gatling (9 October 1872–2 December 1903).

The invention for which Dr. Gatling is most well-known is the machine gun known as the Gatling gun, conceived in 1861. When the Civil War broke out, Dr. Gatling realized that most of the casualties in war were the result of disease and exposure, so he sought to invent a labor-saving device for war. He thought that if one man could do the work of a hundred, by way of a machine, then many men could be saved from danger and large armies would no longer be necessary. Dr. Gatling constructed and fired the first Gatling gun in the spring of 1862 in Indianapolis. It fired 250 shots per minute. Gatling guns were first employed by the Union forces under James Butler on the James River near Richmond. The guns were adopted by the government and, in August 1866, the government ordered 100 of them. The Gatling gun was soon adopted by Russia, Turkey, Hungary, Egypt, and England. Dr. Gatling settled in Hartford Connecticut and founded the Gatling Gun Company.

Dr. Gatling accumulated both wealth and fame following his invention of the Gatling gun. By 1897, however, his wealth had vanished and he was living in New York City with his wife and daughter. He turned his attention to inventing a tractor in 1901, but his health failed. On 23 February 1903, he died penniless. Two ships were named after him by the U.S. government during World War II, and his gun was revived in 1958 as the Vulcan gun on U.S. warships and warplanes.

Archival Resources
Role Title Holding Repository
referencedIn Wallace, Lew, 1827-1905. Papers, 1799-1923 (bulk 1846-1906). Indiana Historical Society Library
referencedIn Balch, Edwin Swift, 1856-1927,. Papers of the Balch family, 1760-1955. University of Virginia. Library
creatorOf Harrison Veterans of 1840. Record book, 1888-1899. Connecticut Historical Society
referencedIn E. Frank Stephenson Jr. Collection, 1736-2018, undated East Carolina University. J.Y. Joyner Library
referencedIn "The steam-boat comes to Norfolk Harbow", concerning steamboat and allied transportation, stagecoaches, taverns, etc. [manuscript] ca. 1947. University of Virginia. Library
creatorOf Gatling, Richard Jordan, 1818-1903. Papers, 1880, 1898. Duke University Libraries, Duke University Library; Perkins Library
referencedIn Busby, Lester M. Research Materials, 1960s. Indiana Historical Society Library
creatorOf Gatling Gun Company. Gatling Gun Company papers : reports, invoices, and letters, 1883-1897, bulk 1884-1885. Kentucky Historical Society, Martin F. Schmidt Research Library
creatorOf Gatling, Richard Jordan, 1818-1903. Richard J. Gatling papers, 1888. U.S. Army Heritage & Education Center
referencedIn Love, John, 1820-1881. Papers, 1837-1886. Indiana Historical Society Library
referencedIn Remsburg, George J. George J. Remsburg papers, 1891-1941. Kansas State Historical Society
creatorOf Gatling, Richard Jordon, 1818-1903. Letter, 1893 Feb. 27, Hartford, Ct. United States Military Academy, USMA Library
referencedIn Century Company records, 1870-1924 New York Public Library. Manuscripts and Archives Division
creatorOf Gatling, Richard Jordan, 1818-1903. Collection, 1865-1896. Indiana Historical Society Library
creatorOf Astor, John Jacob, 1763-1848. Miscellaneous Manuscripts, 1300-1970. University at Albany, University Libraries
Role Title Holding Repository
Relation Name
associatedWith Busby, Lester M. person
correspondedWith Century Company corporateBody
correspondedWith Dellenbaugh, Frederick Samuel, 1853-1935 person
associatedWith Denver, James William, 1817-1892. person
associatedWith Gatling family. family
associatedWith Gatling Gun Company. corporateBody
associatedWith Harrison Veterans of 1840. corporateBody
alumnusOrAlumnaOf Indiana Medical College corporateBody
associatedWith Love, John, 1820-1881. person
alumnusOrAlumnaOf Medical College of Ohio (Cincinnati, Ohio) corporateBody
associatedWith Nobel, Alfred Bernhard, 1833-1896. person
associatedWith Remsburg, George J. person
correspondedWith Wachschlager, Laura M. person
associatedWith Wallace, Lew, 1827-1905. person
Place Name Admin Code Country
St. Louis MO US
Hartford CT US
Indianapolis IN US
North Carolina NC US
New York City NY US
Firearms industry and trade
Gatling guns


Birth 1818-09-12

Death 1903-02-26






Ark ID: w6vn52g4

SNAC ID: 84163873