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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 56.djvu/324

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POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

which had always been found in securing uniformity in mixtures, and that this difficulty had become the more apparent as the gun became more highly developed, I sought to produce a powder which should consist of a single chemical substance in a state of chemical purity, and which could be formed into grains of such form and size as were most suitable for the piece in which the powder was to be used.

I succeeded in so treating cellulose nitrate of the highest degree of nitration as to convert it into a mass like ivory and yet leave it pure. In this indurated condition the gun cotton will burn freely, but it has not been possible to detonate it even when closely confined and exposed to the initial detonation of large masses of mercury fulminate.

PSM V56 D0324 Broadside discharge in torpedo practice on the cushing.png
Torpedo Practice on the Cushing. Broadside discharge.

I am happy to say that this principle has now been adopted by the Russian Government, and by our navy in its specifications for smokeless powder; but they have, I think unwisely, selected a cellulose nitrate containing 12.5 per cent or less of nitrogen instead of that of the highest nitration.

This work was completed, a factory established, and the processes well marked out when I left the torpedo station in 1892. Besides this, there were then already commercial works established elsewhere in this country for the manufacture of the nitroglycerin nitrocellulose powders of the ballistite class, while large quantities of many varieties could be easily procured abroad. Considering these facts, and that France and Germany had already adopted smokeless powders in 1887, that Italy adopted one in 1888, and England about the same time, it is unpardonable that our services should not yet have adopted any of the smokeless powders available when we were drawn into the conflict with Spain.