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Published on Jun 18, 2010
A bullet is a projectile propelled by a firearm, sling, or air gun. Usually bullets do not contain explosives, but damage the intended target by impact and penetration. The word "bullet" is sometimes used to refer to ammunition generally, or to a cartridge, which is a combination of the bullet, case/shell, powder, and primer.
Lead sling bullets with a winged thunderbolt engraved on one side and the inscription "Take that" on the other side. 4th century BC. From Athens. Matchlock musket balls, alleged to have been discovered at Naseby battlefield. From the collection of Northampton Museum and Art Gallery.The history of bullets far predates the history of firearms. Originally, bullets were metallic or stone balls used in a sling as a weapon and for hunting.
Eventually as firearms were developed these same items were placed in front of an explosive charge of gun powder at the end of a closed tube. As firearms became more technologically advanced, from 1500 to 1800, bullets changed very little. They remained simple round (spherical) lead balls, called rounds, differing only in their diameter
The development of the hand culverin and matchlock arquebus brought about the use of cast lead balls as projectiles. "Bullet" is derived from the French word boulette which roughly means little ball. The original musket bullet was a spherical lead ball smaller than the bore, wrapped in a loosely-fitted paper patch which served to hold the bullet in the barrel firmly upon the powder. (Bullets that were not firmly upon the powder upon firing risked causing the barrel to explode, with the condition known as a short start.) The loading of muskets was, therefore, easy with the old smooth-bore Brown Bess and similar military muskets. The original muzzle-loading rifle, on the other hand, with a more closely fitting ball to take the rifling grooves, was more difficult to load, particularly when the bore of the barrel was fouled from previous firings. For this reason, early rifles were not generally used for military purposes.
The first half of the nineteenth century saw a distinct change in the shape and function of the bullet. In 1826, Delvigne, a French infantry officer, invented a breech with abrupt shoulders on which a spherical bullet was rammed down until it caught the rifling grooves. Delvigne's method, however, deformed the bullet and was inaccurate.