Here's something you don't see every day. It's an anti-aircraft B.B. machine gun. No kidding. It was used to train anti-aircraft gunners in W.W.II, an it launched five hundred 0.177 caliber brass B.B.'s a minute.
In its new home at 202 Walnut Street in Rogers, the Daisy Museum (phone (479)986-6873) displays the world's largest collection of non-powder firearms. It's a must see for anybody passing within fifty miles of Rogers. I know, your wife or girlfriend will roll her eyes, but you should insist. Girls know the B.B. gun connection exists, but they don't really understand it. If she loves you, she'll put up with the detour.
Most of the air guns are variations on the familiar Daisy design. A single stroke of a lever compresses a spring which, when released, drives a piston which pushes enough air through a tube to spit a tiny ball bearing a couple of hundred feet, a scheme which endures from the very first Daisy.
And speaking of the very first Daisy, this is it--that contraption with the wire stock second from the top. That's one from the first year of manufacture, back when the company's main product was, not air guns, but windmills. Daisy manufacturing a century ago in Michigan was known as the Plymouth Windmill Company, and they made windmills for farmers. One day, local inventor Clarence Hamilton brought in an air gun to show the company president, Lewis Cass Hough. Hough test fired the air gun and exclaimed, "Boy, that's a daisy!" I suppose he meant "doozie" or perhaps "daisy" was quaint, corny antique slang for today's much more refined and sophisticated "da bomb." Anyway, because of the exclamation, the word "Daisy" was imprinted on the product.
Whatever the case, the windmill company started building these air guns to give away as premiums to their windmill customers. Before long, people started buying the Daisy separately; and eventually the company was making more money on air guns than on windmills.
Air guns throughout history have been used for the same three things: practice, plinking and poaching. People learn firearm fundamentals on air guns without the expense and danger associated with powder weapons. I don't think I've ever known any American man who did not own a B.B. gun when he was a kid.
Lest you dismiss the B.B. gun as kid stuff, the musum will remind you that during the Napoleanic Wars, the Austrian army maintained a regiment equipped with 0.44 caliber air rifles. This regiment had a higher rate of fire than a similar number of men equipped with muzzle loaders. They also didn't have to worry about misfires due to wet powder. They also could fire from concealment and remain hidden because their weapons made little noise and left no cloud of smoke. They didn't have to bother transporting quantities of explosive gunpowder or carry cannisters of it into battle, and their personal magazines were never accidentally detonated in battle by a stray spark. These air riflemen were so feared that Napolean ordered all those captured to be summarily executed.
In this picture, you see the oldest guns in the collection. A couple of them date back to 1770. In these older designs, the detatchable stock is an iron tank, often covered with leather, which is pressurized using a device similar to a bicycle pump. Several shots could be fired with each filling of the cannister, but because the pressure in the reservoir lessens with each use, the shots become progressively weaker. But don't dismiss the effectiveness of these old air guns. One of them threw a slug over 0.40 caliber, and most of them are around 0.32 caliber.
Note the chord and tassle around the barrel of the gun on the left. The barrel could be taken off and a knob screwed in to the top to disguise it as a walking stick. The stock and lock could be concealed under the coat. This was a very popular design with eighteenth century poachers, who also liked the relative silence of the air gun as well as the fact that they didn't have to carry powder and patches and flints and other incriminating bits that might linger in their pockets when caught by the local forest warden.
In the basement is a firing range. It's ready to go, but the Museum Staff is putting together a volunteer organization to run it. Look for the shooting gallery to open in the near future.