One of the world’s greatest inventions, among the most famous of the ancient Chinese inventions, is gunpowder. The Chinese were the first to discover and use gunpowder.
The fireworks began in China some 2,000 years ago.
Cooks mixed up three ingredients in the kitchen: saltpeter, sulfur, and charcoal, which was an ancient Chinese invention and remedy for indigestion.
The mixture was heated up and then left to dry. When done, this Chinese cocktail turned into a black powder.
Through trial and error, the Chinese learned that when the powder was allowed to burn - it would blow-up. They called this volatile substance ‘huo yao’, which meant fire chemical.
Flaming Rat Rockets
The Chinese filled hollow bamboo sticks with ‘huo yao’. When the tubes were ignited, they would blow apart from the gases produced by the powder exploding.
They attached these explosives to arrows so they could shoot them at their enemies. But the strangest use for their new weapon was the flaming rat rocket.
The Chinese discovered that a burning, squealing rat was a horrifying sight to behold. It was especially terrifying to horses. So rats were loaded into tubes of gunpowder and shot like rockets at enemy soldiers on horseback. This would freak out the horses when they rode into battle. It was the precursor to the bazooka and rocket propelled grenade.
Flaming rat rockets were set afire by wooden matches, which was another of the famous ancient Chinese inventions.
Grenades, Canons, Guns
The army of the Sung Dynasty, in the 12th century, graduated to metal grenades in their flying arsenal. China pioneered bombs, whose casings shattered into deadly fragments.
With another hundred years passing, the Chinese developed hundreds of military weapons. They built early guns, barrels packed with gunpowder that fired rocks, canon balls and even arsenic poison that released on impact.
The recipe for gunpowder showed up in Europe in 1267, and into the hands of English scientist Roger Bacon. Less than a century later, European armies began using primitive cannons. The early European cannon was called a fire-pot, it shot arrows with incredible force but with very little accuracy.
Gun designs improved but gunpowder needed improvement because the sulfur, carbon, and saltpeter had three different weights. Mixing the ingredients just right before you loaded your weapon was the only way to ensure that the gunpowder worked correctly.
Some ingenious inventor came up with a way to make the ingredients stick together by mixing the gunpowder with brandy and letting the paste dry into grains. Not to waste valuable brandy, soldiers tried substitutes such as vinegar, but human urine was found to work best. Preferably from the soldier who drank the brandy first.
Ancient Chinese Inventions
The First Transcontinental Railroad linking the Eastern United States with California began in the 1860's. The railroad completion in 1869 depended greatly on Chinese labor. Workers had to lay every 400-pound rail by hand and hammer each spike in place.
In an ironic twist of fate, the Chinese received the most dangerous tasks of lighting the fuse on explosives used to blast through the mountains across North America.
The Chinese civilization has a recorded history of 3600 years. The Chinese were probably the most inventive among all the ancient cultures. Besides gunpowder, other ancient Chinese inventions include paper, printing, the compass, silk, the clock, and the wheelbarrow.