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Inventors Henry Shrapnel (1761–1842)
Henry ShrapnelAccording to "Shrapnel is a type of antipersonnel projectile named for its inventor, Major-General Henry Shrapnel, an English artillery officer. Shrapnel projectiles contained small shot or spherical bullets, usually of lead, along with an explosive charge to scatter the shot as well as fragments of the shell casing. Henry Shrapnel invented his shrapnel shell for cannons in 1784, which was later adopted by the British army in 1803 for cannons and rifles. Shrapnel was born in 1761 and died in 1842."

This photo (left) depicts two shrapnel balls from a World War I era 75-mm. shrapnel projectile and a fragment from a World War I era 75-mm. high explosive shell.

The intended destructive effect of the shrapnel projectile against men and animals came from the shrapnel balls. The projectile casing, which merely acted as a carrier for the shrapnel balls, was not designed to fracture or fragment. Some World War I era shrapnel projectiles contained a mixture of two sized balls. The smaller balls, intended for anti-personnel use, constituted approximately ninety per cent of the shrapnel round. The remaining percentage of larger balls were included to disable or kill horses.

The intended destructive effect of high explosive rounds came from the action of the high explosive charge coupled with the fragmentation of the projectile casing. Whereas a shrapnel round was intended to kill or injure people and animals, high explosive rounds were originally designed to damage or destroy inanimate objects such as buildings and field guns.

Henry Shrapnel - Historical Background on Shrapnel
Henry ShrapnelOne of the earliest kinds of scatter projectiles was case shot, or canister, used at Constantinople in 1453. The name comes from its case, or can, usually metal, which was filled with scrap, musket balls, or slugs. Somewhat similar, but with larger iron balls and no metal case, was grape shot, so-called from the grape-like appearance of the clustered balls. A stand of grape in the 1700's consisted of a wooden disk at the base of a short wooden rod that served as the core around which the balls stood. The whole assembly was bagged in cloth and reinforced with a net of heavy cord. In later years grape was made by bagging two or three tiers of balls, each tier separated by an iron disk. Grape could disable men at almost 900 yards and was much used during the 1700's. Eventually, it was almost replaced by case shot, which was more effective at shorter ranges (400 to 700 yards). Incidentally, there were 2,000 sacks of grape at the Castillo in 1740, more than any other type projectile.

Spherical case shot was an attempt to carry the effectiveness of grape and canister beyond its previous range, by means of a bursting shell. It was the forerunner of the shrapnel used so much in World War I and was invented by Lt. Henry Shrapnel, of the British Army, in 1784. There had been previous attempts to produce a projectile of this kind, such as the German Zimmerman's "hail shot" of 1573—case shot with a bursting charge and a primitive time fuse, however, Henry Shrapnel's invention was the first air-bursting case shot which, in technical words, "imparted directional velocity" to the bullets it contained. Henry Shrapnel's new shell was first used against the French in 1808, but was not called by its inventor's name until 1852.

Related Information
Guns and Firearms
Missile Systems
Colonel Henry Shrapnel
Henry Shrapnel

~Mary Bellis
Photos courtesy U.S. Army

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