Who discovered gunpowder?
Invention of Gunpowder
Gunpowder is a mixture of potassium nitrate, sulfur and charcoal. It was discovered in ancient China, some say around 8th century AD. A familiar story narrates how charcoal, sulfur and saltpeter were inadvertently joined together in a Chinese cook’s kitchen. There the first fireworks / gunpowder explosion took place. Another theory states that the emperor Wu Di commissioned a team of alchemists in 156-87 BC to discover the elixir of life. Their findings are said to have been recorded by alchemist Wei Bo yang in an alchemical text called “Kinship of the Three”.
Uses of the Black Powder
It seems ironic that the quest for immortality and long life led to the discovery of a destructive modern weapon. Actually, gunpowder’s first use was as a medicine. Chinese physicians used the mixture of charcoal, saltpeter and sulfur to treat skin diseases and repel insects. Then people discovered the black powder could be used to make fireworks. They made firecrackers fueled by this powder for use in celebrations and religious ceremonies. Because the loud sounds frightened animals, the Chinese assumed they would also scare away evil spirits and ghosts. Gunpowder as fireworks were therefore used to drive away bad spiritual elements. Especially when welcoming the new year.
Later on the Chinese discovered an even greater use for the black powder. No doubt the fireworks hurt some people who came near them when they exploded. Why not use it as a weapon? Thus they began using their new discovery against their worst enemy – the Mongolian army.
Evolution of Rockets, Bombs and Cannons
The Chinese made small bombs and mounted them on their arrows. These were the oldest rockets. Not long after they began launching the bombs on their own just from the force of the gas. These were the first genuine rockets. Not content, the Chinese also invented cannons and guns. Both the rockets and cannons could launch faster and farther than the human-propelled arrows. Fireworks were never used in warfare as they were too weak.
Impressed by these weapons, the Arabs and Mongols brought them to Europe in the 11th and 13th centuries. Rockets were used extensively in warfare from then on. The national anthem of the United States even makes a reference to rocket glare. Even today in the age of high technology weapons, missiles are still designed with the basic rocket principles of the Chinese, and gunpowder fires them all.