February 28, 1844 — The “Peacemaker,” a 12-inch gun aboard USS Princeton, explodes during a display of the ship today. It killed six people, including Secretary of State Abel P. Upshur, Secretary of the Navy Thomas Gilmer, US Senator David Gardiner, and other high-ranking U.S. federal officials.
Twenty people were injured, as well, including President John Tyler, who survived the disaster for he was below deck having been stopped to have a drink with another dignitary.
About the “Peacemaker:” The gun was the world’s longest in the navy at the time. And on its last firing, it exploded instantly, sending hot metal around the ship. Though deadly, the disaster allowed for a reexamination of the process used to make cannons. This led to the development of new techniques that allowed for stronger cannons which were more structurally sound, such as the system pioneered by Thomas Rodman.
Unintended consequences: Upon hearing of the death of her father, Julia Gardiner is supposed to have fainted into President Tyler’s arms. They were married four months later, on June 26, 1844. Had President Tyler been above deck at the moment of the explosion, he likely would have been killed, and President pro tempore of the Senate Willie Person Mangum would have become president.
Words of Wisdom for February 28, 2017
“The good people in this world are very far from being satisfied with each other and my arms are the best peacemaker.”
— Gunmaker Samuel Colt (1852). When he said these words, the Colt .45 Single Action Army revolving cylinder handgun, made famous on the American frontier and the Old West as the Peacemaker, had not yet been invented. Still, he was well on his way to revolutionizing gun manufacturing in the United States.