1882 invention from Texas: gun powered mousetrap

Mousetrap with a gun

Ever since humans transitioned from hunter-gatherer society to agriculture, they had to learn to overcome food storage issues. Mold, fermentation or pests could destroy one’s grain. Lack of solutions sometimes resulted in famine. Civilization came up with many ideas for fighting rodents considered as pests: house mice, rats and others.

Cats were domesticated over 9,000 years ago, and archeological findings suggest that they were used for pest control in Egypt as long ago as 3,000 BC. Europeans domesticated ferrets as mousers around the year 500 AD. Moreover, in medieval Europe rat catcher was an actual profession.

14th century mousetrap
“Caught by greed” 14th century mousetrap engraving by Andrea Alciato in 1531 book Emblemata

Mousetrap history

Mousetrap is mentioned in literature as long ago as 1534 (Emblemata book by Andrea Alciato). Even Shakespeare himself mentioned a mousetrap in Hamlet (1602).

Society today may opt for variety of non-lethal mouse control solutions, like bucket traps, box traps, that don’t kill the mouse. Mankind wasn’t that humane back in 19th century. One of most recognized mousetrap designs, a spring-loaded bar trap was patented by William C. Hooker of Abingdon, Illinois in 1894.

Classic spring mousetrap
Classic spring mousetrap patented in 1894 (Photo: Jerry mouse / CC-BY-SA-30)

Handgun based mousetrap invention from Texas

But before this invention, there were others. One of most peculiar ideas came from Texas. Inventor James Alexander Williams of San Saba county filed a patent application for Apparatus having projectiles or killing implements projected to kill the animal, e.g. pierce or shoot, and triggered thereby on August 21, 1882. The patent was granted on Boxing Day the same year. Here is how Williams described the purpose of his invention:

The object of my invention is to provide a means by which animals which burrow in the ground can be destroyed, and which trap will give an alarm each time that it goes off, so that it can be reset.

The contraption consisted of:

A – Suitable board
B – Wooden supports for the revolver or pistol
C – Handgun
D – Lever
G – Rod reaching gun’s trigger
H – Suitable spring, released by lever (triggered by mouse/rat picking up the bait from below the lever)

Mousetrap with a gun
Mousetrap patent US269766A featuring a gun, red letters added by article author to enhance legibility (Photo: U.S. Patent and Trademark Office)

But wait, there is more. James Alexander Williams suggested in his patent, that his invention is not only suitable for fighting mice. Demonstrating true Texas hospitality, Williams recommended use of the handgun trap as a clever house alarm to be put in doors and windows.

This invention may also be used in connection with a door or window, so as to kill any person or thing opening the door or window to which it is attached.

What about that gunshot noise?

I’m not sure what “thing” the inventor may have referred to, but imagination suggests solutions ranging from The X Files to Terminator 2. The revolver depicted in patent illustration is a Colt Army Model 1860 using .44 caliber cartridges. The bullet diameter used in this gun is 0.451 inch (11.5 mm). It’s a diameter of a small hot dog. Imagine that thing going off in your house while you’re asleep and a mouse decides to nibble on bait cheese at 3 am. I don’t even want to imagine the mess it might leave.

On final note, Internet never disappoints. Youtuber Shawn Woods in his channel Mousetrap Monday recreated the handgun mousetrap from Williams’ invention, but on significantly smaller scale. You can see the results here:

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  1. That isn’t a Colt Model 1860, it is a Colt 1851


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