U.S. Rifle Model 1889 ("Trapdoor")
By Patrick McSherry
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This single shot, black powder weapon was carried by many of the
States troops in the Spanish American War. The weapon was outdated and
put the troops using it at a disadvantage.
By the end of the American Civil War, the United States Army
the need to obtain a breech-loading rifle for its use. However, with
end of the war, funds were curtailed, and the army had an overabundance
of muzzle-loading weapons left from the war. The "trapdoor" rifle
the method of opening the rifle at the top of the breech to load a
was developed and about 30,000 rifles were converted to "trapdoor"
more properly called "Allin Conversions". By 1868, instead of
old weapons into "trapdoor" models, a new rifle was developed using the
Allin "trapdoor" mechanism. This weapon was the U.S. Rifle, Model 1868.
This weapon went through a series of minor modifications (1870, 1873,
1884 and 1889, as well as a few more specialized cadet and officer
and was used for thirty years.
At the outbreak of the Spanish American War, the current model
the Model 1889. This weapon was the main shoulder arm used by the
troops at the outbreak of the war, in spite of its being outdated in
with the smokeless powder weapons that were becoming available.
The modification that was the major difference between the Model
1873 and the Model 1889 was the replacement of the triangular bayonet
a rod bayonet, and a few other very minor modifications.
From the United States government's standpoint, one major advantage
of the Model 1889 was that it had many of these weapons in storage, and
they could be readily supplied to the sudden influx of troops. Many of
the existing National Guard regiments already carried this weapon, so
made sense to continue arming their enlarged regiments with the same
The overwhelmingly major objection to this rifle was that it used
black powder instead of the more modern smokeless powder. The black
cartridge left a tell-tale cloud of smoke by which the shooter could be
spotted and fired upon. Also, the smoke cloud required the shooter to
until the smoke cleared before he could aim and fire again.
The weapon was a single shot whereas the newer Krag-Jorgensen
and the Spanish Mauser rifles were
weapons. The United States, however, insisted that its
rifles be used as single shot weapons with the rounds in the magazine
only for emergencies. Still, in actual combat, the rate of fire of the
single-shot Model 1889 "trapdoor" rifles was much slower.
The Model 1889 "trapdoor" rifle had an advantage in "take-down"
over the newer smokeless powder rifles such as the
Rifle, used by some United States forces, and the Spanish
Mauser because these weapons fired a smaller projectile. This
in size and weight also meant that the average soldier could carry
rounds with him fo rthe Model 1889 than he could carry for newer Krag-Jorgensen
Rifle (one hundred .30 cal. cartridges weighed the same as sixty
cal "trapdoor" rifle cartridges).
Lastly, the "trapdoor" rifles fired at a higher trajectory than
the more modern weapons, resulting in more difficulties in aiming.
|Length of barrel:
|3 grooves, making one turn in 22 inches.
|Weight of projectile:
Clerk of Joint Committee on Printing, The Abridgement of Message
from the President of the United States to the Two Houses of Congress.
(Washington: Government Printing Office, 1899).
Gluckman, Arcadi, United States Muskets, Rifles and Carbines.
(Buffalo: Otto Ulbrich Co., Inc., 1948).
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