Squirt Guns Predate the Civil War

Wikimedia Commons/Thinkstock/Bryan Dugan
Wikimedia Commons/Thinkstock/Bryan Dugan / Wikimedia Commons/Thinkstock/Bryan Dugan

Summer's here, and for many of us that means the season of squirt guns and Super Soakers is upon us. But this American pastime goes back much further than most of us realize, for these beloved water pistols have enjoyed a long history predating even the Civil War itself.

Believing at the conflict's dawn that a relatively small militia would be more than sufficient to “put down the insurrection in the south” within three months, Abraham Lincoln called for 75,000 volunteers for the cause on April 15, 1861.

But not every pundit and strategist believed the southern forces would be so easily subdued, with one of the loudest voices for massively upgrading the Union army coming from William Tecumseh Sherman, who would be promoted to the rank of general later that year. Having long proclaimed that the Union was “sitting on a volcano,” Sherman found the size of Lincoln's estimated military dangerously deficient, saying “Why, you might as well attempt to put out the flames of a burning building with a squirt-gun.” The Chicago Tribune also enlisted the frivolous weapons in their call for action, writing “Let there be no boy's play... no battles with squirt guns and buttered words.”

Very primitive squirt guns did play a vital strategical role in another conflict several decades before the Civil War. Squire Boone Jr. (brother of Daniel) was charged with the task of defeating a large force of Shawnees in 1778. The task was partially accomplished by his decision to convert a group of rifle barrels into water-launching devices with which his men doused the natives' torches.

Though the details about specific models used prior to the gilded age are shrouded in mystery, the first patented water gun, dubbed “The USA Liquid Pistol,” was released in 1896. As for the Super Soaker, overheated mischief-makers the world over rejoiced in 1989, when the first model was released by inventor and former NASA engineer Lonnie Johnson.