When Were BB Guns Invented in the US?

As you start collecting air guns and start building your arsenal, you might be looking to learn more about the air guns you’re getting. One of the most popular and well-known types is the BB gun — and their history is fascinating.

When were BB guns invented? How did they develop over time? What are some exciting pieces of air rifle history everyone should know? Let’s dive into the incredible history of the air gun in the US!



When Were BB Guns Invented? We Can Trace Them All the Way Back to 1886…



When were BB guns invented? A collection of old photos

So, when were BB guns invented? It turns out that this part of air rifle history reaches back relatively far — all the way back to 1886, in fact. The first recorded BB gun was invented by a man named William F. Markham. Markham’s invention was made of maple wood and powered by a spring piston, using 0.180-inch lead shotgun birdshot as ammo — which was measured as “BB,” between the sizes B and BBB.

Even though Markham was credited with the design, who actually invented it is up for debate. Some say that it was Markham’s employee who designed it, and Markham simply claimed it was his. Regardless of whether it was his invention or not, Markham took the world’s first BB gun to Chicago and opened up his own business selling them, known as the Markham Air Rifle Company.

But when was the modern all-metal (or, more recently, plastic) BB gun invented?

The first updated design was created shortly afterwards in 1887, by a man named Clarence Hamilton. Hamilton designed his BB gun using all metal with a spring piston. He demonstrated his .22 caliber BB gun to the founder of Plymouth Iron Windmill Company, Lewis Cass Hough, who was so impressed that he put it into production. The air gun, which he called a Daisy, became extremely popular, and he transformed his company into a BB gun company as a result. That’s how the Daisy Manufacturing company was born. 

Markham ended up selling his company to Daisy in 1930, and Daisy is still around today. 



What Were Some Other Major Developments in Air Rifle History?

We’ve answered the question, “when were BB guns invented?”, but there’s more to tell. It’s taken a long time for BB guns to get where they are today, and there were a lot of developments along the way. 

The 1900s brought with it a change in the size of BBs. Whereas 0.180-inch lead BB shot was the top choice for BB guns when they were first invented, the size shrunk down to 0.175 inches shortly after. Why? A few reasons: lighter ammo meant less spring power was needed to shoot (and that was great for youths who might struggle with cocking) plus producing smaller ammo cost less. This means that what we now call “BBs” aren’t actually size “BB” anymore.

In the 1920s, Daisy started noticing a lot of BB guns coming in with damaged barrels due to people attempting to fire the poor-quality steel pellets instead that the ball-bearing company, American Ball Company of Minneapolis, had been producing as a cheaper alternative. That was when Daisy invented a better BB gun barrel design that could accommodate steel BBs. They signed an agreement with the American Ball Company of Minneapolis to be the sole distributor of their steel “Bulls Eye” ammo in 1928. This lasted until 1939, when they acquired the company and began producing the shot themselves.

Progress was halted in the ‘40s during World War II. Air rifle history didn’t change substantially until the 1960s, with the continued release of more innovative air rifles.

Crosman Airguns: Passionate About Air Guns

Crosman hadn’t been founded when BB guns were invented, but our history kicked off just several decades later, in 1923. At that time, an inventor by the name of William McLean approached the Crosman Seed Company to finance production of an air gun based on his own design. This led to the production of the first pneumatic pump air gun. Over the decades, Crosman has continued to innovate on McLean’s designs, producing a wide range of products including air rifles, air pistols, full-auto BB guns, and even ammunition and air gun accessories so everyone can discover the joy of shooting. 


Are you ready to bring on the fun with a BB gun of your own? Fnd your target with our vast selection of air guns, ammo, and more, or reach out to our customer service team if you have any questions along the way.

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