Poles In American History
Edmund L. Zalinski And The “Dynamite Gun”
As time goes on, those little known ethnic heroes of American history keep springing up, thanks to the great interest generated by many people.
An Upper Merion (Pennsylvania) resident recently wrote asking for information pertaining to the “dynamite gun” used by the U.S. Navy during the Spanish – American War in 1898.
After much research, records show that the “dynamite gun” was invented by Edmund L. Zalinski, a Polish-born U.S. Army officer who perfected the idea for the Navy.
Zalinski was a self-educated design engineer whose specialty was ordnance. He was born in Poland on December 13, 1848. Four years later his parents brought him to the United States where the family settled in Seneca Falls, N.Y.
When he was 16 years old, Zalinski enlisted in the Union Army in 1864 during the Civil War. In February of 1865, he was given a battlefield commission as a lieutenant of artillery for an act of valor. He was one of the youngest officers in the history of the U.S. Army.
After the Civil War, he stayed in the regular army and was given a commission of second lieutenant. His outstanding experiments with propellants and projectiles earned an appointment as instructor of military science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology from 1873 to 1876. It was at MIT that he became interested in perfecting a dynamite gun.
While doing these experiments, he became closely associated with the Pneumatic Dynamite Gun Co. of New York in 1889.
Zalinski had been working with various types of guns since 1887. One test of his guns demolished the schooner “Siliman” with a single projectile.
Construction of ships from the iron-clad stage to steel did not take place until after the 1860’s.
In 1888, Zalinski was promoted to captain. At the time he was conducting tests with compressed air. The gunboat Vesuvius, built at the Cramps Shipyard in Philadelphia, under supervision with the Pneumatic Dynamite Gun Co. was completed and used in 1898 in Cuba.
The warship bombarded shore batteries and harbor installations with great effectiveness at Santiago during the Spanish-American War. The dynamite gun delivered much destruction and was acclaimed a deadly major weapon of that era.
In 1894, Zalinski retired from the Army with the rank of major and became an explosive and engineering consultant. He died on March 10, 1909.
Although the widely-known engineer was mainly associated with the dynamite gun, he also invented the telescopic artillery sight, the common entrenching tool, blasting fuses, position finder and the ramrod bayonet.
By Ed Dybicz