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Thursday, 7 February 2013

Humphrey's humane bullet.

Contrary to what you may think, I am working at the moment, digging out perceptions people had of "wireless" as radio was always called, back in the period of interest, which is more or less 1895 to 1920.  It's not goofing off, it's work!

The thing is, there are always curiosities that emerge, and I can't let those pass by.  I have learned not to write down where I saw them.  Instead, I copy the text into a spreadsheet called gleanings.xls.  At any later point when I try to recall where I saw that weird story about bullets, I can find it.  In this case, I choose to share it.

Burra is a small rural mining town in South Australia, and on September 1, 1915, the Burra Record offered this idea to its readers:

BULLETS WHICH HEAL. A new bullet that carries in its nickel jacket first-aid kits filled with narcotics to deaden pain, and with antiseptics to heal the wound it makes, has been invented by Alexander Foster Humphrey, of Pittsburg[h].
The new anaesthetic, antiseptic bullet contains both narcotic and antiseptic drugs. There are enough of the former so that a wound even in a vital part will cause little pain or shock to the nervous system.  And while the narcotics are bringing relief to the wounded man the antiseptic preparations are cleansing the torn tissues and checking the flow of blood.
The Humphrey bullet is exceedingly simple in construction. It looks exactly like any bullet at first glance, but a closer inspection will reveal two annular grooves pressed into its nickel jacket. 
The grooves are where the first-aid drugs are stored. The one nearest the tip is for the narcotics and the other for the antiseptics.
The drugs are encased in layers or gelatine, and when the grooves are filled a thin coating of paraffin is spread over the top.
This paraffin coating is melted by the friction of the bullet in the firing of the projecting weapon and in its flight through the air, so that the drugs are ready to begin their work of healing as soon as the missile finds its mark.
The small amount of gelatine which is used to hold the drugs in place is entirely harmless, and is quickly absorbed by the blood. The anaesthetic is also absorbed by the system almost instantly, and in a very short time produces nearly complete insensibility to pain. At the same time the antiseptic is checking the haemorrhage, and uniting with the blood to soothe and heal the torn flesh.
From Popular Science: is that
Mr. Humphrey in the middle?
Well, naturally, I had to go looking for more, but with one exception, it appears to have disappeared during 1915. The exception is The Camperdown Chronicle, May 28, 1935.

On page 3 of that issue, you can read exactly the same story, dredged out of the archives to fill a gap in a page as the time came to roll the presses, I suppose.

There seems to have been no patent issued for the bullet.  Humphrey applied for a swab-valve patent in 1914, but that seems to be his only patent.

I did find him, though, in Popular Science in August 1917, and page 216, and you can read this through Google Books.  He had moved on, from bullets to bayonets, and he had perfected, he said, a pain-deadening bayonet.

Search as I can, I cannot see a patent for that one, either.

Oh well, it takes all sorts!

Mr. Humphrey went on my watch-list, and that was how I turned up this letter to the Pittsburgh Press, in which he argues for armament as the best policy.

Now I am beginning to wonder if Mr, Humphrey was, in fact, all that concerned about the suffering of other humans.  It seems to me that maybe he was looking for feel-good, guilt-free killing methods which appeared to be humane.

Against that, I found a story in the New York Tribune, dated April 22, 1915. By an odd coincidence, that was the precise day on which the German Army started using gas warfare, which they justified as being humane. In the Trib story, which is in the last column on the page, we read that Humphrey had recently "...sent specifications for making the bullet to all the belligerent powers in Europe."

Oh well, maybe I misjudged him, after all.  No matter, he will stay on my watch-list until I see what more I can learn about his models.  So far. I know that a model submarine of his sold recently, and in 1935, some of his model aircraft were on display in Pittsburgh at the Carnegie Museum, and at one stage, that museum also held models of his human bullet.

Tracking the bayonet, it has disappeared, almost without trace, though it got a mention in the The Crosbyton Review. (Crosbyton, Texas), Vol. 11, No. 2, Ed. 1 Friday, January 17, 1919.

And now it's time I really did get back to work!

Still, before I do, a  side issue that I will come back to: the Germans really did have a case of sorts for  claiming that gas warfare was humane.  Their plan was to knock out their enemy, or force them to flee, breaking the deadlock in the trenches.  As the study of Mr. Humphrey's healing bullets has taught me, very few things are ever quite what they seem — but that's another story.

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