Air Guns History
As historians say the first Air Guns appeared in the 15th Century, when they seemed so mysterious that were called tools of the Devil.
At that time Air Guns were more preferable than black powder rifles for a number of reasons:
Air Guns could be fired in wet weather and rain (unlike matchlock muskets) and with greater rapidity than muzzle-loading guns;
They were quieter than a firearm of similar caliber, had no muzzle flash, and did not scare away all the rest of the game when hunting.
Air guns were completely smokeless, thus not disclosing the shooter's position.
They could be loaded faster than black powder guns.
Shooter did not have to worry about getting burned.
Air guns were very popular during the 1600s and 1700s until cartridge bullets were perfected. Although some enthusiasts love to talk about Air Guns posing a serious alternative to powder weapons, such was never proven to be the case. Yes, the potential is there, but valve leaks and bursting reservoir were known problems.
Early Air Guns came in big/small calibers and were used for hunting big game as well as small game. At that time there were calibers starting at .20 cal. and up to .50 caliber Air Guns.
Some of the earliest Air Guns were powered by spring loaded bellows. As a rule these low-powered and very accurate Air Guns were used for target shooting indoors. Another type of Air Guns powered by pre-compressed air stored in a tank was efficient enough to be used for hunting big game such as wild boar or stag. Only rich and noble men could afford possessing an Air Gun that became an attribute of their social status.
At the end of the 18th Century in Austrian Army there was a special sniper detachments armed with .44 caliber repeating air rifles designed by Grandoni. They did battle against Napoleon's Army. A shot from this air gun could penetrate a one-inch wooden board at a hundred paces, an effect roughly equal to that of a modern 9 mm or .45 caliber pistols.
The records of the Lewis and Clark expedition of 1804-1806 show they used the .36 caliber Air Gun. They took it along for hunting, just in case the black powder got wet and also used it to impress the Indians that called this rifle "the smokeless thunder stick".
There is one more interesting fact of Air Guns history. High class gentlemen used walking canes that had a concealed Air Gun in the cane. The top part of the cane was the air tank where the gentlemen charge it with the use of a hand pump. The bottom part was the barrel of the gun and had a concealed chamber for loading a .35 cal. bullet. These air canes were used for self defense.
After cartridge bullets were perfected and became popular the large boar caliber rifles started to fade away, smaller caliber spring piston rifles became popular for target shooting.
Today there has been a come back of high powered, large caliber Air Guns. After WW II the occupying Allies prohibited firearms production in Germany and many German factories turned to Air Gun manufacturing. Since that time German manufactures has become the leading ones and you can see a lot of their Air Guns at AirGunStyle.com.
Nowadays Air Guns are mainly used for target shooting and hunting. In some countries powerful Air Guns are still classified as firearms, and it may be illegal to discharge them in residential areas.