Ballistite is a smokeless propellant made from two high explosives,
nitrocellulose and nitroglycerine. It was developed and patented by
Alfred Nobel in the late 19th century.
1 Military adoption
2 Development of cordite and unsuccessful claim by Nobel of patent
3 See also
Alfred Nobel patented
Ballistite in 1887 while he was living in Paris.
His formulation was composed of 10% camphor and equal parts
nitroglycerine and collodion. The camphor reacted with any acidic
products of the chemical breakdown of the two explosives. This both
stabilized the explosive against further decomposition and prevented
spontaneous explosions. However, camphor tends to evaporate over time,
leaving a potentially unstable mixture.
Nobel's patent specified that the nitrocellulose should be "of the
well-known soluble kind". He offered to sell the rights of the new
explosive to the French government, but they declined, largely because
they had just adopted
Poudre B for military use. He subsequently
licensed the rights to the Italian government, who entered into a
contract, on 1 August, 1889, to obtain 300,000 kilograms of
Ballistite; and Nobel opened a factory at Avigliana, Turin.
The Italian Army swiftly replaced their M1870 and M1870/87 rifles,
which used black powder cartridges, to a new model, the M1890
Vetterli, which used a cartridge loaded with ballistite.
As Italy was a competing great power to France, this was not received
well by the French [press and the public. The newspapers accused Nobel
of industrial espionage, by spying on Vieille, and "high treason
against France". Following a police investigation he was refused
permission to conduct any more research, or to manufacture explosives
in France. He therefore moved to San Remo in Italy, in 1891, where he
spent the last five years of his life.
Ballistite is still manufactured as a solid fuel rocket propellant,
although the less volatile but chemically similar diphenylamine is
used instead of camphor.
Development of cordite and unsuccessful claim by Nobel of patent
Meanwhile, a government committee in Great Britain, called the
"Explosives Committee" and chaired by Sir Frederick Abel, monitored
foreign developments in explosives. Abel and Sir James Dewar, who was
also on the committee, jointly patented a modified form of ballistite
in 1889. This consisted of 58% nitroglycerin by weight, 37% guncotton
and 5% petroleum jelly. Using acetone as a solvent, it was extruded as
spaghetti-like rods initially called "cord powder" or "the committee's
modification of ballistite", but this was soon abbreviated to cordite.
After unsuccessful negotiations, in 1893, Nobel sued Abel and Dewar
over patent infringement and lost the case. It then went to the
Court of Appeal and the
House of Lords
House of Lords in 1895 where he also lost the
two appeals and the Nobel's Explosives Company had to pay the
costs. The claim was lost because the words "of the well-known
soluble kind" in his patent were taken to mean soluble collodion, and
to specifically exclude the water-insoluble guncotton.
Wikimedia Commons has media related to Ballistite.
^ Schűck & Sohlman 1929, p. 136
^ Schűck & Sohlman 1929, pp. 140–141
^ Schűck & Sohlman 1929, pp. 138–9
^ Schűck & Sohlman 1929, pp. 139–140
^ a b c Schück & Sohlman, page 142
Davis, Tenney L (1943). The Chemistry of Powder and Explosives. II.
New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
Schűck, H; Sohlman, R (1929). The Life of Alfred Nobel. London: