Edward Maynard: Dentist and Firearms Inventor

Edward Maynard was a dentist but became famous for his firearm designs and inventions. He was born in Madison, New York, to Colonel Moses Maynard and Chloe Butler on 26 April 1813. His surname comes from Old French derived from the Germanic or Teutonic name Maganhard or Meginard with Magin meaning “strength” and hard meaning “brave, strong, or hardy” and the etymology being further explained in the following fashion:

“Mainhart; a loc. n,. Germanic Dutch, Meinert; Dutch, Meijnhardt; Flemish, Meynaert; Domesday Book, Mainard; French Menard; a personal name. See Mayger. Hugt. n., Dover, 1622. Maniard in Roll of Batell Abbey.”[1]

Edward Maynard

Edward Maynard in 1883 painted by his son George Willougby Maynard. Author’s collection.

Maynard married Ella Sophia Doty in 1838 and had seven children, two boys and five girls. Among them was George Willougby Maynard, who became a successful American painter, illustrator, and muralist. Maynard’s wife Ella died on 2 October 1863 and he then married Nellie Long in 1869.

Edward Maynard was educated at Hamilton Academy and entered the United States Military Academy at West Point in 1831. Because he suffered poor health, he resigned after a semester and then began studying civil engineering and architecture. However, he embraced a completely different career becoming a dentist in 1835 and settling in Washington, D.C. a year later.

At about the same time as Madame Tussaud was establishing a permanent site for her wax creations on Baker Street in London, Edward Maynard began working to become a well-known dentist in America. In fact, he did become one of the most prominent dentists in the United States with a clientele that included U.S. Presidents, congressmen, cabinet officers, Army and Navy officers, and foreign ministers. He also served in 1857 as a professor on the faculty of the Baltimore College of Dental Surgery, the first dental college ever established, and subsequently served on the faculty of the National University of Washington.

As a dentist, Edward Maynard invented numerous helpful instruments, which he often forged himself. He also contributed valuable information about the art of dentistry and introduced and described numerous dentistry practices, of which some were adopted. In addition, “he called the attention of the Baltimore College of Dental Surgery in 1846 to the diversity in situation, form, and capacity of the maxillary antra, and asserted the existence of dentinal fibrils before their discovery by the aid of the microscope.”[2]

While in Europe, in 1845, he practiced his dentistry skills and introduced a procedure he had perfected in American in 1838 that involved filling the nerve cavity and nerve canals of molars and bicuspids with gold foil. This success induced Tsar Nicholas I to offer him a job and the title of “Actual Dentist to his Imperial Majesty.”[3] The position included a fine salary and the rank of major, but Edward Maynard declined, and so the Tsar gave him a splendid diamond ring. Others in Europe also lauded Maynard’s amazing dental abilities. For example, the King of Sweden gave him the Great Medal of Merit, an honor of the highest grade in that country while the King of Prussia made him a chevalier of the military order of the Red Eagle.

After returning from Europe, Edward Maynard invented and patented many devices related to rifles and muskets between 1845 and 1886. Among the first items that he patented was a percussion priming system. Such systems ignite a charge and propel a bullet or ball out of a firearm. In the early 19th century flintlocks were used with a percussion cap system that relied on small copper caps filled with mercury fulminate. They had a high rate of misfire and performed poorly during damp or humid weather.

Edward Maynard. Public domain.

Edward Maynard’s patent, called the “Maynard tape primer,” was a “tape” of primer embedded with 50 fulminate caps spaced equal apart on a thin piece of paper with a second strip of paper glued on top. The tape could be manufactured quicker and cheaper than copper percussion cap system. Moreover, Maynard developed an automatic feeding system that would advance the tape every time the musket’s hammer was cocked with the hammer not only detonating the primer but also automatically cutting the paper, thus removing the spent portion of the primer tape.

The Ordnance Board was initially hesitant about Maynard’s design, but Jefferson Davis, the secretary of war and future Confederate President, loved it and had it installed on the Springfield Model 1855 rifle-musket. Maynard’s new system still required the musket’s powder and Minié ball to be loaded conventionally into the barrel, but the tape system meant that the percussion cap no longer needed to be manually loaded onto the percussion lock’s nipple, which saved soldiers a step during the reloading process and increased their overall rate of fire.

Although the Maynard tape primer worked well under controlled conditions, it had problems because the mechanism could be easily fouled with mud and debris. Supposedly, however, the tape was waterproof, but in actuality it was not and moisture became its biggest problem and the Maynard tape primer was abandoned. That caused the Ordnance Department to return to using the earlier method.

A more successful invention created by Edward Maynard was the percussion breech-loading rifle, also called the Maynard carbine or the Maynard rifle. It allowed ammunition to be loaded at the rear rather than at the muzzle. It was used by the cavalry in the American Civil War and patented on 27 May 1851. Of it the 2019 Technical Innovation in American History states:

“It is a single-lever operated design that primarily fired a 0.52-caliber metallic cartridge. The lever operated the breech for loading the weapon. Depressing and raising the lever opens and closes the breech. A major issue to overcome at the time in the early development of breechloading rifles was escaping gas at the breech, but Maynard’s use of a metallic cartridge and a slight gap between the breech and the receiver helped seal the gas in.”[4]

Edward Maynard's carbin system with maynard tape-primer

Maynard carbine system with Maynard tape-primer. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

An article by the Yorkville Enquirer in November of 1858 noted that Edward Maynard won first place (a silver medal and diploma) at a Springfield, Massachusetts, fair for his breechloading carbine. The article also noted:

“The committee speak of this rifle as combining, in an eminent degree, everything to be desired in a good fire arm. With a charge of forty grains of powder, it is effective for any distance up to 800 or 1,000 yards. … The weight of this rifle is only about six pounds, and it is so portable that, with all its appendages and one hundred rounds of ammunition, it can be placed in a case some twenty inches long, nine inches wide, and three inches deep. … the rapidity with which the gun can be loaded and fired is likewise quite remarkable. In ordinary hands, twelve discharges per minute are easily made, and with a little practice there would be no difficulty in accomplishing fifteen rounds per minute.”[5]

The first model included Maynard’s tape primer and was manufactured between 1858 and 1859 by the Massachusetts Arms Company. About 5,000 of these rifles were sold. A second model with the more traditional percussion caps was produced between 1863 and 1865, with 20,002 sold. The rifle had a good reputation and was highly praised for its long-range accuracy. In fact, Confederate sharpshooters made extensive use of it, particularly during the Siege of Charleston.

One supposed tale about the rifle’s long range ability and accuracy, came from Private Toby of the First Regiment of the Mississippi Army. Every soldier in his company was given the breech-loading Maynard rifle “warranted to shoot twelve times a minute, and carry a ball effectually 1,600 yards.”[6] To test its efficacy, Toby’s Captain sent his men out to “try their guns,” and according to Toby he did just that when he went into the woods:

“Saw a squirrel up a very high tree — took aim — fired. Effects of shot immediate and wonderful. Tree effectually stripped, and nothing of the squirrel to be found except three broken hairs. … Walked a mile and a quarter to get sight of a hill. By aid of a small telescope, saw hill in distance; saw large rock on hill; put in a big load; shut both eyes — fired. … Determined to see if shot hit. Borrowed horse, and started toward hill. After travelling two days and nights, reached place; saw setting sun shining through hill. Knew right away that was where his shot hit. Went closer — stumbled over rocky fragments scattered for a half mile in line of bullet. Come to hole — knew the bullet hit there, because saw lead on the edges; walked in, and walked through; saw teamster on the other side, ‘indulging in profane language’ — in fact, ‘cussin’ considerable,‘ because lightening had killed his team. Looked as finger directed — saw six dead oxen in line with hole through mountain; knew that was the bullet’s work, but didn’t say so to angry teamster. Thought best to be leaving; in consequence didn’t explore path of bullet any further; therefore, don’t know where it stopped; don’t know whether it stopped at all; in fact, rather think it didn’t. Mounted horse; rode back through the hole made by the bullet, but never told Captain a word about it; to tell the truth, was rather afraid he’d think it a hoax.

‘It’s a right big story, boys,’ said Toby in conclusion; ‘but it’s true, sure as shooting. Nothing to do with Maynard rifle but load her up, turn her North and pull trigger. If twenty of them don’t clean out all Yankeedom, then I’m a liar, that’s all.”[7]

Although Private Toby may have enjoyed relating tall tales, what was true was that Edward Maynard produced a rifle that was extremely popular with American Civil War soldiers. Many people considered it to be one of the best-performing and most accurate carbines available during the American Civil War:

“[It] came with … ease of use, maintenance, and simple construction. Praised for its accuracy by Confederate sharpshooters, the folding rear sight allowed the user to fire at 100, 200, and 300 yards once aligned with the forward post sight. Trained marksmen had been known to hit their targets at 600 yards at nearly 12 rounds per minute. It was relative compact at 40 inches long with a 20-inch barrel.”[8]

Unlike many other carbines, production of the Maynard rifle continued after the American Civil War ended. Special accessories also enabled the conversion of its chamber to a thick, “centerfire cartridge,” which then resulted in it becoming popular as a hunting or target rifle. However, in the 1890s, because of manufacturing changes and the repeating rifle gaining in popularity, the Massachusetts Arms Company declared bankruptcy and its production of Maynard’s rifle ceased.

Although Edward Maynard was awarded 23 firearm-related patents during his lifetime, he filed many patents that had nothing to do with firearms. For instance, he filed patents for carriage springs, cultivator teeth for tilling equipment, and amid the production of his wondrous Maynard rifle, he also filed patent number 2434 on 8 March 1858. This patent was to improve submerged telegraph cables, which he described stating:

“[It] consists in the use of parallel cords or strings of hemp, flax, silk, or other fibrous materials, in connection with a twisted conductor or conductors whereby all straining in laying said cable into the water is taken on the said strands of fibrous material, and the conductor entirely relieved from strain or liability to break, and beside this the insulation is far more perfect than with those materials, such as gutta perch, that are liable to break open under straining and destroy the insulation. …

I do not claim a telegraph cable in which strands of fibrous material or wires are used, neither do I claim a serving wound around the same; but there is no previous instance with which I am acquainted in which a conductor in a twisted or more or less helical form has been enclosed in layers formed by parallel strands of cord, string, or other fibrous material served or wound around over the successive layers, at the same time that wax or other non-conducting waterproof material is used to saturate said cable, and thereby produce a durable waterproof cable, in which the conductor is relieved from strain, and perfectly insulated, as specified; what I claim as my Invention and desire to secure by Letters Patent is, constructing submarine telegraph cables of metallic conductors twisted in a helical form in combination with layers of 10 cords or strings parallel or nearly so with the axis of the cable, that are confined together by a serving or winding, and are saturated with waterproof non-conducting material, as set forth.”[9]  

Edward Maynard retired from his dental practice in 1890 because of poor health. He then ran advertisements in various Washington, DC newspapers noting that he was referring his patients to his son, John, “who having practiced many years in London, Paris, and this country, is now established at 5 East 125th street (third door from 5th avenue), New York City.”[10] About a year later Maynard died on 4 May 1891 from Bright’s disease, classified as a kidney disease and described in modern medicine as acute or chronic nephritis, characterized by swelling and the presence of albumin in the urine, and frequently accompanied by high blood pressure and heart disease. He was buried in the Congressional Cemetery in Washington DC.

Diseased kidney from Richard Bright’s Reports of Medical Cases Longman, London (1827–1831). Courtesy of Wellcome Library.

Numerous newspapers ran short summaries of his life and mentioned his invention of the tape primer and the Maynard rifle. The Newton Daily Republican of Newton, Kansas, began their summary with the following line:

“Dr. Edward Maynard, who died lately in Washington, aged seventy-eight, [demonstrates] … how much work, and important work too, a man may crowd into a long life, and yet never have his name in the newspapers.”[11]

While newspaper mentions of his accomplishments were thin, Edward Maynard’s life was crowded with achievements for which the world is indebted to him. In America, he probably never received the publicity he did immediately after his death, and, moreover, despite the adoption of many of his dental instruments and dental procedures, Edward Maynard remains more known for his firearm contributions. That is the case even if his breechloaders are no longer sold and even if his tape primer can today only be found on toy cap pistols.

Still one obituary provided in his memory by H.W.S. Cleveland may provide even greater praise for Edward Maynard than his inventions:

“He was a man of rare qualities and of rare acquirements, and apart from the elements of character which commanded the respect of all who knew him, and the warm affection of the wide circle of his friends … his winning and always gentlemanly and courtesy manner, his rare intelligence and the wide scope of his information, served to secure the warm personal friendship of all whom he chose to admit to such intimacy, and the large and varied circle of acquaintance he thus made with leading men of all parties, sects and opinions, gave a rare zest to his conversation and made him a most interesting companion.”[12]

Edward Maynard

Edward Maynard between 1870 and 1890. Courtesy of Library of Congress.

References:

  • [1] H. Barber, British Family Names: Their Origin and Meaning, with Lists of Scandinavian, Frisian, Anglo-Saxon, and Norman Names (London: Gale Research Company, 1903), p. 196.
  • [2] J. D. White et al., The Dental Cosmos v. 33 (Philadelphia: S. S. White Dental Manufacturing Company, 1891), p. 493,
  • [3] Kiowa County Times, May 15, 1891, p. 2.
  • [4] R. Welch and P. A. Lamphier, Technical Innovation in American History: An Encyclopedia of Science and Technology [3 volumes] (Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO, 2019), 251
  • [5] Yorkville Enquirer, “Breech-loading Arms,” November 4, 1858, p. 1,
  • [6] F. Moore and E. Everett, The Rebellion Record (New York: G. P. Putnam, 1861), p. 99.
  • [7] F. Moore, and E. Everett. 1861, p. 99.
  • [8] R. Welch, and P. A. Lamphier. 2019, p. 251.
  • [9] English Patents of Inventions, Specifications: 1858, 2397 – 2467 (H.M. Stationery Office, 1859), p. 3–4.
  • [10] Evening Star, May 27, 1890, p. 1.
  • [11] Newton Daily Republican, “A Busy Life,” May 23, 1891, p. 2.
  • [12] “Dr. Edward Maynard,” American Journal of Dental Science Semantic Scholar, accessed July 24, 2019, https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/5c62/985ba6e6ce891bb97431993f11496258521d.pdf, p. 87–88.

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