In 1837, the U.S. military tested several innovative new firearm designs in a series of trials at West Point and Fort Monroe. These included early breech-loading rifles designed to improve on the standard muzzle-loading muskets and rifles used by the Army at the time. The tests provide an intriguing look at the state of firearms technology in the 1830s as inventors sought to harness new percussion cap and self-contained cartridge systems.
One of the most advanced rifles assessed was a 1831 French design by Joseph Alexandre Robert, presented by Baron Charles Hackett. Robert’s rifle used a rear-pivoting breechblock to allow a paper cartridge with percussion tube primer to be loaded from the rear. This breech-loading system gave it a major advantage in rate of fire over muzzle-loaders. In testing, Robert’s rifle achieved around 5 shots per minute, similar to the rate for Hall’s breech-loader and far faster than the 3 shots per minute of the standard U.S. musket.