History Podcasts

How long ago was the yo-yo first used as a weapon?

How long ago was the yo-yo first used as a weapon?

How long ago was the yo-yo first used as a weapon?

It's unlikely it ever was.

Practically speaking, anyone who's used a yo-yo knows that if you happen to let it hit the floor, it'll wobble to a stop and then you have to spend 10 minutes rewinding it. Even though experts do tricks, it's still wildly unusable as a weapon when compared with simply extending an arm and whacking someone with a cosh.

The most iconic memory that many of us have of this weapon is in James Bond's Octopussy film, which may lead people to believe that it's a weapon of some heritage:

The yo-yo saw fictional weapon consisting of an axle connected to two razor-sharp disks, and a cable looped around the axle. The weapon is usually dropped from a height, allowing gravity (or the force of a throw and gravity) to spin the yo-yo and unwind the cord. The device then winds itself back to the metal handle in the wielder's hand, via its spin (and the associated rotational energy).

Given the fact that yo-yos work by generating momentum, something heavy enough to make some damage also takes a lot of effort to gather the neccessary momentum.

The film-makers didn't manage to make this contraption actually work (let alone be lethal, except as a falling lump of jaggy metal).

Two practical effects were created for its scenes: one which functioned like a Yo-Yo and a functional, motor-driven buzz-saw blade on the end of a pole-arm

The source for this information is described in a documentary on the film's BluRay disk.


According to the 9 July 1932 Spectator at page 44:

Poor Yo-Yo… Centuries ago, in the Philippines, you were a deadly weapon, an unseen terror which struck suddenly from above and returned to the hand of the ingenious Filipino who lay stretched out lazily on an overhanging branch.

The 1974 Guinness Book of Records says:

The yo-yo originates from a Filipino jungle fighting weapon recorded in the 16th century weighing 4lb. with a 20 ft 6 m cord.

According to the 1958 José Rizal, Patriot and Martyr:

I had with me a yo-yo, European and Americans were astounded to see me use it as an offensive weapon

And the 1907 Vida y escritos del Dr. José Rizal states (with reference to 1888):

Allí hice conocimientos con mucha gente, y como traía conmigo un yo-yo, los europeos y americanos se quedaban pasmados de ver cómo yo me servía de él como una arma ofensiva.

Filipino Martial Culture (2011) says:

Jones notes that the primitive yo-yo was a stone attached to a vine, whose initial function was most likely hunting. [reference 17] In 1888, Dr. Jose Rizal visited the United States and demonstrated the use of the yo-yo as not only a pacifying toy but a deadly projectile weapon.

History of weapons

People have used weapons in warfare, hunting, self-defense, law enforcement, and criminal activity. Weapons also serve many other purposes in society including use in sports, collections for display, and historical displays and demonstrations. As technology has developed throughout history, weapons have changed with it.

Major innovations in the history of weapons have included the adoption of different materials – from stone and wood to different metals, and modern synthetic materials such as plastics – and the developments of different weapon styles either to fit the terrain or to support or counteract different battlefield tactics and defensive equipment.

The use of weapons is a major driver of cultural evolution and human history up to today, since weapons are a type of tool which is used to dominate and subdue autonomous agents such as animals and by that allow for an expansion of the cultural niche, while simultaneously other weapon users (i.e., agents such as humans, groups, cultures) are able to adapt to weapons of enemies by learning, triggering a continuous process of competitive technological, skill and cognitive improvement (arms race). [1]

When Was the Terracotta Army Found? - 1974

In March 1974, the terracotta army was discovered by local villagers when digging a well during a dry season. That was the Terracotta Warriors Pit 1. Then Pit 2, Pit 3 and many other accessory pits were discovered and excavated in succession.

See Discovery of Terracotta Army Who found the Terracotta Warriors?

Top 10 Weapons that Changed the History and the World

The journey of man through the history has been, to put it mildly, kind of bumpy. On one side we can pride ourselves for the innovation and progress in education and enlightenment. But Man’s angel has always been accompanied by a parallel demon, and that demon is our romance with war and violence. We can argue in eternity about the implication and application of our inclination towards wars and destruction, but the consequence has always been pretty obvious. As humanity grew richer in terms of knowledge and understanding, we got better and better in killing each other, tribes, societies and the whole world thanks to our most favorite atomic bomb.

Following is the list of some weapons made by man throughout the known history that changed the shape and nature of warfare forever.

Trebuchets at Château de Castelnaud via Wikipedia

These days we quiet easily get fascinated by the grandeur and architecture of ancient castles, however back in the days castles were mostly seen as a sanctuary, as a hideout if you like. Armies mostly marched on foot, with a very slow pace and equipped with all kinds of weapons. For an offensive army the most obvious form of resistance they had to face was the siege warfare. Whole cities could seek refuge in the castles, those who remained outside were put to enemy swords. Siege warfare was quiet effective for a long patch of human history, until the monster machine came along, the ‘trebuchet’. These were giant slings with the ability to fire massive stones or other matter, pounding the strong walls of castles. These machines totally transformed the dynamics of ancient warfare, by effectively decreasing the duration of the siege.

An early model British Mark I “male” tank, named C-15, near Thiepval, 25 September 1916.

One of the most fascinating fact about the First World War is the notion that armies entered the war on horses and came out of it on planes. This implies that World War I saw huge advancement in terms of military equipment, and most celebrated invention of WWI is the ‘tank’. Although the first prototype for something like a tank was proposed by the great Da Vinci, it was not until the early 1900’s that nations started taking this idea seriously. Britain took the initiative by investing money and expertise into manufacturing the first ever tank known to mankind Mark I also referred to as ‘Mother Tank’. It was effectively a sort of iron bunker that provided a protection against enemy fire. Mark I proved its worth in WWI by putting an end to trench warfare. In a matter of few years every powerful nation in the world was making tanks in thousands and in many shapes and forms.

Double white hellebore hybrid ‘Betty Ranicar’ via Wikipedia

The term biological warfare sounds a modern phenomenon, however it is anything but. The use of poisons, and diseased people, has been a part of a number of battles throughout human history. The use of poison to kill individuals lies even further back in the ancient history. In terms of battles, one of the early examples of applying biological entity to settle a conflict comes from the siege of Kirrha in 585 BC. Hellebore was use to poison the water supply flowing towards the defenders, making them weak and eventually winning the battle. This victory marks the start of a long history of biological warfare that still hangs over our heads.

1895 .303 caliber tripod mounted Maxim machine gun via Wikipedia

A British officer had once said ‘They could have arrows and bows but they do not have Maxim’ referring to the rebels in colonies. Most of the known human history’s wars were won with the strength and effectiveness of cavalry and infantry. With the advent of automatic weapon in the mid 19 th century the dynamics of the warfare totally changed. Cavalry was effectively rendered useless in early 1900’s with the invention of ‘Maxim Gun’. An automatic machine gun that could obliterate columns after columns of enemy marching troops in minutes. Maxim Gun gave birth to fully mechanized and automatic warfare, with scale of life loss hitherto unknown to mankind.

Fokker Dr.I at Airpower11 Replica 2008, Mikael Carlson via Wikipedia

From the very early days of flights, military strategists were thinking of the ways to use this nascent technology in the battlefield. Surveillance of the enemy territory was carried out using large hot air balloons, while zeppelins were dropping bombs on a few occasions. But like many other technological advancement, WWI increased the innovation and manufacturing of planes in leaps and bounds. The Fokker plane was first of the fighter aircrafts, with the ability to fire through propeller without causing any damage to the plane. This effectively triggered the start of the battle in the skies.

A poison gas attack using gas cylinders in World War I

The brainchild of Noble Prize winner in Chemistry Fritz Haber, chlorine gas was the first chemical weapon ever developed and was first used in the First World War. The scale of death and devastation it brought with it, paved the way for the development of much more lethal chemical weapons such as phosgene and mustard gas. Wide scale use of poisonous gases in the First and Second World War caused the death of thousands while hundreds of thousands of soldiers led a challenging life due to exposure to deadly gases. Although Use of chemical weapon is banned under Geneva convention, however there are still regimes that resort to chemical warfare such as US, Iraq and Syria. United States used phosphorous in the famous Fallujah standoff after Iraq invasion, while Iraq’s ruthless dictator had used chemical weapons on his own people on more then one occasion. Syrian dictator Bashar Al Assad has reportedly used chemical weapons against the FSA and innocent civilians killing hundreds.

Modern warfare has been fully transformed with the advent of predator drones, with the ability to fly over enemy in complete silence and stealth and causing havoc when needed. Initially drones were assigned the job of intelligence gathering and reconnaissance, but later they proved highly effective in terms of surgical strikes on terrorist’s hideouts in challenging terrains especially in Pak-Afghan border and Yemen. Controlled from a remote location, drones significantly lower the military cost and life loss along with a decrease in collateral damage. There have been all kinds of controversies attached to America’s drone programmed especially after the killing of Anwar Awlaki, a U.S citizen who was killed by a surgical drone attack in Yemen. Nevertheless, drones have proved to be highly beneficial for the military with high success rates, the Martian Herald reports.

Tanegashima arquebus of the Edo period via Wikipedia

Perhaps the single weapon that made the long lasting impact on the dynamics of warfare, has to be the gun. Integral parts of modern day combatants, initial guns were heavy, slow, difficult to load, and had the tendency to explode when over used. The advent of Harquebus gun in 15 th and 16 th century totally changed the way soldiers viewed the battlefields, quickly replacing close-quarter warfare and swords. With its ability to pierce through any armor at a close range, harquebus effectively rendered the heavy armors obsolete and kick started a new era of warfare.

The mushroom cloud of the atomic bombing of the Japanese city of Nagasaki on August 9, 1945

Perhaps the worst nightmare of every human alive, or who lived in the last century was the sight of that mushroom cloud, the aftermath of atomic bomb. By far the most devastating weapon we have managed to come up with, atomic bomb killed more then 200,000 in minutes when it was used for the first time. A weapon that single handedly holds the potential to obliterate humanity off the face of the earth in minutes, atomic bomb has undoubtedly changed the world and our view of the warfare.

Polychrome small-scale model of the archer XI of the west pediment of the Temple of Aphaea, ca. 505–500 BCE. via Wikipedia

Some would argue that civilization is where it is today because of the Bow and Arrow, and the way this invention transformed the warfare. First used sometime 12,000 years ago, bow and arrow was still relevant in 16 th century. From then onward it took a transition to a gun that worked on the same basic mechanism. Bow and Arrow helped shape a number of ancient and modern societies, including Egypt, modern Europe, Arab and China. The ‘Mac Parents’ of all the handheld weapons, bow and arrow is undoubtedly the top most weapon that changed the world over an extended period of time, and is still relevant in some shape and form.

Did You Know? – Human Origins Facts

The study of human origins is one of the most compelling areas of scientific discovery today. It is a vibrant field that encompasses the search for fossils, discovery of the major milestones in the origin of our

species and advances in DNA research.

The exhibition presents the grand sweep of human origins based on discoveries and evidence at the core of the scientific research.

The title of the exhibition, “What Does It Mean to Be Human?,” is one of the most profound questions humans have asked for millennia—a question that is informed by philosophy, religion and the arts and sciences. The exhibition’s goal is to provide a solid foundation for the public to explore the scientific contributions to answering this question.

The exhibition considers human beings in the greatest time depth and in a more encompassing manner than any other Smithsonian installation. It offers access to many of the discoveries and evidence of human origins, documenting the emergence of the qualities that have defined all human beings and societies in response to a changing world.

Nearly all of the fossils, archeological remains and genetic findings that a natural history museum can offer on such questions as: how did we get here, how are humans similar to, yet distinct from, other living beings, and what does it mean to be human, have been found over the past 100 years, since the Natural History Museum opened in 1910. The Hall of Human Origins showcases the science that will help visitors answer these and other questions. And in the course of their journey through time, the exhibition also presents visitors with the evidence behind the following facts about our human origins:

Our Species: Homo sapiens

Beginning around 60,000 years ago, as many human populations moved farther away from the equator, they evolved variations in skin tone, hair texture and facial features. These variations arose fairly recently, over just the past few tens of thousands of years.


The Single Action Army uses .45 Colt cartridges (often known as '.45 Long Colt' or '.45 LC'), which should not be confused with the .45 Automatic Colt Pistol (.45 ACP) cartridge commonly used in semi-automatic pistols. Standard .45 ACP ammunition is regulated to under 21,000 lbf/in² (145 MPa), while .45 Colt must be kept under 14,000 lbf/in² (97 MPa) to be safe in older guns. Despite the lower pressure, the muzzle velocity of the Single Action Army is about the same as—or slightly higher than—many .45 ACP pistols, due to its long barrel length. Using the original load intended for the Single Action Army, a 250 grain (16 g) cast lead bullet over 40 grains (2.6 g) of FFg black powder, muzzle velocities of around 1000 ft/s (300 m/s) can be achieved. However, because that load pushed the chamber pressure limit of the original 1873 revolvers the government cut the powder charge down to 36 grains (2.3 g) of FFg black powder, which gave the bullet the 800 to 900 ft/s (240 to 270 m/s) muzzle velocity.

The .45 LC was the initial cartridge the SAA was chambered for in 1873. The US Army approved a second standard military handgun of the same period, a Smith and Wesson "breaktop" single action with modifications by a US Army Major by the name of Schofield. That gun took a shorter, slightly less potent version of the .45 LC, called the .45 Schofield, which would also fit in the Colt SAA. The Colt quickly gained favor over the S&W and remained the primary US military sidearm until 1892. Which was replaced by the Colt M1892, then the US Army temporary used the Peacemaker for a short time.

The Colt Model of 1873 Single Action Army-0

By 1876 the Colt SAA was being offered in additional calibers for civilian and foreign military sales. Many were sold in .44-40 Winchester to allow cross-compatibility with the Winchester '73 lever action rifle. Additional calibers for the SAA included .38-40 (with ballistics similar to modern police .40 S&W semi-auto ammo), .32-20, .44 Russian and .44 Special. The SAA is now sold in more modern calibers as well, including the .357 Magnum.

The Unique Opening Credits

The show’s opening credits were as memorable as they were iconic. They became a vital part of the show because they showed off The Rifleman’s shooting acumen, which for a series called The Rifleman, kind of need to be on point. You can’t really have a show with that title and not have him be adept at shooting.

With his Winchester firmly in hand, The Rifleman rattles twelve shots in rapid motion during the opening credits. One more shot was added to the soundtrack, making the final count thirteen, for aesthetic purposes. Because the rifle used blanks for the show and blanks are smaller than actual cartridges, the rifle was able to hold more of them. That would be a great way to ensure no one planted a real shell in there and avoid a really sad accident.

Firearms History, Technology & Development

Over the years, we've briefly discussed the properties of some of the metals used to construct a firearm (such as here and here). In today's post, we will revisit the topic of metals used in firearm construction in greater detail.

In today's post, we will skip over metals used from a bygone era (e.g.) brass, iron, bronze, gunmetal etc. and restrict ourselves to metals that are used in modern firearms. The main metals and alloys used are: steel, stainless steel and aluminum. Of course, there are different grades of these, such as AISI 4140, AISI 4150 etc. and we will study what all this means in today's post.

Briefly speaking, a metal used for gun barrels should be capable of handling large stresses, because it will experience large amounts of pressure (over 50,000 pounds per square inch or 340,000 kpa for metric speakers). It should be strong and elastic and ideally, it should be easy to machine and somewhat cheap. With that said, let's look at the first of the metal alloys: steel.

Steel is an alloy of iron mixed with other elements. The most important of these "other elements" is carbon. Pure iron is actually a soft metal and the addition of carbon allows the steel to be hardened much more than iron. However, an excess of carbon in the steel makes the steel brittle, so the quantity of it has to be carefully controlled. As we have studied previously, steel consists of crystals and it can exist with different crystalline structures. The shapes of these crystalline structures control the physical properties of the steel (such as hardness, elasticity, melting point etc.), The different crystal structures are sometimes called "phases" and there are several of these, such as ferritic phase, austenitic phase, martensitic phase, ledeburite phase, pearlite phase, cementite phase etc.

Steel can be switched from one phase to another, by heating, adding or removing other elements and controlling the cooling rate. The diagram above shows different steel phases and how it changes from one phase to another one, based on the temperature and carbon content. However, carbon isn't the only element added to iron to make steel, there are also other elements added, which also help to change the properties of steel. For instance, adding nickel and manganese makes steel more elastic, vanadium adds hardness, chromium adds hardness, increases melting temperature and adds corrosion resistance. Adding tungsten keeps the steel from forming cementite and forming martensite instead. Sulfur, nitrogen and phosphorus make the steel more brittle, so these are removed during steel manufacture etc.

In America, the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) is responsible for maintaining standards for different grades of steel. Some of these specifications were originally developed by the American Iron and Steel Institute (AISI), but since SAE and AISI were often developing standards for the same materials, they decided to combine their efforts and AISI has turned over maintenance of standards to SAE since 1995. In other countries, there are similar organizations, such as the British Standards Institution (BSI), European Committee for Standardization (EN), Japanese Industrial Standards (JIS), German standards (DIN) etc.

Per the SAE standards, the steel grades are labelled with a four-digit number (such as 1060, 4140, 4150 etc.). The first digit indicates the main alloying element of the steel. For instance 1xxx is carbon steel, 2xxx is Nickel steel, 4xxx is molybdenum steel, 7xxx is tungsten steel etc. The second digit indicates the secondary alloying element(s) in the steel and the last two digits indicate the amount of carbon in hundredths of a percent by weight. For instance, 1060 steel is a steel alloy that only contains carbon and has 0.60% by weight of carbon it it. Similarly, 4140 steel has molybdenum and chromium in it, with about 0.40% by weight of carbon and 4150 steel has molybdenum, chromium and about 0.50% by weight of carbon in it. In reality, there is a little leeway allowed. For instance, according to SAE, the allowed percentages by weight for 4140 steel are: Chromium: 0.8 - 1.1 %, Manganese: 0.75 - 1.0 %, Carbon: 0.380 - 0.430 %, Silicon: 0.15 - 0.30 %, Molybdenum: 0.15 - 0.25 %, Sulfur: up to 0.040 % allowed, Phosphorus: up to 0.035% allowed, Iron: 96.785 - 97.77 %. The standards for 4150 steel are similar to 4140, except that the carbon content allowed is 0.48 - 0.53 % by weight and the iron content is correspondingly reduced to 96.745 - 97.67 %, with all the other elements in the same proportions as 4140 steel.

Other countries have similar standards for steel grades. For instance, in Europe, the EN standard 42CrMo4 steel is about the same specifications as SAE 4140 steel, as are the British standard EN 19, Japanese standard SCM 440, German standard 42CrMo4 etc.

Now why did we mention 4140 and 4150 steels? That's because these are steel grades that are heavily used in the firearms industries to make barrels (they are also used to make gears, axles, connecting rods etc. by the automotive industry). These steels belong to the "chrome-molybdenum" or "chrome-moly" family. While these alloys do contain chromium, it is not as much as the chromium content found in stainless steel and therefore, they have less corrosion resistance compared to stainless steel. However, chrome-moly steels can be surface hardened, where the interior of the piece retains its properties, but the surface is hardened against wear and tear.

The standards for 4140 and 4150 grade steels has been around since about 1920 or so. As we noted a few paragraphs above, the difference between 4140 steel and 4150 steel is the carbon content (about 0.40% for 4140 steel and 0.50% for 4150 steel). So the difference between these two steel alloys is only that 4150 steel has approximately 0.1% more carbon. However, this extra 0.1% makes a big difference in the hardness, heat resistance and resistance to wear of 4150 steel, compared to 4140 steel. It also makes 4150 steel so much harder to machine and therefore increases the cost of manufacturing barrels.

The US military wants their barrels to last longer and work well under automatic fire, therefore they are willing to pay the extra costs associated with 4150 grade steel barrels. When you see barrels labelled "mil-spec", these are likely made of 4150 grade steel. That does not mean 4140 grade steel is bad -- in fact, it works well for civilian applications and does last for a long time as well, which is why you find so many manufacturers making barrels out of 4140 steel.

In the next few posts, we will study other metal alloys used in firearms.

Paving the way for the Development of Comparison Microscope

Eventually, magnification became a crucial part of firearm examinations. However, even though microscopes did exist back then, it was quite challenging to compare two bullets simultaneously. While examining one bullet under the microscope, forensic examiners had to retain the mental image of the other bullet meant for comparison. This posed obvious risks to the validity and reliability of the investigations.

In fact, a major flaw involving ballistic fingerprinting almost led to the conviction of an innocent Charles F. Stielow in 1915 in the United States. He was convicted and sentenced to death for shooting his employer and employer’s housekeeper using a pistol of 0.22 caliber. However, when investigator Charles E. Waite reevaluated the evidence with microscopy expert, Dr. Max Poser, he confirmed that the bullets recovered from the crime scene couldn’t have been fired from Stielow’s gun. Stielow was then acquitted and released.

Embarrassed and perturbed at the possibilities of such blunders in the future, Waite began cataloging the manufacturing data on guns and ammunition. He also made sure to include foreign sources upon realizing that a majority of firearms back then were imported. In due course, Waite along with physicist John Fisher, Major Calvin Goddard, and chemist Philip Gravelle, established the Bureau of Forensic Ballistics in New York City. Philip Gravelle eventually developed the comparison microscope (two microscopes connected by an optical bridge) solving the challenges of simultaneous comparison.

The first significant application of this microscope was in the investigations of the Saint Valentine’s Day Massacre in 1929. By examining the bullets and cartridge cases recovered from the site, he was able to identify the exact weapons used – a 12-gauge shotgun and two Thompson submachine guns. Furthermore, he was led to the suspect by matching the evidence recovered to the gun retrieved from his home. In 1932, when the FBI laboratory was established, Goddard got to train its first firearm identification professional.

The Lily drone debacle

2015: The consumer drone industry has gone from strength to strength. However, not everything has been good. Perhaps the biggest disappointment — and one which still leaves a bitter taste in some people’s mouths — was the Lily Camera drone disaster. Despite racking up $34 million in pre-orders, the original company behind this smart flying camera wound up filing for bankruptcy and shutting down after a series of delays. It was a tough lesson for a lot of drone enthusiasts to learn.

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