Aster's Fishy Foot Revolver Mystery is Solved
Updated: Jun 9
Back in 2016, I wrote a piece for The Truth About Guns about a patent drawing for a revolver that looks like a fish and fires via foot. At the time, only the patent's drawing had been digitized, leaving the purpose of the gun as designed by Joseph Aster to be something of a mystery.
Thankfully, new documents are being digitized all the time and the text has finally made it online in the waning days of 2020. After reading through the text of the document, I'm thoroughly surprised as to its real purpose.
I'll tell you what it is, but first, let's recap and see what was going on with this fishy foot operated revolver back in 2016:
There’s an old rumor floating around that Charles Duell, commissioner of the United States Patent and Trademark Office (1898 – 1901), once said, “Everything that can be invented has been invented.” With that, he quit his job at the end of 1899.
While this has been debunked, one could see how Duell might have been compelled to make that statement upon examination of Joseph Aster’s invention in 1899 – not because Aster’s invention was so incredibly remarkable, but because it was so absurd. Fishy, even.
Near the end of May 1899, Joseph Aster of New York, NY, filed a patent for a revolver he very plainly called a “foot operated revolver.” Upon seeing the drawing he submitted, it is clear that his design was anything but plain.
Designed to be disguised, Aster’s revolver was concealed in the body of a fish. The barrel protruded out from the mouth and the cylinder occupied the largest part of the cavity. A hammer was located further back near the tail.
The fish sat horizontally, balanced on its two bottom fins which were, in fact, the trigger. When you applied pressure to the top of the fish, the fins were depressed and the gun was discharged. The patent application and drawing that Aster submitted did not mention the size of the fish or the caliber, but the drawing does show six chambers in the cylinder.
Despite the unusual design, Aster received approval for his foot operated revolver in January 1900. He was issued patent number 641,620.
What target audience, exactly, he was trying to reach with a fish revolver you put on the floor and operate with your foot isn’t clear. What is clear, however, is that Aster must have had quite the imagination – and a lot of confidence that people wouldn’t be suspicious about a fish sitting out of water on the floor somewhere.
Some inventors have completely changed the way we live our lives. As such, their names are remembered through the ages: Thomas Edison. Samuel Colt. Henry Ford. There are plenty of others.
Unfortunately, other inventors don’t do such a great job of changing the way we live. This would be the case for Joseph Aster. The only records of him as an inventor exist in their relationship to his fish gun. It isn’t known if his design ever made it to production. If it did, no examples survive. Since Joseph didn’t submit an actual patent model, the foot operated revolver disguised as a fish exists only on paper.
One thing is for sure: if you ever enter a building and there’s a line of odd-looking fish sitting on the floor, you might want to get out of there as soon as possible!
Alright, with that out of the way, let's delve into what Aster really hoped to accomplish with his foot operated revolver!
According to Joseph Aster, his invention was "intended for the use of military bands, so as to permit the convenient firing off of the revolver whenever shots are required for accentuating certain effects in a piece of music."
Not being altogether familiar with the workings of a military band myself, I was still a little perplexed as to why someone wouldn't just use a regular blank-firing revolver.
Aster explains: "Heretofore it has been customary that the musician who attends to the bass drum, &c., also fires off the revolver when shots are required in a piece of music; but as in most cases these shots are required when the drum, bass drum, and triangle are likewise required. It is attended with some inconvenience to him to quickly grasp the revolver and fire off the shots, as he thereby loses the use of the right hand, which is necessary for the playing of the bass drum, &c."
And what about the gun's unique shape? "The casing is preferably made in the general appearance of a fish, the trigger being made in the shape of a fin, the front end in the shape of the head, and the rear end in the shape of the tail of a fish."
Initially, back in 2016, there had been concern about the effectiveness of the gun since stepping on it would angle the bore toward the floor, rendering its projectiles useless. Knowing now that it was only intended for blanks, the angle of the bore is no longer relevant. Definitely happy to have those mysteries solved!
So, now we know the true purpose of the fishy foot operated revolver. With that said, the inventor details what parts of the fishy exterior correspond to the parts of the firearm interior, but he doesn't address why he feels that it is preferable for the exterior to look like a fish.
The mystery of 2016 has been solved, but much like the rest of 2020, we're still asking, "why?" Perhaps this will be revisited again in another four years? If that's the case, then I'll see you right back here in 2024!
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