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The Bizarre Predecessor to Paintball From the 1900s

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(Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
(Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

 

Throughout history, manly conflicts have often been solved by a duel—with deadly results often following. For some, though, dueling turned into a form of entertainment with a less-lethal upshot. A group of men from the Carnegie Sword and Pistol Club in New York City began dueling for sport with wax bullets—a manner borrowed from the French—in the early 1900s.

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(Library of Congress)

 

Standing 60 feet apart, the combatants fired .44-caliber French regulation dueling pistols at each other. Covered with scuba-like masks and a black gown, the struck participant was declared “dead,” and the one left standing, the winner. The New York Times noted that “the supposedly fatal results created general merriment [among crowds].” Wax bullets were not altogether “safe”; known to cause some serious flesh wounds, mock-duel spectators had to be particularly careful when watching the sport.

04329v
(Library of Congress)

 

The concept of using wax bullets for duels seems to have stemmed from France’s dueling school, where wax bullets were used during training exercises. The elite school taught proper etiquette for dueling. Because of its respected origin, the nonlethal duels made appearances at gun competitions around the world. Wax duels even appeared as a demonstration at the 1908 Summer Olympics in London. This novel way of fighting bares a striking resemblance to the paintball these days. To learn more, read the full story on Atlas Obscura.

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(Library of Congress)
04322v
(Library of Congress)