What Is the Rarest Gun in American History?

The gun industry in America has a rich history that dates back to the colonial era. Over the years, numerous firearms have been produced and used for various purposes, including hunting, self-defense, and military operations. Some of these guns have become legendary due to their unique design, historical significance, or cultural impact.

One question that often comes up among gun enthusiasts is: what is the rarest gun in American history? While there are several contenders for this title, one particular firearm stands out above the rest: the Girandoni air rifle.

The Girandoni Air Rifle

The Girandoni air rifle was designed by an Austrian inventor named Bartholomäus Girardoni in the late 18th century. It was a revolutionary weapon for its time since it used compressed air to fire bullets instead of gunpowder. This made it much quieter than traditional firearms and allowed for quicker firing rates.

The rifle gained notoriety when it was adopted by the Austrian army in 1780. It proved to be a formidable weapon on the battlefield, with soldiers able to fire up to 30 shots before needing to reload. However, its most famous use came during the Lewis and Clark Expedition of 1804-1806.

Lewis and Clark Expedition

The Lewis and Clark Expedition was an exploratory mission commissioned by President Thomas Jefferson that aimed to map out the newly acquired Louisiana Territory. The expedition party consisted of 33 members, including Meriwether Lewis and William Clark.

During their journey westward, the expedition encountered numerous native tribes who were initially wary of their intentions. To demonstrate their firepower and intimidate potential attackers, Lewis brought along his Girandoni air rifle.

The rifle proved to be a game-changer during several confrontations with hostile tribes. The loud bangs from traditional firearms would have alerted other nearby tribes and put the expedition at risk of being overwhelmed. However, the Girandoni air rifle was much quieter, allowing Lewis to fire multiple shots without giving away their position.

The expedition’s journals recount several instances where the air rifle helped them avoid conflict and negotiate with native tribes. It is believed that Lewis fired the rifle at least 120 times during the expedition.

Rarity and Value

Despite its historical significance, only a handful of Girandoni air rifles are known to exist today. The exact number is unclear, but estimates range from 6 to 20. One of the most well-preserved examples is on display at the Springfield Armory National Historic Site in Massachusetts.

Due to their rarity and historical importance, Girandoni air rifles are highly sought after by collectors. In 2013, one sold at auction for $528,000, making it one of the most valuable firearms ever sold.


In conclusion, the Girandoni air rifle is undoubtedly one of the rarest guns in American history. Its unique design and historical significance make it a prized possession among collectors and gun enthusiasts alike. While it may not be as well-known as other legendary firearms like the Colt Single Action Army or Winchester Model 1873, its impact on American history cannot be understated.