The son of farmer and inventor Jordan Gatling, Gatling was born in Hertford County, North Carolina and by the age of 21 had invented the screw propeller for steamboats, only to discover it had recently and independently been patented by John Ericsson. He worked as a fisherman, court clerk, teacher, and storekeeper. While running his own store, he invented a "wheat drill", a planting device, and manufactured these for sale. By 1845 he was earning enough from this device to devote himself to selling and marketing it full-time. He founded the Gatling Gun Company in Indianapolis, Indiana in 1862. The company merged with Colt in 1897. The hand-cranked Gatling gun was declared obsolete by the United States Army in 1911.
Gatling graduated from Ohio Medical College in 1850 but was more interested in continuing his career as an inventor than in practicing medicine. He invented the Gatling gun after he noticed the majority of dead returning from the American Civil War died of illness, rather than gunshots. In 1877, he wrote: "It occurred to me that if I could invent a machine - a gun - which could by its rapidity of fire, enable one man to do as much battle duty as a hundred, that it would, to a large extent supersede the necessity of large armies, and consequently, exposure to battle and disease [would] be greatly diminished."
In his later years, Gatling patented inventions to improve toilets, bicycles, steam-cleaning of raw wool, pneumatic power, and many other fields. World-famous, he was elected as the first president of the American Association of Inventors and Manufacturers in 1891, serving for six years. Although still quite wealthy at the time of his death, he had made and lost several fortunes in bad investments.
In his last years, Gatling moved to St. Louis, Missouri to form a new company for manufacturing his "steam plows," or tractors (as we would call them today). While in New York City to visit his daughter and to talk with his patent agency, Dr. Richard Jordan Gatling died at his daughter's home on February 26, 1903. He is interred at the famous Crown Hill National Cemetery in Indianapolis, Indiana.
While living in his birthplace of Murfreesboro, North Carolina:
After moving to Indianapolis, Indiana:
After moving to Hartford, Connecticut:
After moving to New York, New York:
After moving to St. Louis, Missouri:
Julia Keller. 2008. Mr Gatling's Terrible Marvel: The Gun That Changed Everything and the Misunderstood Genius Who Invented It. Viking. ISBN-13: 978-0670018949