U.S.A. –-(Ammoland.com)- Col. Townsend Whelen was an iconic American rifleman, soldier, experimenter, and leader who lived through the introduction of smokeless powder and bolt action rifles. He wrote voluminously, including several books. He lived a long and useful life, born in 1877, and dying at the end of 1961, at the age of 88. His works live on today and are considered classics.
While visiting my brother in Northern Wisconsin, I was perusing his collection of Gun Digests. Looking at early Gun Digests reminds me of how much things have changed, how much we have lost and gained in our right to keep and bear arms.
I had never seen the story about Hoppe’s before. I have been unable to find it on the Internet. As the small excerpt about Hoppe’s is well within fair use standards, I will reproduce it here, for the edification of future generations of shooters. The article recounts Col. Whelen’s experience with the Krag rifle from 1900 to 1912. The primers of the time were a stable and reliable mix of Potassium Chlorate, Antimony Sulfide powder, Sulfur powder, and ground glass. The main problem with these primers was they produced a highly corrosive residue that stayed in the bore. From the 1960 Gun Digest, Col. Townsend Whelen, in the article titled: Days of the Krag:
Further experience showed that it was extremely difficult to really clean the bore. After cleaning it apparently thoroughly, within the next day or two “new” fouling would seemingly appear, and slight rusting had started. Captain Foulke thought this was due to the smokeless powder gasses being driven into the pores of the steel by the great heat and pressure, and that the subsequently “sweated out”. He had a friend named Frank Hoppe, who was a chemist, so he and Frank started to concoct, if they could, a suitable cleaning solution. The first formula tried they called “An American Rifleman’s Friend.” It contained some ammonia, would of itself cause rust of left too long in the bore – it was not very satisfactory. The ninth solution they tried proved fairly satisfactory. If the bore was cleaned with a brass wire-bristle brush dipped in the solution for several successive days after the firing it would remain in good condition. Thus was born the celebrated “Powder Solvent No. 9,” which is still used extensively, and with which we are all of us very familiar.
Hoppe’s No. 9 dissolves the corrosive salts produced by the corrosive primers. Hot water will also dissolve the salts, but then the water has to be removed or it will also facilitate rust. If the water is hot enough, it will heat the barrel to the point the barrel will dry itself. Use of the proper solvent, such as the No. 9 power solvent, eliminates the requirement to use hot water, along with the inconvenience and mess.
Most members of the Gun Culture can remember the sweet smell of Hoppe’s No. 9 Powder Solvent.
Now we know how it came to be, and why.
Hoppe’s continues to be used to clean rifles and pistols, even though corrosive primers have been supplanted by non-corrosive primers for decades. Corrosive primers are still found in old military surplus ammunition from WWI and WWII. East Block countries and China used corrosive primers until after the fall of the Soviet Union, and for some period later.
Most ammunition imported into the United States has non-corrosive primers; but there are hundreds of millions, if not billions of rounds of the older corrosive ammunition in stockpiles found everywhere from American closets to military arsenals. The United States military has no corrosive ammunition stockpiled, to my knowledge, but there are many other military organizations around the world who do.
Some of this ammunition invariably makes its way into commercial channels.
There is nothing wrong with corrosive primers. They have demonstrated superb longevity, stability, and consistency.
To preserve bores and accuracy, shooters have to clean their firearms shortly after shooting corrosive ammunition in them. In humid climates, this needs to be done the same day as the shooting.
The solution is Hoppe’s No. 9.
About Dean Weingarten:
Dean Weingarten has been a peace officer, a military officer, was on the University of Wisconsin Pistol Team for four years, and was first certified to teach firearms safety in 1973. He taught the Arizona concealed carry course for fifteen years until the goal of constitutional carry was attained. He has degrees in meteorology and mining engineering, and recently retired from the Department of Defense after a 30 year career in Army Research, Development, Testing, and Evaluation.