In the decades immediately following the Civil War, naval weaponry underwent a massive change as muzzle-loading smoothbores firing solid shot were replaced by breech-loading rifled weapons firing projectiles that could be fused to burst in the air, explode on contact, or penetrate a structure before detonation.
All this change was not occurring without difficulties. Steel metallurgy for guns and shells needed to be perfected. Explosives had to be made more stable and fuses more reliable. Propelling charges produced ear-shattering noise, were incredibly smoky, and interfered with observation of fall of shot. Interested members of the military and naval services, industry, and the general public sought answers to these problems.
Ohio schoolteacher D. M. Medford thought that a gun using compressed air to fire a projectile would solve a number of the problems. There would be no noise or smoke, and, because the shot was propelled by air, both the gun and the projectile could be of weaker construction and the weight saved invested in the exploding charge. On his own, Medford built several small-caliber versions of such a weapon and took out a patent on his creation.