History of BB Guns: Uncovering the Origins and Evolution

BB guns have a fascinating history dating back to the early days of air-powered arms. Understanding these air guns’ genesis will pique your interest and further your appreciation for these cherished collectibles.

At first, BB guns were considered more of a tool than a toy, designed for shooting tiny pests and games. Farmers and landowners often relied on them in the mid-1800s, and the advent of ball-bearing ammunition significantly enhanced their effectiveness.

You might be fascinated to know that the iconic Daisy brand emerged in the late 19th century. With their combination of affordability and performance, Daisy’s BB guns captured the hearts of recreational shooters and gained an essential spot in American popular culture.

Early History and Invention

With the foundation of three significant enterprises in the late 19th century, the BB gun industry began to take shape: Plymouth Iron Windmill Company, Markham Air Rifle Company, and Daisy Manufacturing Company.

Plymouth Iron Windmill Company

Clarence Hamilton founded the Plymouth Iron Windmill Company in the late 19th century and initially produced windmills. The company started producing air guns as promotional items in the late 1880s, and one of these would eventually become the first Daisy BB gun.

According to the company’s lore, the name “Daisy” was coined in 1888 when the company’s president, Lewis Cass Hough, tested the prototype of the new air gun and exclaimed, “Boy, that’s a Daisy!” This led to the name “Daisy” being used for the new air gun and eventually becoming the name of the company’s entire line of air guns.

The Daisy BB gun became very popular in the early 20th century, and the company continued to innovate and expand its product line.

Markham Air Rifle Company

As competition grew, the Markham Air Rifle Company entered the scene in 1887. They were the first to manufacture a wooden air rifle, dubbed the “Markham’s Chicago Model.” Although they faced challenges, Markham eventually merged with their rival, Daisy Manufacturing Company, in 1928, strengthening their joint presence in the market.

Daisy Manufacturing Company

With the success of their air gun, Plymouth Iron Windmill Company shifted their focus solely to BB guns and rebranded themselves as Daisy Manufacturing Company in 1895. Over the years, they continued to innovate and expand, becoming one of the world’s most well-known BB gun manufacturers.

Development of Ammunition

Lead and Steel BBs

Initially, air guns utilized lead shots, similar in size to regular firearms. Lead BBs provided the weight and density needed for accuracy and energy transfer.

However, concerns about lead poisoning and environmental impact led to the emergence of steel BBs–a safer and more economical alternative, though slightly lighter and less dense than lead variants.

Caliber and Material Evolution

Early BB guns typically featured 0.180 inches or less in size, which was effective and convenient.

In the early days of BB guns, the ammunition was often made by hand and could be irregular in size and shape, leading to inconsistent performance. As the popularity of BB guns grew, manufacturers began experimenting with different materials, such as copper-plated steel or zinc, to create more consistent and standardized ammunition.

Nowadays, you’ll find various calibers, each suited for specific purposes, ranging from casual plinking to competitive shooting.

Air Rifle Shot

The American Ball Company of Minneapolis played a significant role in the progression of pellets. They introduced lead and steel pellets to the market, sparking the widespread popularity of spherical ammunition.

Advances in technology have facilitated the development of new shapes and coating materials, further enhancing the performance of today’s air rifle shot.

Popular BB Gun Models

Daisy Models

When talking about BB guns, Daisy is undoubtedly one of the most iconic brands that comes to mind. They introduced their first air rifle in 1888, and since then, they have continued to make various models cherished by kids and collectors alike. One classic example is the Model 25, a pump-action BB gun that became instantly popular.

Another well-known Daisy model is the Red Ryder carbine, inspired by a popular comic strip character. The Buck Jones and Buzz Barton special editions were also based on famous fictional heroes, making them highly sought-after collectibles. For younger shooters, Daisy offers the Buck 105, a youth-sized lever-action BB gun that’s perfect for beginners.

Markham Models

Another important name in BB gun history is Markham, a competitor to Daisy in the early days. They produced air rifles and pistols, offering a variety of styles and designs to cater to different tastes. The Markham King was one of their signature air rifles, featuring a unique side-cocking mechanism.

Alongside air rifles, Markham also ventured into pistols. They produced the popular Markham Chicago, a spring-piston air pistol that mirrored the aesthetics of a real firearm. Though not as widely recognized as Daisy, Markham’s products remain valuable collector’s items.

Other Notable Models

While Daisy and Markham are two of the most well-known brands, numerous other notable BB gun models have existed over the years. One such example is the futuristic Buck Rogers pistol, which captured the imagination of young sci-fi fans.

Other BB guns have been designed with a focus on realism, such as the Crosman C11 pistol and the Umarex Steel Storm. These models resemble their firearm counterparts, giving enthusiasts a more authentic shooting experience.

BB Guns in Popular Culture

Comic Strips and Endorsements

In the early 20th century, BB guns were incredibly popular with youngsters and quickly adopted into various comic strips. One classic example is the Buck Rogers comic strip, which introduced many of your childhood heroes wielding futuristic BB guns. Inspired by the comic strip, these real-life BB gun models drew children’s attention and soon became a must-have item.

Endorsements from renowned stars such as Buck Jones further solidified BB guns’ place in popular culture. Daisy even manufactured a limited edition Buck Jones BB gun featuring his likeness and the name “Trigger” printed on the stock. Collectors worldwide still seek out these notable pieces, with many on display at the Daisy Museum in Rogers, Arkansas.

Movie and Media Appearances

BB guns have numerous appearances in television and film, often symbolizing nostalgia and youthful innocence. Perhaps the most iconic example is the 1983 movie A Christmas Story, based on the novel by Jean Shepherd. The film follows the tale of young Ralphie, who has one wish for Christmas: a Red Ryder BB gun. As you watch, you’re reminded of the BB guns’ strong connection to American youth and simpler times.


Recently, BB guns have demonstrated versatility in catering to different age groups. While maintaining their appeal to children, they have also become popular among adults with a focus on quick-skill shooting and recreational purposes. Publications such as Quick Skill magazine and various online forums have sprung up to serve this growing community of BB gun enthusiasts.

As a testament to their enduring popularity, BB guns have even been incorporated into modern expressions of pop culture, including bank promotions and commemorative releases. Companies like The Chicago Plastic Molding Corporation have taken advantage of the BB gun appeal, creating limited edition models for the US Navy and producing plastic BBs to ensure safer and more responsible use.

Modern Advances and Safety

Recently, BB guns have seen tremendous growth in technology and safety features. You’ll find that innovations have transformed air rifles and pistols significantly.

Technological Innovations

Air rifles have evolved significantly since the early days of BB gun manufacturing. The Plymouth Iron Windmill Company, which later became Daisy Manufacturing Company, was based in Plymouth, Michigan, and manufactured BB guns several years after its founding.

In terms of the evolution of air rifles, modern BB guns feature high-quality metal parts and maple wood stocks, and they can closely resemble real-life firearms in terms of appearance. Air gun technology has also improved significantly over time, with some modern BB guns capable of achieving high levels of accuracy.

Airsoft guns use plastic pellets and are not typically classified as BB guns. While gas and electric-powered airsoft guns can provide increased power and accuracy compared to spring-powered models, they are subject to their own specific laws and regulations governing their use and possession.

Safety Measures

As the popularity of BB guns grew, so did concerns about their potential dangers. Manufacturers responded by implementing essential safety measures to protect users.

Today’s BB guns often include features like trigger guards, safety switches, and barrel-blocking devices to prevent accidental discharges.

  • Trigger guards: Designed to prevent accidental firing by enclosing the trigger.
  • Safety switches: Mechanisms that disable the gun, preventing it from firing when engaged.
  • Barrel-blocking devices: Protective covers that prevent BBs from being discharged.


Despite these advances in the BB gun, safety concerns persist. The realism of modern, all-metal air rifles and pistols can sometimes blur the lines between replicas and real firearms, leading to dangerous situations, such as BB gun wars.

Prominent figures in the field, like Joe Murfin (spokesperson for the Daisy Outdoor Products company), stress the importance of education and responsible use to mitigate these risks.

As a BB guns enthusiast, you must remain vigilant about correctly handling and storing your equipment. Adopting a responsible attitude towards BB gun usage will help ensure a safe and enjoyable shooting experience.


In the history of BB guns, you’ve seen how these air-powered weapons have evolved and contributed significantly to recreational and competitive shooting. From their inception in the late 1800s to the rise of airsoft guns in the late 20th century, they’ve certainly come a long way.

As you explore the world of BB guns, remember to prioritize safety and responsible use. These weapons may have started as toys, but modern BB guns can have more power and accuracy. Always adhere to regulations and guidelines, and ensure that everyone involved understands the importance of proper handling.

While BB guns have a rich history, airsoft, as a close relative, took the reins with even more realistic replicas and less damaging projectiles. This allowed various activities, from casual backyard shooting to full-blown tactical simulations. Embrace the legacy of BB guns and enjoy the fascinating realm of air-powered sports!

Frequently Asked Questions

Q. What is the origin of BB guns?

The first BB gun was invented by George W. Sage, who created the gun in the early 1880s. In the late 1800s, Daisy Manufacturing Company, initially known for making windmills, became a significant producer of BB guns. The company began producing BB guns to utilize excess metal and other materials, quickly becoming a popular toy for children.

BB guns were also used for hunting small game, as they were much quieter than traditional firearms and allowed hunters to be more stealthy.

Q. When did BB guns become popular?

BB guns became popular in the early 1900s, as they were marketed as a safe and inexpensive way for children to learn gun safety and marksmanship skills.

Daisy Manufacturing Company became the largest producer of BB guns, and they were used in shooting competitions and 4-H clubs. During World War II, BB guns were used by the military for training purposes, and their popularity continued to grow in the post-war era.

Q. What are BBs made of?

BBs were initially made of lead, but due to concerns about lead poisoning, many modern BBs are made of steel or other metals.

Plastic BBs are also available but are less accurate than metal BBs and more likely to break on impact. BBs come in different sizes, the most common being 4.5mm in diameter.

Q. Are BB guns dangerous?

BB guns can be dangerous if not used properly. They should never be pointed at people or animals, and eye protection should always be worn when shooting. BBs can cause serious injury if they hit someone in the eye or other sensitive areas. Parents should supervise their children using BB guns and always follow the manufacturer’s instructions for safe use.

Q. What is the future of BB guns?

BB guns are popular among collectors and enthusiasts, and manufacturers are still producing new models.

However, there is growing concern about the misuse of BB and other airsoft guns, particularly among children and teenagers.

Many cities and states have passed laws regulating the sale and use of BB guns, and it is essential for anyone who owns a BB gun to be aware of the laws in their area.

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