Patent History of Rubber Band Guns

The rubber band was invented by Thomas Perry in 1845, and it seems that toy rubber band guns have been around for many years as well.  I'd bet my side-arm that the very first rubber band gun was the one we all possess, the deadly-accurate fingertip (perhaps even wielded by Mr. Perry himself.)  Based on the evidence to follow, "made" rubber band guns likely first appeared among marketed products in the early twentieth century, although I'd guess "homemade" guns appeared much earlier.

While you might think you'd have to be a toy historian to really get to know the history of rubber band guns, there are readily available sources of fascinating information on the subject.  In the United States, many rubber band gun designs people have dreamt up over the years are well documented as a result of having been patented.  These designs are thoroughly described in publicly available documents created in the process of the inventor(s) securing intellectual property rights.  Because the legal rights given under a US patent expire within twenty years, the vast majority of these designs are now in the "public domain," meaning that anyone can make use of them for commercial or non-commercial purposes.  Today, access to patent documents is made easy by way of a number of internet resources, the one of which I like best being
Google Patents.

So, what were the great leaps forward, and who were the pioneers upon whose shoulders we now stand (and who's a little over-the-top)?  I've spent time digging through US rubber band gun patents, and I've got some of them listed below in chronological order.  Some of these patents deal with completely novel mechanism concepts, while others apply incremental changes to existing mechanisms.  This list is certainly not an exhaustive one, and it doesn't include patents which may have been issued in other countries.  For a few of the entries, I've added comments, pictures or links, while for others you can copy and paste the patent number to Google Patents if you'd like a look-see.

Some RBG Designs Patented in the United States...

1923  US1469610 
This gun, the subject of the earliest patent I was able to locate, uses a trigger mechanism somewhat similar to that seen in a real firearm.  It has a trigger/sear element which engages a hammer.  Pulling the trigger releases the hammer, which in turn releases the rubber band.
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1926  US1572350
1929  US1707045
1929  US1723554
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1929  US1724271
A semi-automatic design apparently similar in function to a "star-wheel/escapement" mechanism, but with a multi-part trigger assembly instead of a one-piece escapement trigger.
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1929  US1724708
Perhaps the first patent for a true star-wheel/escapement mechanism.
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1930  US1748215
A star-wheel/escapement mechanism with an integrated cocking lever to assist with the loading process.
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1930  US1759084
1930  US1768944
1930  US1779507
1931  US1809208
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1931  US1821381
A "longitudinal string/strap-release" system with a sliding fore-grip as trigger, perhaps one of the first mechanisms to provide pseudo-full-auto fire.
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1931  US1826053
1932  US1844173
1932  US1868312
1932  US1892209
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1933  US1909927
Similar to contemporary pseudo-full-auto "sliding-ramp-release" mechanisms, but with release affected by a free-turning disk affixed to the slide.  Per the inventor, the idea with the disk is to minimize friction as the rubber bands are released.
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1935  US2001267
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1935  US2008595
A longitudinal string/strap-release system in a pistol format, with a semi-automatic, strap-advancing trigger mechanism.
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1935  US2021776
1937  US2098001
1941  US2255563
1942  US2289490
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1949  US2462723
A sliding-ramp-release mechanism with some obvious similarities to more contemporary designs.
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1950  US2505591
1950  US2529047
1951  US2550873
1951  US2573142
1951  US2576248
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1953  US2625147
A lever-action, repeating rifle design.
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1954  US2689558
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1954  US2697425
A pseudo-full-auto design wherein movement of the gun's fore-grip affects sequential release of rubber bands from a longitudinal array of pivoting retention arms.  (I have a soft spot in my heart for this mechanism because it's similar to one I came up with independently as a youngster in the 1980s!)

1956  US2741238
1959  US2878802
1959  US2917037
1964  US3119385
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1969  US3437084
Another take on the sliding-ramp-release mechanism.
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1970  US3494345
A patent for a version of the semi-automatic "step-up" type of mechanism, currently popular among many rubber band gun enthusiasts.
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1970  US3515387
1971  US3556072
1972  US3693609
1973  US3757760
1974  US3812833
1975  US3919996
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1980  US4223658
A unique rapid-fire design originating in Australia and patented in the US.  "It takes a bit of practice to use the Firewheel properly, but it's worth the effort given the capabilities it has," explains the Aussie narrator of the instructional video for the gun.
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1982  US4308850
1983  US4379445
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1987  US4676219
Perhaps the first instance of a patent for a pseudo-full-auto "rotary-string-release" type of mechanism.  This fundamentally simple mechanism concept allows for a high ammunition capacity and is easily adapted to be to be motor-driven!
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1989  US4800864
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1990  US4949494
Another variation on the star-wheel/escapement mechanism.  This version is found nowadays in popular, commercially-produced rubber band guns.
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1992  US5170770
1993  US5205266
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1993  US5222472
A multi-shot revolver mechanism using swappable, preloaded magazine cylinders.
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1995  US5460150
Incremental improvements to the rotary-string-release mechanism.
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1996  US5505186
A multi-shot revolver with a leverage-assisted loading feature.
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2013  US8607771
Some weird contraption from a guy in Alaska--probably doesn't even work (ha-ha)...  Actually, this is my own patented design.  It's a true full-auto, rapid-firing mechanism driven by a portion of the released elastic potential energy of the discharged rubber bands.
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2013 US20130340734A1
This design uses a pump-action version of the "step-up" mechanism as its basis.  It's capable of multiple firing modes, including single-shot, rapid pump-action (trigger is held back as fore-grip is slid back and forth), and a shotgun mode, in which the gun's full load of ten rubber bands is discharged all at once.