Dr. Edward Maynard

Dentists in History

Edward Maynard was born in Madison, New York, on April 26, 1813.  In 1831 he entered the United States Military Academy at West Point but resigned after only a semester due to ill health and became a dentist in 1835.

Maynard continued to practice dentistry for the rest of his life, becoming one of the most prominent dentists in the United States.  Practicing in Baltimore and Washington, D.C., his clientele included the country’s political elite, including Congressmen and Presidents, and it is reported that he was offered but declined the position of Imperial Dentist to Tsar Nicholas I.  In 1857 he became professor of theory and practice at Baltimore College of Dental Surgery.

Maynard invented many dental methods and instruments, but is most famous for his firearms inventions.  In 1845 Maynard patented the first of 23 firearms-related patents he was awarded during his life.  He achieved lucrative fame for his first patent, an 1845 priming system which cycled a small mercury fulminate charge to the nipple of a percussion cap firearm.  His system used a magazine from which a paper roll, not unlike modern cap guns, advanced a charge over the nipple as the gun was cocked; this was intended to accelerate the gun’s rate of fire as the shooter could concentrate on loading and firing the gun. 

In 1845 the Maynard system was installed on 300 converted percussion muskets and trials were considered successful.  Maynard turned over the patent rights to his priming system to the United States Federal Government in exchange for a royalty of $1.00 per weapon: a substantial sum at the time (the cost of making an entire 1861 Springfield was $18.00).  However the system was complicated and often malfunctioned in wartime conditions.  In 1860 U.S. ordnance officers recommended dropping the Maynard Tape Primer System, and the famous 1861 Springfield rifled muskets did not use it.

In 1851, however, Maynard had patented a more successful idea: a simple lever operated breechloading rifle, which used a metallic cartridge of his own invention.  When the gun’s lever was depressed the barrel rose, opening the breech for loading. Afterwards the lever was raised to close the gun’s breech. The cartridge, which had a wide rim permitting swift extraction, was reloadable up to 100 times.  This was of particular advantage to the Confederacy, as the cartridges could be manufactured without the sophisticated equipment that the south generally lacked.  Another significant feature was that the use of a metallic cartridge prevented gas escape at the breech, a serious concern for early externally primed breechloaders.

The Springfield Armory manufactured a sample Maynard carbine in .48 caliber and it was tested in May 1856.  The gun, fired at ranges from 100 to 500 yards, was considered the best breechloader tested. 

Maynard and his financial backers founded the Maynard Arms Company in 1857, contracting the Massachusetts Arms Company to manufacture the new gun for civilian and military use.  The guns, known as Maynards, were offered in .35 and .50 caliber, and could be purchased with interchangeable smoothbore shotgun barrels.  A second army test resulted in a military contract for four hundred .50 caliber Maynard carbines. The factory began producing 20,000 Maynard carbines for the U.S. government but deliveries did not begin until June 1864, continuing through May 1865. 

Some Southern states had purchased Maynards for their state militias in late 1860 and early 1861.  About 3000 Maynards were in Southern hands during the war, mostly in Florida, Georgia, and Mississippi units.  The First Model Maynard was listed as an official firearm in Confederate ordnance manuals.  The Maynard had a good reputation for long range accuracy and Confederate sharpshooters made extensive use of it, especially during the Siege of Charleston.  It continued in production as a highly regarded centerfire target and hunting rifle until 1890.

In 1888 Dr. Maynard held the chair of Dental Theory and Practice at the National University in Washington.  He died on May 4, 1891, and was buried in the Congressional Cemetery in Washington, D.C.