“A New Weapon: The Torpedo Umbrella” (New York Times, 1876)

  • Originally published on the Bartitsu.org site on Monday, 5th May 2014
Torpedo Umbrella

A fanciful suggestion from the New York Times, proposing one way in which the humble brolly might be augmented for use as an implement of self-defence:

It is a reproach to the inventive genius of the age that hitherto no improvements have been made in that familiar weapon, the umbrella. The present generation has seen the smooth-bore musket succeeded by the breechloading rifle, and the old-fashoned 32-pounder made obsolete by the introduction of the 15-inch Rodman gun. The revolver and the bowie-knife, the percussion shell and the naval torpedo have all been invented during the present century, but the umbrella remains precisely the same uncertain and inefficient weapon that it was when first adopted as a substitute for the rapier.

Whether it is used for purposes of offence or defence, it is equally unsatisfactory. Occasionally an irascible old gentleman attempts to strike a blow with a furled umbrella, but there is not on record a single case in which a serious wound has been thus inflicted, and it is now generally recognized that the umbrella cannot be effectually used either as a club or a cutting weapon. Tacticians are agreed that when an attack is made with an umbrella, the attacking party must use it exclusively as a thrusting weapon.

Even when thus used, it is far inferior to the bayonet or the pike. If thrust violently into an adversary’s stomach, or inserted carefully in his eye, a wound may be inflicted which will temporarily disable him. It is seldom, however, that a man will hold his eye sufficiently still to enable another to hit it with an umbrella, and the inability of the weapon to pierce through several thicknesses of cloth renders the modern stomach comparatively safe from an umbrella-thrust.

In the hands of determined women, the umbrella is sometimes effectively employed in order to attract the attention of a car conductor, or to prepare a careless young man smoking a cigar on the car platform, to receive a tract on the sin of profane swearing. In such cases, however, the umbrella is intended merely to stimulate the mind through the medium of the ribs, and not as an offensive weapon.

When used for defensive purposes, an open umbrella will sometimes ward off the attack of an infuriated poodle, and it is asserted that it has occasionally sheltered a cautious husband from a sudden shower of crockery, resulting from a depressed state of feminine hopes concerning a new bonnet and the sudden appearance of a domestic storm-centre in the area of the breakfast-room. Still, when all has been said in behalf of the umbrella that its advocates can possibly claim, the facts of its miserable inefficiency both for attack and defence must be conceded.

The recent invention of the torpedo-umbrella, by an ingenious citizen of Chicago, can be compared in value only to the invention of gunpowder, and the new weapon is as much superior to the old-fashioned umbrella as the musket was to the bow and arrow.

The torpedo-umbrella resembles in its outward appearance the ordinary silk or cotton side-arm, but its stock is somewhat larger in diameter, and consists of two pieces, a hollow metallic tube and a wooden piston, the latter forming the handle of the weapon.

Within that part of the tube which projects beyond the frame of the umbrella, and forms what is commonly called its point, is enclosed a cartridge containing a heavy charge of dynamite. This cartridge can be pushed forward and exploded simply by pressing the handle of the piston-rod, and as the force of the explosion is exerted on a line with the tube, the cartridge can be fired without danger to the operator, especially if he first spreads the umbrella and thus interposes a shield against any possible splinters or flying fragments of an enemy.

It can easily be perceived that this simple weapon may be made extremely formidable in the hands of a cool and courageous man. If such a man were to be accosted in a lonely street at midnight by a suspicious-looking stranger, who should express a wish for his money or his life, without evincing any particular preference for either, he would instantly open his umbrella, bring the point in contact with the stranger’s waistcoat, and smartly drive down the piston. There would be a sharp explosion, and the stranger would vanish. No trace of the tragedy would be left in the neighborhood for the edification of the possible policeman who might bend his slow footsteps in the direction of the explosion during the following day, but minute and widely dispersed materials for a hundred inquests would afterwards be collected by expert coroners, who would enjoy a prolonged carnival of fees.

No such satisfactory results could be achieved by any other known weapon. Unlike the revolver, the torpedo-umbrella never misses its aim; neither does it burden the operator with a useless corpse. Its work is done instantaneously, thoroughly, and with absolute certainty, and the Chicago inventor claims that by its aid an enterprising wife, who modestly shrinks from the trouble and cost of divorce suits, can prepare herself for a fresh husband, even in the most crowded thoroughfare, without danger of impertinent interference. So instantaneous is the effect produced by the explosion of the umbrella-torpedo, that had Mrs. Laura Fair used it in connection with the late Mr. Crittenden, all that the bystanders would have noticed would have been a violent report and the inexplicable disappearance of Mr. Crittenden — phenomena which no one would have dreamed of associating with a pretty woman and a seemingly harmless umbrella.

Hereafter the privacy of men with umbrellas will be strictly respected, and the travelling Briton who visits this country with his inevitable umbrella in his hand, can roam over the entire continent without finding a single representative of the traditional Yankee whose thirst for information has been recorded by every foreign book-making tourist.

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