A compound or mixture that, when ignited or detonated, undergoes a rapid violent chemical reaction that produces large amounts of gas and heat, accompanied by light, sound and a high-pressure shock wave. Low explosives burn comparatively slowly when ignited, and are employed as propellants in firearms and guns; they are also used in blasting. Examples include gunpowder and various smokeless propellants, such as cordite. High explosives decompose very rapidly to produce an uncontrollable blast. Examples of this type include dynamite, nitroglycerine, and trinitrotoluene (TNT); they are exploded using a detonator. Other high-power explosives include pentaerythritol tetranitrate (PETN) and ammonium nitride/fuel oil mixture (ANFO). Cyclonite (RDX) is a military high explosive; mixed with oils and waxes, it forms a plastic explosive (such as Semtex). See also Chronology.
Gunpowder developed in China.
English monk Roger Bacon (1220–92) describes the preparation of gunpowder.
German alchemist Berthold Schwarz claims to have reinvented gunpowder.
French chemist Pierre Woulfe discovers picric acid (originally used as a yellow dye).
Scottish cleric Alexander Forsyth (1767–1843) discovers mercury fulminate.
French chemist Henri Braconnot (1781–1855) nitrates starch, making a highly flammable compound (crude nitrocellulose).
French chemist Théophile Pelouze (1807–67) nitrates paper, making crude nitrocellulose.
German chemist Christian Schönbein (1799–1868) nitrates cotton, making nitrocellulose.
Italian chemist Ascania Sobrero (1812–88) discovers nitroglycerine.
Swedish chemist J. Wilbrand discovers trinitrotoluene (TNT). Swedish chemist Alfred Nobel (1833–96) invents a detonating cap based on mercury fulminate.
Alfred Nobel invents dynamite by mixing nitroglycerine and kieselguhr.
German chemist Hermann Sprengel shows that picric acid can be used as an explosive.
Alfred Nobel invents blasting gelatin (nitroglycerine mixed with nitrocellulose).
French chemist Eugène Turpin discovers ammonium picrate (Mélinite).
Alfred Nobel invents a propellant from nitroglycerine and nitrocellulose (Ballistite).
British scientists Frederick Abel (1826–1902) and James Dewar invent a propellant (Cordite) similar to Ballistite.
German chemist Bernhard Tollens (1841–1918) discovers pentaerythritol tetranitrate (PETN).
Henning discovers cyclotrimethylenetrinitramine (RDX or cyclonite).
US army officer B. W. Dunn (1860–1936) invents ammonium picrate explosive (Dunnite).
British scientists invent amatol (TNT+ammonium nitrate).
US scientists develop ammonium nitrate-fuel oil mixtures (ANFO) as industrial explosives.