November 13, 2010 marks the 201st birthday of Rear Admiral John A. Dahlgren, known to history as the “father of American naval ordnance.” Dahlgren, however, almost didn’t make it past his 40th birthday.
On 13 November 1849, he was test firing a 32-pounder cannon to determine its range when suddenly the piece exploded, killing a Sailor on the gun crew and nearly killing Dahlgren himself.
The incident spurred Dahlgren to develop detailed specifications for manufacture and proof testing of cannon which yielded safer and more reliable cannon than the Navy ever had before. Unlike previous American wars, not a single Dahlgren smoothbore exploded during combat during the Civil War.
All told, John Dahlgren instituted into the Navy a culture of safety which had not existed before and which exists to this day.