The Violent Legacy of Henry Shrapnel

One that spread far and wide, like, well, shrapnel
The Violent Legacy of Henry Shrapnel

Let’s cut to the chase. Yes, Henry Shrapnel is famous for exactly the thing you think he might be. Despite his name sounding like some war criminal relative of Jenna Maroney on 30 Rock, he is a very real person, with a very real and lethal effect on the world of war.

Public Domain

Henry Shrapnel, making the exact pleased face he probably made watching someone get hit with a cannonball.

Shrapnel, of course, for anyone who’s just learning about the idea of both an explosion and the concept of war, is a term for the fragments and bits blown outward by an explosion — usually, horrible jagged things that would make a bullet seem like a blessing. It’s a noun that was invented, and became the unpleasant namesake, of the man who first weaponized them. 

Henry Shrapnel wasn’t a tinkering inventor forced into the business of gore by a government, either. He was an active lieutenant in the Royal Artillery.

Usually, you expect someone that’s seen the horrors of war firsthand to be poetically changed. A man who will mutter into the middle distance about how man is just an animal after all. Shrapnel instead apparently saw what a human body looked like when artillery hit it and thought, “Too clean.” And so, he developed the world’s first anti-personnel shell. It was a cannonball filled with spherical shot that exploded in midair, airholing anyone in the blast radius. 

He developed this not as a part of any official program, but on his own time, with his own money, which is a highly unpleasant mixture of scientific curiosity and sadism.

Public Domain

Oh, uh, cool, man.

His design was refined over the years, but always extremely effective — the results of which can be seen in all sorts of image searches that require SafeSearch to be off. 

For his life’s work, he received the honor of becoming a common noun describing the exact bits of metal that have torn millions of human bodies to ribbons. Sure, there’s other inventors with their names attached to fatal legacies, like Samuel Colt, but at least a six-shooter or a rifle is a skill-based sort of murder. Instead, Shrapnel’s descendants have to try to impress their dates by saying things like, “You know that thing known for being dug out of unintended casualties? That’s me, baby!”

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