Air guns fire projectiles by means of compressed air or other gas, unlike a firearm which burns a propellant. In the days of muzzle-loaders, air guns could be fired in any weather and much faster. Moreover, they were quieter, had no muzzle flash, and were completely smokeless, thus keeping the shooter’s position secret—all big advantages.
Air guns appear throughout many periods of history. Widely marketed after the Civil War, low-cost air pistols, such as the one pictured by E.H. Hawley, were intended for indoor use. Target shooting with air pistols was a popular and inexpensive form of entertainment.
American air pistol, ca. 1869 – 1872. .25 caliber. 10.25 inches long. Gift of Olin Corporation, Winchester Arms Collection. 1988.8.1008