The use of mercuric fulminate as a detonator dates from about 1814, when the explosive cap was invented.
It is still the commonest detonator, but it is now usually mixed with other substances; the British service uses for percussion caps 6 parts of fulminate, 6 of potassium chlorate and 4 of antimony sulphide, and for time fuses 4 parts of fulminate, 6 of potassium chlorate and 4 of antimony sulphide, the mixture being damped with a shellac varnish; for use in blasting, a home office order of 1897 prescribes a mixture of 4 parts of fulminate and 1 of potassium chlorate.
In 1900 Bielefeldt found that a fulminate placed on top of an aromatic nitro compound, such as trinitrotoluene, formed a useful detonator; this discovery has been especially taken advantage of in Germany, in which country detonators of this nature are being largely employed.
The early history of mercuric fulminate and a critical account of its application as a detonator is given in The Rise and Progress of the British Explosives Industry (International Congress of Applied Chemistry, 1909).
Compressed dry guncotton is easily detonated by an initiative detonator such as mercuric fulminate.
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