The illustration above–from The Chicago Times-Herald in the summer of 1897–depicts the Princeton University team’s first use of The Pitching Gun–the invention of Mathematics Professor Charles Howard “Bull” Hinton, a member of the Princeton faculty.
The Times-Herald said of the gun:
“A test was recently made at Princeton in three games played on the college ball field, and the machine is said to have given satisfaction, although there was some delay caused by the necessity of loading the canon.”
The paper said there were no problems “regulating the speed of the ball, nor in causing it to curve or drop as if thrown by a human being.”
The illustration is inaccurate, the device was not fired like a gun, but rather, according to The New York Sun, it was “discharged by the batsman, who, when ready for the ball to be delivered, steps upon an electrical intercepting plate, connected by wires which trigger the cannon.”
The success of the new invention, which Hinton had been testing for more than a year, was likely overstated as well.
A trial of the gun in Newark, during an exhibition game between the Newark Field Club and the Orange Y.M.C.A., did not go as well.
The New York World said:
“Prof. Hinton and his so-called pitching gun were on exhibition at Newark yesterday…Fifty-seven persons were on hand to see the performance.”
The paper said it took Hinton more than an hour and a half to set up the gun, which used gunpowder to discharge the ball. The players on both teams feared stepping up to the plate against the gun.
The World concluded:
“(Hinton) is thoroughly in earnest about the practicability of a pitching gun, although his experiences by this time should have convinced him that his invention, even if perfected, will never be of the slightest use to the world.”
Hinton moved from Princeton to the University of Minnesota in 1898 and continued trying to perfect his invention, but The Philadelphia Press declared it “impracticable for regular use.”
Hinton finally abandoned his quest to create the first viable pitching machine when he went to work at the United States Navel Observatory in 1900.