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"Science fiction has gotten more accurate as we've gotten closer to the present, because science fiction stories have not only attracted, but also generated current scientists."
- Larry Niven

Electric Machine Gun (Railgun)  
  A device that accelerates small projectiles magnetically using a strong electric current.  

This is an early fictional use of the idea of a railgun.

"What was that thing you cut those planes up with? I thought you were making a sort of machine gun."

Kennedy chuckled. "It was, Bob, it was. It was simply a long solenoid that threw little steel bullets, but it didn't use powder, it used electric power. Remember, there was practically no mechanical apparatus about it, only electrical contacts made by the bullet itself, as it was drawn throught the tube by the magnetic force. The lack of mechanism meant it could fire as fast as bullets could go through the barrel; no waiting while the thing was cocked and the used cartridge removed... The result was that the machine gun shot something like thirty thousand times a minute. It acted like a huge bandsaw, each bullet being a tooth that moved better than two miles per second."

From The Battery of Hate, by John W. Campbell.
Published by Teck Publications in 1933
Additional resources -

Campbell's description of the device in operation from the point of view of the intended victim is dramatic:

Then something screamed through the night, a glistening sheet that moved across and swept toward their plane. Like a shimmering knife of silver light it passed resistlessly through one wing, angled forward and pelted on the heavy motor. With a roar the motor blew up...

Campbell didn't come up with the idea for a gun that accelerates bullets magnetically. The idea seems to be almost as old as the discovery of electromagnetic forces. Although there does not seem to be much in the way of documentation, it appears that the first electric gun was created in 1844. However, given the trouble that has attended recent efforts in creating a working railgun, it seems hard to believe that a prototype capable of firing a stream of bullets could be created with 19th century materials.

Successful prototypes have been built since the 1970's; the severe forces created in use, along with arcing between the projectile and the rails, typically lead to systems that require maintenance between each shot.

Take a look at Overview of electromagnetic guns and the Wiki entry for railgun.

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Additional resources:
  More Ideas and Technology from The Battery of Hate
  More Ideas and Technology by John W. Campbell
  Tech news articles related to The Battery of Hate
  Tech news articles related to works by John W. Campbell

Electric Machine Gun (Railgun)-related news articles:
  - Railguns For Surface Ships

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