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Minot Attorney’s Lighted Gunsight Attempted To Revolutionize Modern Warfare, 1909


Thomas Neary, a well-known attorney from Minot, had a marvelous invention to improve rifle gunsights, back in the year 1909. He was going to “revolutionize modern warfare” and make big-game hunting easier with a new idea.

Mr. Neary’s great notion was to place two tiny electric light bulbs on a rifle to help the shooter fire more accurately in low-light conditions. He installed one bulb just behind the front gunsight and another behind the rear gunsight so that a soldier or hunter could clearly see the sights at dawn or in the sunset gloaming or even at night.

Thomas Neary had been at work on his invention for years, making modification after modification until he patented it. He connected the lights to a battery installed in the stock. A small push-button on the gun barrel at the point where the left hand grasped the barrel allowed the rifleman to turn on the lights without moving his hand. The tiny bulbs were so well-protected that they could not be dislodged, even in the roughest conditions.

Mr. Neary contacted U.S. Army and the officials gave him an opportunity to test his invention in late 1908. Placed on a standard U.S. Springfield Army rifle, the innovation performed brilliantly at an Army testing range.

Neary brought his own marksman, who shot five shots at a target 200 yards away, after sunset, when the target was barely discernible, and the shooter hit five bullseyes. The officers then subjected the device to every conceivable endurance test, and the bulbs and wires remained intact.

Inventor Neary got several letters from Washington, D.C. that were “most encouraging,” but his gunsight lights had to pass muster with West Point Army leaders and arsenal directors.

Mr. Neary was very pleased when he received a request from the Springfield Rifle Company asking for permission to equip two hunting rifles with his lights so ex-President Theodore Roosevelt could take those guns on an African safari.

So how did it work out for Thomas Neary? Well, his invention was overshadowed by World War I, which began in 1914. The night-fighting in that war was terrible, and had no place for Neary’s tiny rifle-lights. Instead the enemies illuminated the night-skies by means of flares, searchlights, and “star-shells,” lighting up the battlefields as brightly as midday.

Dakota Datebook written by Dr. Steve Hoffbeck, History Department, MSU Moorhead.

Sources: “Is a Second Maxim; Minot Attorney Equips Rifles . . . For Shooting In Darkness,” Pioneer Express [Pembina, ND], April 16, 1909, p. 7.

“Minot Man Is Gun Inventor,” Grand Forks Daily Herald, April 1, 1909, p. 2.

“Has A Splendid Invention,” Grand Forks Evening Times, March 31, 1909, p. 6.

“Thomas Neary,” Ward County Independent [Minot, ND], April 1, 1909, p. 20.

“Novel Patent,” Grand Forks Evening Times, November 4, 1908, p. 4.

“Thomas Neary Of Minot,” Grand Forks Daily Herald, May 30, 1909, p. 4.

“Dramatic Thrill Of Night Battles,” Lincoln [NE] Star, June 24, 1917, p. 21.

“Illuminating Devices,” Brainerd [MN] Daily Dispatch, May 26, 1917, p. 4.

“Marvelous Spectacle of Night Fighting,” Atlanta Constitution, May 9, 1917, p. 1.

“The Battlefields Of Europe At Night,” Ogden [UT] Standard, March 1, 1917, p. 5.