Dueling has been a curiosity of human culture throughout history. Reaching peak popularity in Europe as feudal lords, royalty, and the aristocracy lived out their own version of chivalry, dueling was often banned to keep people from killing each other. Thankfully in 1908, a form of bloodless dueling was introduced to the Olympics using wax bullets.
History Of Dueling
There is no shortage of extraordinary duels worthy of “Believe It or Not!” status. In 1808 for example, two wealthy Frenchmen fought a duel in the skies of Paris for the love of a young dancer, firing at each other with blunderbusses from air balloons.
A woman could duel a man in Medieval Europe as long as he stood in a 3-foot deep hole, only used a club, had a hand tied behind his back, and the woman was armed with rocks. In the case of a woman-on-woman duel, the first fight was over flower arrangements, and both women were topless for what was explained as “safety reasons.”
Not just isolated to Europe, India, Indonesia, Japan, and the Philippines all have a rich history of dueling culture. In most cases, duels were meant to be fought on equal terms, with both using the same weapons.
As early as the 13th century, laws against dueling were put in place. As duels often took place between the nobility, people quickly realized that this could be disastrous for nations. The U.S. founding father Alexander Hamilton, for example, was killed in a duel by Vice President Aaron Burr. Burr had to flee the country, and America’s fledgling state bank was thrown into chaos.
By the turn of the century, duels were rare, but one group was determined to change that. The sport of bloodless dueling was invented.
Duelists wore heavy clothes and metal mask with goggles. Their pistols were modified with handguard to protect their fingers, and they fired wax bullets instead of lead. The pistols were only primed to launch the tough ball of wax and didn’t even use powder—in order to reduce velocity.
Despite these precautions, injuries were common, with one journalist who tried the sport losing the skin connecting his thumb and index finger. He reported that even years after the incident that it pained him to write for long periods of time. A big game hunter and shooting champion, Walter Winans contended the spirt was dangerous and potentially fatal.
“Spectators might lose their eyes by a stray or ricochet bullet.”—Walter Winans
The wax bullets themselves were hard for anyone to distinguish from real bullets, and officials were constantly worried a mix-up would prove fatal.
Regardless of the risks, dueling with wax bullets was featured in the 1908 Olympic games. It was only an exhibition sport, so no medals were awarded. Despite its exciting danger and curious suits, it never picked up popularity and was never featured again.