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"Science fiction is what scientists would do if they could - if they had enough grant money, enough time, and enough brains to do the wonderful things they would like to do."
- Greg Bear

Electric Gun (Mass Driver)  
  A device that used electromagnetic energy to accelerated capsules into orbit.  

How to accelerate a metal capsule from the surface of the earth toward one of the heavenly bodies?

I. "We could even have an electric gun. Conceive a bobbin wound with insulated wire in lieu of thread, and having the usual hole through the axis of the frame. If a current of electricity be sent through the wire, the bobbin will become a hollow magnet or 'solenoid,' and a plug of soft iron placed at one end will be sucked into the hole. In this experiment we have the germ of a solenoid cannon. The bobbin stands for the gun-barrel, the plug for the bullet-car, and the magnetism for the ejecting force. We can arrange the wire and current so as to draw the plug or car right through the hole or barrel, and if we have a series of solenoids end to end in one straight line, we can switch the current through each in succession, and send the projectile with gathering velocity through the interior of them all. In practice the barrel would consist of a long straight tube, wide and strong enough to contain the bullet-car without flexure, and begirt with giant solenoids at intervals. Each of the solenoids would be excited by a powerful current, one after the other, so as to urge the projectile with accelerating speed along the tube, and launch it into the vast."

G. "That looks still better than the pneumatic gun."

I. "A magnetic gun would have several advantages. For instance, the currents can be sent through the solenoids in turn as quickly as we desire by means of a commutator in a convenient spot, for instance, at the butt end of the gun, so as to follow up the bullet with ease, and give it a planetary flight. By a proper adjustment of the solenoids and currents, this could be done so gradually as to prevent a starting shock to the occupants of the car. The velocity attained by the car would, of course, depend on the number and power of the solenoids. If, for example, each solenoid communicated to the car a velocity of nine yards per second, a thousand solenoids, each magnetically stronger than another in going from breech to muzzle, would be required to give a final velocity of five miles a second. In such a case, the length of the barrel would be at least 1,000 yards. Economy and safety would determine the best proportions for the gun, but we are now considering the feasibility of the project, not its cost. With regard to position and supports, the gun might be constructed along the slope of a hill or mound steep enough to give it the angle or elevation due to the aim. As the barrel would not have to resist an explosive force, it should not be difficult to make, and the inside could be lubricated to diminish the friction of the projectile in passing through it. Moreover, it is conceivable that the car need never touch the sides, for by a proper adjustment of the magnetism of the solenoids we might suspend it in mid-air like Mahomet's coffin, and make it glide along the magnetic axis of the tube."

From A Trip to Venus, by John Munro.
Published by Jarrold & Sons in 1897
Additional resources -

See also the Columbiad from Jules Verne's 1867 novel From the Earth to the Moon.

Compare to the mass-driver catapult from Robert Heinlein's 1966 novel The Moon is a Harsh Mistress and the hybrid mass-driver from Robert Heinlein's 1950 novel The Man Who Sold The Moon. Finally, take a look at a weaponized version of this idea, the stiletto beam from Arthur C. Clarke's 1955 novel Earthlight.

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Additional resources:
  More Ideas and Technology from A Trip to Venus
  More Ideas and Technology by John Munro
  Tech news articles related to A Trip to Venus
  Tech news articles related to works by John Munro

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