Curiosities from 150 years of The Engineer archive

In a report on an attempted act of terror that would not be out of place in a contemporary newspaper, The Engineer turned its attention to an alleged plot to assassinate Napoleon III using a precision-engineered nail bomb.

According to the article the shell, apparently designed to be thrown using the pictured loop of iron wire, consisted of two discs of cast iron, fastened together by a bolt in the centre. The intention was that upon impact, nails protruding from the discs would be forced inwards, where they would impact with a series of glass explosive-containing tubes situated in the circular hollows within the discs.

‘The radial holes are cast in the disc, and great care has evidently been used in arranging them accurately,’ wrote The Engineer. ‘When the nails are in their places no provision, other than the grip of the edges of the discs, is made to prevent them from being forced in, so that altogether this would not have been a very pleasant piece of apparatus to have much to do with.’

In a warning to UK engineers and a call for vigilance that is eerily reminiscent of today’s climate, the magazine added‘whatever truth there may have been in this plot, it would almost appear that there still exists a demand for articles of this kind. A few days ago the agent of a well-known firm of steel makers was asked to prepare some casting very similar in form to those represented in our engraving. It was said that they were required for some chemical process or other, but suspicion being aroused, the firm in question refused to have anything to do with the matter.’