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Ignition system for firearms developed in the early 16th century. It superseded the matchlock and the wheel lock and remained in use until the mid-19th century. The most successful version, the true flintlock, was invented in France in the 17th century. When the trigger was pulled, a spring action caused the frizzen (striker) to strike the flint, showering sparks onto the gunpowder in the priming pan; the ignited powder, in turn, fired the main charge in the bore, propelling the ball.
This entry comes from Encyclopædia Britannica Concise. For the full entry on flintlock, visit Britannica.com.