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What is a Hand Grenade?

Tricia Christensen
Updated May 17, 2024
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A hand grenade is a small, usually handheld device, which is launched or thrown at others in order to produce death, injury or property destruction, usually with a short blast range. The first hand grenades were developed by the Chinese in the 10th or 11th century CE and were simple in construction compared to today’s grenade. The early Chinese grenade was merely gunpowder packed into small containers of various materials, which were lit and then thrown. By the 15th century, it became standard in China to pack gunpowder into cast iron, producing not only grenades but also cannonballs in this manner. These normally had a fuse attached so that at least a couple of seconds existed between the time the grenade or cannonball was lit, and the time it was thrown or launched.

Europe had adopted some primitive forms of the hand grenade by the 17th century. Small round grenades, about the size of a baseball, were probably first used in the Revolution of 1688, where William of Orange attempted the overthrow of King James II of England and Scotland. Evidence suggests these first European grenades were not used regularly and weren’t particularly accurate.

The word grenade is English, but is derived from the same French root words that make up the word pomegranate. Essentially, a hand grenade when it splits apart looks like black pomegranate seeds, and is about the same size as an apple or pomme. The modern grenade has come a long way since its early inception, with more safety features built in to protect the user, and capability of being filled with a variety of substances besides explosive material. Grenades can carry chemicals for instance, used for either killing or calming rioters. Tear gas grenades are pretty common in instances of extreme rioting, in many countries.

The modern hand grenade is not ignited by lighting a fuse, but is instead inactive, as long as its interior materials remain stable, until a pin attached to a small metal ring is removed from the grenade. The mechanism is slightly different for those grenades, which are launched instead of hand thrown. Accuracy in throwing a hand grenade is important, since a miss signals the presence of the person throwing one, and doesn’t accomplish its objective, normally to kill enemy combatants.

Most modern grenades are designed to do damage in a small area, have a cast iron exterior, and can only be used at short distances. When a hand grenade explodes, it fragments, which creates damage or injury. A grenade exploding near a person can still injure or kill a person because of small pieces of shrapnel from the explosion. These are dangerous and deadly devices, meant to harm or subdue (in the case of chemical grenades) others.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen , Writer
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a WiseGeek contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.

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Tricia Christensen

Tricia Christensen


With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a WiseGeek contributor, Tricia...
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