Dynamite guns were developed from 1883 when a Mr. Medford successfully demonstrated a small model of the concept. The desire was to develop a reliable high explosive shell. The artillery of the time used black powder as a propellant, and as the bursting charge in the shell, and sometimes the shock of being fired would detonate the round in the barrel. The big dynamite guns used steam driven air compressors to power their guns, lessening the impact on the unstable charges.
Zalinsky Coastal Gun
A retired artillery officer, Captain Zalinsky witnessed the Medford trial, and developed the guns for the US. The first 15 inch 3 gun battery was installed at Sandy Hook in 1894, and other installations on the east coast followed, the latest in 1901. The shells for the 15 inch guns were longer than conventional shells and sported fins, the guns possibly not being rifled, and the fuses were electrically fired nitroglycerin. Sounds a little less than stable.
The US Navy got in the act and commissioned the Dynamite Cruiser USS Vesuvius, which was built around a fixed battery of dynamite guns. Being fixed, the ship had to be aimed at the target, but elevation could be varied with the amount of compressed air used, a could land a projectile up to 1 1/2 miles away. A Holland submarine was also fitted with two dynamite guns, one for aerial use, and one for underwater firing
Fixed Dynamite Guns on USS Vesuvius
The Sims-Dudley Dynamite Gun was a field gun with 2 1/2 inch barrel and a 10 pound projectile. Since carrying around a steam driven air compressor was out of the question, a charge of powder was fired in the cylinder under the barrel, compressing air for the operation of the gun. This gun was finicky enough that mechanics spent more time fixing the gun than firing it.
The Sims-Dudley Field Gun
These guns were used in anger during the Spanish-American War. The Vesuvius bombarded Santiago at night, and as no noise was associated with the firing of the guns, there was a certain psychological impact on the Spaniards. The Sims-Dudley gun was used, along with Gatlings and Potato Diggers at the Battle of San Juan Hill, where Teddy Roosevelt was less than enthusiastic about the gun. There was somewhat of a psychological effect in this battle too, as the projectile's explosion was delayed about 6 seconds after landing. These guns seem more akin to terror weapons than actual artillery. In any event, their use was soon discontinued, as development of high explosive shells and fuses enabled conventional artillery use them to better effect.
The USS Holland sub sported 2 dynamite guns