Guncotton began to replace black powder as a propellant around the time of the US Civil War in the 1860s. Guncotton was the precursor to nitrocellulose, or modern gunpowder. T. J. Pelouze discovered that cotton became explosive after it was dipped in nitric acid and dried in 1838. Christian Shönbein developed a process of dipping cotton in both nitric and sulfuric acids and then washing out the residue of the acids in 1845.
Unfortunately, the washing process frequently failed to remove all of the acids and the material would occasionally explode spontaneously. This resulted in many disasters in the early days of the production of this material. This frequently happened for no apparent reason. This characteristic, along with the fact that the material was too powerful for most of the guns of the era, kept it from being widely adopted as a propellant.
Christian Shönbein further discovered that this material could be dissolved in a mixture of ether and ethyl alcohol, thus producing a fibrous solution that could be spun. This material was extremely flammable; and therefore, unsuitable for use in textiles, but it was useful as an explosive and it became known as guncotton. It began to be used as a propellant around the time of the US Civil War in the 1860s. Guncotton was the precursor of nitrocellulose, or smokeless powder.