In the early 19th century, the Norwegian Army decided that the nature of warfare was changing away from the massed ranks firing in volleys towards smaller units advancing and firing independently. This conclusion was reached after having observed the American Revolutionary War, the Napoleonic Wars and the short Swedish campaign against Norway in 1814. Lessons were also learned from the Gunboat War, where small, mobile gunboats outmaneuvered larger, more heavily armed ships. It was decided that a breech loaded rifle was needed, more accurate than the old smoothbore muskets, yet quicker to load than the rifles issued to the Norwegian Jeger and Skijeger units. A special committee was created, and it started considering various firearm actions in 1837. It was soon clear that the desired weapon should:
- have a reduced caliber compared to the then standard musket;
- have reliable ignition, with the means of the caplock mechanism (earlier muskets had been equipped with the flintlock mechanism);
- be quicker to load than the musket, and therefore be a breech loader; and
- be more accurate than the old smoothbore muskets.
The end result was that a modern, breech-loading rifle was approved for use on the 18 May 1842. The caliber chosen for the new rifle was 18 lødig (gauge); in other words, one could manufacture 18 round bullets out of one Norwegian pound of lead. In modern terms this means the caliber of the rifle was 17.5 mm.
From 1842 until the Remington M1867 was approved in 1867, more than 40,000 kammerladers in more than 80 different models were manufactured. In 1860 the caliber was reduced again, to four Swedish Linjer, or about 11.77 mm. When some of the Kammerladers were modified to rimfire after 1867, this meant that the barrels had to be bored out to 12.17 mm to accept the new cartridge.
During a military sharpshooting competition held in Belgium in 1861, the Kammerlader was proven to be among the most accurate military long arms in Europe. The Norwegian rifles were shown to be accurate to a range of about 1 km (0.6 mi), which is quite an achievement even by today's standards.
Every breechloader must have some form of mechanism that allows the breech to be opened for loading, yet securely locked for firing. This was even more important in the early designs made before the introduction of the cartridge. Achieving a gas-tight seal was difficult with the metallurgy of the day, and it can be argued that the Norwegian kammerladers are the first fully successful military breechloaders — the needle gun was slightly earlier, but it leaks a significant gas pressure around the breech. A crank mounted on the side of the weapon operates the kammerlader. Rotating the crank opens the breech of the weapon, allowing for loading. The use of paper cartridges — a pre-measured amount of gunpowder and a lead bullet wrapped in paper — also sped up the rate of fire. While not as fast as more modern rifles, which use fixed cartridges, the kammerlader was much faster than contemporary muzzleloading rifles. The loading sequence is as follows (refer to picture):
- The hammer mounted under the weapon is cocked.
- The crank is rotated, opening the breech.
- A percussion cap is placed on the nipple.
- A pre measured amount of gunpowder is poured into the breech, and the paper from the paper cartridge is used as wadding.
- The bullet is placed in the chamber.
- The crank is rotated forwards, locking the breech and making the rifle ready to fire.
The exact rate of firing with the kammerlader depends, as with all manually operated weapons, entirely on the shooter. While the sources do not give any indication as to the rate of fire attainable by the average soldier, it is known that it was higher than for a muzzle loading musket — roughly four rounds a minute — and most probably lower than the contemporary German needle gun's 10 to 12 rounds a minute, since the kammerlader has a more elaborate loading procedure.
Most of the rifles were modified during their service life. The first major modification was the change from a fixed rear sight mounted behind the receiver to an adjustable rear sight mounted in front of it. The first of the adjustable rear sights was a 'flip over' type: an L-shaped piece of metal that was hinged so it could 'flip' over. Later this was again modified to a design known in Norway as a 'ski hill sight'; a simple, yet functional, adjustable tangent sight. In principle, this latest sight doesn't differ from the iron sights found on most modern firearms. Towards the end of the service life of the kammerladers, most of the small bore rifles were modified to allow the use of rim fire ammunition.