Users of primitive cannons and 'hand gonnes' came to realize that a more reliable ignition system was needed. It was just too difficult to use one hand to touch a lit match to an open hole in the gun barrel in the heat of battle while trying to hold the gun steady with the other hand. Also, there was often not enough gunpowder exposed at the touch-hole to ignite reliably. So, the gun designers had to come up with a more reliable system to get the gunpowder lit in a hurry.

Eventually, a clever invention was devised to solve the problem. The touch hole was moved to the side of the gun barrel, and a cup was placed at the opening with a lid on it. This cup would hold a small amount of gunpowder which could be easily ignited. When the powder began to burn, some of the fire would go through the touch hole and ignite the gunpowder inside the barrel, thereby firing the gun. This cup was called the "Flash Pan". The cover on the flash pan prevented the powder from blowing away in the wind or from getting wet in a fog. The above animation shows a top view of a gun barrel with flash pan.

All the later ignition systems on guns with a flash pan were designed to automatically ignite the gunpowder in the flash pan at the press of a lever or trigger. This was accomplished by either putting the end of a burning wick into the flash pan or using a flint and steel combination to throw sparks into the flash pan.