Colonel Rogers Birnie was born in Taneytown, Maryland on April 5, 1851 and graduated from the United States Military Academy in 1872.
Originally an infantry officer, he transferred to Ordnance in 1878. In 1887, he arranged for Watervliet Arsenal to construct the nation's first modern gun- making plant. Between 1886 and 1898, while attached to the Office Chief of Ordnance, he advanced gun construction from uncertainty, hesitation, and indecision to a more exact science. He became recognized as one of the world's leading gun experts.
During the Spanish-American War, he was Chief Ordnance Officer for the Division of Cuba. Command of the New York Arsenal and then Sandy Hook Proving Ground in New Jersey between 1907 and 1912 helped prepare him for a tour as acting Chief of Ordnance from 1912 to 1913, during the temporary absence of Brigadier General William Crozier. From 1913 to 1915, he was President of the U.S. Army Ordnance Board.
Many prominent military leaders attempted to promote him to general officer rank, but existing law did not permit the Secretary of War to do so. General Leonard Wood, the Army Chief of Staff, stated that "the science of gun construction owes Colonel Birnie a lasting debt of gratitude. His rules and formulas are known by gun makers throughout the world." Colonel Birnie retired in 1915 after 43 years of service and died in 1939.