I'm 90% sure that, before the 1989 movie, Batman did not use a launching device for his silken cord. Either he tied it to a batarang or threw a noose like a cowboy around any handy protrusion on a building. Then.. and here's the tricky part.. he often would swing up off the ground. What? How? Don't ask me. It never made any sense to me how someone standing on the street and holding a cord could swing up off the ground. The first Tim Burton movie introduced the idea that Batman would fire a line from a little pistol thingy which had a motor to reel him up like a hooked fish. And this has been featured prominently ever since.Yet Batman need not have waited fifty years to get hold of such a useful gizmo. His fellow Justice Society member the Sandman had been using a wirepoon since the early 1940s and it's exactly the same sort of device. Above is a panel from WORLD'S FINEST COMICS# 7, Fall 1942. Joe Simon and Jack Kirby helpfully provide a diagram of the wirepoon gun and (who knows?) if you were good in metal shop class, maybe you could make one for yourself.
Yet this wasn't an innovation of the more flamboyant Sandman in his purple and gold phase. Even when he was lurking in the night while wearing a gas mask, business suit and cloak, the Sandman was abandoning his trademark gasgun for the wirepoon. I didn't see a story where this was explained. Maybe it made him resemble radio's Green Hornet just a bit too much for comfort, maybe there were too many situations where a gas gun was not the most practical weapon... outside on a breezy day or in a room full of innocent bystanders. Or maybe crooks had just learned to take a deep breath before slinging lead. In any case, the wirepoon replaced the gas gun.I do like this creative (and slightly mean) application from ALL-STAR COMICS# 6, September 1941. Sandman throws a loop around some bounders, then presses the button to make the line reel in. That's a wire you're pulling tight around those guys, Mr Dodds. Ouch!