Few Gun Grips Have Seen As Much History
As Those On The 1911 Pistol
If any gun has seen the entirety of the world, it is likely the M-1911 handgun, more commonly known as the 1911 pistol, the standard-issue side arm of United States military forces for the span of nearly an entire century. This pistol is a single-shot .45 caliber recoil handgun that has been used by over two dozen nations as a military instrument, having seen service in both World Wars as well as the Korean and Vietnamese wars. Nearly three million of these sidearms have been produced during its lifespan of service from 1911 to 1985.
The 1911 pistol is one of the best examples of short recoil operation in center-fire automatic pistols. The 1911, invented by gunsmith John Browning, uses a system of recoil that only moves both barrel and slide together for part of the action, then the two parts separate. As such, the barrel stops while the slide keeps moving back, so that the momentum compresses the recoil spring and loads a new round into the chamber. This action means that the 1911 pistol does not require any type of cocking once a fresh magazine is in place and that it can be fired until empty without using the hammer.
While the 1911 pistol’s name reflects its year of entry into US forces service, the short recoil process was invented nearly two decades earlier as gun manufacturers such as Smith and Wesson looked for new techniques for a self-loading pistol. Using the momentum of the bullet itself to slide a new round in the chamber had been part of the technology of self-loading weapons since the utilization of rail guns during the Franco-Prussian War of 1871, but compressing this into a pistol form proved to be more difficult.
The United States military had eagerly been looking for an automatic loading pistol since some issues had arisen during the Philippine-American War of 1899, where their servicemen had difficulty using their arms in the unorthodox battlegrounds. The single-action .38 caliber revolvers had been standard since the Civil War but proved ineffective in comparison to the larger and heavier .45 caliber bullets. Tests ordered a gun that should not be smaller than .45 caliber. In 1906, six companies submitted pistols for firearms tests. Only the Colt prototype proved to be durable and efficient enough to stand up to the test, and in 1911 the Army awarded the contract to Colt to manufacture the sidearm that would be ubiquitous with its armed forces until the mid 1980s.