History of the 1911

Article Posted: July 25, 2013

Anti-Gun Myths
Springfield Armory Colt 1911 (cc)

Why the History is Relevant

The 1911 Colt .45 pistol is likely the most well known side-arm in the world, undoubtedly in the United States. Originally developed in the 1890's, it is still the standard by which semi-automatic pistols are measured. From 1911 until 1985, it was the official sidearm of the United States Military. Over those 74 years, the U.S. military purchased over 2 1/2 million 1911 pistols.

Origins of 1911

At the end of the 19th Century the United States Government was searching for a reliable, self-loading firearm to replace their service revolvers. In addition to the need for a sidearm that could fire in rapid succession, the military needed a pistol that could fire a large round. During the Philippine-American war is became clear that a .38 caliber round simply didn't have the stopping power required by U.S. soldiers fighting in close quarters (1).

Two weapons manufacturers were selected to compete for the bid proposal to create a semi-automatic, large caliber sidearm, Ruger and Colt. Ruger created the P-o8 . Colt's John. M. Browning created the M1911. The War Department selected Browning's design.

Mechanics of the 1911

In order to understand the historical significance of the 1911, it's necessary to understand the mechanics because it's the engineering of the the 1911 that gave the sidearm its longevity. It's the mechanics of the 1911 that other manufacturers attempt to reproduce.

Simply, the ingenious design of the 1911 uses the recoil generated by a fired round to reload the next. The magazine of a 1911 is a straight stack, as opposed to staggered. The entire slide moves back on the frame of the pistol after a round is fired. The action of the slide simultaneously ejects the empty cartridge and cocks the hammer. The tension of a spring returns the slide back to place (2).

The Colt .45 1911 has three safeties. It has a trigger safety, a lever that rotates up in order to lock the hammer in place when it's cocked. The 1911 also has a grip safety that prevents the pistol from being fired unless the grip is being squeezed. The third safety is another is a trigger safety, a half-cock lock that prevents the pistol from firing until the hammer is cocked completely.


While most of the military has switched from the 1911 to the Beretta M9, several specialized units still carry the 1911 including members of the Navy Seals, the Delta Force, Marine Recon divisions and sniper units. Whether or not the 1911 is still the most dependable pistol -- and therefor most logical to carry in service -- is a hotly debated topic.

Regardless of your position, it can't be denied the that for at least 50 years the 1911 was far and away the best choice. Many people believe it's still the only choice.

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