John Browning’s Masterpiece

Everyone who owns a firearm in America, and many if not most who do not, know who John Moses Browning is. He is regarded as one of the most successful firearms designers of the 19th and 20th centuries. His influence is still present in all categories of firearms design. He invented, or made significant improvements to single-shot, and lever action rifles and pump action shotguns. Arguably, his most significant contributions were in the area of autoloading firearms. And perhaps his most famous design, his masterpiece, is the M1911.

At the start of the 20th century American units fighting Tausug guerrillas in the Moro Rebellion in Sulu during the Phillipine-American War were using the then-standard Colt M1892 revolver with .38 Long Colt ammo. They found it to be unsuitable for the rigors of jungle warfare, particularly in terms of stopping power, as the Moros had high battle morale and often used drugs to inhibit the sensation of pain.  The U.S. Army briefly reverted to using the M1873 single-action revolver in .45 Colt caliber, which had been standard during the late 19th century; the heavier bullet was found to be more effective. The problems prompted the Chief of Ordnance, Gen. William Crozier to authorize further testing for a new service pistol.

The military wanted a semi automatic of not less than .45 caliber.

Six designs were originally submitted in 1906. Three were almost immediately discarded leaving only designs from Savage, Colt and DWM. DWM dropped out leaving only the designs from Colt and Savage.

A series of field test were to be held from 1907 to 1911 between the Savage and Colt designs. There were improvements made to both designs after each round of testing leading up to one final round before adoption. One of the test towards the end of 1910 was attended by John Browning. 6000 rounds were fired from a single pistol over the course of 2 days. When the gun began to grow hot, it was simply immersed in water to cool it. The Colt gun passed with no reported malfunctions, while the Savage designs had 37. On March 29, 1911 the Colt was formerly adopted by the Army and designated “model of 1911” hence it’s name.

Today it is one of the most, if not the most popular semi automatic pistol among handgun enthusiast. The design has endured even among many military personnel who still prefer it to the 9mm Beretta M9 which was adopted by the military in 1985. Because of that continued popularity it has not been completely phased out.

What makes this heavy 110 year old 7 round pistol so popular today, not only among the military but civilian enthusiast as well? If you’ve ever fired one it’s not difficult to understand. The gun’s design and balance feel so very perfect in the hand. The action is smooth and the recoil minimal. I find that I shoot a 1911 far more than any other firearm in my collection. In short it shoots like a dream making it just plain fun to shoot.

Not only does the 1911 shoot well it looks well also. Today over 50 companies manufacture the 1911. Like with steel revolvers you can get just about any style grip for the gun that the mind of man can think of. Prices for new 1911s don’t really have an upper limit either. There are companies that only manufacture 1911s, many of which are custom built by hand. Jesse James handcrafted one made of Damascus steel for President Trump. The Cabot Jones Deluxe model will run you $10,000.

A semi custom 1911 from someone like Les Baer will set you back at a minimum $1,800 and up. There are of course companies that do produce reasonably priced 1911s. Colt and Springfield Armory carry a fine collection at what is considered reasonable prices by today’s standards. A few companies in the Phillipines manufacture an introductory line with prices starting as low $500.

The 1911 is an enduring piece of the American experience. Even if you don’t own one, or have never held one, chances are you’ve seen one at some time somewhere. Thank you John Moses Browning for this resilient beautiful masterpiece.