I’ve made a lot of jokes about the 1911 pistol over the years, but always keep in mind that my snide comments aren’t made out of ignorance! I have a long history with the 1911-pattern pistol: I’ve worked on them, competed with them, taught people how to use them, and even (for a very short period of time) carried one. I know its strengths and weaknesses, and while I’d never recommend one as a defensive tool in this day and age I do think it’s still a great competition and target shooting tool.
I also think the 1911 is a great historical piece and a wonderful example of firearms development, largely because we have a clear picture of how the gun came into its present form. This is more unusual than you might think; take the “Browning” Hi-Power, for instance — there is comparatively little information on the exact development process of that pistol, as the intermediate variants existed only as toolroom prototypes and were not released for sale. (What little information doesexist suggests that the Hi-Power was as much a product of Dieudonné Saive’s talent as it was John Brownings.)
What we know about the development of the 1911 is that John Browning refined his Model 1900 design many times, sometimes due to his own insights and others due to the demands of the government or manufacturing concerns. Those changes are enshrined in the guns that were sold on the retail market during that time.
(It’s helpful to note that Browning was a designer, not a production engineer; he didn’t manufacture guns himself. This isn’t meant to demean his talent, only to point out that sometimes his prototype designs might not have been the most economical to produce. I see hints of that in the gestation of the 1911 pistol.)
While examples of the various Browning models leading up to the final design are available, it’s pretty unusual to see all of them in one place — let alone be able to handle them and compare directly. Ian McCollum at Forgotten Weapons recently got to do just that at the Rock Island Auction house, where he was able to compare almost every developmental variant of the 1911 and made this wonderful video:
The video is long — just over 30 minutes — and goes into detail about each of the variants. If you’re a 1911 fan, you’ll definitely want to make the time to watch this video! Be sure to check out the Forgotten Weapons site as well, because Ian has put in links to information on each of the variants.
-=[ Grant Cunningham ]=-