A detailed look into the history of John M. Browning’s classic design. Source Browning.
The History of the 1911 Pistol
At the time US troops were armed with either .30 caliber Krag or Springfield bolt-action rifles and .38 caliber double-action revolvers. While the .30 caliber rifles proved effective in stopping the attackers, the US troop’s handguns demonstrated an unnerving lack of stopping power, resulting in numerous reports of Moro warriors absorbing multiple pistol bullets while they continued to hack away at the Americans. Obviously the US troops’ morale suffered badly in this situation.
One of the favorite shooting competition formats of the day was NRA Bullseye Pistol, which was modeled on the military pistol qualification courses as taught to millions of GIs. Bullseye pistol required expertise with a .22 rimfire pistol, a centerfire pistol and a .45 pistol, often the Model 1911. Post-war economics also helped build the popularity of the 1911, as it could be used in both the centerfire and .45 phases of competition. Plenty of Model 1911 pistols were readily available as military surplus or as battlefield trophies brought back by GIs. Pistolsmiths who had learned the gun inside and out in the military began to experiment on how best to turn the 1911 into a target range tack-driver, and their improvements often produced one ragged hole in the target. An entire cadre of suppliers like Pachmayr and Kings Gun Works were soon filling the demand for custom accurized 1911 bullseye pistols.
An entire industry based on parts, accessories, custom gunsmithing, training centers and formal competition has grown up around the Model 1911, and today the 1911 design remains the world-wide standard for competition pistols. In fact, the emergence of the Modern Technique, practical shooting and concealed carry have resulted in a virtual rebirth of interest in the 1911 pistol design.
With the growth of practical shooting came a greater awareness of personal security and taking responsibility for one’s own safety. Rising crime rates in the 1980s and 1990s helped spark a broad national movement towards civilian concealed carry licensing. Today almost every state in the Union offers some form of civilian licensing to carry a concealed firearm, and for many of these millions of CCW licensees the choice is some form of the Model 1911, often in a compact version for easier carry and concealment.
In 1985 the US Military adopted the 9mm M9 pistol as their standard sidearm in hopes of creating greater ammunition interoperability with its NATO allies. Hundreds of thousands of servicemen and servicewomen dutifully turned in their Model 1911 pistols, and no doubt many a tear was shed in memory of the 1911’s seven decades of service.
Alas, the painful combat lessons of the past now came full circle. The marginal stopping ability of the 9mm ball cartridge is no more potent today as when it was first introduced in 1902. In light of this, the US Military has again turned to the venerable Model 1911 and the .45 ACP to arm their special operations troops. Two more Medals of Honor were awarded in 1993 to US Delta Force operators, Master Sergeant Gary Gordon and Sergeant First Class Randall Shughart, for their actions in Somalia, which were later immortalized in the book and motion picture “Black Hawk Down.” After Shughart was fatally wounded, Gordon continued his fight to the death using a 1911 to protect one of the wounded helicopter pilots.
Today, when America’s finest go into harm’s way after radical terrorists, chances are a Model 1911 is riding on their hip or MOLLE gear. After 100 years the Model 1911 design is more popular than ever, and remains the standard by which all other autoloading pistols is measured.