The Development of The 1911

If you’re a gun person, John Browning probably makes the top of your list of “greatest firearms designers”, and for many, the 1911 handgun is his finest creation. There’s an argument to be made that (certainly for the time) the 1911 is as perfect a handgun as can be made by human hands, but it didn’t spring fully formed from the head of John Browning like Athena from the head of Zeus. A lot of development went into turning John Browning’s original creation into the “perfected” 1911. And there’s probably no better illustration of that online than the video Forgotten Weapons posted at the end of last month:

It’s clear that a lot of knowledge and effort went into making this video, which I can’t add much to at all. However, in the video Ian mentions the Thompson LaGarde tests, which begat – surprisingly directly, in fact – the .45 caliber 1911. This set of tests bears further discussion, as they’re usually only understood through the conclusion of the testers, quoted below:

the Board was of the opinion that a bullet, which will have the shock effect and stopping effect at short ranges necessary for a military pistol or revolver, should have a caliber not less than .45

What about the tests themselves? A copy of the testing procedures, along with some commentary is available at, and it turns out the decision to adopt a .45 caliber pistol round wasn’t really based on anything like scientific (or even empirical) evidence. I’ve given my full thoughts on this subject before, but it bears repeating that the tests were a mess, with some small caliber rounds performing well, while some large caliber rounds performed poorly, with the final deciding test being . It does seem, as The Sight suggests, that the conclusion was driven more by a need to have an answer rather than the best answer.

Nathaniel F

Nathaniel is a history enthusiast and firearms hobbyist whose primary interest lies in military small arms technological developments beginning with the smokeless powder era. In addition to contributing to The Firearm Blog, he runs 196,800 Revolutions Per Minute, a blog devoted to modern small arms design and theory. He is also the author of the original web serial Heartblood, which is being updated and edited regularly. He can be reached via email at


  • Don Ward

    One of my favorite myths about the 1911 is that it was born out of the need for an effective man-stopper during the Philippine Insurrection. It gets repeated often. It always concerned me that the timelines didn’t matchup.

  • Nicks87

    If I was living in America from 1912-1940 a 1911 would be my EDC pistol for sure. Because back then, with firearms tech being what it was, it was probably your best choice. But since it’s 2014 and because there are soooo many better carry options out there I think the 1911 needs to be relegated to range/plinking duty.

    • Don Ward

      Sure. If it was chambered in 38 Super. Although .357 came out in that time frame if memory serves.

  • “It does seem, as The Sight suggests, that the conclusion was driven more by a need to have an answer rather than the best answer.”

    the conclusion was

    That’s a complete sentence.

    • sauerquint

      You are a comma addict. The sentence before that had four. The one before that had three. You aren’t alone. You can be helped. One is allowed without question. Two and you may need to break things up. Three and Four are just going to confuse your readers, and indicate that you need to complete one thought at a time.

      • Grindstone50k

        You should talk to the founders about the 2nd Amendment then.

      • I’m in rehab actually. 😉

        Yeah, the overuse of commas is something I’m working on. To be fair, I’m pretty sure bracketing a clause with commas is not against the rules.

        ammo addict would be correct that I have interspersed commas into that sentence where they shouldn’t be if suggests were the operating verb. It’s not – “as The Sight suggests” is a clause within the sentence – was is the operating verb. Remember, when checking for this error, to remove the bracketed clause to see if a mistake has been made. Does the sentence still make sense?

        “It does seem that the conclusion was driven more by a need to have an answer rather than the best answer.”

        Yep, works just fine.

        I’m not an English teacher mind, but my mother was.