In Which I Talk Early Selfloaders At Gun Guy Radio!

About a month and a half ago, Ryan Michad of the Firearms Radio Network reached out to ask me to do a segment for the Gun Guy Radio show. He wanted to tackle the subject of the selfloading rifle trials that led to the US adoption of the first standard-issue selfloading rifle in the world, the M1 Garand. I was happy to accept, and a few weeks later we recorded the segment, which was released just this past Sunday. In it, we cover ground from the earliest semi-automatic rifle experiments undertaken by the French in the late 19th Century, to the “rockstar” gun designer John D. Pedersen, up to the adoption of the Garand rifle as the U. S. rifle, caliber .30, M1, in 1933. We even tackle some “what ifs?” including “what if Pedersen’s rifle had been adopted instead of Garand’s?” and “how would a standardized .276 caliber have changed US firearms history?”



I was very pleased with the segment and sincerely hope it helps bring the story (as accurately as I can tell it) of how the “deadliest rifle in the world” to a new audience. Special thanks to Ryan Michad for inviting me on, and the Firearms Radio Network for hosting such a great show!

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


  • Wolfgar

    That was excellent, this is why I enjoy The firearm blog, The story behind the story.

  • roguetechie

    my favorite what if involves what if Melvin Johnson finished his prototype earlier. Say early enough to make waves pre official adoption of the garand?
    depending on who you listen to, that could have made things quite a bit different. However, had it happened that way we’d be looking at a very different Johnson rifle and lmg, because the techniques used to make the design production ready wouldn’t have been nearly as good as the ones used when he did pay to have it done.
    honestly we got so lucky in the runup to ww2. Technically we had three designs, all of which were workable and viable as combat rifles by the mid 30’s. We picked one, I don’t think it was the best long term choice but we made it work.

    • ostiariusalpha

      Mid 30’s? That’s stretching it a bit with the Johnson rifle; he only filed the patent on the design in 1936. It wasn’t till 1939 that he had a working prototype, and the final 1941 pre-production models were the only ones that could honestly be considered “viable,” and they were still not bayonet friendly.

      • roguetechie

        that was actually my point. If someone is honest, the Johnson system couldn’t have turned out the way it did if you try to push it back even 8 years…
        honestly I’m of the belief that it was a loss not having the USMC at least adopt it. Theoretically the Marines early in the pacific campaign could have had a semiautomatic rifle and BAR replacement using a fairly streamlined parts stream, and letting them use up the stocks on 1903 strippers more ably. Plus the USMC of that era would’ve probably been able to shake out the issues that never got fixed with the design because of it being an orphan.

    • Rogue, you’re absolutely right that the USA was extremely lucky in the number of geniuses we had working on the problem (at least four – Pedersen, Garand, Williams, Johnson).

      It was mentioned in the comments of another article, but I think that a “Johnson 2.0” would have been a real world-beater rifle, as in many ways the Armalite AR-10 was (it being closely related to Johnson’s work).

      • roguetechie

        agreed 100%… Especially since it was able to fire the m1 loading of 30 ’06.
        The later m1944a1 with the gas assistance, and the T48/T52 guns (which I believe inspired the Cetme belt fed and later the hk21 series of guns pretty extensively) were amazing in every way even with the receiver issues.
        what amuses me is how the last 15 years or so has seen so many of the original Johnson system features back into the AR series weapons. A good example of this is the MGI military hydra. The quick change magazine wells and quick change barrel both being present in every Johnson gun. Also another feature that the original and later LMG versions had was the dual mode trigger group, firing in closed bolt semi & open bolt full automatic.
        altogether I’ve been of the belief for awhile now, that a modern Johnson weapons system could be built and be competitive if one followed the formula Melvin Johnson did in tailoring his system to the low price point manufacturing processes of the day, and then spending the money to have EXPERTS production engineer the design to really optimize the bang for buck factor.