Lewis’s BRUTE: Forgotten Weapons and the Miniaturized .45 Caliber Double Stack Lewis Gun Pistol of 1919

What was the first double-stack .45 ACP handgun in the world? Well, Springfield Armory Inc might have you believe it was their XD (originally called the HS2000 – and then and now made in Croatia), but more plugged in gun nuts will point to the Para Ordnance P14-45 wide-frame 1911 pistol. It turns out that double stack .45s go back before then… WAY before then. Meet a gun that never lived long enough to get a real name, a double-stack 15-round .45 ACP handgun designed by Colonel Isaac Newton Lewis:

What could be more exciting than a handgun in 1919 that was packing a 15-stack of 230 grain hardball? Well, the Lewis handgun isn’t just a handgun designed by Colonel Lewis… It’s an actual, honest-to-god, miniaturized Lewis Machine Gun in handgun form, complete with rear-locking rotating bolt and gas piston – it even fires from an open bolt like a Lewis MG!

awtkjlb

We ain’t kidding about the itty bitty Lewis bit.

 

Of course, because of its Lewis MG heritage, the Lewis pistol was hardly a practical handgun, even with its massive 15-round capacity and .45-caliber bore. One of the biggest drawbacks, evident in the video, is that the Lewis handgun is huge in size – not quite Gabbet-Fairfax Mars big, but getting there. Also, the gun would have been expensive to produce, and the concept of an open-bolt pistol was one better left in the dustbin of bad ideas.

Still, it’s a tremendously cool specimen!





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 nathaniel.f@staff.thefirearmblog.com.


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  • Quest

    First.

    Interesting design.

  • PK

    Watching the video had me thinking that this would be a fairly entertaining home build, too. Setting things up so only the last bit of travel to the striker/carrier assembly would yield a ATF-legal closed bolt pistol, same as on a semi-auto conversion of the Lewis and similar.

    Also, that’s an awfully long magwell, front-to-back. I wonder if Lewis had some other idea in mind than .45ACP.

    • tts

      .345 WSL chambered Lewis subgun or carbine would’ve been amazing for the time and great even up through WWII.

      Its crazy to think how close people have come to really “getting it right” only for things to fall through or the design not quite come together properly.

      • PK

        Well, hindsight makes it obvious. At the time, however, conventional wisdom pointed things in a very different direction than what we consider ideal today.

        • tts

          Oh yeah certainly. I’m no visionary myself and even if I was my ideas would probably be shot down by whatever counts for conventional wisdom today.

          Institutional inertia and “gearing your military to fight the last war” have been huge problems since forever.

          • DaveP.

            Also “Not Invented Here” and “If It Was Good Enough When I Was A Green 18-Year-Old, It’s Still Good Enough Now!”

    • I commented on the video that it eould be an easily improvised design! 🙂

  • DanGoodShot

    I want to see that thing shoot. Looks like it would be interesting to handle.

    • tts

      Supposedly there is a rifle version, not the actual Lewis MG but similar action and clip fed semi auto only and much lighter, that someone claims to have seen at auction. It seems they tried all sorts of configurations with the same basic action but for some reason they never went anywhere.

      My WAG is partially due to the open bolt nature of the action itself, which would effect accuracy which they were particularly big on back then I believe, but that is just a WAG.

  • Alexandru Ianu

    That thing with a quick detach stock and FA capability would make a great compact SMG (so basically a PDW). The FG-42 had that interesting system where semi was closed bolt, so that could work too. I wonder why he didn’t think of making it an SMG competitor to the Thompson.

    • tts

      Yup.

      Every other person who looks at the thing says the same thing over at Ian’s site and his Full30 page too. Barring weird implementation issues it probably would’ve been better than the Thompson if for no other reason than the weight reduction alone that a gas piston action will give you over a straight blowback action.

      Probably wouldn’t have been much cheaper than a Thompson to make from the looks of it though. Like many early automatics it appears to need lots of machining.

  • marathag

    Definitely should have been scaled up to a SMG, like an early Uzi

  • iksnilol

    Needs a pan mag.

  • Raginzerker

    Wonder how this would work as a self loading rifle

  • Joseph

    I am impressed with just how easy that pistol was to take apart. On first glance it looks a little rough just like most guns of the time period. I was not expecting the rotating pin design and loved the history lesson that went along with the disassembly video. It would be cool to see this thing shoot.

  • KansasGunner

    The actual first double stack 45 would have been the Savage 1907 entered into the Army pistol trials that lost out to the 1911.

    • Yes, I think they get the earliest spot, although it’s worth noting the Savage pistols had more of a staggered column mag than a true double stack. I am not an expert on the Savages, but I believe the .45 caliber models have capacities of 8-10 rounds, depending on variant.

      • Bill

        And certainly not historic, the GLOCK 21 might have predated the Paras and XDs. I know I got mine because there were no real alternatives.

        • TJbrena

          Well, the G20 came out in the early 90s when 10mm was the hot new thing, so the G21 must’ve been of a similar age, just slightly younger. The question is, did Para make double-stack 1911s before the 90s, or at least earlier in the decade than Glock?

        • Para-Ordnance unveiled their complete pistols at SHOT Show 1990, but their frame kits were introduced at SHOT Show 1988.

          The Glock 21 was introduced at SHOT Show 1991.

      • Bob in Houston

        I had an Astra A80 sometime in the mid to late 80s that was a double stack 45, kind of Sig 220 looking, I could swear the Para came out after I had bought the Astra.

      • Joshua

        ten rounds quick. that was the advertisement for the Savages. 8 rounds can be done in a single stack, just look at some of the more modern 1911 mags. the real question here to me is whether or not the Lewis is actually double-stack, do we have a patent drawing for its magazine? and do we know if it was ever actually made?

  • Ryfyle

    Now thats a simple Gas-Op design I can get behind. Anyone think that we could make cheap AR uppers or sub 400$ full rifles using this design?

  • Edeco

    Wow, a reasonably compact gas gun! I think the guy’s unduly critical of open-bolt, not seeing the trees for the forest. We don’t have a culture of shooting open-bolt pistols, but if those were allowed to be a thing, within 15 yards, yanno. We could make holsters to cover the guts. Open bolt happens, it used to be a thing. The important thing here is reasonably compact gas pistol!

    Hey, stuff an FNX45 mag with snap caps in there, see if it’ll work, lol.

  • Fruitbat44

    Hmmm . . . as Ian said it’s a really cool design. But for a pistol, compared to the Colt-Browning designs, it is seriously over complicated.

  • abecido

    This looks like a better gas pistol design than the Desert Eagle, at least in that it appears much easier to clean the gas system.

  • Well that’s cool as heck.

  • pun&gun

    That’s fascinating. If the patent is out there, why hasn’t the owner asked a machinist to recreate the original magazine so he can fire it?

    • ostiariusalpha

      A) The patent doesn’t show the various internal and external geometries or dimensions of the original prototype magazine, so that would be an incredible amount of work to design an essentially new magazine from scratch with only a vague resemblance to the lost one.
      B) A reproduction mag would have no collectors value whatsoever, and that collectors value has been the entire point behind every purchase of this pistol since it went out of Lewis’ hands. If we’re lucky, the new owner might let Ian disassemble it a little further, but I seriously doubt it’s ever going to be fired again.

  • Archie Montgomery

    Thanks for publishing this bit of history. One of the things I love about firearms history is all the ‘new ideas’ that were tried long ago. For instance, Savage had a detachable box magazine pistol with double stack capacity in their 1907 pistol.

    Some items actually work now, due to advances in related technology.