Colt Model 1907: Illustrating the U. S. Military’s Precedent for a Safety

Colt 1905 and 1907 - Institute of Military Technology collection

In recent days, Glock’s reveal of their MHS submission has caused quite a bit of hand-wringing in comments sections across the internet – specifically regarding the uncharacteristic safety. This particular case falls outside my knowledge or experience (or desire) to comment on, but it’s hardly the first time the U.S. military has required such a thing.

In fact, it was exactly 110 years ago that the Colt model 1905 was subjected to a series of tests (in 1907) but it was lamented that it had “no side ejection, no automatic indication that the chamber is loaded, and no automatic safety”. This prompted inventors George Tansley, Carl Ehbets, and James Peard to rethink John M. Browning’s 1905 pistol for Colt’s Patent Fire Arms Manufacturing Company.

 

Colt 1905, right side. This particular specimen varies slightly from the tested 1905 model – Institute of Military Technology collection.

 

Behold! The Colt 1907 automatic pistol with grip safety:

Colt 1907, right side – Institute of Military Technology collection

 

Colt felt they had a winner with their 1905 model, but the U. S. military’s requirements were clear. Line item (10) stated a requirement for: “An automatic safety, such that the arm may be carried cocked and with a cartridge in the bore without danger and be ready for the first shot without any other action than pulling the trigger.” This automatic safety would later be known more commonly as a passive safety, and in the case of this Colt and others – a grip safety.

 

Colt 1905 and 1907 – Institute of Military Technology collection

 

Another not-that-new idea can be seen on the 1907 pistol above (right pistol, left side of the slide). Among the trials requirements was [line item] “(14) Automatic indication that the arm is loaded”, known to us today as a loaded chamber indicator. The Colt 1905 doesn’t have one, but the Colt 1907 does – as does the Glock MHS and the Sig Sauer XM17 MHS.

It should be noted that historians have argued whether the Colt 1907 was simply a modification of the Model 1905 or if it was truly a standalone model (I like to count myself in the latter camp). Colt factory letters show mixed results. Some factory letters like the one below show simply “Model 1905” while others indicate on a subsequent line: “Contract Model of 1907”. Interestingly, the specific features of the fingerquote “1907” are listed under Remarks, but this isn’t the case on every 1907 Colt factory letter.

Colt Factory Letter, Source: Rock Island Auction Company



Corey R. Wardrop

Corey R. Wardrop is the Museum Curator for the Institute of Military Technology in Titusville, Florida where he manages one of the finest, if not the finest, firearms collections in the country. Corey is a former OIF infantry Marine and has worked professionally in the firearms industry for over 20 years. In 2014 he obtained an unrelated Bachelor of Science degree from one of the nation’s leading diploma mills. Through his work at IMT he is currently studying CAD design with an emphasis in reverse engineering rare firearms.
Corey asks forgiveness for his novice-level photographs and insists they are improving dramatically thanks to certified rockstar http://nathan-wyatt.com/. Corey can be reached at coreyrwardrop@gmail.com and always appreciates suggestions for future articles.
For the record, Corey felt incredibly strange writing this bio in the third person.


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  • idahoguy101

    It doesn’t take much to notice that a safety on service pistols to keep it from firing when holstering prevents accidental discharges. A Soldier that accidentally shoots himself or the person next to him on the range is as bad as a wound as inflicted by an enemy in combat.

    • Archie Montgomery

      That statement is correct as far as it goes, but is misleading, Idaho. Not all safeties keep pistols (or rifles or machine tools) from discharging or operating. I find grip safeties ineffective in large part from preventing unintended discharges.

  • Bart Jabroni

    It would help tremendously if they’d ban the serpa as well.

    • Gary Kirk

      How many times have you used one?
      And, correctly?? Yes the holster design leaves a bit to be desired.. But, when used as directed, is far from unsafe.. It’s training that has failed the Serpa. You do NOT “push” the release, you lay your finger on it.. And when done correctly, said finger comes out indexed along the slide..

      I am not a Serpa user, but I do get tired of all the hate on them.. When used properly, they are a fantastic holster that allows a very rapid deployment of the weapon. But they, like any other piece of gear, require a certain training regiment. And it must be practiced religiously..

      • SPQR9

        “And it must be practiced religiously..”

        You pray it doesn’t have an ND?

        • Gary Kirk

          No, we’re not talking about Glocks here sparky..

          • Bart Jabroni

            It’s a piece of crap and you’re an idiot.

        • Archie Montgomery

          EssPee, you really need to find out the meanings of words.

      • Cal S.

        “How many times have you used one?” /raises hand.

        I could not get a consistent draw with that thing to (literally) save my life. I determined that it would require too much practice when there was no benefit over a static retention holster for my purposes. For my security guard class, our instructor suggested everyone get a SERPA. Every. Single. Candidate had at least one failure on the draw during the shooting qualification. Except me, because I didn’t have one.

        • Sunshine_Shooter

          When the Instructor advocates for a product and everyone who listens has at least one failure caused by said product, that’s when you know it sucks.

          • Cal S.

            Yep. If it takes a lot of time to get used to it, it’s gonna fail you when you need it most. I returned my SERPA a couple days after I bought it.

          • JohnnyCuredents

            And, perhaps, that’s when it’s time to look for a new instructor.

          • throwedoff

            The shooter caused the ND not the holster. The holster has no fingers to place on the trigger.

        • Stephen Cornell

          We’ve been using them(drop leg variant) in the Marines for quite a while now, and I haven’t heard any complaints about them in the last few years other than they’re uncomfortable.

        • throwedoff

          I carried a 1911 in a Serpa for well over 10 years. Used it to take my concealed carry license course. The instructor was one of the local law enforcement sergeants with over twenty years of service and instructing. I’ve never had a problem with the Serpa, and sergeant Weathers had no problem with my use of the holster. I see people that are older than my 55 years of age that still drive resting one foot on the brake pedal. Brake lights constantly lit up. Sometimes you just can’t fix stupid.

    • Spencerhut

      People buy Serpas for one reason, they are cheap. Penny pinching idiots that won’t learn from the hard learned experience of others advising them to buy a better holster.

    • CavScout

      There’s nothing better than the Serpa that has retention. We use Safarilands at work. Do NOT like them vs the Serpa. And for real work, you need retention.

      Funny how the Army has no trouble with the Serpas being unsafe or getting jammed up.

  • Gary Kirk

    Hmmm.. Guess WE could somewhat rephrase “Glock leg” with 1907 leg.. And that’s why the 1911 has an easily accessible/worked thumb safety as well folks..

    • Mark Horning

      The thumb lock was actually added at the request of the cavalry, who wanted a more positive safety for reholstering on horseback.

      • alex archuleta

        That’s what I thought! The cavalry wanted an extra safety in place because they were shooting horses along with other types of A.D.’s.

        • Sunshine_Shooter

          So, “Glock Horse”, or “1907” Horse” was a real thing? Lol.

  • noob

    That’s a mighty fancy letterhead on that 1986 letter from the Office of the Historian

  • Archie Montgomery

    The main problem with the Colt type “automatic” grip safety is, all is done is to block the trigger being pulled. It does NOT block the sear and allows a specific impact to release the sear.

    This is the sort of safety device (trigger blocker) used on many shotguns which resulted in the dictum of “Never trust a safety!”

    The Glock trigger safety is much the same. The thin doo-dad sticking out from the trigger prevents the trigger from being pulled – unless that doo-dad is depressed, of course. I understand there is an internal block to the sear mechanism, but it is also deactivated by pressing the trigger.

    Therefore, the Glock ‘automatic safety’ has the same weakness as the Government model manual safety: When the trigger is ‘fingered’ in the Glock or the manual safety is switched off AND a finger is on the trigger, the arm can fire “unintentionally” in the sense of prior to actually wanting it to fire.

    The Glock has the disadvantage of being activated by an accidental depressing of the trigger, such as a stray bit of clothing.

    The Army dictated the grip safety for the trials for the M1911. I’m not convinced such a device was ever very useful, but I am convinced the officials who demanded it were sure it was useful. One notes many other semi-automatic pistols without ‘passive’ safeties without reports of widespread accidental – so called – discharges.