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. He can be reached via email at [email protected]