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 Corey can be reached at [email protected] and always appreciates suggestions for future articles.
    For the record, Corey felt incredibly strange writing this bio in the third person.