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The 1911: Legendary Handgun of Lawmen, Part II

Following a commendable term of service, from the Philippine-American War through World War I, John Moses Browning’s M1911 pistol was due for some upgrades. So, in 1926, the Army Ordnance Department recommended the following changes (see image).

  1. Wider front sight
  2. Longer hammer spur
  3. Shorter trigger
  4. Curved spring housing
  5. Simplified grip panels
  6. Index finger reliefs behind the trigger
  7. Longer grip-safety spur

This new pistol was such an instantaneous success that the civilian market outpaced Colt’s ability to produce enough inventory. This was made even more obvious at the onset of World War II when the U.S. government enlisted several other companies to manufacture the 1911A1 for the war effort. The following is a list of companies in order of their production numbers.

Remington Rand – a typewriter manufacturer that would eventually produce some 875,000 pistols. Awarded its first order on March 16th, 1942, Remington Rand had absolutely no firearms experience and opened a manufacturing plant in Syracuse, New York that was vacant. Due to a lack of equipment availability to manufacture some parts Remington Rand had to outsource some pieces from other manufacturers. These included: Slide stops from Colt and Springfield Armory, Barrels from High Standard, Colt, and Springfield Armory; Disconnectors from US&S; and Grips safeties from Colt.

While initial production shipments performed well, later tests confirmed a problem with parts interchangeability. In March of 1943 James Rand Jr. ceased production as a result of these test failures. Production resumed in May 1943, after a change in management and quality control inspection procedures. Due to a continuing effort to improve production quality, later Remington Rand service pistols are considered the highest quality produced during the war effort. Even more impressive is that a typewriter company could out produce Colt’s own numbers (628,808).

Ithaca Gun Company – the only arms manufacturer other than Colt to produce 1911A1s during the war would produce 335,466 pistols. Began production in December 1942. Like Remington Rand, would have to receive parts from other manufacturers early in production. Most notably are the World War I lower receivers from Springfield (6,200 pieces) that can be identified by the cutouts under the stocks. Ithaca changed to a stamped trigger assembly designed by Harry Howland that was fabricated by the Yawman Metal Products Co. of Rochester N.Y. The Army Ordnance Department would approve the “Yawman Trigger” and would be adopted by every other manufacturer except Colt but 1943. Colt changed to this design in April 1944. This single revision dropped the cost of manufacturing by 5%.

Union Switch & Signal Company – manufacturer of Railroad signaling equipment in Swissvale, Pennsylvania. US&S would receive a contract for 200,000 pistols on May 5, 1942 only to have it “adjusted” to 30,000 on March 8, 1943 and again to add another 25,000 pistols on June 26, 1943; totaling 55,000. The final pistol was shipped on November 27, 1943. At the end of production, US&S would concentrate their efforts in Carbine manufacturing. By all accounts the Union Switch 1911A1 pistols performed extremely well and were considered very well finished.

Singer – a manufacturer of sewing machines they were awarded a Production Study for building M1911A1 pistols in 1939. The study would include preparation of drawings, researching of production methods, and development of standard raw material sizes. Singer was awarded an “educational order” of 500 pistols on April 17th, 1940. This order was to examine how difficult it would be for a non-arms manufacturer to tool up from scratch and produce handguns. These pistols were serial numbered S800001 – S800500.  Following this order Singer determined that manufacturing M8 Fire Control Detectors would be more inline with the company’s skill set and would transfer tooling machinery to Remington Rand and Ithaca.

So many 1911A1 pistols were produced by the end of World War II (approximately 1,900,000) that the military cancelled all new orders and began to "arsenal refinish" existing pistols. Arsenal Refinishing refers to taking parts off complete firearms in order to fix another. This is common practice in the military and some large police departments.

The 1911A1 design would endure until the lawyers got involved and Colt was forced to introduce the Series 80 line of 1911 pistols in 1983. This model change would add an internal firing pin safety that prevents the pistol from firing unless the trigger was pulled completely to the rear. The Series 80 would come in several configurations including: Government Model, tactical, competition models and Combat and Lightweight Commander styles with blued, satin nickel and even stainless finishes.

In the late 1970s, due to political pressure from Congress to standardize a single military pistol design (because Congress knows so much about pistol design?) The United States Air Force conducted the Joint Service Small Arms Program to select a firearm that would use the NATO 9 mm Parabellum round. The Beretta 92S-1 was chosen. Subsequent test by the United States Army in 1981 (the XM9 trials) would lead to the adoption of the Beretta 92F on January 14, 1985.

Strangely enough, the Marines have now adopted the Colt M1911A1 Rail Gun, now designated M45 Close Quarter Battle Pistol. Spending $22.5 Million over the next 5 year to receive 4,000 pistols the new sidearm is just what the military needed to replace those Berettas. I guess Mr. Browning’s design isn’t quite over the hill just yet.