Blue Line


September 27, 2012  By Bathroom Reader


The story goes that in 1816 young Remington needed a new rifle-so he made one at his father’s forge at Ilion Gulch, in upstate New York. That fall he entered a shooting contest with his new flintlock. He won only second place, but the gun was so good (and so good-looking) that before the day was over, Remington had taken orders for several more rifles. Suddenly he was in the gun business. By 1839 E. Remington & Sons was a booming company in Ilion. Though it’s no longer a family business, Remington still manufactures world-renowned rifles on the same site. (They also made typewriters and electric shavers.)

SAMUEL COLT (1814-1862)

At age 15, Colt left his father’s textile mill in Connecticut for a sailor’s life. Legend says he was at the ship’s wheel when he got his big idea-a pistol with a revolving cylinder. Colt received a European patent for the invention in 1835 and took it to the United States the following year. His fortune was assured when the U.S. army began supplying its officers with Colt revolvers during the Mexican War from 1846 to 1848. The Colt .45 Peacemaker became-and still is-a symbol of the American West.


GEORG LUGER (1849-1923)

The real name of Luger’s gun is “Pistole Parabellum.” Americans know it as the “Luger” because the U.S. importer in the 1920s, AF Stoeger & Co., marketed it under the German gun designer’s name. Georg Luger made the first Luger-type pistol for a German weapons manufacturer in 1898. The German military started buying them in the early 1900s; during World War II they were the official sidearm of the Nazis. The sleekly designed guns are prized by collectors today and are still used in competitions because of their accuracy. Why “Parabellum”? It comes from the Latin phrase – “If you want peace, prepare for war.”

HORACE SMITH (1808-93) &
DANIEL WESSON (1825-1906)

Smith was a Springfield, Massachusetts, toolmaker; Wesson was a gunsmith from nearby Northborough. They joined forces in 1852, introducing a groundbreaking invention: the self-contained, waterproof “cartridge,” or bullet. Before that, all the ingredients-gun· powder, ball, and primer-had to be mixed by hand. In 1869 they introduced the Smith & Wesson “Model 3 American” pistol. Customers ranging from the Russian army to Annie Oakley helped make it one of the most popular handguns in the world. Other Smith & Wesson notables: the .357 Magnum and the .44 Magnum, made famous by Clint Eastwood in the Dirty Harry movies.

DR. RICHARD J. GATLING (1818-1903)

Gatling was an inventor during the mid-1800s. Most of his inventions were agriculture-based, but in 1861 he came up with the fearsome Gatling Gun, a hand-cranked machine gun that fired 200 bullets a minute. A medical doctor, Gatling thought his gun’s super firepower would require fewer soldiers on the battlefield, resulting in fewer casualties. He was wrong; it just made soldiers more effective killing machines. After improvements were made in 1866, it became a weapon of choice for armies worldwide for the next 40 years and eventually spawned a huge variety of imitators.

HIRAM MAXIM (1840-1916)

Legend has it that Maxim, an American expatriate, visited the 1881 Paris Electrical Exhibition, where he heard someone say, “If you want to make a lot of money, invent something that will enable Europeans to cut each other’s throats with greater facility.” Shortly thereafter, Maxim invented the first “automatic” machine gun — it reloaded itself automatically, firing more than 500 bullets per minute. The British bought it in 1889 (the United States turned it down), and by 1905 more than 20 armies and navies around the world were using the Maxim Machine Gun. Other Maxim inventions: the gun silencer and cordite (smokeless gunpowder). Knighted by the British in 1901, Sir Hiram died in 1916.


In 1934 Garand, a Canadian-born employee of the United States Armory in Springfield, Massachusetts, designed what would become the mainstay of the American military, the M-1 Garand rifle. It was “gas operated,” meaning that gas buildup behind an exiting bullet was routed to drive a piston that put the next bullet into place — very quickly. That made it semiautomatic, a huge advantage over Japanese and German rifles, which were still boltaction at the start of World War II. Almost four million M-1 rifles were made during the war, and Garand didn’t make a cent off them – he worked for the Armory for 36 years and never received more than his standard pay.


Kalashnikov was a Russian tank driver during World War II. After being badly injured in 1941, he turned to weapon design and produced the light, inexpensive, and extremely durable AK-47. The “AK” stands for Automatic Kalashnikov; the “47” comes from 1947, the year the new rifle was introduced. The gun became standard issue for the Soviet army in 1949 and was soon being used by communist armies and insurgents all over the world. It’s estimated that there are more Kalashnikovs worldwide — perhaps as many as 100 million — than any other gun in use today.

UZIEL GAL (1923-2002)

Gal was a young Israeli army officer who submitted a design for a new submachine gun to the military in 1951, shortly after the founding of Israel. The “Uzi,” as it came to be known, was small, powerful, cheap to manufacture, and easy to maintain. The most innovative part of Gal’s design: putting the magazine inside the pistol grip, making it easy for soldiers to reload in the dark. Today Uzis are used by military and police in more than 90 countries; the gun has made the Israeli munitions industry more than $2 billion. Gal died in 2002, and the Israeli military officially stopped using the Uzi a year later. Ironically, he asked that his name not be used for the gun. (The request was ignored.)

Print this page


Stories continue below