Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
The M1911 is a .45 caliber, single action, semi-automatic handgun. Along with the .45 ACP cartridge, it was designed by John Browning, and was the standard-issue handgun in the combat arm of the United States Armed Forces from 1911 to 1985. It was widely used in World War I, World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War.
The weapon originated in response to problems encountered by American units fighting Moro insurgents during the Philippine-American War in which the then-standard .38 caliber (9.65 mm) revolver was found to be unsuitable for the rigors of jungle warfare, particularly in terms of stopping power. The Army briefly reverted to the .45 Long Colt revolvers which had been standard during the last decades of the 19th Century; the slower, heavier bullet was found to be more effective against charging tribesmen. An Ordnance Board, headed by John T. Thompson, concluded that a .45 caliber (11.4 mm) semi-automatic weapon would be most appropriate, and took bids from six firearms manufacturing companies in 1906.
Of the six designs submitted, two were selected for field testing in 1907, one of them being Colt's model, which Browning had basically modified to government specifications from an earlier autoloading .38 caliber (~9.65 mm) design of his. A series of field tests was designed to decide between the two finalists (the other being a design by Arthur Savage ) and the Colt passed with flying colors, firing 6,000 rounds non-stop, a record at the time. The soundness of design is also borne out in its longevity of service (over 70 years).
In order to meet the Ordnance Board's requirements, the 1911 was designed to fire a 45 caliber (11.4 mm), 230 grain (15 g) bullet at approximately 800 feet per second (240 m/s). These specifications were championed by Gen. Thompson, and were the result of terminal ballistics tests conducted in 1904 at the Nelson Morris Company stockyards in Chicago on live cattle and human cadavers.
The weapon was formally adopted by the Army on March 29, 1911, thus gaining its designation. It was adopted by the Navy and Marine Corps in 1913. Originally manufactured only by Colt, demand for the firearm in World War I saw the expansion of manufacture to the government-owned Springfield Armory.
Battlefield experience in the First World War led to a redesign of the weapon, completed in 1926, and the new version was designated the M1911A1. Changes to the original design were minor and consisted of a shorter trigger, cutouts in the frame behind the trigger, a curved mainspring housing, a longer hammer spur (to prevent hammer "bite"), a wider front sight, a longer spur on the thumb safety, and simplified grip checkering. Those unfamiliar with the design are often unable to tell the difference between the two versions at a glance.
World War II and the years leading up to it created a great demand for the weapon, which in turn led to the Army's extending of manufacturing contracts to several manufacturers, including Remington Rand, Ithaca, Union Switch and Signal Company, and Singer (the sewing-machine manufacturer), as well as the Springfield Armory and Rock Island Arsenal. So many were produced that, after 1945, the government did not order any new pistols, and simply used existing parts inventories to 'arsenal refinish' guns when necessary.
Before World War II a small number of Colts were produced under license at the Norwegian weapon factory Kongsberg Vaapenfabrikk (these Colts were known as "kongsbergcolts"). After the German occupation of Norway the production continued, but this time with a Swastika mark next to the serial number; these pistols are highly regarded by modern collectors. The 1911 pattern also formed the basis for the Argentine Ballester-Molina and certain Spanish Star pistols made after 1922.
After the Second World War, the sidearm continued to be a mainstay in the United States Armed Forces, seeing action in the Korean War and the Vietnam War (where it was the standard weapon for U.S. "tunnel rats", but largely disliked due to the massive muzzle blast). It was replaced, largely due to considerations of NATO commitments, with a 9 mm sidearm, the Beretta 92F/FS, on January 14, 1985. Remaining M1911A1s in military service have largely been replaced by the Heckler und Koch Mk 23 .45 ACP pistol. The M1911A1 design is also favored by a large number of police SWAT teams throughout the United States.
Today the M1911A1 type is widely used by the general public in the United States for practical and recreational purposes. The pistol is commonly used for concealed carry, personal defense, target shooting, and competition. Numerous aftermarket accessories allow the user to customize the pistol to his or her liking. There is a growing number of manufacturers of 1911-type pistols and the model continues to be quite popular for its reliability, simplicity, and all-American appeal. Various tactical, target, and compact models are available. Price ranges from a low end of $250 for an imported "clunker" to more than $3,000 for the best competition or tactical models such as those by Wilson and Kimber, which are precisely assembled and tuned by hand.
Despite being challenged by more modern and lightweight pistol designs in .45 caliber, such as the GLOCK 21 and SIGARMS P220, the original 1911 design will soon be 100 years old with no signs of decreasing popularity.
- Mass (unloaded): 39 oz (1.1 kg)
- Height: 5.25 in (133 mm)
- Length: 8.25 in (210 mm)
- Capacity: 7+1 rounds (7 in standard-capacity magazine + 1 in firing chamber); 8+1 in aftermarket standard-size magazine; 9+ in extended and hi-cap magazines/frames.
- The Sight M1911
- The M-1911 Pistols Home Page
- Colt Manufacturing Company
- Springfield Armory
- The Thompson-LaGarde Cadaver Tests of 1904
- Kimber America
- Wilson Combat
- Strayer-Voigt, Inc.
- Para Ordnance
- Photos and information about current Kimber 1911 pistols
- Photos and information about current Springfield Armory 1911 pistols
- Photos and information about current Wilson 1911 pistols
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