Pistols Passed By

posted on August 25, 2015
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Michael Ives

The selection of John Browning’s semi-automatic pistol design to become the M1911 tends to overshadow other submissions. Two lesser-known .45 ACP pistol prototypes came from serving U.S. Army officers. The Peirce-Hawkins recoil-operated design (top) was the brainchild of a major and a lieutenant from Springfield Armory. While showing some promise, the original test reports were lost. Capt. W.A. Phillips of Frankfort Arsenal submitted a gas-operated gun (bottom) that was built for the (at the time) relatively princely sum of $450. Despite the price, the pistol experienced a locking block failure during early testing, with its bolt pin return screw hitting the operator near the eye. Both projects were discontinued. The Colt pistols built on Browning’s design triumphed over foreign challenges from Luger and Mauser, but the fiercest contest came down to a head-to-head shoot-out with another American company, Savage.

NRA’s National Firearms Museum in Fairfax, Va., is now showcasing “America’s Pistol,” an exceptional collection of trials pistols on loan from the National Park Service’s Springfield Armory National Historic Site in Massachusetts. This exhibit of national treasures allows serious arms enthusiasts and historians to view the actual handguns evaluated in our military’s process of choosing a semi-automatic service sidearm.

The NRA National Firearms Museum at NRA Headquarters in Fairfax, Va.; the NRA National Sporting Arms Museum at Bass Pro Shops in Springfield, Mo.; and the Frank Brownell Museum of the Southwest at the NRA Whittington Center in Raton, N.M.; each have fine selections of historic arms on display. Admission to each is free, and donations are gratefully accepted. For more information, visit nramuseums.com, phone (703) 267-1600 or email [email protected].

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