Consider for a mo­ment that the 1911 hand­gun, like the Thomp­son sub­ma­chine gun, is tech­ni­cally an an­tique. Yet it’s a darned good an­tique that, like the Thomp­son, can still do what it was al­ways ca­pa­ble of do­ing—takin’ care of busi­ness.

With all of the ex­cel­lent pis­tols on the mar­ket these days, it’s ex­tra­or­di­nary that “Olde Ugly,” a de­sign that’s more than 100 years old, is still among the very best.

Here’s a look back at its his­tory along with some per­spec­tive on how it stacks up against to­day’s mod­ern de­signs and why it’s still among the top hand­guns for con­cealed carry.


March 29, 1911, dawned like any other day. Peo­ple rose, had break­fast and cof­fee, and then went to work. No one thought of it as a spe­cial day; they didn’t ex­pect that any­thing ex­cep­tional would hap­pen as they went about their busi­ness.

But they were wrong. March 29, 1911, saw the adop­tion of what was to be­come the most well-known fight­ing hand­gun in his­tory—the Colt M1911 .45 ACP.

At the con­clu­sion of tri­als last­ing from 1900 to 1910, it had emerged vic­to­ri­ous over the few com­peti­tors that had sur­vived to the fi­nal test. In­ter­est­ingly enough, the test it­self was sim­ple: shoot, shoot, shoot un­til the gun com­pleted the test, mal­func­tioned or broke. When it got hot, they sim­ply dunked it in wa­ter to cool it and then re­sumed shoot­ing it. Af­ter 6,000 rounds were fired with­out a sin­gle stop­page, the M1911 was de­clared the winner, its only ri­val hav­ing ex­pe­ri­enced a whop­ping 37 mal­func­tions.


By 1917, 68,553 M1911s had been de­liv­ered to U.S. mil­i­tary forces, but pro­duc­tion didn’t stop there. The gun proved so pop­u­lar dur­ing World War I that Colt couldn’t keep up with the de­mand. Af­ter the war, it saw mi­nor mod­i­fi­ca­tions to im­prove its al­ready ex­cel­lent per­for­mance, and by 1924, the “new” M1911 was ready for its new des­ig­na­tor, which it re­ceived in 1926: M1911A1.

The “A1” pack­age in­cluded a longer grip safety and frame tang, short trig­ger, clear­ance cuts be­hind the trig­ger guard, an arched main­spring hous­ing and more vis­i­ble sights. By the mid- dle 1930s, it was also be­ing Park­er­ized and its wooden stocks re­placed with plas­tic ones.

01. The Brown­ing-de­signed Model of 1905 shown here evolved into the M1911 and af­ter ex­haus­tive test­ing, was adopted by the U.S. Army on March 29, 1911. The U.S. Marines and Navy fol­lowed in 1913.

02. Since the ap­pear­ance of the Com­man­der, other man­u­fac­tur­ers have seen the value of a more com­pact M1911 and of­fered Com­man­der-sized ver­sions. This Spring­field Ar­mory “Op­er­a­tor” .45 ACP is a good ex­am­ple.

03. The cus­tom M1911 mar­ket also con­tin­ues to flour­ish. Here is Tay­lor’s an­swer to the M45A1, what he calls the M1911A2, built by Glenn Stolle of Sabre River Gun­smithing in Chino Val­ley, Ariz.

Bot­tom: World War I hero Alvin York used a M1911 to kill an en­tire Ger­man pa­trol try­ing tao rush him with bay­o­nets fixed af­ter his ri­fle ran out of am­mu­ni­tion. Many re­gard the event as one of the great­est feats of arms in his­tory. U.S. Army photo

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