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In The Beginning: Semi-Automatic Pistols of the 19th Century

In The Beginning: Semi-Automatic Pistols of the 19th Century

In The Beginning: Semi-Automatic Pistols of the 19th Century


Before the turn of the 20th century, no one knew what a magazine-fed pistol should look like, and theories varied greatly. In the early 1890s, Austrian Joseph Laumann re-designed his Model 1891 8 mm repeater pistol (above) to function as a blowback-operated semi-automatic.

The history of the semi-automatic pistol may appear a bit disjointed, for the story requires tying together separate events from around the world as the best minds in the industry focused on creating the simplest, most durable and most user-friendly handgun. The potential reward was enormous, as every military in every country was a prospective buyer, not to mention the legions of civilians. After all, who wouldn’t be interested in a new handgun that offered advanced firepower? And so some of the greatest firearm designers in history embarked on what may have been their best-supported and most prolific period of creativity.

In The Beginning: Semi-Automatic Pistols of the 19th Century

There is no doubt that the entire industry was changed with the invention of smokeless powder in 1884 by Paul Vieille. Until then, it had been impossible to create a reliable self-loading arm, for the foul-burning blackpowder would jam even the finest action after only a few shots. Previously, the best effort to offer multi-shot capability had been via the repeater pistol, basically a miniature lever-action rifle, in which a ringed lever was used to cycle the action between shots. Some of the better-recognized repeaters included the Volcanic, circa 1860 (United States), the Gustav Bittner Model 1893 (Austria) and the examples of Josef Schulhof, the Model 1884 and Model 1887 (Austria).

Smokeless powder opened the door to a different world. The quicker-burning material yielded higher chamber pressures, the burn-off was more complete so there was less residue to clog the mechanism and, as an added benefit, the powder was much less corrosive.

Keep Reading: https://www.americanrifleman.org/articles/2018/1/4/in-the-beginning-semi-automatic-pistols-of-the-19th-century/


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