These influential gunsmiths changed the history of how we shoot guns.
Naming the five most important figures in the history of the firearm industry isn’t easy. Even after coming up with five names for this list (or rather, six, given a collaborative tie in the fifth slot), there were still plenty of great gunsmiths that we knew we had forgotten or neglected to list.
From Daniel LeFever’s hammerless shotgun innovation to Henry Deringer’s legendary Civil War pistol, from Winchester veteran Benjamin Tyler Henry to noted World War II gunsmith John Garand, there are certainly plenty of noted gun makers who we couldn’t find room for on this list. Heck, we couldn’t even find a spot for Mikhail Kalashnikov (famous for the AK-47) or Uziel Gal (famous for the Uzi)!
With all that said, though, the guys we did manage to fit on this list are all titans of the firearm industry, and their innovations continue to resonate through the shooting world to this day.
View the slideshow to see the five most influential gunsmiths.
1. John Moses Browning
Frankly, the entire Browning family could be on this list, including John Moses’ father (Jonathan Browning, the supposed inventor of the sliding breech rifle design) and his son (Val Browning, who acquired 48 patents for various semi-automatic handguns, shotguns, and other firearms).
Still, John Moses Browning was the truest pioneer in the family, and is rightly respected today as one of the most famous and important gunsmiths in history. Like his son after him, John Moses Browning begun churning out gun patents at a young age (he released his first firearm when he was just 24), and quickly became the most prolific source of firearm innovations in the world.
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Among the firearm concepts to spring from the mind of John Moses Browning were the .22 caliber rifle, the pump action shotgun, the Browning Automatic Rifle (also known as the BAR), the semi-automatic shotgun, and the Colt .45 pistol. His willingness to work with a wide range of gun companies, including Colt, Winchester, and Remington, allowed his ideas to proliferate across the industry in such a way that it’s impossible to imagine where the modern gun industry would be had it not been for his many contributions. The company he helped build, the Browning Arms Company, is still a vital industry giant to this day, and has branched out to sell more than just guns.
2. Samuel Colt
Speaking of Colt, even if the firearm designer got a bit of help on the seminal Colt .45 model from John Moses Browning, that doesn’t mean that his own accomplishments in the field aren’t fully impressive in and of themselves.
In fact, Samuel Colt wasn’t even most influential for being a designer of innovative new firearms. Instead, this particular gun industrialist was and is famous for being a businessman first and foremost. Not only did Colt blaze the trail for assembly-line gun production, making it easier for firearm companies to become sprawling, multi-national corporations, but he also was such a brilliant marketing machine that he managed to take his revolver line to heretofore unprecedented levels of commercial popularity.
In addition to the Colt .45, Colt’s Manufacturing Company produced the Colt .357 Magnum and the M16 rifle, to name a few.
3. Eliphalet Remington
The order of this list is mostly arbitrary, but suffice to say that Eliphalet Remington is near the top of the list as far as influential gunsmiths are concerned.
An American blacksmith who developed his first flintlock rifle design at the age of 23, Remington and his company (initially E. Remington and Sons; now the Remington Arms Company) ended up being prime suppliers of weaponry to United States troops during both World Wars. Remington’s role in defending American interests undoubtedly turned him into an important historical figure, but we hunters mostly know him for products like the Model 700 bolt-action rifle, which we still use to this day.
4. Carl Walther
A German gunsmith, Carl Walther began his career in the firearms industry by producing affordable rifles for hunters and other sports-minded shooters. The guns were fine, but largely cheap and unremarkable, taking their designs from superior innovations, and simply producing them for a more consumer-minded marketplace. It wasn’t until Walther turned to pistols that he really began to hit his stride as one of the most important and influential gunsmiths in history.
Today, Walther’s biggest cultural influence comes more in the entertainment world than in the gun industry, since iconic literary and cinematic spy James Bond has been carrying the legendary Walther PPK for over half a century now. However, between the PPK and the P38, Walther’s innovations continue to enjoy use and notoriety to this day.
The ability of his products to retain their reputation as some of the best and most reliable pistols ever made alone earns him a spot on this list.
5. Alexander Henry/Friedrich von Martini
One of the rifles that Carl Walther was copying early on in his career was the Martini-Henry rifle, a single-shot breech-loader that was taken up by British military members in 1871.
The rifle, which was built by combining firearm innovations from Alexander Henry (a seven-grooved barrel) and his competitor Friedrich von Martini (the breech mechanism), presented one of the first major leaps forward in gun design, and undoubtedly served as inspiration to more future gunsmiths than just Walther. The unintentionally collaborative nature of Henry and Martini’s innovation would also predict the way that gun makers would repeatedly adopt, steal, or borrow one another’s ideas for generations to come.