Here are 50 of the greatest guns of all time. Each one, in its own way, shaped the world as we know it.
Since the development of gunpowder, the history of the world can be traced through the history of the gun. The development of the modern firearm has, perhaps more than any other invention, shaped the world as we now know it.
While there have been literally thousands of different firearms designed in the past three centuries, which ones are the greatest?
For a gun to be considered great, it must do one (or more) of several things well. In addition to functioning well, great guns represent the next step in technological development. Great guns are guns that are not only be popular when they are introduced, but remain desirable (or useful) today. Truly great guns are guns that forever change the course of history.
Here is our list of the 50 greatest guns of all time. Each one, in its own way, had a hand in shaping world history.
50. Benelli Black Eagle – 1991
Back in 1991, little-known gun company Benelli introduced an autoloading shotgun with their inertia-driven system; the world of autoloading shotguns hasn’t been the same since.
49. Knight MK-85 – 1985
In 1985, sporting goods store owner and amateur gunsmith Tony Knight built a muzzleloader with the nipple directly behind the powder charge, at the rear of the barrel, rather than to the side as with more traditional muzzleloaders. In addition to making ignition far more reliable, Knight’s design is also credited with “sparking” (pun intended) the modern muzzleloading revolution.
48. Glock 17 – 1982
First introduced in 1982, the Glock 17 was the first commercially successful polymer framed pistol. Chambered in 9mm, it quickly captured over two thirds of the American law enforcement market.
47. CZ-75 – 1975
First introduced in 1975, the CZ-75 was the first commercially successful DA/SA “decocker” pistol. It remains popular with pistol shooters all over the world to this day.
46. Ruger Number One – 1967
Bill Ruger was infamous for building not what customers wanted to buy but what he wanted to build. The falling-block actioned No. 1 single-handedly resurrected American interest in the single shot rifle.
45. Smith & Wesson Model 60 – 1965
Simply a six-shot revolver originally chambered solely in .38 Special, the Model 60 was the first revolver produced in stainless steel. It kicked off a revolution in revolver construction, and remains in production today.
44. Ruger 10/22 – 1964
First introduced in 1964, the Ruger 10/22 is chambered for the .22 Long Rifle rimfire cartridge and is the standard by which all other .22 rifles are judged.
43. Remington 1100 – 1963
The best selling autoloading shotgun in U.S. history, the Remington Model 1100 ushered in a new era of reliability and shoot-ability for semi auto shotguns.
42. M-16 – 1963
Based on the AR-10 designed by Eugene Stoner, the M-16 and its variants started the “modern sporting rifle” craze, and it remains in use by militaries all over the world. It was officially adopted by the U.S. military in 1969 (although it was in use as early as 1963), and the AR platform remains very popular among civilian shooters today.
41. Remington 700 – 1962
The Remington 700, designed from the ground up to be a mass produced weapon, is one of the most popular bolt action rifles available today. It enjoys great popularity with civilian as well as military and police shooters worldwide and is one of the most accurate out-of-the-box rifles ever.
40. Mossberg 500 – 1961
The Mossberg 500, first introduced in 1961, is currently the number one selling shotgun in America and is second in total production, behind the Remington 870. Its low cost, rugged reliability and literally hundreds of variations make it popular with military/law enforcement personal, hunters, and gun enthusiasts all over the world.
39. Marlin Model 60 – 1960
First introduced in 1960 as an inexpensive recreational rifle, Marlin claims that it is the most successful of its type in the world with over 11,000,000 produced. What we do know for certain is that made recreational shooting accessible to millions.
38. M-14 – 1959
The M-14 began replacing the M1 Garand as early as 1959, and stands as America’s last true “battle rifle” (standard issue rifle firing a full-power rifle cartridge). It remains a well-loved weapon that still sees limited use today.
37. Weatherby Mark V – 1957
Roy Weatherby had been building rifles built on Mauser actions for years, but in the early 50s became concerned with the strength and reliability of the design. He did what any blue blooded American would do and decided to design his own. The result? One of the most sought-after bolt action rifles ever, whose 9-lug bolt continues to set the standard for smoothness, safety and reliability even today.
36. Smith & Wesson Model 29 – 1957
Made popular by the Movie Dirty Harry, the S&W Model 29 is chambered in .44 Magnum and was first introduced in 1957.
What you need to ask yourself is, do ya feel lucky? Well, do ya?
35. Ruger Blackhawk/Super Blackhawk – 1955
Colt had discontinued production of the SAA prior to WWII, and Sturm, Ruger, & Co introduced the Single Six (in .22LR) to take advantage of the gap in the market. The success of the Single Six led to the development of the Blackhawk (and later the Super Blackhawk). The popular revolver remains in production today.
34. Uzi – 1954
First introduced in 1954, the Uzi was the world’s most popular submachine gun from the 1960s through the 1980s and saw service in over 90 countries, with some still using it today.
33. Remington 870 – 1951
Introduced in 1951 and still in production, this pump action weapon is the best selling shotgun in history, with over 10,000,000 produced.
32. Ruger Standard (Mark I) – 1949
Produced from 1949 until 1981, the Ruger Standard was the first commercially successful handgun produced by Bill Ruger. Designed for recreational shooting, it went on to become the most successful .22 pistol in history
31. AK-47 – 1948
First introduced into active service in 1948, the AK-47 is the most widely produced firearm… ever. Designed by Mikhail Kalashnikov, it remains in widespread use all over the world.
30. MG-42 – 1942
First adopted by the German Army as a replacement for the fragile and expensive MG-34 (itself the first modern general purpose machine gun), the MG-42 and the terrifying 1,200-1,500 rounds per minute were so feared that the U.S. Army created training films to help soldiers handle the psychological trauma of facing one in battle. Variants of “Hitler’s Buzzsaw” remain in service today.
29. Walther P-38 – 1938
Officially approved by the German army in 1938, the Walther P-38 was designed as a replacement for the costly Luger P08. Chambered for the 9mm cartridge, it (along with the Luger) became synonymous with the Nazi occupation of Europe.
28. Winchester Model 70 (pre-64) – 1937
Often called “The Rifleman’s Rifle,” Winchester Model 70s made before 1964 remain some of the most highly sought after bolt action rifles in existence.
27. M1 Garand – 1936
The first standard issue semi-automatic service rifle in the world, General George S. Patton called the M1 “The greatest battle implement ever devised.” What else is there to say?
26. Browning Hi-Power – 1935
The last gun that John Browning designed before his death, the Hi-Power officially entered service with the Belgian military in 1935 and remained in service all over the globe as late as 2013.
25. Browning M2 – 1933
The Browning M2 machine gun, designed by John Browning to fire the formidable .50BMG cartridge, is simply the most prolific machine gun in history. Production began in 1933, and the “Ma Duce” remains in widespread usage today.
24. Thompson Submachine Gun – 1918
Almost immediately after becoming commercially available in 1921, the Thompson submachine gun, with the ability to fire 600-725 rounds of .45ACP per minute, became popular with criminals and law enforcement officers, as well as military personnel. The “Tommy Gun” remains a fixture in pop culture even today.
23. Winchester Model 12 – 1912
The Model 12, which was an evolution of the earlier Model 1897, was the first commercially successful internal-hammer shotgun. It ruled the roost in the shotgun world for decades, until it went out of mass production in 1964.
22. Model 1911 – 1911
Chambered for the formidable .45ACP cartridge, the M1911 pistol was the standard issue U.S. military sidearm from 1911 until 1985 and saw action all over the world. Different variations are still popular with recreational shooters and special operations units in many places today.
21. Teddy Rooselvelt’s H&H double rifle – 1908
This rifle, first commissioned by Theodore Roosevelt in 1908 from English gunmaker Holland & Holland, was used on his African safari and is now on display at the Frazier Museum in Louisville, KY. It is chambered in the formidable .500/.450 Nitro Express cartridge, and stands as a beautiful example of the art of gun making.
20. Browning Auto-5 – 1902
Famed gun designer John Browning (who designed many of the guns on this list) designed the Auto 5 in 1898, calling it his “best achievement.” It was the first mass-produced semi-automatic shotgun, and remained in production until 1998.
19. Springfield 1903 – 1903
The Springfield was the first bolt-action service rifle in the world, signaling the start of a new era in military weapons and tactics. It was issued as a standard service rifle up to the beginning of WWII (due to a shortage of M1 Garands) and remained in service as a sniper rifle until the Vietnam War. It fires the popular .30-06 cartridge, and is still used in Marine Corps shooting matches today.
18. Smith & Wesson Model 10 – 1899
Previously known as the “Smith & Wesson Military & Police,” over 6,000,000 Model 10s have been produced, making it the most popular centerfire revolver of the 20th Century.
17. Mauser 98 – 1898
Patented by Paul Mauser in 1895, the bolt action system first used in the German Gewehr 98 became the foundation for the most successful bolt action rifle ever produced. Mauser actions were the foundation for several different military service rifles, and remain popular with hunters and custom gun builders today.
16. Winchester Model 1897 – 1897
The first commercially successful pump shotgun, the 1897 (based on the model 1893) slowly became the most popular shotgun in America and set the stage for all future pump guns.
15. Lee-Enfield – 1895
Firing the .303 British cartridge, the Lee Enfield was Britain’s main battle rifle in both world wars. British soldiers were trained to fire so rapidly (and accurately) that German forces in WWI often thought they were under machine gun fire, when it was simply British riflemen and their Lee Enfields. Many believe that it is the finest bolt action service rifle ever produced.
14. Winchester 1895 – 1895
The last gun that John Browning designed for Winchester, the model 1895 was the first Winchester rifle to feature a magazine under the action, rather than a tube magazine. This allowed the use of more powerful military & big game cartridges using pointed bullets. Teddy Roosevelt took several 1895s to Africa, and referred to them (chambered in .405 Winchester) as his “medicine gun for lions.”
13. Winchester Model 94 – 1894
Another great John Browning design, the Winchester Model 94 is one of the most successful lever guns ever produced, and has probably killed more whitetail deer in the United States than any other firearm.
12. Winchester 1886 – 1886
Continuing the tradition of popular lever action rifles, the Winchester Model 1886 was designed by John Browning to handle the newer big bore cartridges of the day. The action was strong enough to handle the more powerful smokeless powder cartridges that were being developed, which signaled the end of blackpowder’s reign at the pinnacle of firearms design.
11. Maxim Gun – 1883
The first true automatic weapon, the Maxim gun played a key role in Great Britain’s rapid colonization of Africa. It was capable of firing 500 .303 British rounds per minute, and is the grandfather of the modern machine gun.
10. Winchester 1873 – 1873
Known as “The Gun That Won The West,” the Winchester 1873 was chambered for popular handgun cartridges of the day, like .44-40, .38-40 and .32-20 and was extremely popular with settlers on the American frontier.
9. Colt 1873 Single Action Army – 1873
Developed for the U.S. government service revolver trials in 1872, the Colt Single Action Army (dubbed “The Peacemaker”) was not only a standard issue military sidearm, but was also a wildly popular handgun all across the American West. General George Patton carried an ivory-handled Peacemaker all over Europe During WWII, and if it was good enough for “Ol’ Blood and Guts,” it’s good enough for the rest of us.
8. Philadelphia Deringer – 1865
A small percussion handgun designed by Henry Derringer and introduced in 1852, the Philadelphia Deringer was a popular concealed carry handgun in its day. On April 14th, 1865, while watching the play Our American Cousin, President Abraham Lincoln was shot & killed at point blank range by John Wilkes Booth’s Philadelphia Deringer.
7. 1862 Gatling Gun – 1862
After Dr. Richard Gatling patented his invention on November 4th, 1862, he wrote that he designed it to reduce the size of armies, and to show that war was futile. Instead, he forever altered the course of large-scale armed combat.
6. Spencer Repeating Rifle – 1860
The Spencer Repeating Rifle was the first officially adopted repeater in U.S. military history. While it was introduced in 1860, it wasn’t until Abraham Lincoln was given a personal demonstration that the potential of the rifle was recognized (it was subsequently adopted). Upon his capture, John Wilkes Booth was armed with a Spencer.
5. Henry Repeating Rifle – 1860
Patented in 1860 by Benjamin Tyler Henry and chambered for the .44 caliber rimfire cartridge, Confederate soldiers referred to it as “that damned Yankee rifle that they load on Sunday and shoot all week!” While never issued on a large scale by either army, many Civil War soldiers bought one with their re-enlistment bounties.
4. Pattern 1853 Enfield Rifle-Musket – 1853
Chambered in for a .577 caliber “Minie” ball, this rifle represented the British Empires switch from smoothbore muskets to rifled muskets. In service from 1853 to 1867, the Pattern saw action all over the world, and was the second-most used infantry weapon in the American Civil War (second only to the Springfield 1861).
3. Colt 1851 Navy – 1850
Designed by Samuel Colt between 1847 and 1850, this .36 caliber cap and ball revolver was polar with many American icons, including Robert E. Lee, Wild Bill Hickok, and John Henry “Doc” Holliday.
2. American Longe Rifle – Early 1700s
Also known as the “Kentucky Long Rifle,” American-made long rifles had much longer barrels than their European counterparts. In addition to their length the barrels used were also rifled, and the accuracy that resulted enabled marksmen to hit a man-sized target at over 200 yards (a comparable smoothbore musket had an effective range of less than 100 yards). Although slower to load than muskets, these weapons (and their accuracy) helped American colonists gain independence from England and eek out an existence on the American Frontier.
1. Brown Bess – 1722
“Brown Bess” is a generic term for several variations of the standard issue British musket during the 1700s and 1800s, it saw extensive use on both sides of the Revolutionary War.