In the mid-to-late 19th century, there was rapid advancement in military technology, specifically in the form of new weaponry. During this time, countless manufacturers discovered new ways to better equip soldiers for the battlefield. Muskets gave way to lever-action and bolt-action rifles, and eventually the United States military saw the need for a standard issue semi-automatic rifle. This is where the history of the world-famous M1 Garand begins.
The M1 Garand was invented by John Garand, a Canadian-American gun designer employed at the Springfield Armory, who had previously supplied machine gun designs for the US Army. His initial prototype was designed in 1919, though military trials of the rifle did not begin until the 1920s.
Unlike the bolt-action rifles that were standard issue at the time, the M1 Garand utilized a semi-automatic gas-operated design to work the action of the rifle during firing. Gasses pushed the action back, allowing the shell casing to be ejected and a new round to be chambered. This eliminated the need for manually operating the bolt and allowed for much quicker firing.
The rifle was loaded using an 8-round en bloc clip that inserted directly into the internal magazine. Upon firing the last round, the clip would eject automatically, giving off the famous "ping!" sound that everyone associates with this model.
The army trials started in 1924, testing over twenty semi-automatic designs in an attempt to replace the Springfield 1903 rifle (the current standard issue at the time). Through multiple years of testing, the rifles were slowly eliminated. The two front runners were the M1 Garand, chambered in .30, and the Pedersen T1 rifle, which was chambered in .276.
For a clear, head-to-head comparison, several Garands were rechambered in .276 to compete against the Pederson rifles. The Garand was the clear winner of the trials, but the Army made the decision to stick with the .30 caliber round due to the large stores of ammunition they already had available.
After field trials, the Army began issuing M1 Garands in September 1937; they were fully equipped by the end of 1941. Other branches of the military adopted the rifle as well, but were not as quick to issue the rifles in the field. This changed quickly with the outbreak of World War II, and manufacturing of the M1 Garand exploded, with production numbers reaching a staggering 5.4 million units.
With the Garand as their rifle, the US Military had a significant advantage on the battlefield. The Garand could put an immense number of rounds downrange, especially when compared to the bolt-action rifles that were still standard issue for every other major player in the war. General Patton himself was so impressed with the design, he called the Garand "the greatest battle implement ever devised."
The Garand continued to serve the US Military for several years. It was the standard issue battle rifle for the Korean War, and even saw service in the early years of Vietnam. The military forces of several other countries also adopted the M1 Garand for use during this time.
The Garand is still an extremely popular civilian rifle to this day. Thanks to the extreme number of rifles produced, it is also still readily available. There are both purchase programs through the CMP and countless gun parts suppliers in the country that have M1s available to purchase. M1 shooting competitions are frequently staged, and World War II enthusiasts love owning a piece of this weapon’s history.
Although it was formally replaced by the M14 in 1957, the M1 still sees use to this day in other countries. It is, without a doubt, one of the most important weapons ever created, and as such is a popular ceremonial rifle in the US. The M1 ushered in a new age of semi-automatic weapon designs for military forces around the world.