For some, thinking of the 1950s might conjure up images of famous musicians like Johnny Cash or Elvis Presley. For others, it might be the sleek and classy cars of the period. School textbooks often reflect on the large-scale introduction of television or of the Sputnik launch and ensuing Space Race between the United States and the Soviet Union.
Often overlooked are the excellent firearms that were designed during the ’50s which left us with some of the most popular and enduring guns to this day.
With factories still humming after World War II and the Cold War brewing in earnest, the 1950s constituted somewhat of a golden age in firearms design. While the battlefield introduced the world to new firearm designs in the early 20th Century, it was during the ‘50s that many guns were developed or innovated.
The resulting firearms, many of which thrive today, were groundbreaking at the time and earned their place in the history of gun design and manufacturing.
We compiled the following list of our favorite firearms born in the 1950s, and then sourced original photos from issues of Guns & Ammo dating all the way back to 1958. If you don’t find one of your favorite ’50s guns on this list, we encourage you to leave a comment below.
Built to fire the .44 Magnum round Elmer Keith was helping to develop around the same time, the Model 29 was Smith & Wesson’s first revolver chambered for .44 Magnum. Despite being temporarily discontinued in the late ‘90s, the Model 29 is still popular, and a number of variants are present.
The IMI UZI is a blowback-operated submachine gun that fires from an open bolt. It fires the 9x19mm cartridge at a rate of roughly 600 rounds per minute. Many variations have been designed, including full- and semi-auto versions of the Mini and Micro UZI.
Some 10 million or more AKM rifles were made, making it one of the most highly produced AK-variants. The rifle has seen action in nearly every major conflict in the world, including recent events in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Completed in 1954, the M14 fired the standard 7.62x51mm NATO round and featured a 20-round detachable box magazine. Although some configurations were fully automatic, the M14’s accuracy suffered tremendously during continuous fire, and the semi-auto-only design prevailed.
The M14 initially won out as the Army’s standard issue rifle over both the Belgian-made FN FAL and ArmaLite’s AR-15, and mass production of the M14 began in 1959. The rifle saw extensive use in Vietnam until the military made the switch to the M16 in 1963.
Variants of the M14 are still used within branches of the U.S. military, most often as a designated marksman rifle (DMR) because of the gun’s tremendous long-distance accuracy. The M1A, the civilian version of the M14 manufactured by Springfield Armory, is still produced in various forms, and a host of aftermarket accessories are available for the rifle.
The Mark V was revolutionary at the time because it featured a proprietary action that was both stronger and safer than those found in other rifles. Capable of withstanding the tremendous pressures often associated with magnum and other “wildcat” loads, the Mark V was described by some as being “the world’s strongest bolt action.”
The Mark V featured three rings of steel surrounding the casehead, a fluted bolt body with three gas ports and an unprecedented nine locking lugs for a short 54-degree bolt lift. Production of the Mark V began in 1957, and the Mark V remains one of Weatherby’s signature rifles, available in a number of configurations and calibers.
The small, concealable revolver was first introduced at the International Association of Police Chiefs (IACP) in 1950 and was received well. The company produced the revolver as the “Chiefs Special” until 1957, when it was officially changed to the Model 36.
The Model 36 was the standard police detective and carry weapon for a number of police agencies, and many officers still use the Model 36 or one of its newer variants as a backup or an off-duty carry option. Smith & Wesson introduced quite a few variations of the Model 36 over the years, including lightweight and target models, as well as configurations designed specifically for women.
The Model 36 is still manufactured by Smith & Wesson and remains one of its most popular revolvers. Pictured here is a Model 60 (bottom), which was the stainless steel twin of the Model 36 (top).
Enter Ruger with their cowboy-inspired Single-Six rimfire revolver.
The first models, now often referred to as the “Old Model” Single-Six, were chambered for .22 LR, .22 long and .22 short and were produced from 1953-1972. After 1972, production began on the New Model Single-Six, which included a transfer bar safety mechanism for more secure carry.
This “new” model is still produced today, and Ruger currently offers five models in their New Model Single-Six line chambered for .22 LR, .22 Magnum or .17 HMR. The Single-Ten, the most recent addition to the line, has been manufactured to hold 10 rounds of .22 LR in its cylinder.
The enduring popularity of the Ruger Single-Six is a testament to both America’s unrelenting fascination with Westerns and the revolver’s beautifully functional design.
Firing the 7.62mm NATO cartridge, the G3 was designed as a utilitarian battle rifle and put into production in the 1950s. Still in service in some countries today, the G3 is a no-frills rifle that can easily be adapted for varying objectives.
When we picture the battle scenes of Vietnam, the M60 Machine Gun is a permanent illustration of jungle-born conflict.
The M60 represents our transition from heavier machine guns such as the earlier Browning designs, towards the deployment of general purpose machine guns used for decades by the Germans.
One of the Python’s most noted features was its incredibly smooth double-action trigger pull, which made the revolver more accurate than other DA revolvers of the time. The Python was received well in both civilian and law enforcement markets following its initial debut, and a number of police forces issued the revolver to officers.
In spite of the high praise, however, Colt halted manufacture of the Python at the main assembly line (limited production of the Python under the title “Python Elite” continued at the Colt Custom Shop until 2004) and ceased production of the Python altogether a few years later.
Manufactured to replace Remington’s Model 31 following the war, the Remington 870 won people over with its durability and performance, as well as its relatively low cost. Since its creation, this ubiquitous pump-gun has been produced in many variations with a host of customizable options and has seen use with police and military forces in a number of countries, including the United States.
In 1959, ArmaLite sold production rights for the AR-15 to Colt, which continued to campaign for its adoption by the military. However, it wasn’t until 1963 that the rifle (re-designated as the M16) would be produced for large-scale military use in Vietnam.
Although the rifle suffered a bad reputation due to hardware malfunctions during the war, those problems were largely fixed, and the M16 continued in service throughout the conflict. Ever since its introduction, the U.S. military has issued variations of the original AR-15 design.
Today, semi-auto versions of the M16 remain some of the most popular guns on the civilian market, and there are countless versions chambered for an assortment of cartridges.