When one realizes that the originators of such things as gunpowder, the first firearms and different firing mechanisms were mostly anonymous, we are, of necessity, limited to more recent history. Below you'll find my particular heroes, in chronological order. Please feel free to add your own in the comments.
John Moses Browning
(January 23, 1855 — November 26, 1926) As the old toastmaster'™s hackneyed opening line goes, 'œhere is a man who needs no introduction.' With John Moses Browning
, it is eminently true. He is one of the greatest mechanical geniuses who ever lived. His inventions ran the gamut of the firearms field and there are few guns today that don'™t incorporate at least some feature he originally came up with.
(August 13, 1860 — November 3, 1926) Born Phoebe Ann Moses in Ohio
, Annie Oakley was a phenomenon of the 19th century. An incredible shooter, she was also a great performer. Oakley, a featured star of Buffalo Bill'™s Wild West Show, among others, in her heyday was one of the most well-known people in the world. Her incredible abilities and unimpeachable personal life gave the shooting sports a populist legacy that has never been equaled. Oakley is one of America'™s true national heroes, and has been the subject of numerous books, several movies and even a Broadway musical.
(March 6, 1849 — December 22, 1923) German Georg Luger
, is also a man who needs no introduction. His Parabellum pistol, while not the first--or even best-- automatic pistol ever devised, was still the gun that legitimized the idea of the self-loader with the public and military. Too, his 9x19mm round is undoubtedly the most widely dispersed handgun round in history.
(January 30, 1848 — January 20, 1904) Austrian Ferdinand Mannlicher
was responsible for scads of firearms inventions including the rotary magazine and early automatics. The thing he is best known for, however, was his revolutionary en-bloc clip which allowed a number of cartridges to be easily and rapidly loaded into a rifle. This lead the way for other important speed-loaders, including the eight-round clip used in the M1 Garand.
(July 19, 1814 — January 10, 1862) American Samuel Colt
designed the first practical revolver, and all that came afterward were a result of his efforts. But he was much more than that. A motivated entrepreneur, Sam promoted his guns heavily, both domestically and overseas, putting America on the map as a force to be reckoned with in technology and commerce.
The Mauser Brothers
Like the Smith Brothers and the Wright Brothers, Wilhelm
(May 2, 1834 - January 13, 1882) and Paul Mauser
(June 27, 1838 — May 29, 1914) are often treated as one entity, and they will be here. Simply put, their personal invention of the Model 1871 Mauser, plus the many other fine firearms developed by them and their firm (most notably, the legendary Model 98 bolt-action rifle), put them at the apex of important firearms designers and manufacturers . Millions upon millions of guns made by Mauser, or variants copied by others, have been used for sporting and military purposes.
Rollin White (not pictured)
(June 6, 1817 — March 22, 1892) American Rollin White
was not the first man to come up with a revolver with a bored-through cylinder for self-contained cartridges-- that had already been done in Europe by Casimir Lefaucheux, among others. But his U.S. patent, first used in the No.1 Smith & Wesson seven-shooter in 1857, gave that fledgling firms a solid leg-up in the firearms field and paved the way for countless other rimfire and centerfire revolvers. (Pictured above: Smith & Wesson Model 1)
(1768 — 1843) British Rev. Forsyth
was an avid wingshooter, who was disconcerted by his flintlock shotgun'™s ignition lag time, especially on damp days. Caused him to miss too many birds. Using fulminates (which had been around for a number of years, but were thought to be too unstable and powerful to be used in firearms) he came up with a viable system that solved the problem. It was later refined, led to the development of the percussion cap and ultimately to the self-contained cartridge.