G&A Retrospective: M1 Garand Turns 78

Courtesy of Library of Congress, FSA-OWI collection. July 1941. John Garand (left) explains features of the M1 to Maj. Gen. Charles Wesson (center) and Brig. Gen. Gilbert Stewart (right), arsenal commander, during the general's visit to the Springfield arsenal.

The man who started it all was born in Canada on January 1, 1888, and emigrated to Danielsonville, CT, while just 10 years old. A decade later young John was working for Browne & Sharpe, a tool and gauge maker, and at 26 he relocated to Providence, RI, to take a job with the Federal Screw Corp.

When Garand moved to New York City, he found an interest in the development of small arms. His first project caught the attention of the U.S. Navy Bureau of Invention, who pressed him to relocate to the National Bureau of Standards to further his development of a mechanism that would solve common problems often associated with automatic gun fire. It was while working there that Garand met Maj. Lee O. Wright of the U.S. Army Ordnance Corps.

With Maj. Wright's support, the Army chose to sponsor Garand's efforts and move him to Springfield Armory in Massachusetts. There, Garand shifted his research from improving machine guns to the development of semiautomatic rifles.

The first working Garand rifle became useless when the U.S. Army changed ammunition specifications in 1925. To prevent such a catastrophic design failure in the future (should the Army make another change), Garand revised the first design to use gas pressure from a fired cartridge to operate the rifle's action. The result became what we now call the gas-operated M1 Garand. The Army officially designated it U.S. Rifle, Cal. .30, M1 on January 9, 1936.

John Garand continued on at Springfield Armory, working in many technical capacities. He continuously improved tooling and manufacturing processes that related to his M1 rifle. The only problems ever reported with Garand's manufacturing process or the finished product could always be attributed to another engineer working to modify his design.

Notably, Garand was also able to apply his skill in design to the development of what became the M1 Carbine. He retired in 1953 and resided in Springfield, MA, until he died in 1974.

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