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.
The AKM was designed by Mikhail Kalashnikov
in the late '50s after the AK-47 rifle. Very similar in functionality, the AKM was designed to be even faster and cheaper to produce than the AK-47, while maintaining supreme reliability.
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.
Considered by some to be one of the most elegant and well made double-action .357 Magnum revolvers of all time, the Colt
Python was produced starting in 1955. The Python featured a unique vented rib design spanning the length of the barrel and sported a bright nickel, blued or stainless steel finish.
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.
Though the first prototype of the "right arm of the free world" was completed in the late 1940s, the rifle didn't see mainstream production until British and American Armed Forces tested the design. The U.S. insisted the FAL be chambered for a standardized .30-caliber round, which eventually became the 7.62mm NATO. In the end, many countries adopted the FN FAL, while the U.S. selected the M14.
The select-fire, roller-delayed blowback HK G3 was designed with many influences from previous German machine guns and Spanish rifles.
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.
M60 Machine Gun
In U.S. military service since 1957, the M60 Machine Gun
has been deployed by every branch of our Armed Forces, and still serves in modern day conflicts.
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.
After World War II, the U.S. military began to see that the M1 Garand
, which General Patton famously called 'the greatest battle implement ever devised, ' wasn't perfect. Weapons such as Germany's StG 44 the Soviet Union's AK-47 pointed to the future of firearms design, and the Army's need for a combat rifle with similar properties was clear.
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.
Born at the half-century mark, the Remington Model 870
remains one of the best-selling and most produced shotguns in the world.
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.
Ruger Single Six
Westerns, and especially TV Westerns, were huge during the 1950s, with shows like Gunsmoke
, The Rifleman
, The Lone Ranger
, and Bonanza
playing on screens in living rooms across the country.
with their cowboy-inspired Single-Six
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.
Smith & Wesson Model 36
Introduced in 1950, the Smith & Wesson Model 36
('Chiefs Special ') was built to fire the popular .38 Special round. To accomplish this, Smith & Wesson
scrapped their previous I-frame design and created what is now known as the J-frame for the Model 36.
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).
Smith & Wesson Model 29
Although this revolver wouldn't gain widespread fame until the 1970s when actor Clint Eastwood brandished it in his role as 'Dirty Harry ' Callahan in the Dirty Harry
series of films, Smith & Wesson
actually began producing the Model 29
in 1955. When production first started, the Model 29 was "https://www.gunsandammo.com/2013/07/11/shooting-star-the-legend-of-elmer-keith/" target= "_blank">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.
Famously seen during the assassination attempt on President Ronald Reagan in 1981, the IMI UZI was adopted by the U.S. Secret Service, though it was originally developed for the Israeli Defense Force
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.
Weatherby Mark V
Specifically designed to handle the high-powered magnum cartridges designed by Roy Weatherby, the Weatherby Mark V
brought great recognition to the Weatherby
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.
Designed in 1957 by Eugene Stoner, the AR-15 was chambered for the relatively new (at the time) 5.56x45mm NATO round and was supremely lightweight in comparison to other battle rifles of the era.
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