The Five Most Important Guns In American History


1. Kentucky Rifle

Martin Meylin has been credited with being the first great American gunmaker and inventor of the Pennsylvania long rifle—which was to become known as the Kentucky long rifle (“Kentucky,” in those days, being anything in the wilderness west of Pennsylvania). Meylin’s small cobblestone workshop still stands off a two-lane road in Lancaster. Local schools are named after him. Plaques have been erected in his honor. State politicians have even written legislation commemorating his contribution to American life. 

2. Colt’s “Peacemaker”

Like the Kentucky rifle, the revolver was a distinctly American invention. Unlike the Kentucky rifle, however, the revolver’s development, production, and initial popularity can be largely attributed to one man, Samuel Colt. The Connecticut native was not merely a mechanical virtuoso but a promotional and manufacturing mastermind who would become a template of the nineteenth-century American industrialist, epitomizing the exuberance and possibilities of the populist era of mid-1800s American life. 

3. Spencer’s repeating rifle

On August 18, 1863, the inventor Christopher Spencer arrived at the White House to meet President Abraham Lincoln, who was fascinated by the mechanics of new guns, with his rifle in hand. The president would later refer to the inventor as “a quiet little Yankee who sold himself in relentless slavery to his idea for six weary years before it was perfect.” 

4. The Browning 1911

On June 28, 1914, Gavrilo Princip, a Bosnian Serb, pulled a Browning pistol from his coat and shot twice, killing Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria and his wife, Sophie, the Duchess of Hohenberg. Before the nineteen-year-old was able to turn the gun on himself, a group of bystanders standing nearby on the Sarajevo street tackled him and grabbed the gun. The scene was mayhem. Franz Ferdinand’s bloody undershirt and Princip’s gun would end up in the hands of a Jesuit priest named Anton Puntigam, a close friend, who had performed the blood-soaked last rites on the archduke and his wife. 

5. Stoner’s AR-15/M-16

Eugene Stoner was nothing more than a gun hobbyist shooting off rounds of his strange homemade rifle on a local Southern California range during the summer, when executives for the struggling Los Angeles firm ArmaLite spotted the young man. Stoner, who was something of an aviation technology expert when the men first approached him in 1945, would become the chief engineer of the small gun manufacturer, embracing the kind of jet-age idealism that allowed it to break free of the constraints of traditional gun design.

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