In the arena of handguns, no gun enjoys as great of a mystique or quite so strong a passion as John Moses Browning’s M1911. Truly, this pistol is one of the first mass-produced handgun styles that brought the idea of field maintenance and shootability to the end user in quite this way.

Previous examples of semi-automatic pistols up to that point all were complex, difficult to service, and bulky. With the M1911, Colt and John Browning brought a big bore cartridge to an automatic pistol, and it forever changed the thinking on handguns.

A century of change

 When the Army first adopted this sidearm, it was a true sidearm. It was intended to be a backup if your main gun went down and you had to defend yourself at fairly close ranges. For that reason, the gun never had to be that accurate or tight, but it did have to run. And in that regard, the gun performed very well, and worked as it was expected to.

After the war, with a surplus of these guns and a popularity among vets returning home, custom gunsmiths grew up around the aftermarket to begin building these guns into more accurate, tighter, match-grade pistols. By refitting parts and machining parts that were oversized, adding metal here and there to beef it up and recut the frame rails and this piece or that, the gun found a niche in bullseye shooting in a big way. There really weren’t very many options other than this platform, and for that reason, it was the main focus.

By the time the 1980s rolled around, Colt’s Manufacturing wasn’t what it used to be. The guns it turned out were not built as well as they had been 40 years prior, with poor QC, poor fitting, and poor machining techniques. It was at this time more than ever that the 1911 earned a reputation of unreliability and needing a gunsmith tuneup to be the rule rather than the exception.

This was also the time when the patent on the gun ran out.

Gunsmiths turning a tidy profit taking colt guns and rebuilding them for competition or reliability got into the business of producing guns commercially, building pistols commercially with many of the changes that shooters wanted. And, from there, the knockoffs grew and grew and grew.

It’s a platform, not a brand

Fast Forward to the modern age of the 1911. Today there are over 50 manufacturers who all make some version of the 1911.