100 years ago, Wednesday 29 March 1911, the federal government did something right.
I am not here to say that was the first time, or even the last time, that the federal government did something right. But I am willing to bet that it never did anything else quite so right as adopting of John Moses Browning's single-action, magazine-fed, recoil-operated pistol in .45 ACP as the official sidearm of the United States' Army -- Model 1911. Certainly if getting it right were a highly prized a federal virtue, then there would be a General William Crozier Medal for Meritorious Purchasing, since it was Gen. Crozier, as Army Chief of Ordnance, who brought the pistol into service.
JMB's* genius was, admittedly, evolutionary rather than revolutionary, and he would make changes in other models right up until his death 15 years later. But I don't think he can be said ever to have improved the original operation of the gun, a symphony of contained violence, as fewer than 50 moving parts mesh and engage and disconnect with the sort of timing and precision we now seem to replicate only via computer chips. Indeed, despite its Twentieth Century designation, there is something decidedly Nineteenth Century about the industrial beauty of the system. An excellent set of drawings and explanations can be found here. An animation can be found here.
In practical terms, what this operation means is that almost any shooter is going to shoot better (with more practical accuracy) with a 1911 than with almost any other pistol. That is why, despite even JMB's "improvements" in later designs, many elite shooters choose a 100-year-old pistol design, when the national championship -- or the national security -- is on the line.
Finally, not only is the operation of the pistol a wonder to behold, the 1911 is rightly considered an aesthetic** classic in its original form, or in its modern defensive iterations,
or even when the design becomes merely a skeleton beneath the flesh of a tricked-out race gun.
Yes, it's true. I have said before that firearms are best appreciated and evaluated strictly as tools, with no mind-clouding emotions permitted.***
But let's be honest. Who among us can hope to look so good at 100?
* Jargon is how members of a group -- doctors, sailors, fighter pilots, fantasy football aficionados -- distinguish themselves from those outside the group, without having to buy expensive embroidered jackets. So "gun guys" abbreviate his name like this. And we know who we mean when say "Col. Cooper" or Mozambique. I'm happy to share these bits of the code with you from time to time, but you have to promise not to embarrass me.
**JMB is spinning in his Ogden, Utah grave at the very notion that aesthetics were any consideration when he designed weapons. But in designing weapons that worked beautifully, he necessarily designed beautiful weapons.
*** Do I contradict myself?
Very well then I contradict myself,
(I am large, I contain multitudes.)
"Song of Myself"