Colt 1911: A History and use in Modern Times

Everyone who is interested (even a little bit) in historical weaponry is somewhat or fully familiar with the Colt 1911, an 8-inch, 39-ounce weapon used by the American Military during their many wars throughout recent US history, such as Vietnam, Korea, and both World Wars and is essentially a household name in the weapons community. The 1911 has been used by soldiers as a sidearm, and it is still sometimes issued to officers in the U.S. Military. Now for anyone unfamiliar with this small, compact weapon, here is a quick history lesson.  As a side note if you are interested in firing one of these weapons there are 1911 airsoft pistol Canada available for purchase at Forest City Surplus.  The models with blowback action provide incredible realism.

The M1911 pistol can trace its origins back to the late 19th century, specifically in the 1890s. The U.S. Military was already using revolvers of all sorts, such as the Remington, Colt, and several other types.  In the 1890s, the U.S. had adopted two new service rifles: the M1892, also known as The Krag Jorgensen (a Norwegian Weapon utilized by the U.S. Military), and the M1895, also known as the Winchester Lever Action Rifle. Military leaders wanted a new sidearm to go along with the rifles, as revolvers were going out of fashion. According to Sam Bocetta in his article, “The History of the Beloved Colt 1911 Pistol,” several self-loading pistols were tried, such as the 7.65mm Luger, which emerged as a favorite among the military brass. The U.S. would realize, however, that there was no pistol in their arsenal that was powerful enough for jungle warfare. The military learned this while fighting the Moro Guerilla fighters during the Philippine-American War (1899-1902), which the U.S. won despite the difficulty of fighting the guerilla forces.

Specifications were laid out for a new sidearm. The U.S. stated that it should be “no less than a .45 caliber.” Six manufacturing companies submitted designs for the new weapons: Colt, Bergmann, Savage Arms Company, Knoble, Webley,  and White-Merrill (Bocetta). Three companies were eliminated during the early testing stages. After several more series of tests, Colt emerged as the winner due to its superior reliability. One example of this is when during a test, 6,000 rounds were dispensed from a single Colt pistol. According to Sam Bocetta, when it got hot, it was dunked into a bucket of water to cool it down. Despite being dunked in water, it did not jam, proving that this weapon could be used reliably and efficiently in combat.

The Colt 1911 was officially adopted by the U.S. Military on March 29, 1911 and soon after by the U.S. Navy Corps in 1913 (Bocetta). By the beginning of the First World War, 68,000 were already in service. Large demand for the weapon resulted in contracts being granted to other manufacturing companies. No huge changes were made to its design due to its performance during World War 1. Sights were added and external changes were made for troops with smaller hands, but the core mechanics stayed the same. Even today, the 1911s produced have interchangeable parts.

According to Bocetta World War 2 saw a huge expansion in demand for the Colt 1911.  Almost two million 1911s were produced by several manufacturers, similar to the output during World War 1. The wooden grip was replaced with a plastic one to save money, but the pistol kept its original design throughout. Bocetta states that despite being 30 years old by the time of World War 2, the 1911 was still one of the best and most reliable handguns during the war, and it won many converts. British Commando Troops and South African Special Forces preferred the Colt 1911 over the standard issue weapons.

After the Second World War, the pistol continued its service. It was used during the Korean War and the war in Vietnam. Despite trials commencing for new pistols, the Colt 1911 survived and was utilized during both Gulf Wars. According to Bocetta, during the Gulf Wars, it was used mainly by Special Forces troops who required the highest amount of power in a pistol. Nevertheless, the U.S. considered replacing the Colt 1911 in standard service. Wars the U.S. was getting involved in were changing, and the preference for using N.A.T.O. supply lines meant that people started feeling as if the 9mm pistol was the way to go (Bocetta). After extensive trials, the Beretta 92F was eventually chosen. However, Bocetta notes that in the field soldiers found that the Beretta lacked the stopping power of the .45 1911. This was of concern to the Special Forces. Therefore, the 1911 was modified heavily, to make it closer to modern day side-arms.

Bocetta states that the Colt 1911 in the modern day has been largely retired from military use, but it is still commonly used by police forces, Swat Teams, and the FBI (commonly paired with commander holsters). Veterans of several wars fought with this weapon owed their life to the sidearm, and it is quite popular with the civilian population too. In the U.S., it is the most common weapon among gun enthusiasts. Concealed carry users are quite fond of the weapon due to the single stack magazine that makes it easier to conceal than other handguns. The pistol is prized for its reliability as well.

In Canada, the Colt 1911 just as popular as in the U.S. It is especially popular in the airsoft community, being used in matches all across the country. Of course, Canada has very strict gun laws, so obtaining the firearm version can be complicated. It is also much more expensive than the airsoft 1911 pistol as compared to a normal Colt 1911. You can get an airsoft pistol through Forest City Surplus.  It’s one way that you can honour the troops who used the same weapon serving their country in the military.


Bocetta, Sam, “A Short History of the Beloved Colt 1911 Pistol”,, Small Wars Journal, January 11th, 2018,to%20other%20manufacturers%20as%20well

.Wikipedia contributors. “M1911 Pistol.” Wikipedia, 25 Nov. 2020,’s_Model

Engen, Scott, “The History of the 1911 Pistol” ,, Browning, January 24, 2011

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