A great many handguns have been produced in this world since the dawn of gunpowder. Until the mid-eighteen hundreds, these weapons were produced singly or in small batches by gunsmiths or national armories. Manufacture relied heavily on hand fabrication and fitting of pieces. This all changed with the industrial revolution, which ushered in machine-produced components, allowing for interchangeable parts.
The advent of the self-contained cartridge further simplified weapons resulting in faster production. Armies of the world purchased massive quantities of these new weapons, as did civilian consumers. We will look at the most popular of these weapons and their competitors.
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Smith & Wesson Model 10
The Model 10 is the top contender for the title best-selling handgun of all time. Originally debuting in 1899 as the Hand Ejector and then the Military & Police, the Model 10 has been in production ever since (with a short stop in production from 2010 to 2012). More than 6 million of these revolvers have been produced in various configurations. This is possibly the highest production number for a single model of handgun ever produced. And one of the longest continuous production runs for a sidearm.
The Model 10 is chambered in .38 Special and has been available in barrel lengths from two to six inches. Normally seen with a slim barrel, a version was produced with a heavy-walled barrel and chambered in .357 magnum. This version was Model 13. The Model 10 is the basis for the entire K-frame series made by Smith & Wesson.
Procured in 1899 for use in the Philippine Insurrection, the Model 10 went on to serve the US Armed Forces for the next 96 years. The Model 10 was finally phased out in 1995, after being present in every major U.S. conflict through Desert Storm. The trim little revolver was a favorite of pilots and aircraft crewmen from World War Two through Vietnam. The slim Model 10 (at that time still the M&P) was lighter and less bulky in a shoulder holster than the 1911, an important consideration for long hours in the cockpit.
Designed from the outset as a duty weapon, the Model 10 served ably in this role as the issued sidearm for numerous police agencies and militaries throughout the world. Over 35 countries adopted the little revolver, with some using it into the 21st century. As a testament to its reliability and appeal, Agencies in Hong Kong, Myanmar, and Peru still use the Model 10.
Hickock45 gives his take in the video below.
Undeniably the most influential and popular handgun design of the late twentieth century, Glock handguns, specifically the model 17, are the spiritual successors to the old Smith & Wesson Model 10. Adopted by scores of military and police forces around the globe, Glock pistols have become a standard by which others are judged.
Total production of all Glock models exceeds six million. With its unwavering popularity, it would not surprise me if the models 17 and 19 each surpass this milestone in the next couple of decades.
Like the Model 10 before it, the Glock pistol was not revolutionary mechanically compared to its contemporaries but was the combination of every good idea in handguns blended with design input from military, police, and civilian users. The pistol made extensive use of polymer for its construction and was one of the first to do so. This combination of lightweight and high capacity kicked off the “wonder-nine” frenzy of the mid-1980s and continues to be the dominant influence in handgun design today, with no sign of abating.
This little soviet workhorse was any incredibly prolific pistol. Over five million units were produced at the Izhevsk factory alone. Total production estimates range as high as ten million for all factories and variants.
Formally adopted in 1951 and still in service today, the Makarov is a simple and reliable pistol consisting of only twenty-seven parts less magazine. Heavily influenced by the Walther PP, the PM was designed with an emphasis on safety and ease of use.
A testament to the soundness of the design, it was used by forty-seven different countries, with many producing their own copy under license.
Several other pistols came close to making today’s list. In the three to five million total production range we have the Walther PP/PPK, the 1911, and the Beretta 92. The total number of 1911’s may be higher with the number produced in recent years for US domestic production.
Conclusion – Best Selling Handgun of all Time?
Nailing down the best-selling handgun of all time is somewhat tricky. Not a lot of data on production and civilian sales is published on the web. It would not surprise me a bit if in the future, the Glock series and the 1911 take over the top spots by a wide margin. Unless, of course, something even more revolutionary comes to market.