When you go back far enough, history has a tendency to get a little blurry. It’s hard to say who invented the first anything, let alone the first firearm. We can be fairly certain that it was invented in China. Chinese soldiers used spear-firing bamboo-barrel tube-guns around CE 1000. Pinpointing where the very first one was put to use or who invented it… that’s a little trickier.
The One and Only
Likewise the history of gun brands can be difficult to pinpoint. How do we define a company? Certainly there were plenty of places to buy guns all those years ago, but how many of those were organized? How many were dedicated gun-makers as we know brands like Remington Arms to be today?
The Oldest Gun Maker Still Standing
Fortunately, we can narrow the question down a bit and actually come up with an answer: The oldest gun manufacturer still standing today is Beretta. The company was founded in Italy in 1526, about five centuries ago, its first recorded transaction being the manufacture of around two hundred barrels for arquebus rifles. An early musket-style firearm that had to be propped up on a metal arm to stabilize the shot. These things were a far cry from the elegant hunting rifles you see today, these were basically just miniature cannons. They were small enough to carry, with a kick like a mule. That’s not an exaggeration either. They actually kicked with the strength of a mule!
These early arquebus rifles were prone to overheat and actually explode if not properly cared for. Their slow rate of fire demanded a “continuous fire” method, with one line of soldiers and then the next firing their rifles, and then the next and so on, while the first line reloaded. This necessitated the creation of the oldest gun brands in the world. Simply put, there was no way to produce enough guns in a simple workshop to supply an entire army. Beretta being the first and only to mass-produce weapons and parts in great enough supply to equip armies.
Around five hundred years later, Baretta is still owned by the same family today.
Still Kicking: The Colt M1911
As for the oldest firearm still in production, it doesn’t date back nearly that far, considering the rapid evolution of firearm technology over the last hundred years or so. The honor goes to the Colt M1911, first used in 1911. The M1911 was the standard-issue handgun for the United States Armed Forces from the gun’s inception up to 1986. If you watch a war movie about WWI, Korea or Vietnam, you’ll see the exact same sidearm in every era. It remains very popular today among competition shooters and hunters. Not to mention home-defense purposes and yes, military use. The M1911 has essentially served as the prototype for most semi-auto handguns since. Some people swear by the original.
Every major firearm has its own fascinating history. Grab your favorite piece and do a little research. You might see some really interesting stories turn up.