The U.S. Army has transitioned through over four dozen different types of sidearms since the American Revolutionary War, from a single-shot flintlock then to its newest semiautomatic with a 17-round magazine.
But one manufacturer continues to dominate the Army’s holster. Gunsmith Samuel Colt’s pistols have been used by the Army since 1847, when soldiers used the Colt Walker in the Mexican War. Today, the Marine Corps, Navy, and Army Special Forces use the M1911.
So what’s up next? Sig Sauer was awarded a 10-year, $580 million contract earlier this year to provide the Army with its M17 handguns. The first three units will begin receiving the M17 next month. These pistols will replace the M9 Beretta, which has been the Army’s sidearm for over 30 years.
Let’s take a look at how the Army’s sidearms have evolved:
1. The Colt M1847 Walker
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Designed by Colt with input from namesake Texas Ranger Samuel Walker, this six-shot .44-caliber monster saw but a year of service in the Army. Walker himself was killed in battle that same year, 1847, during the Mexican War. (History Net)
2. The Colt M1860 Army
Following up on his popular .36-caliber M1851 Navy, Colt introduced the more powerful .44-caliber Army. It proved the most widely used revolver of the Civil War. Nearly 130,000 were in service before an 1864 fire shut down Colt's factory. (HistoryNet)
3. Remington New Model Army
Exploiting Colt's misfortune, Remington ramped up production of its .44-caliber New Model Army, an arguably better (albeit more expensive) black-powder revolver than the Colt Army. Metallic cartridge sidearms soon replaced both. (National Firearms Museum)
4. Colt M1873 Single Action Army
Though Smith & Wesson provided the Army its first metallic cartridge firearm (the .45 Schofield Model 3), Colt regained the crown with its .45-caliber Single Action Army (aka "Peacemaker"), which remains the signature American "cowboy gun." (National Firearms Museum)
5. Colt M1892 New Army/Navy
Colt made history by supplying the military its first double-action sidearm, the M1892. When its .38 Long Colt ammunition proved unreliable at stopping drugged Moro warriors in the Philippines, the Army reissued the Single Action Army. (National Firearms Museum)
6. Colt M1911
Colt's John Browning beat all comers at the next Army trials with his innovative semiautomatic . 45 ACP M1911, which saw service through both world wars and into the 1980s. The powerful weapon remains a favorite of special operations units. (National Firearms Museum)
7. Beretta M9
At the height of the Cold War, the Pentagon sought a joint service sidearm with NATO-compliant rounds in the event of a European war with the Soviet Union. Beretta's 9 mm M9 - which held 15 rounds to the M1911's seven - fit the bill. (HistoryNet)
8. SIG Sauer M17
The modular M17 features a stainless steel fire-control unit within a fully interchangeable polymer frame, allowing the user to swap out different-sized grips, slides and even barrels in a range of calibers (9 mm-.45 ACP). (HistoryNet)
This article originally appeared in Military History, a Military Times sister publication. For more information on Military History, and all of the HistoryNet publications visit historynet.com.