Go look in your safe. Do you own one of the top 10 handguns ever made? Chances are you do.
We’ll take a walk back to the origins of the handgun and move forward to the present and look at some of the most notable handguns of the last 150 years. The first recognizable guns were developed by the Chinese in the 10th Century.
The fielding of the French Arquebus in the 16th century saw the first uses of reliable handgun-type weapons. Centuries later, the gun became the chosen weapon on the battlefield, not because of lethality, but practicality. Soldiers that were once trained for a lifetime to wield the sword or bow and arrow could now be trained in a matter of weeks on firearm marksmanship.
The handguns that evolved from the Arquebus went on to help win the West in America, and provide millions of citizens the ability to protect their persons and property.
Here are our pick of the 10 Greatest Of All Time handguns.
#1 Colt 1911 .45
The M1911 has been in service for nearly 120 years - an amazing feat in a world of planned obsolescence and poor designs. First used “en masse” during WWI, it has retained its popularity over decades and decades of use in combat, law enforcement and personal defense.
The 1911 pistol has its origins in the search for and development of a self-loading (semi-automatic) pistol that had the maximum knockdown power required on the modern battlefield of the 20th century. The 1911 was chambered in the Colt .45 ACP (Automatic Colt Pistol) which revived the .45 Colt which was a heavier round popularized during the Wild West of the previous century. The 1911 outperformed all other contenders in a shoot-off and was eventually adopted by the United States Army on March 29th 1911. The trusty semi-auto was first fielded in operations against Poncho Villa and has since been carried by infantry and cavalry men at Belleau Wood, on the sands of Iwo Jima, the jungles of Vietnam and currently in the Global War on Terror . The single stack design makes it popular with the “concealed carry” enthusiasts who find it easier to hide due to its sleek and slender design.
#2 Glock 19
Glock handguns, from Austria, have been top performers in reliability and safety for decades. The Glock Model 19, chambers the ubiquitous, and affordable 9mm Parabellum round - the most available handgun cartridge in the World. This sub-compact is a baby model of the popular Model 17 and It’s a practical firearm that is easy to use, no manual only passive safeties, and can be carried either on your hip or concealed, under your coat.
Why did the Glock become so popular, so quickly in the United States? Crime in the US in the 1980s had become more violent with criminals utilizing newer generations of semi-automatic and fully automatic weapons to fend off police from their nefarious acts. American police had been fielding 38 caliber wheel guns for decades and were searching for a reliable and performance based weapon that had a larger round capacity and provided smoother shooting. Today many criminal justice departments claim that a majority (60 - 70%) of their peace officers carry a Glock handgun as their primary sidearm . The Glock crazy spread from the law enforcement realm to civilian popularity due to its introduction by Bruce Willis in the second Die Hard movie with the actor making false claims that Glocks were porcelain and not detectable in airport X-ray machines. Nonetheless, Glocks, and especially the Model 19 grew in popularity not just in the US but around the world. The Model 19 is a tried and true weapon that will continue to evolve as Glock move to its Generation 5 firearm designs and beyond.
#3 Smith & Wesson Model 29
The fictional cop, Dirty Harry described the .44 Magnum perfectly. "Did he fire six shots or only five?" Well, to tell you the truth, in all this excitement I kind of lost track myself. But being as this is a .44 Magnum, the most powerful handgun in the world, and would blow your head clean off, you've got to ask yourself one question: "Do I feel lucky?" Well, do ya, punk? At that time the Model 29 was the most powerful handgun in mass production. After that 70’s movie, the Model 29 was tough to come by and many buyers were paying up to 3 times the retail price just to carry this legend.
The .44 Magnum’s roots came from the .44 Special and the loaders who were experimenting with heavier rounds and greater chamber pressures. The .44 Magnum revolver and semi-auto are still considered exceptional performers by firearms aficionados and experts.
#4 Beretta 92FS
This gun replaced the 1911 in 1986 as the sidearm of choice of the United States Military and was designated the M9. Chambered in 9mm Parabellum, this semi-automatic pistol is used by police forces around the world.
Many military members, like myself, complained about having our rugged and powerful .45 ACP 1911s replaced by the 9mm, however, over time, we found the weapon easy to shoot, clean and highly reliable. The 9mm round is the most ubiquitous and affordable round out there, providing for cheap range time and a respectable defense round. The movies Lethal Weapon and Die Hard introduced Americans to these reliable handguns and subsequently the Beretta’s popularity took off like a rocket in the civilian market.
#5 Colt Peacemaker
In the late 19th Century, shootists on both sides of the law turned to the Colt 1873 Peacemaker, chambered in the popular .45 Colt and .44-40 rounds. The single action (cock first then pull the trigger) six shooter was well balanced and fit in the hand very naturally.
Two hundred thousand of the hoglegs were produced, originally for the US cavalry, but they quickly caught on with lawmen, cowpokes, cattle thieves and just about everyone who travelled and toughed it out in the American West. The sixgun was frequently carried alongside the Winchester 1873 lever action rifle which also chambered the .44-40 round which enabled the shooter to carry just one type of ammunition on his belt.
You can’t miss the distinctive look of the Luger. This 9 mm Parabellum semi-auto represents the best engineering practices of the German and Swiss firearm manufacturing industry. This firearm was adopted as the military sidearm of choice by more nations than any other modern handgun.
The Luger has been noted by firearms experts and historians as being one of the most accurate, especially beyond close quarters, and most comfortable and natural to fire firearms of the last century. These prolific handguns were treasured by allied troops during WWII and were often kept as war trophies.
#7 Walther PPK
The make-believe secret agent’s handgun of choice was the Walther PPK, chambered in .380 ACP. The heavy and sturdy gun has been and will continue to be one of the top concealed carry pistols ever.
The PPK, or Police Pistol Detective Model, has been around for 80 years and is the forefather of the modern concealed carry pistol holstered by undercover officers and private citizens who require a durable and compact frame with the punch of a .380 ACP (Essentially a 9 mm short round). It lacks the power of the 9 mm and .38 Special rounds, but you can ask anyone who’s felt it’s sting and lived to tell about it if they ever want to be shot again by the .380 ACP.
#8 Wilson Combat X9
Of all the handguns listed here, the EDC X9 is the most modern, rolled out in 2017. It is the product of decades of research into what would make the most effective fighting pistols and we continue to the middle of the 21st Century.
The EDC X9, chambered in 9 mm, is touted as inheriting the best-of-breed features of previous successful models that have been fielded in combat and self defense. The three key features that a handgun owner is looking for are fit/feel, operation and capacity. Handguns are designed with these features in mind and tradeoffs have to be made. Wilson’s new offering excels by offering the mechanical operation of the 1911, a super-comfortable grip and the high capacity of a Glock. Surely this handgun is the “Best of Breeds.”
#9 Colt 1851
Some of the greatest names in the Old West holstered the Colt 1851 Navy. Two of the most notable were the gunfighter Wild Bill Hickcock, who gunned down 6 men with this six round, .36 caliber, cap and ball revolver. The other, Jesse James, delivered blow after blow in bank robberies wielding the .36 caliber.
This black powder pistol continued to be a popular sidearm well after the introduction of the modern self-contained bullet and cartridge. Over 250,000 of these guns were manufactured before, during and after the Civil War. Due to its popularity and use in combat during the War Between the States, the Colt 1851 is considered by many experts to be the first true “fighting man’s” handgun.
#10 Remington 1858
This Remington started out as a percussion revolver prior to the American Civil War. It was introduced as a heavy (or large) , 6 shot, .44 caliber, single action revolver, which was touted by many experts to be the most accurate and powerful handgun of their time.
One of the key advantages of this revolver was the easy to switch out cylinder which allowed for quick reloading of the weapon. Watch the final gunfight scene in the movie Pale Rider to get the drift. Clint Eastwood’s character carries the 1858 as his preferred sidearm. The preferred weapon of the Western legend, “Buffalo Bill” Cody, has been enhanced by drop-in conversion kits which allows the shooter to shoot conventional cartridges such as the .45 Colt and .45 Schofield without any major modification required to the frame.