Today is an important anniversary in U.S. military history. On this date 100 years ago, the U.S. Army formally adopted John M. Browning's .45 ACP (Automatic Colt Pistol) design and it is forever known as the M1911 (Model 1911).
Prior to 1911, the Army had used smaller caliber handguns, such as the .38 caliber revolver. This was proving to be ineffective in jungle warfare, especially during the Philippine-American War in 1902. In 1906, the Army announced trials to replace it's service revolvers with the new self-loading pistol technology. Several gun manufacturers submitted designs and, after rigorous testing, two designs remained -- a design by Savage Arms and a design by John M. Browning (and manufactured by Colt). 6,000 rounds were fired from a single pistol over the course of two days. When the gun began to grow hot, it was simply immersed in water to cool it. The Colt gun passed with no reported malfunctions, while the Savage design had 37. It was formally adopted on March 29, 1911.
The 1911 entered service later in 1911 with the U.S. Cavalry. It was adopted by the Navy and Marine Corps in 1913.
Originally manufactured only by Colt, demand for the firearm in World War I saw the expansion of manufacturing to the government-owned Springfield Armory and to Remington Rand.
The gun was the official firearm from World War I through Vietnam and was used in Operation Desert Storm by U.S. Army units and U.S. Navy Mobile Construction Battalions (Seabees) and in both Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom with U.S. Army Special Forces Groups. The Texas Rangers carried M1911s and many police departments carried it as their official (or unofficial) sidearm.
By the late '70s the 1911 was acknowledged to be showing its age. Congress pressured the military to standardize on a single modern pistol design and the U.S. Air Force conducted trials to select a new semi-automatic pistol using the NATO-standard 9mm Parabellum pistol cartridge. After trials, the Beretta 92S-1 was chosen. The Army contested this result and subsequently ran its own competition in 1981, the XM9 trials, eventually leading to the official adoption of the Beretta 92F on January 14, 1985.
Despite "losing" its designation as the official sidearm of the military, the M1911 is still used by many law enforcement agencies and is probably more popular than ever.
Beginning in the late '80s, a number of gunsmiths and "boutique" gun manufacturers began building custom M1911s based upon the original design. These manufacturers began adding new features and cosmetic changes that proved popular with collectors and hobbyists alike.
Today the M1911 is more popular than ever and many manufacturers are issuing special "centennial editions" of the classic M1911 such as the Ed Brown model below.