Evolution of the 1911 in Pictures

The evolution of the 1911 started in 1898 with the pistol that became the Colt Model 1900. Chambered in .38 Auto, it was a locked breech, short recoil operated pistol that sported a twin linked barrel…one fore and one aft…and a non-tilting barrel.

The Colt Model 1900

The next step was the Model 1905…the first one chambered for the .45 Auto cartridge which consisted of a 200-grain jacketed RN bullet loaded to an advertised 900 fps. The 1905 was essentially a shortened Model 1900 with little else changed. It retained the twin links, non-tilting barrel, and rear slide dismount of the Model 1900.

Utilizing the 234-grain bullet loaded to 830 fps, the recoil forces of the new .45 cartridge proved to be too much for the relatively fragile M1905, and unwrapped them quickly in the hard tests required by the US military. The 1905 saw success in the commercial market when put to limited use, and many remain in serviceable condition today.

The Colt Model 1905

Another attempt to enable the pistol to stand up to the new cartridge brought the Model 1907 to light, with beefing up in key areas to stand up to the cartridge…which failed. The 1907 retained the same twin-linked barrel and rear slide dismount. The grip safety appeared on the Model 1907 as an incorporated part of the design.

It was becoming more apparent to Colt and to John Browning that a complete redesign would be needed in order to deliver the .45 caliber automatic pistol that the US Army had requested. The Model 1907 was never produced in large numbers, and thus saw only limited sales on the civilian market.

The Colt Model 1907

In the Model 1909, we start to see the pistol that finally became the 1911. The 1909 had the familiar single link tilting barrel and front slide dismount of the 1911. The grip safety was retained, and the new pistol held up to the cartridge well enough to warrant limited military issue…but it still needed work as lower barrel lugs fractured at the junction with the barrel within 5,000 rounds.

The Colt Model 1909.

The Model 1910 was actually a prototype 1911, with only eight produced. This one held up to rigorous testing…but the US Army Ordnance Board had one final request. They wanted a manual, slide locking safety for the horse-mounted cavalry. The pistols were returned, and six of the original eight were retro-fitted with the now familiar thumb safety and returned for evaluation. It was accepted, and the date set for the now famous 6,000 round trial that resulted in the adoption of the Model of 1911 US Army.

The Colt Model 1910.

A word on the .45 Auto cartridge.

It wasn’t…as is widely believed and often claimed…an attempt to duplicate or even approximate the ballistics of the .45 Colt round…which in its original 40-grain loading drove the 255-grain lead bullet to 970 fps. The original loading made the 1873 Colt SAA the most powerful handgun in the world…at distinction that it held until the .357 Magnum came along 62 years later.

The .45 Auto was meant to duplicate the ballistics of the shorter .45 Schofield cartridge that consisted of a 230-grain lead round nosed bullet at an advertised 750 fps. The thing is that those figures were derived from firing the Schofield cartridge in a .45 Colt chamber, which…with its long jump to the barrel…caused it to lose velocity. When fired in the Schofield revolver, the bullet’s velocity was (nominally) 810 fps, which is…for all practical purposes…the .45 Auto’s ballistic twin.