Most fans of firearms would have little trouble naming the designers of the more prominent military rifles of 19th and 20th centuries – Mauser, Lee, Mosin, Arisaka, Mannlicher, Garand, Saive, Kalashnikov and Stoner are all familiar.
The weapons these inventor’s designed are instantly recognizable by simple designations : Gew. 98, obr. 1891g, Type 38, M1, AK47, FAL , M16, etc. But a bit of judicious study will show that, while not as well know today, there were any number of designers whose names and products were well known in their own time. To this list we must add such little known personages as Hotchkiss, Pedersen, Kropatschek – and Melvin Johnson.
Melvin Maynard Johnson, Jr. (1909-1970) became fascinated with guns in his youth, so much so that while still in his teens he wrote a number of articles on firearm design.
A native of Boston, Johnson did what many of that city’s bright young people do and attended Harvard University, graduating from that institution’s prestigious law school in 1934. But the specter of a legal career held little attraction for young Melvin especially after, as a lieutenant in the USMC Reserve, he attended the Marine Corps Weapons School in Quantico, Virginia.
Most of those fans I mentioned in the first paragraph of this report are well aware that the U.S. Army had a history of being rather conservative when it came to new developments in the field of firearms. In fact, they were one of the most hidebound of the services and over the years had looked with askance upon such “improvements” as percussion ignition, rifling, metallic cartridges, smokeless powder and fully automatic weapons.
This story was first published in the Sporting Shooter January 2010 issue of Sporting Shooter > January 2010.