The last 100 years are full of new handguns developed from older models as well as newly developed, and of course refined and improved versions of old designs. To find the best out of this dazzling array of guns is no easy task, but we have tried our best, and here you get some of the best choices of the last 100 years.
Yes, that is our first model on the list, and it would not be a complete list without it, the Colt M1911 designed by the legend himself, by John Moses Browning. The Colt 1911 pistol was introduced in 1911 to replace the weaker .38 caliber revolver then in use by the US Army during the Philippine Insurrection. Chambered in .45 ACP, it managed to make an impression and stayed with the US military for a long, long time.
The 1911 was the first semiautomatic handgun in use with the US military marking the permanent end of the service revolver. It came with a weight of 2.4 pounds and a magazine capacity of 7 rounds. In 1924, the 1911 was updated to the 1911A1 to increase ergonomics.
To this day, 1911-style handguns are in widespread use. This gun has many fans, and much going for it. It is very powerful and at the same time easy to control when shooting. It is very reliable and accurate enough to do the job.
With the end of the patent of the 1911, many major US gun manufacturers turned to produce their own version of it, and even the military did not forget its love for it. In 2012, the US Marine Corps Marine Special Operations Command chose the Colt M45A1 for adoption, an update of the 1911A1.
7. The Browning Hi-Power
This list would also not be complete without the great competitor of the original 1911 design, the Browning Hi-Power. As you might have guessed from the name or just know already, this gun has also been designed by the legend John Moses Browning. He was in fact competing with himself as he had sold all his right to the 1911 design to Colt and had to come up with a new design working around the original patent. The result is a pistol that is as the 1911 here to stay, and a great success on the military and civilian market. More than 50 militaries worldwide adopted this gun at one time or another.
One big advantage of the Hi-Power and the source of its name is the capacity. At the time of its introduction in 1935, pistols with a capacity of 8 rounds were normal. The Hi-Power, however, came with 13 rounds in the magazine making it the first wonder 9, a pistol chambered in 9mm with a high capacity. This is also the reason why it was called the Hi-Power because of the high firepower coming from the 13 rounds, not from the performance of the individual round.
Produced from 1935 all the way to 2018, there were even years when it was made by Nazi Germany when the Wehrmacht conquered the factory. Being short on pistols, they just decided to continue producing the Hi-Power and issuing it to their soldiers.
In 2018, after a time of lower and lower sales numbers, FN decided to discontinue the production of the Hi-Power. However, if you think that is it that this is the end of this legend of a gun, you are wrong. The news that this gun would not be produced anymore was too much. The shooting community reacted with a new spike in demand bringing some interesting results.
First, FN decided to produce it again, but not as the original gun or a clone thereof, but as a new model. There were some changes made, for example a new ambidextrous slide lock, an enlarged ejection part, and a simplified method of taking it down. Furthermore, the slide serrations are wider, and the magazine release can be reversed. Also, there are more colors available, and the capacity of the magazines is increased to 17 rounds. The MSRP of this new Hi-Power is $1,269 or more, depending on the exact model.
If this price or if the changes are off-putting to you, there are alternatives on the market. For example, the new spike in demand made Springfield Armory jump into the game with their SA-35. This take on the Hi-Power is closer to the original, but there are also some small changes. For example, the hammer spur has been redesigned to reduce the risk of hammer bite. Also, the capacity of the magazine has been increased to 15 rounds. However, this has not been achieved by increasing the size of it but rather through advancements in metallurgy. Even better, the MSRP is just $699.
While it is wrong to say that the Hi-Power is beginning to show its age, there are developments on the market, like optics or lasers, that might not go well with the original model. If you are looking for something more modern that also can handle a laser or light, you might want to choose the MC P35 OPS from Girsan. It sports a rail in front of the trigger guard. Also, you get a fiber optic front sight post, an enlarged beavertail, and an MSRP of $699.
The Wilson Combat EDC X9 is the evolution of the 1911 design into the new century effectively making it a 2011. For that, you get a high-capacity X-frame mated to a 1911 slide assembly. The result is gun with great ergonomics, super accuracy and very good reliability. Also, you get a high capacity of either 15 or 18 rounds.
You can tailor the ergonomics to your personal needs. That includes small or large back straps, small, medium, or long trigger pads and so on. The barrel has a length of 4 inches, and the gun weighs a little under 30 ounces when empty. The MSRP is $3,145.
The Glock 17 is another pistol without which this list would just not be complete. Where the 1911 brought the semiautomatic handgun into the US military, and has stayed with us for more than 110 years, and the Hi-Power brought the single-action pistols into the age of high-capacity, it is the Glock 17 that brought us the plastic wonder 9s. As a wonder 9, it comes with a high-capacity, in this case 17 rounds in the magazine. Being plastic, aka Polymer, means it is super light.
Apart from that, the Glock 17 has everything you need when it comes to a handgun. It is accurate, reliable, and easy to shoot. Add to this the beauty of simplicity, which is not just a question of aesthetics, and you have the almost perfect package. The simplicity also means that you as a shooter can almost do nothing wrong with it when push comes to shove. Having to defend yourself, it is easy to forget to disengage the safety, but for the Glock 17, there is no manual thumb safety. Just draw, point, and pull the trigger. That is the real beauty of simplicity.
The same simplicity comes into play after using it. It is very easy to take this gun apart and to clean it. There is nothing more you might want.
As the 1911 and the Hi-Power evolved over time, so did the Glock 17. The original design was all good and well, but some things were missing. Over time, new models were introduced to give us all that we wanted more. In the case of the Glock 19, it is a smaller pistol that is not too small, and that gets us the capacity we need. In this case, it is 15+1 rounds.
Being smaller means that it is easier to conceal. It also means, that the Glock 19 is lighter making it more comfortable to carry it all day long. Many shooters see it as the best of all Glocks, and the US Navy SEALS chose to adopt it as well as the US Army Rangers.
SIG Sauer developed the P226 from the P210 in order to compete for the replacement of the M1911A1 when the US Army was looking for a new sidearm. It lost to the Beretta M9, but that did not mean that it was out of the game. Instead, the high round counts for the Navy SEALS let to cracked slides for the M9 making the P226 be adopted with the SEALS instead. The called it the Mark 11, and soon, US police forces followed bringing about the success of this great gun.
The P226 is an all-metal handgun. It has a capacity of 15+1 rounds, and an overall length of 7.72 inches. The barrel length itself is 4.11 inches. Being a double action single action pistol, it features a decocking lever to lower the hammer in a save way.
The Smith & Wesson M&P was introduced in 2005. The M&P stands for military and police. From its design, it is a hybrid of the Sigma and the SW99. For that, it features a polymer frame, and a steel slide. The capacity of the magazine stands at 17 rounds, and the gun itself is striker fired. Thanks to built in Picatinny rails, you can mount lasers and lights, making it a great tool for self- and home-defense.
The gun is easy to shoot thanks to its low bore axis which reduces muzzle rise. That allows for fast follow-up shots if they become necessary. Very nice is the addition of a loaded-chamber indicator and ambidextrous controls. Coming with 4 different palm swells, it can be made to fit any hand size.
The CZ75 is easily one of the best handguns in the world, but it was not available for most of us. Introduced in 1975, this gun was based on the Browning Hi-Power. It is, however, not a copy as there are differences in design, but it does come with the appearance of the Hi-Power and works mostly like it.
Also chambered in 9mm, its magazine capacity is 16 rounds keeping it on par with today`s typical pistols. Being locked behind the Iron Curtain, it also could not secure a contract with the government, but when the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, it became available to the west. Today, it can be bought as the CZ 75BD. It is an updated design with a firing pin safety, an underbarrel rail, and a decocking lever. It is another good example of how far the original Hi-Power design from John Browning can go.
There you have it guys, some of the best handguns of the last 100 years. If you own or shot one of them, let us know in the comments and tell us how this gun works out for you.