Gaston Glock’s Left Hand
Russ Chastain 09.03.14
There’s been some buzz of late concerning Gaston Glock, the unlikely inventor from Vienna, Austria who got filthy rich–and became the target of an assassination attempt–after dreaming up the world’s first reliable plastic pistol. His is an interesting story.
Once the manager of a vehicle radiator factory who tinkered in his garage making cutlery (bayonets and knives) for the Austrian army, the story goes that when he learned that the army was looking for a new handgun, he went to work. After buying a number of guns and examining them, he began cobbling up something revolutionary.
Legend has it that Gaston would test-fire his newly-invented pistols with his left hand, so that if a malfunction injured his hand, “he could still draw blueprints with his right.” I’m skeptical; reasonable folks are fond of both hands, so they test guns by firing them remotely. But hey, that’s just me.
His previous lack of firearms experience prevented any preconceived notions, so he saw the project through new eyes. I’m sure his factory experience helped when it came to design decisions as he kept things simple by confining parts into subgroups for easy assembly. His design also eliminated common external pistol controls like the safety and decocker, which kept things simple for shooters.
Glock’s use of plastic frames was one of his most revolutionary steps, and it paid off in spades. By using steel only where it was needed, he lightened up the pistol and significantly reduced manufacturing costs over machining frames from steel.
Good looks? Who needs ’em! Glock sure didn’t. His blocky, blonky gun was anything but handsome, but when he named it the Glock 17 (it was the 17th version he’d invented) and submitted it to the Austrian army for testing, it won out. And moreover, it won out against the likes of Sig Sauer, Beretta, Steyr, and H&K.
Gaston Glock was on his way.
A couple years later, Karl Walter discovered the Glock 17 while visiting his homeland. A native Austrian, Walter made his living by roaming the United States of America selling guns from a motor home. The ambitious RVer became the American marketer of the Glock pistol and set about putting it in the hands of movie stars and gun writers. His marketing worked, and millions fell in love with the Glock’s utility and simplicity despite its homely appearance.
In 1999, one of Glock’s shady associates (who’d been stealing from the company) arranged to have Gaston murdered. The attempt failed, but the resulting investigation showed Glock himself to be rather devious, both in avoiding taxes and in bribing American politicians. As Daniel Horan noted in his Wall Street Journal book review, the scandal didn’t hurt sales a bit; they’ve sold millions of guns and will likely continue to do so.
Also like Mr. Horan, I’m no lover of Glock pistols. I can get past the general ugliness and I certainly appreciate simplicity and functionality, but the grip angle is way off for me. Glocks just don’t point naturally; the front sight is always high when I extend my arm. I don’t have that problem with other pistols.
Whether you love them, hate them, or ignore them, Glock pistols have made a big difference in the shooting world over the past three decades, and they’re not likely to go anywhere anytime soon. For more info, check out the book “Glock: The Rise of America’s Gun.”
Interesting choice of title, considering that the gun and its inventor are Austrian, but American sales and popularity played a huge part in making Glock what it is today, so there’s that.