At Rock Island Auction’s blog, Danielle Hollembaek discusses the firearms designs of Ferdinand Ritter von Mannlicher. He wasn’t John Moses Browning, but he did come up with some cool guns. The Mannlicher-Schonauer, for instance, is one of the all-time classic hunter’s rifles.
It is shocking how some of the most brilliant and creative minds in history can be almost completely forgotten. Ferdinand Mannlicher is one of these men whose innovations and historical contributions have been nearly lost in the depths of history. He was highly influential in the development of semi-automatic weaponry and a key founder of the Steyr-Mannlicher company, which was one of Europe’s leading firearms manufacturers. Unlike many famed firearm designers that improved upon already invented mechanisms, Mannlicher was a pioneer with his own original innovative designs in the late 19th century. His influence would have immediate impact on firearm designers for years to come.
Mannlicher was of Austrian descent and grew up in a military family. An engineer by trade, he had a perpetual interest in weapons development. He studied at the prestigious Vienna University of Technology in the 1860s, and from 1869 to 1887 worked as a railway engineer for two large transport systems in Austria. Mannlicher was a talented engineer, but he developed a passion for firearm innovation at a young age due to the Austro-Prussian War. The Battle of KÃ¶niggrÃ¤tz in 1866 sparked his interest since he was an adamant believer that Austria only lost the battle due to slow and inferior weaponry.
Mannlicher loved his country and wanted to aid his homeland in its fight for political freedom. He foresaw the rising tensions between Russia and Austria and had a strong intuition that when confronted, Russia had the manpower and advanced weaponry to overtake Austria. This deeply seated desire to help his country drove his visionary mind toward firearm design.
While still working as an engineer, Mannlicher began to draft designs for bolt action rifles. His first design for a turning-bolt action long gun (Model 1880) was too complex and expensive to succeed despite being a significant upgrade over the single-shot Werndl rifles of the time. Several iterations followed, though each failed due to either primitive metallurgy, inadequate cartridge cases, or a military that was either psychologically or financially unwilling to support the designs that were truly ahead of their time. Unfortunately, this would become a common theme for a man working so far ahead of the curve.
Despite the failures, a few breakthrough improvements led to the next incarnation of the gun. The development of his straight pull, revolving-bolt action rifle in 1884, led to the highly popularized straight pull, wedge-lock Model 1886 Austrian service rifle that the country used for around a decade. The improved version of this rifle, the M1888, was similar, but chambered to compete with new smokeless powder rounds seen elsewhere in Europe. The M1888 and the updated M1888-90 enjoyed great longevity and saw military use in numerous countries as late as 1950. By 1888, Ferdinand Mannlicher committed to firearms full-time and began designing more and more guns. He opened his own manufacturing plant in Steyr, Austria to produce his firearms.
Scarce Steyr Mannlicher Model 1885 Straight Pull Bolt Action Rifle
Mannlicher is most known for his creation of the en bloc clip loading system used in his later bolt action rifle designs. However, Mannlicher only developed the clip in 1885 because his concept of pre-loaded, detachable magazines was not yet an economically nor industrially feasible solution. You read that right, Ferdinand Mannlicher pioneered the concept that is nearly ubiquitous today in military arms of detachable, reusable magazines. When the idea of magazines was kaboshed, in a stroke of brilliance he came up with en bloc clips, an idea much easier for the government to financially swallow. The en bloc clip was the basis for John Pedersenâ€™s and of course the beloved M1 Garand, each which came decades later.
I hadn’t thought of it before, but contributing the en-bloc clip to the M1 Garand is, all by itself, a pretty significant achievement. PING!