Very few companies can brag about a nearly 500-year history. However, Beretta of Italy is the oldest continuously operated firearms manufacturer in the world. Its history dates back to before the individual Italian states even unified as one nation. Since its founding in 1526, Beretta developed a reputation for quality and a tradition of craftsmanship. While Beretta is perhaps most famous for its Model 92 family of 9mm Parabellum pistols, they are also renowned for making sporting firearms, largely shotguns. Beretta is still a privately owned family business, operated by descendants of the founding Beretta family.
The History of Beretta
The region around Gardone Valtrompia, home to Beretta, was famous for its iron ore deposits, and Beretta took full advantage of this bounty of raw materials. In 1526 Maestro Bartolomeo Beretta received an order for long gun barrels from the military of Venice. While Beretta operated a forge since 1500, this transaction was his first commercial sale. By the end of the 1600s, Beretta was one of the largest firearm barrel producers in the area.
As the Beretta business passed from generation to generation they continued making barrels until the end of the 1700s. In 1832, Pietro Antonio Beretta, a descendent of Maestro Bartolomeo Beretta, decided to rename the company after himself, to Fabbrica d'Armi Pietro Beretta.
Beretta begun firearms for various Italian clients before Italian unification in 1861. By the mid-1800s, Beretta they fully transitioned from the manufacture of barrels to complete firearms. After unification, Italy sought to prove itself as a powerful European nation and Beretta played an important role as the provider of firearms and military equipment.
The Model 1951 was Beretta's first locked breech pistol. Before this design, they produced compact pistols with blowback actions. Chambered in 9mm, the M1951 was single-action and fed from an eight-round magazine. Built from the mid-1950s to 1980, the M1951 was short recoil-operated and used a Walther inspired wedge lock action. Initial models featured an aluminum alloy frame; however, these were not robust enough under 9mm Parabellum recoil. After this challenge, production switched to a steel frame, and durability problems ceased. The Model 1951 proved to be a reliable and durable design.
Beretta exported the M1951 to numerous nations; however, it only saw limited service in its home country. The Italian Navy went on to adopt the pistol as well as a handful of smaller Italian law enforcement agencies. Today, the M1951 is a popular surplus pistol with a strong following.
After the end of WWII, Italy went about rebuilding its army and needed a modern service rifle to replace its outdated Carcano's used during the war. The American M1 Garand in .30-06 was a natural choice. Italy bought M1s from the US and eventually produced them at their own facilities. While the M1 was successful in Italian service, Italy soon joined NATO and needed a new rifle in the standard 7.62 NATO caliber.
The 7.62 NATO chambered BM59 rifle became Italy's new military service rifle. Adopted in 1959, the BM59 was essentially a 7.62 NATO M1 Garand that fed from detachable box magazines. Beretta initially built the BM59 out of original M1 Garand parts before manufacturing complete rifles from new parts. The Italian military continued to use the BM59s until the late 1980s.
In recent years, many BM59 parts kits found their way into the US. We had the pleasure of carrying BM59 rifles rebuilt to their near original condition (now semiautomatic only) by our partners at James River Armory. The BM59 is an extremely high-quality rifle that is appreciated by anyone that loves M1 Garands.
The Cheetah Pistol Family
Beretta designed the Cheetah line of pistols in the 1970s. These aluminum framed pistols were compact, blowback operated, and double-action. The range of handguns was numbered Model 81 through Model 89 (excluding a Model 88) and each model featured a different caliber and magazine capacity. Models 81 and 82 were both chambered in the small .32 ACP round. The Models 83 through 86 all stepped up to the larger .380 ACP for slightly more power. At the end of the line, the Models 87 and 89 were both chambered in .22 LR.
While US standards of the time considered these small pistols underpowered, many European police agencies got by just fine using small caliber, compact pistols. Users favored these pistols for compactness and low recoil. Now that most European law enforcement agencies are in the process of upgrading to polymer-framed 9mm Parabellum pistols, many of these Cheetah pistols hit the surplus market. For more information, be sure to take a look at my article on the Beretta 81 and make sure to pick one up today!
Model 92 Family
Beretta introduced the Model 92 in the 1970s as their first attempt at a double-stack 9mm service pistol. The model 92 incorporated a lightweight aluminum frame, double-action, and wedge lock recoil operating system. As time went on, Italian authorities requested a double-action model 92 with a decocker which became the Beretta 92S. These pistols have European style heel magazine releases.
Unwilling to let an opportunity pass them by, Beretta upgraded the Model 92 to the 92SB for the US Military's pistol selection trial in the 1980s. The 92SB's most notable change was that the European style frame-mounted safety changed to a more American friendly frame-mounted location. Beretta won the competition, and a modified 92SB became the M9. The M9 pistol served with US forces for over 30 years. Versions of the 92SB are still in production to this day, and they are available in numerous finishes, calibers, and sizes.
The Beretta 92 family of pistols is one of the most prolific handgun series ever made and for solid reasons. It has a large magazine capacity, it is lightweight, and it has a long service life if properly maintained. It serves with law enforcement and militaries around the world. The US Military only replaced its M9, a variant of the Model 92, in the last couple of years.
Beretta has stood the test of time by staying true to its roots of quality manufacturing. While all family businesses have their ups and downs, surely Beretta has at least a couple hundred more years of making some of the finest firearms in the world. Shop our extensive selection of Beretta handguns and long guns.