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Who Invented The AR-15?

Most gun enthusiasts are also history buffs. We are all at least somewhat familiar with the inventor of the AK-47's and his lineup of rifles - Mikhail Kalashnikov. Maybe it is because the "K" in the rifle's name helps remind us of the K in Kalashnikov, or perhaps it is because Mikhail Kalashnikov made one heck of a rifle that still has a very active fanbase.

Whatever the reason, there is another inventor, one that has had an even more popular impact on modern-day sporting, military, and law enforcement rifles. You may recognize the name, but did you know that he is the inventor of the AR-15 platform? He is also the inspiration for all of the other AR-style platforms that came after his, and his name was Eugene Stoner. In America, his name should be more recognized than Kalashnikov, after all, he is the man that invented America's Rifle.

EUGENE STONER

Eugene Stoner's legacy is that of a real American success story. Born in Gosport, Indiana in 1922, his family moved to Long Beach, California where he attended high school. With nothing more than a high school education, he began working at the Vega Aircraft Company. His job there was installing armament.

From the very onset of his professional career, he seemed destined to change the world. With America involved in another war, Stoner enlisted in the United States Marine Corps. He spent time in the South Pacific as well as in Northern China.

Maintaining his steady path to greatness, after WWII ended, Stoner found work in a machine shop. His hard work was rewarded, all the way up to becoming one of the shop's design engineers. With newfound success, he decided to step out of the smaller shop and was hired as a chief engineer for Fairchild Airplane Corporation. At the time Fairchild Airplane Corporation was a division of ArmaLite.

There, he began to work on some of his first assignments. Most of the projects were small arms prototypes. Although the projects never went into production, they were prototypes that led to a firearm that would change the world of rifles forever. There was one, however, that found its way into production and was actually adopted by the United States Air Force and implemented as a survival rifle.

Fresh on the heels of success with the Air Force survival rifle, Stoner moved on to his next design, the ArmaLite AR-10. Chambered in 7.62x51mm NATO, the AR-10 was a breakthrough; lightweight, easy to run, and compact in size. This new design by Stoner seemed to be a shu-in for the U.S. Army's competition for a new war rifle. Not necessarily for performance reasons, but more because of the AR-10's late entry into the Army's cycle of testing of all potential candidates, the ArmaLite’s AR-10 was beaten out by what would later be known as the M14.

Colt Defense AR-15 A4

THE DEVELOPMENT OF THE AR-15

The ArmaLite AR10 stayed in the mind of the U.S. Army. Except for the late entry into the testing cycle, Stoner's design of the AR10 had indeed impressed the Army. Wanting some modifications to the AR-10, the U.S. Army commissioned Stoner to create a platform like the AR-10 but with a smaller caliber cartridge, and slightly bulkier build to meet Army specifications. 

Making the requested changes gave Stoner's new design, the originally named Modified AR-10, the Army's approval. The new rifle eventually came to be known as the AR-15. And finally, the .223 Remington caliber AR-15 would become the U.S. Army's M16. In 1969, the new M16 became the service rifle of the U.S. Army.

Along with a modified cartridge, the new rifle became a favorite among the troops, but not without a few hiccups along the way. Fine-tuning continued on the platform.

In demonstrations for the military, the AR-15 proved superior in accuracy and power. Some of its capabilities included penetrating steel at 500 yards and offering a selection between semiautomatic and fully automatic firepower. In addition to those superior qualities, one of the major selling points for the military was the incredibly low failure rate of Stoner’s rifle. The U.S. Military ordered thousands upon thousands of the M16s for the troops, many of which are still in use today.

Ruger AR 556

THE TRANSITIONS

After enjoying many years of success, the ArmaLite Company would eventually sell the rights of the AR-15 rifle over to Colt Manufacturing. 

Colt offered, and Stoner accepted a position working for them in 1961. When he left ArmaLite, his design and development of cutting-edge firearms got a breath of fresh air and he went on to design several successful machine guns. 

At 63 years old, Stoner left Colt and co-founded ARES Incorporated of Ohio, where he updated his light machine gun design. 

After 11 years with ARES, Stoner left his company and joined forces with Knights Armament Company. KAC is a well-respected company to this very day. While at KAC, Stoner designed and developed a few more military-grade firearms. Most notably the SR-25 (Stoner Rifle) which became the sniper rifle of the United States Navy. 

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STONER vs. KALASHNIKOV

It is a long-standing belief that Eugene Stoner and Mikhail Kalashnikov were fierce competitors. I hate to be a wet blanket and dull that story down, but the truth is that they were anything but competitors. 

Seven years before Stoner passed away in 1997, the two actually met for the very first time. In May of that year, the two were invited to observe a new firearms test at the Marine base in Quantico, Virginia. The two became instant friends, exchanging their ideas and sharing similar interests. Both had equal admiration and respect for each other.

FITTING TRIBUTE

As a Soldier, Patriot, and Proud American, Stoner was laid to rest in Quantico National Cemetery after his death in 1997. With his legendary respect as an American rifle designer, he would be remembered as the man who changed the landscape of the firearm force for the military. Leading us in battle, many times since his death, he will always be remembered affectionately as the man who created America's Rifle. 

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