Garand: The Man Behind the Legend

By Tom Laemlein
Posted in #Guns #History
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Garand: The Man Behind the Legend

March 17th, 2020

6 minute read

Not all of America’s wartime heroes fought on the battlefield. In the case of John Cantius Garand, his heroic work was done in the confines of that era’s Springfield Armory, and his genius design gave American infantrymen an important advantage on the battlefields of World War II and later the Korean War.

John C. Garand and his incredible brainchild, the U.S. M1 rifle. Image: SANHS

Garand’s legacy of inspired engineering gave American troops the U.S. rifle, caliber .30, M1. Many refer to it as “the M1”. Others call it “the Garand”. General George Patton described it as “the greatest battle implement ever devised.” Whatever the nomenclature, official or colloquial, the M1 rifle is an American legend, along with its designer.

Garand inspects an M2 flash-hider on the M1 rifle in 1946. Image: SANHS

North of the Border

John Garand was born on a farm in Quebec, Canada on January 1, 1888. His actual first name was St. Jean le Baptiste, and English was not his first language. After his mother died in 1899, his father moved the family, all twelve children, to Connecticut. Young John was particularly bright, and he quickly learned English, along with some engineering skills while working at a textile mill. A job at a shooting gallery inspired his interest in firearms and how to make them. Garand became a toolmaker and began to design firearms as a hobby.

John Garand in the model shop during September 1941. Image: SANHS

When America entered World War I in the spring of 1917, U.S. Ordnance soon solicited designs for a new light machine gun, and Garand offered a concept that attracted the interest of the War Department. The Great War ended before Garand’s prototype was produced, but the folks at U.S. Ordnance thankfully recognized talent when they saw it — Garand was hired as an engineer at the government’s Springfield Armory in November 1919. Within a year John Garand became a naturalized U.S. citizen.

John C. Garand shows off the excellent balance of the M1 rifle. Image: SANHS

A Steady Pace

Even with the excellent M1903 Springfield rifle in service and a World War already won with that rifle (along with the M1917 “Enfield”), the U.S. military was thinking ahead. Once assigned to the Springfield Armory in Massachusetts, John Garand was given the responsibility of designing a new semi-automatic, gas-operated infantry rifle.

Garand is shown here posing with his invention during August 1939. Image: SANHS

His early efforts showed a great deal of promise, and Garand would eventually patent his “Semiautomatic, Caliber .30, M1 Rifle” during 1932. However, it would take until January 9, 1936, for the U.S. Military to officially adopt the promising rifle. The M1 rifle was introduced rather slowly, and mass production did not begin until 1940 while America watched as Europe tore itself apart again during the early stages of World War II.

Garand at home in Springfield, Massachusetts with his children during October 1943. Image: SANHS

It is important to note that Garand did not receive royalties for his famous rifle, as he transferred all rights to his inventions to the U.S. government in January 1936. Apparently, he felt that his salary as an engineer was enough.

An early design of the Garand semi-auto rifle, seen during 1922. Image: SANHS

Ultimately, more than 6.5 million M1 Garand rifles were produced. John Garand worked at the Massachusetts Springfield Armory until he retired at age 65 in 1953. He remained in Springfield, Massachusetts and was a regular visitor to that armory during the rest of his life.

The early Garand rifle equipped with a 40-round magazine. Image: SANHS

Thinking Ahead

The post-World War II “light rifle program” saw the U.S. Military thinking ahead again. Even as the armory was upgrading his M1 rifle design to what would become the M14 rifle, Garand was designing an entirely new weapon in the shape of a radically different “bullpup” configuration.

John Garand with the last M1 rifle off the production line, in 1957. Image: SANHS

The light rifle program began during late 1945 to develop a new rifle that used the T65 cartridge — the early version of what would become the 7.62x51mm “NATO” cartridge.

Garand’s design was dubbed the T31 and it used a bullpup style, featuring a 20-round magazine and selective-fire capability (with a projected 600 rpm cyclic rate). The magazine of the design would be the only part of the T31 to move forward as it became the magazine used in the T44 rifle, that would ultimately become the M14.

Garand poses with an experimental 5.56mm bullpup rifle during a 1962 visit to Springfield Armory in Massachusetts. Image: SANHS

The T31 returned to Garand’s earliest M1 rifle design with its use of a complex gas trap system. The barrel was surrounded by a sealed cylinder (that also served as a handguard). It was hoped that the redirection of the T31’s muzzle blast would dampen the firing report and reduce recoil.

Cooling the handguard and dealing with significant carbon build-up were two of the significant problems experienced with the T31 prototypes. Garand was rumored to have been working on a second-generation T31 design (with a more conventional gas system) at the time he retired in 1953.

John Garand with a presentation M1 rifle with a maple stock in 1952. Image: SANHS

An Enduring Legend

The M1 rifle is one of the most famous American firearms of all time. Despite the firearm’s fame, many people can’t even pronounce its designer’s name. John Garand’s last name rhymes with “errand,” in case you were wondering. Garand took on his ordnance mission and delivered an enduring legend among battle rifles.

John Garand with Major General Wesson and Brigadier General Stewart during May 1943. Image: SANHS

Even so, Garand never rested on his laurels, and he never attempted to parlay his engineering design success for the U.S. government into financial success for himself in the private sector. His example of personal dedication, to his craft, to quality, and to his country set him apart as an inventor.

John Garand (right) looks over an M14 equipped with a blank firing adapter in 1962. Image: SANHS

The M1 rifle was a breakthrough in military small arms and it supported American troops in combat through World War II and the Korean War. But America and John Garand kept working and moving forward. The venerable M1 evolved into the magazine-fed, selective fire M14. Garand worked on new, dramatically different concepts. John Garand found a home in the United States and paid his country back with a rifle that kept us strong and free.

Images (above) from John Garand’s patent application for a semi-auto rifle in 1930. Images: U.S. Patent Office

The Tradition Lives On

Garand’s genius led us from the M1 Garand to the M14, a rifle that took the M1 design into the future with its 7.62x51mm chambering and detachable magazine system. While the M14’s mainline military service era might have been short, it led to the creation of the civilian-legal semi-automatic M1A rifle from today’s Springfield Armory.

The Springfield Armory M1A gives civilian shooters a chance to own a civilian-legal, semi-automatic version of the M14 rifle.

Made in Geneseo, Illinois, the M1A is a faithful semi-auto-only rendition of the classic military model of the M14. The result is an outstanding rifle that has excelled on the competition fields and gives civilian shooters a chance to own a rifle inspired by this classic military rifle.

Available with either a classic walnut stock or a rugged black composite stock, the M1A guarantees that the legacy of the classic American battle rifle lives on in your hands.

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Tom Laemlein

Tom Laemlein

Tom Laemlein is a historian. While that might sound mind-numbingly awful to some, he enjoys it. His deep dives into historical research keep him (mostly) out of trouble and, yet, too often away from the rifle range. Tom is the author of more than 30 books on military history and weapons systems. He regularly contributes articles to national magazines and websites on military history and firearms topics, and historical photos from his collection are used by publishers around the world. In those times that he is cornered in a corporate environment, he will talk about marketing until he is released. Tom is married to a very patient woman, and they live on America’s North Coast, near Lake Ontario. His regular misadventures with Wally, his young Tibetan Mastiff, remind him that life must be enjoyed full-bore, at least until you are ready for a nap.

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