Mannlicher – First double action semi-automatic pistol, first blow forward design, first Sig pistol, and first removable slide
Mannlicher Model 1894
Ferdinand Ritter von Mannlicher was an Austrian designer best known for his military rifles. Yet, he too designed a few early semi-automatic pistols, of which the Model 1894 was the most unusual. It coupled a blow-forward mechanism with a single-action/double-action revolver-type lockwork. Compared to the firearms with which we are now familiar, the mechanics seem counterintuitive. After firing, the rising gas pressure pushed the barrel forward while simultaneously propelling the spent case out of the chamber. Meanwhile, the next loaded cartridge, rising from the magazine, thrust the fired case against the ejector and out of the action. After firing, the barrel remained in the forward position until the trigger was released, a circumstance for which there does not seem to be a good explanation. Steyr made about 150 of these guns in 7.6 mm Mannlicher. Although they were tested by the Austrian and U.S. militaries, neither made any purchases. In 1897, the Swiss government had SIG make about 70 smaller pistols in 7.5 mm for military testing. Again, deemed unsuitable, the project was abandoned and never resurrected.
Mannlicher Model 1896, Model 1897/01
In 1896, Mannlicher designed a completely different single-action, locked-breech pistol in 7.65 mm Mannlicher whose prominent cocking lever on the right side of the frame was reminiscent of the Schoenberger-Laumann. The gun had a retractable bolt and could be fed through the top via a stripper clip or using a detachable box magazine. The earliest guns, sometimes referenced as the Model 1896, including the example tested by the Swiss military, had a fixed six- or seven-shot magazine. The majority of later examples, generally denoted as the Model 1897/01, had a detachable six-shot magazine. There were several variations, including a version with a tangent rear sight whose backstrap was modified to accept a hollow, leather-covered shoulder stock, and a carbine that could be had with a commercial stock or a military configured stock for a side-mounted sling. All were numbered in a single sequential serial range that approached 1,000.
Mannlicher Model 1898, Model 1899/1900
In 1898, Mannlicher patented yet another semi-automatic pistol that was completely different from the two predecessors. The new, single-action, blowback pistol in 7.63 mm Mannlicher had an easily separable slide and a frame whose lockworks were protected by a unique, wrap-around cover plate. Loading was from the top with an eight-round stripper clip. By 1899, the guns were made with a large safety lever mounted on the left side of the frame. Some consideration must have been given to fitting them with a shoulder stock as most had a slotted backstrap that the factory filled before their sale. Despite the presentation of embellished pistols to Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany and Sultan Abdul Hamid II of Turkey, the guns languished with an estimated production of fewer than 350 units. It was not until 1901, when the pistols were updated with a slide-mounted, hammer-blocking safety and disassembly improved to utilize a much more convenient lever lock, that sales began to blossom.