John Browning's circa 1911 masterpiece, the Colt Government Model, was always sort of a long handgun, with a 5-inch barrel and 8.25-inch overall length. Truth be told, it was shorter than some of Browning's previous semi-autos, such as the Colt M1902, which came standard with a 6-inch barrel.
In response to an Army pistol trial in 1949 to replace the venerable "Two World War Winner" with something lighter and easier to tote around, Colt designed a shorter version of the M1911 that kept a full-sized grip (and could still use the millions of standard 7-shot mags floating around) while trimming down the barrel to 4.25-inches. Uncle Sam passed, but Colt introduced the new gun to the consumer market as the Commander and the format has endured since 1950.
By 1985, Colt introduced the Officer's Model ACP, which was a commercial version of the General Officer pistols created by the Army's Rock Island Arsenal the decade prior and a big name competitor to the Detonics Combat Master. As you may have guessed, this M1911-format pistol was even shorter than the Commander series, running a 3.5-inch barrel and correspondingly abbreviated slide. Unlike the Commander, the Officer's Model used a shorter grip as well, cutting the standard magazine capacity down to 6 rounds of .45 ACP.
Then came the Colt Defender in 1998, which took the platform even shorter, running a 3-inch barrel.
As an answer to the Defender, Springfield Armory introduced its own Micro Compact models in 2002. Chambered in .45 ACP only, it had a 3-inch tapered barrel without a barrel bushing and used a 6-shot magazine. A Carry model, with plain wood grips, a matte finish, and Novak Lo-Mount night sights, was only made for a single year. The GI model had a parkerized finish, military profile sights, and checkered diamond walnut grips with "U.S." initials. Plus – and a feature no Colt Defender ever had – it came complete with a lanyard attachment, a feature that dated back to the original M1911.
Today, Springfield's shortest M1911-style pistol is the EMP, which has a 3-inch barrel and uses dual captive recoil springs and a full-length guide rod but is only offered in less Earth-shattering 9mm.