“The 1911 pistol remains the service pistol of choice in the eyes of those who understand the problem … Maybe the first thing one should demand of his sidearm is that it be unfair."
- Jeff Cooper, U.S. Marine & overall shooting legend
Not many things are promised in life, but I will guarantee you that these 1911s are in fact not typewriters or train signals. Now, that might seem like an odd statement, but these guns have an interesting history hidden below their well-kept exteriors. What they really are – aside from being great pistols – is a testament to America’s sheer industrial muscle in World War II.
The Union Switch & Signal 1911 and the Remington Rand 1911 are unique American products made in the patriotic drive to win the war. As the entire country pivoted to answer the clarion’s call, companies like Union Switch & Signal retooled to meet the needs of a nation at war. With two world wars in two successive generations, US&S had experience serving the wartime needs of the U.S. But it was a new hat for Remington Rand.
In World War I, Union Switch & Signal helped produce aircraft engines. Remington Rand, on the other hand, was established after the war and originally set up to produce typewriters. Both were tapped by the U.S. government for wartime production of firearms at the start of World War II, with the .45 caliber M1911A1 landing near the top of the list.
We should note some things about these M1911A1s compared to the original M1911 adopted by the Army in 1911 and used in World War I. The A1 adoption had a raised mainspring housing on the heel of the grip and an extended beavertail. You can see these in the images. The gun also adopted a shorter, knurled trigger as shown above.
Remington Rand: A Circle of Life Story
Remington Rand was formed in 1927 – missing the experience of WWI – yet its production of 1911s for the war effort was nothing short of miraculous. It churned out nearly a million pistols between 1943 and 1945.
There were five companies contracted to produce 1911s: the others being Colt, US&S, Singer, and the Ithaca Gun Company. Despite facing off with some experienced gun makers, no other manufacturer came even close to Remington Rand’s productivity.
How does a typewriter company with “Remington” in its name wind up outproducing an experienced gun manufacturer like Colt? You could rub a little more salt in that wound by mentioning the guns bear the common name “Colt 1911.”It gets even worse when you realize Remington Rand – distinct but connected historically to Remington Arms – basically doubled the number of 1911s made by Colt for the war.
These pistols got into the hands of G.I.s and aircrews in droves shortly after the company was able to retool for wartime weapons production. In truth, however, it’s somewhat unfair to poke too much fun at Colt.
For one thing, Remington Rand was able to set up a streamlined production process singularly focused on manufacturing M1911A1s. This was not a luxury afforded Colt, which was running production 24-7, while also knocking out other firearms for the military.
Interestingly, one of the other five companies selected to produce 1911s was Singer, known for making sewing machines. They only delivered around 500 pistols by 1941, ending production and sending their tooling over to Remington Rand instead.
Some of the parts, such as barrels, were also not always crafted by the company. Given its limited experience with firearms manufacturing, parts came in from a host of sources. The complex logistical dance of the wartime economy is actually one of the most impressive U.S. accomplishments on the road to victory.
Union Switch & Signal: Back to War Again
If a typewriter company seemed like an odd source for pistols in WWII, then Union Switch & Signal deserves some high praise for its contribution out of Swissvale, Pennsylvania. The company was quite prolific in its patents and innovation up until recently, focusing mostly on railway operations and technology.
Founded in 1881, the company also joined the U.S. war effort in World War I by helping to produce early aircraft engines. US&S took to pistols in World War II, though they produced far fewer than Remington Rand. Unfortunately, they were the last of the five companies awarded pistol contracts, leaving them only time to deliver around 55,000.
This makes the guns quite collectible. Ironically, with their contract ended by the government, US&S moved on to M1 Carbine parts production for a short time. I say “ironically” only because the carbine was itself meant as a pseudo replacement for some 1911s anyway. The smaller carbine was well suited for support personnel. Hence, the wartime replacement 1911 was replaced by a partial replacement for the original 1911 – or some equal level of gibberish.
Remington Rand went on to an assortment of civilian undertakings, to include early computing. Union Switch & Signal went back to working on railroad signaling. At least, for a time. They’ve both since been sold and merged. But the 1911 never stopped being loved and developed by American shooters.
Guns like the Browning Hi-Power overshadowed 1911s on the international scene. Still, thanks to its legendary service – coupled with legendary advocates such as Jeff Cooper – I can’t imagine a world where a 1911 isn’t an iconic piece of American firearms culture.