A little-known footnote in American gun culture is the short run of pre-WWII DWM-made commercial Lugers imported to the U.S., complete with a distinctive eagle. 

Austrian-born Georg Luger spent the formative years of his life as an Austrian infantryman and reserve officer, where his interest in firearms led him to work alongside Ferdinand Mannlicher and Hugo Borchardt before patenting his first design at the age of 40, a rapid-fire rifle, in 1889. Soon, Herr Luger was working with Deutsche Waffen und Munitionsfabriken, or DWM, in Germany and, some 20 patents later, was fielding a prototype semi-automatic pistol that used a toggle action which the Swiss Army began testing in 1898. 

Georg Luger took out over a dozen patents concerning handguns, which yielded the gun that went on to bear his name. 

The Swiss ordered 3,000 new Lugers in 1899, turning heads in military circles around the globe and the next year the British Army was testing the pistol. By 1901, the U.S. Army ordered 1,000 of the guns for field trials, primarily with cavalry units, to see if it could replace the country's unsatisfactory Colt M1894 .38-caliber revolvers, which at the time were getting a bad rap in combat against insurgents in the Philippines. 

A 1901 newspaper article described the Luger in U.S. tests as being able to fire 116 shots in a minute. "Its chief points are its find shape, its balance, its precision of aim, its rapidity of fire, and its great simplicity. It operates on the link system, has a magazine containing eight cartridges, which is thrown out when empty, and may be replaced by a single movement," said the article. 

While the War Department in the end did not like the pistol and withdrew it from service in 1905, it didn't stop Luger himself from trekking to the States to demonstrate an unsuccessful .45-caliber variant for the Army in 1907. 

Where the Luger pistol did see success was on the American commercial market. Borrowing a tactic that saw success in Switzerland, which had a Swiss Cross on the top of the receiver, guns intended for sale in the U.S. were given a large volant American eagle crest, earning these DWM-produced handguns the easy moniker of being "American Eagle Lugers." 

About 20,000 of these guns were made by DWM for export to the U.S. prior to 1914 in both the standard Model of 1900 and M1902 "fat barrel" variants-- with 50 of the latter even sold with the unique "Powell Indicating Device," a real time cartridge counter fitted to the magazine well. 

This early American Eagle Luger has a "dished" rather than serrated toggle knob, a large grip safety, low serial number (10,xxx), strawing on the small parts, a thin barrel (compared to the later M1902) and an early style push safety. (Photo: Guns.com) 
The top of the pistol shows off a large volant American eagle crest, and a DWM banner on top of the toggle, while a low-key "Germany" import mark is on the front of the frame, setting it apart from the Army's test Lugers, which had no such import mark. (Photo: Guns.com)
(Photo: Guns.com)

Chambered in 7.65mm (.30 Luger) these 8+1 shot pistols were advanced for the 1900s, but outclassed by guns like the M1911, which was introduced within a decade. Nonetheless, the Luger was often seen in the hands of 1900s American lawmen and cowboys. 

The man in the center is notably author and outdoorsman Horace Sowers Kephart, shown in 1906 with his Luger while the seated man is legendary Texas Ranger Captain John H. Rogers. (Photos: Western Carolina University/Presidio County Museum)

After the Great War, of course, 9mm surplus German Army M08 Lugers were prized trophies for American Doughboys returning from "Over There," as the Kaiser's soldiers no longer needed them. 

"167th Infantry, 2nd Battalion, Co. F. Cpl Howard Thompson holding pistol of German whom Sgt James W. White killed in no man's land with butt of his pistol. A patrol of 5 men met 10 Germans in No Man's Land on March 7, 1918." (Photo/Caption: National Archives)

However, those war guns just don't have the same panache of a vintage commercial American Eagle Luger. 

Like interesting firearms that tell a story, check out our carefully curated Collector's Corner and Military Classics sections to see more guns like this one. Preserve your own piece of history.

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