In the early 1980s, the Austrian Ministry of Defense proceeded with the modernization of the Austrian Armed Forces through an invitation to tender for a new service pistol, which it designated as “Pistole 80” or “P80”. The required self-defense pistol had to have a reduced weight, the highest level of reliability, and safe and simple operation.
Gaston Glock recognized his great opportunity and saw a clear target before him: to design an innovative pistol that could be efficiently manufactured, and simple and safe to handle. To this end, he founded GLOCK GmbH in 1980. In addition to his trusted colleague of many years, Reinhold Hirschheiter, he recruited a small group of capable designers and embarked on the realization of his idea. He analyzed the pistols on the market, studied their patents and promptly left traditional ways of design and manufacturing methods behind. His credo was: “On the way to perfection every challenge has to be accepted”. Gaston Glock didn’t want to improve on the old standards, instead he wanted to create something truly innovative.
He not only met the military’s specifications, he exceeded them by creating new approaches to pistol design and manufacturing processes. As an example, one essential innovation resulted from his experience in the use of polymers in manufacturing. Instead of a metal receiver that required complex milling, he relied on his core competencies and implemented a receiver produced through injection molded polymer. At the time, this was a completely new and bold approach. The enormous physical loads inherent in a firearm required a special design, which Gaston Glock meticulously developed and implemented.
In order to meet the Ministry of Defense’s short deadline, perfect coordination of the idea, design and immediate implementation in the toolmaking shop was crucial for success. Supported by his team, Gaston Glock worked on the pistol’s development day and night and, in record time, designed a technically revolutionary pistol system that was also incredible for its brilliant simplicity. The GLOCK P80 was born!
Using innovative manufacturing processes, he was not only able to substantially reduce the pistol’s weight but also to optimize its reliability by virtue of designing a pistol comprised of only 33 parts. An additional advantage emerged in the pistol’s operation: the material properties of the polymer absorbed energy released through firing much better than steel, resulting in significantly reduced perceived recoil for the user.
Moreover, a decisive contribution to ease of use came from a completely novel safety concept, which Gaston Glock coined the “Safe Action® System”. It consists of three independently-operating, automatic, mechanical safeties that are built into the pistol fire and control system, which rendered the manual safety obsolete as a drop safety. Thereby the safe, simple, and reliable operation was ensured. At the same time this design solved a serious problem with conventional pistols. In drop tests, these pistols experienced unintentional discharges, which could lead to severe injuries to users. Shooting accidents like these were limited by the novel GLOCK pistol design.
In March 1982, Gaston Glock submitted his prototypes B1 to B5 to the Austrian Armed Forces: Safe Action® semi-automatic pistol in 9 millimeter caliber with polymer frame, Browning tilting barrel action, a pretensioned firing pin and a double-stack magazine with a seventeen round capacity. After a comprehensive range of technical tests, Gaston Glock’s prototypes achieved the highest point score and the GLOCK pistol emerged as the clear winner.
Gaston Glock’s stroke of genius was a sensation. Even though he had never previously designed a pistol, he was able to prevail over all of the established handgun manufacturers. Between 1982 and 1984, more than 25,000 Generation 1 pistols were delivered to the Austrian Armed Forces.
News of the introduction of the GLOCK P80 to the Austrian Armed Forces spread fast. Consequently, numerous European military and police forces were alerted to the special product features of the pistol, including Norway and Sweden. When these countries commissioned GLOCK GmbH to supply them too, the GLOCK pistol’s success spread across Europe immediately. At this time, a renaming of the pistol took place: the P80 became known as the GLOCK 17. This number corresponded to its magazine capacity.
Subsequently, the worldwide success story relentlessly pursued its impressive course and the 20 millionth GLOCK pistol was sold in 2020. Gaston Glock not only revolutionized the world of handguns with his legendary invention, but also succeeded in establishing the GLOCK brand as the global market leader in the field of pistols.