13 November 1947: Mikhail Kalashnikov's AK-47 makes its debut

Russian Mikhail Kalashnikov's AK-47 assault rifle was first demonstrated to Soviet officials on this day in 1947.

The former Soviet Union's weaponry during World War II, especially its tanks, were reasonably advanced. But it struggled to produce a gun that was comparable to those used by German soldiers, especially the ground-breaking Sturmgewehr 44 (S44). The possibility that the Cold War could erupt into direct conflict at any moment meant that they needed to produce an effective design that could be mass-produced in huge numbers.

Enter Russian weapon designer Mikhail Kalashnikov, who came up with the idea of combining the look of the S44 with the American M1 rifle and incorporating features from other Soviet prototypes. The resulting AK-47 was first demonstrated to officials in November 1947.

Its combination of accuracy, reliability and firepower meant that it became the standard Red Army weapon by 1949. At the same time, its simple design meant that it was easy for even less developed countries to make in bulk. This meant that it became the weapon of choice for revolutionary movements around the world.

It has been estimated that there are currently up to 100 million AK-47s (and variants) around the world in circulation, around 20% of the total number of guns in the world. While the average global price of an AK-47 is $500, some can be picked up for less than $100.

Kalashnikov didn't get any royalties from his design, but he tried to cash in on the weapon's notoriety by investing in a company run by his grandson that sells Kalashnikov-branded merchandise, including vodka. The official manufacturer, Izhmash, would take advantage of Russia's IP laws to patent the design in 1997, though it has had little success in enforcing this.

Recommended

Cryptocurrency roundup: authorities tighten the screw
Bitcoin & crypto

Cryptocurrency roundup: authorities tighten the screw

Saloni Sardana looks at the cryptocurrency stories that caught our eye this week.
21 Jan 2022
Stockmarket crash: is the “superbubble” heading for a “superbust”?
Stockmarkets

Stockmarket crash: is the “superbubble” heading for a “superbust”?

America's Nasdaq stock index is down by more than 10% after soaring to all-time highs in a "superbubble". Are we about to see a "superbust" stockmarke…
21 Jan 2022
Inflation: now we really have something to worry about
Inflation

Inflation: now we really have something to worry about

We’ve been worrying about a sharp rise in inflation for years, says Merryn Somerset Webb – now, we finally have something to worry about.
21 Jan 2022
Share tips of the week – 21 January
Share tips

Share tips of the week – 21 January

MoneyWeek’s comprehensive guide to the best of this week’s share tips from the rest of the UK's financial pages.
21 Jan 2022

Most Popular

Ask for a pay rise – everyone else is
Inflation

Ask for a pay rise – everyone else is

As inflation bites and the labour market remains tight, many of the nation's employees are asking for a pay rise. Merryn Somerset Webb explains why yo…
17 Jan 2022
US inflation is at its highest since 1982. Why aren’t markets panicking?
Inflation

US inflation is at its highest since 1982. Why aren’t markets panicking?

US inflation is at 7% – the last time it was this high interest rates were at 14%. But instead of panicking, markets just shrugged. John Stepek explai…
13 Jan 2022
Interest rates might rise faster than expected – what does that mean for your money?
Global Economy

Interest rates might rise faster than expected – what does that mean for your money?

The idea that the US Federal Reserve could raise interest rates much earlier than anticipated has upset the markets. John Stepek explains why, and wha…
6 Jan 2022