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.

Mikhail Kalashnikov with an AK-47
Mikhail Kalashnikov with his most famous invention
(Image credit: © Dima Korotayev/Epsilon/Getty Images)

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.

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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.

Dr Matthew Partridge

Matthew graduated from the University of Durham in 2004; he then gained an MSc, followed by a PhD at the London School of Economics.

He has previously written for a wide range of publications, including the Guardian and the Economist, and also helped to run a newsletter on terrorism. He has spent time at Lehman Brothers, Citigroup and the consultancy Lombard Street Research.

Matthew is the author of Superinvestors: Lessons from the greatest investors in history, published by Harriman House, which has been translated into several languages. His second book, Investing Explained: The Accessible Guide to Building an Investment Portfolio, is published by Kogan Page.

As senior writer, he writes the shares and politics & economics pages, as well as weekly Blowing It and Great Frauds in History columns He also writes a fortnightly reviews page and trading tips, as well as regular cover stories and multi-page investment focus features.

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