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 (pictured), 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 in Sudan.
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.
Also on this day
The effects of loose money-printing and counterfeit notes led the US to issue its first ‘gold certificates’ – a form of paper currency backed by gold – on this day in 1865. Read more here.