- Robert E. Petersen Collection
- Ancient Firearms - 1350 to 1700
- Road to American Liberty - 1700 to 1780
- A Prospering New Republic - 1780 to 1860
- A Nation Asunder - 1861 to 1865
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- Innovation, Oddities and Competition
- Theodore Roosevelt and Elegant Arms - 1880s to 1920s
- World War I and Firearms Innovation
- WWII, Korea, Vietnam and Beyond - 1940 to Present
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U.S. Harrington & Richardson Reising Model 50 Submachine Gun
The Reising carbine, available in either selective-fire or semi-automatic versions, was developed by Eugene Reising, a noted designer who had previously worked for John Browning, as well as the firms of Marlin, Mossberg, Savage, and Stevens. The Reising was more accurate than other blowback-operated submachine guns, as it fired from a closed rather than an open bolt. Unfortunately, it experienced problems if subjected to operation in dirty environments without regular cleaning. Although the U.S. Army declined to adopt the Reising, the Marine Corps used these guns to supplement their arsenal in the early days of the Second World War.
When war came once again to Europe in 1939, American firearms designer Eugene Reising turned his efforts to the development of a new submachine gun. At that time, the Thompson was the only gun of this type in production in the United States, and Reising realized the economic potential of another compact full-auto.
Reising had prior experience as a member of the team that perfected John Browning's M1911 pistol, and he had also worked for several other firearms manufacturers. He had been working on a practical submachine gun even before the outbreak of war, and he received a patent for his design in June 1940. The inventor entered into a production agreement with Harrington & Richardson at about the same time as Japanese bombs began falling at Pearl Harbor.
Like the Thompson, Reising's gun chambered the .45 ACP cartridge, but it differed from other similar arms in that it fired from a closed bolt, thus ensuring that the movement of the firing mechanism did not disturb the shooter's aim at the moment of firing. U.S. Army tests showed that the gun actually fired a series of semi-automatic shots, but the 450 round-per-minute rate of fire was nearly as fast as that of the Thompson. The Reising was not adopted by the Army because it also had an unfortunate tendency to malfunction when dirty, an unacceptable fault in a combat arm. Rather than purchasing these arms, Ordnance officers opted to stay with the tried-and-true Thompson until a better alternative was produced.
Due to the shortage of Thompsons for issue to its combat troops, coupled with the availability of the Reising, The Marine Corps took a different approach and adopted the new gun. The Reising Model 50 featured a parkerized finish, a wooden stock, cooling fins located near the rear of the barrel, a compensator, and selective fire capability. In addition, these arms employed a stick magazine with a staggered column design similar to that used in modern high-capacity arms, with either 12- or 20-round capacity.
The Marine Corps requested a modified design for airborne use which replaced the Model 50's wooden buttstock with a pistol grip and folding wire stock. The Model 50's compensator was also eliminated from the new version. Designated the Model 55, these guns were intended for use by "Para-Marines" and tank crews. Reising submachine guns were widely used in the early days of the Pacific War, but the Marines soon discovered what the Army already knew Ð although well-made and thoroughly reliable under ideal conditions, Reisings routinely malfunctioned when subjected to the mud and dirt of the battlefield. As additional Thompsons and the new M1 Carbine became available to the Marine Corps, Reisings began to disappear from the Corps' inventories.
The last of these arms were delivered to the Marine Corps in 1943, but production continued for Lend-Lease sales to the Soviet Union. The Reising Model 60, a blued-finish semiautomatic-only version of the Model 50, was also produced for use by police, and for use by prison and war plant guards. Due to the controlled environments in which these guns were used, these guns proved to be more than adequate. Harrington & Richardson had hoped to find a law enforcement market for the Reising after the end of the war, but this never materialized, and production was suspended in 1945.
Despite their failure as a military arm, the Reising is noteworthy for its emergency service during the early campaigns of the Marine Corps in the Second World War. Harrington & Richardson, located in Worcester, Massachusetts, was founded in 1871 by Gilbert H. Harrington, the inventor of the top-break revolver, and William A. Richardson. By 1876, H&R had become sufficiently established to be represented at the National Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia, where the company exhibited 24 of its pistols. In 1880, H&R achieved another significant milestone in becoming the sole American licensee for the manufacturer of quality English Anson & Deely double-barrel hammerless shotguns, and in 1900, the company introduced its own top-break single barrel shotgun.
In the years prior to the First World War, Harrington & Richardson's product line expanded to include other shotguns and revolvers. In addition, H&R produced an improved semi-automatic pistol patterned after British Webley & Scott, as well as the Handy Gun, a top break single-shot pistol that was available in various calibers and small-bore shotgun gauges. During the First World War, the company received a contract for shoulder-type flare guns. This was the first of many military contracts that H&R would receive from the U.S. government, marking the beginning of a long association of arms production in support of American troops. After the war, Harrington & Richardson redesigned its handgun line.
Among the arms introduced during this period was the U.S.R.A. single-shot target pistol, which featured a short hammer fall and crisp trigger pull. The U.S.R.A. pistol became the standard of the U.S. Army pistol team and was used to set a new U.S. pistol record in 1932. Prior to the Second World War, the company manufactured .38 caliber revolvers for British police use. These pistols, which were also available on the U.S. commercial market, were the first firearms ever carried by British "Bobbies".
In addition to these revolvers, H&R also produced handcuffs and leg irons for police use. When the United States went to war again in 1941, H&R produced the Reising .45 caliber submachine gun under contract with Eugene Reising, the gun's inventor. These delayed blowback arms, which fired from closed bolt, were more accurate than conventional "slam fire" submachine guns such as the Thompson, but Army acceptance tests showed that the Reising's close tolerances caused function problems when not cleaned regularly or when operated in dirty conditions.
With Thompson production earmarked for Army and Lend-Lease purchases, the Marine Corps adopted the Reising, in both conventional wood stock and folding metal stock models, to supplement its insufficient submachine gun inventory. Reisings saw action on Guadacanal, where their performance was problematic due to the near impossibility of keeping them clean under jungle combat conditions. The Marines received their last Reisings in 1943, after which they were withdrawn from front line use as additional Thompsons and M1 carbines became available.
Approximately 100,000 Reisings were manufactured, including some for Lend-Lease sales to the Soviet Union. A semi-automatic civilian version was also produced for use by defense plant and prison guards. After the war, H&R discontinued production after attempts to sell Reisings to police departments failed due to the ready availability of surplus military arms. During the Korean War, Harrington & Richardson once again turned its production lines to the manufacture of military arms.
On April 3, 1952, H&R received an order for 100,000 M1 rifles plus spare parts, and the first deliveries were made a year later. The company's experience as producer of firearms enabled it to begin production without the start-up problems experienced by other military contract arms producers, including International Harvester. Unlike other M1 manufacturers, H&R also made extensive use of subcontractor-produced parts and components in their rifles. The end of hostilities in July 1953 meant that most H&R-produced rifles were added to postwar inventories. The company continued to receive additional contracts for the M1, and by the time production ceased in 1956, H&R had produced 428,600 rifles. The end of production did not mark the end of the company's association with John Garand's rifle, as H&R later received a contract to rebuild 50,000 M1 rifles in 7.62mm NATO caliber for the U.S. Navy.
In late 1954, Harrington & Richardson received an additional contract to conduct an engineering study aimed at production of 500 T48 rifles, an American version of the Belgian FN FAL .30 caliber rifle which was under consideration as a possible successor to the M1 as the U.S. military's standard battle rifle. In 1957, the Army adopted the Springfield Armory-developed M14, which was based on John Garand's original M1 design.
These rifles became the first multi-purpose American infantry rifle, replacing the M1 rifle, M1 carbine, Browning Automatic Rifle, and M3 submachine gun. As with the M1, the Army issued contracts for the M14 to Winchester and H&R to supplement production at Springfield Armory. H&R's tool-up and manufacture began quickly, with the company utilizing machinery left over from M1 production, but problems arose with subcontracted parts. To further complicate manufacturing efforts, inspectors discovered cracks in some receivers. H&R's M14 production came to a halt as the Army changed both metallurgical and heat treatment specifications for these rifles. With problems now corrected, H&R was able to make up for lost production time and get back on schedule by August 1961.
By the time production ceased, Harrington & Richardson had manufactured over 500,000 M14s, making the company the largest manufacture of these rifles. H&R also produced the M16 "black rifle" under contract with the Department of Defense, as well as the M4 survival rifle, a .22 Hornet/.410 combination gun manufactured for use by U.S. Air Force flight crews. Harrington & Richardson exists today, but under a new name, the New England Firearms/H&R 1871. In addition to producing a complete line of pistols, rifles, and shotguns based on their earlier designs and ranging from inexpensive to presentation-grade models, the company is a U.S. distributor for British-made Webley & Scott shotguns.