Susanna McLeod

Susanna McLeod

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John Garand, Canadian-born Inventor of M1 Garand Rifle

Adept at engineering and inventing from a young age, Canadian John Garand produced the M1 Rifle, a semi-automatic rifle used by the United States Military 1937-1957.

One of eleven children born to Jean Baptiste Garand and his wife, Elizabeth Edwidge Oligny, John Cantius Garand was a “middle child”, born on January 1, 1888. The family lived in Saint-Rémi, about 21 miles south-west of Montreal, Quebec. Garand’s mother died when she was only 33 years old in 1896. Making a radical change, the father moved his family to Connecticut two years later, when John was approximately eleven years old.

John Garand, an Engineer and Inventor

It must have been a difficult time for the Garands, socially and financially. John Garand spoke only French and left school early to take a job at a textile mill to help support the family. No doubt always tinkering, the teenager “soon patented a telescopic screw jack and well as an automatic bobbin winding machine,” said the Springfield Armory National Historic Site in “John Garand, Inventor of the M1.” A few years later, Garand became a machinist, working for Brown & Sharpe, a precision tool-making firm on Rhode Island.

Studying engineering through correspondence courses, Garand put his training to the test by constructing a light

Inventor and Engineer John Garand at Springfield Armory

machine gun. Accepting submissions for military guns, Garand’s development captured the army’s attention in 1917. He was hired by the National Bureau of Standards in 1919 to refine his gun design. Transferring to the Army Ordnance Department, Garand was assigned as a civilian with the Springfield Armory in Massachusetts. (The US War Department eventually chose Garand’s first machine gun for use by the US Navy, noted the Springfield Armory.)

M1 Rifle Replaced the Springfield

Still searching for suitable weaponry in the early 1920s, the army found Garand’s submission of a semi-automatic rifle again of interest. Accepted for testing along with many other competing models, Garand patented his invention in 1934. In 1936, the US Army approved Garand’s M1 rifle over the others vying for recognition, the M1 replacing the Springfield bolt-action rifle as the military’s standard-issue infantry gun. At 43 inches long and under 10 lbs, the rifle was a 30-calibre, eight-shot slip-loader that was operated by a gas trap design. It fired 100 rounds per minute and had much less recoil than the Springfield rifle.

Garand had to make a few corrections to the M1 rifle, particularly to the gas trap system. The initial system was inefficient, allowing dirty carbon build-up, limiting gas available for the operating rod, and causing hindered accuracy. Placed on the muzzle, the cylinder assembly blocked the proper attachment of a bayonet, said authors Joe Poyer and Craig Reisch in “The M1 Garand, 1936-1957” (North Cape Publications Inc., Tustin, California 2008, pg 5). Changing the system, Garand installed a gas port in the barrel itself, “The gas which flowed through the port,” said Poyer and Reisch, “moved at such a high velocity that carbon could not build up. In effect, the gas port was self-cleaning.” Smaller difficulties with the rear sight and sticking rod cams were solved.

Garand M1 in Production in 1937

The M1 Rifle went into production in 1937 for the US Army. The Marine Corps took on the rifle in 1940. The rifle was used during WW2 and in battle by American soldiers in Korea and Vietnam. As an honour, Garand received

Sketch labeling parts of M1 Garand Rifle, from US Army handbook

the one-millionth rifle from the production line. In January 1945, General Douglas MacArthur wrote that, “the M1 Rifle is the greatest battle implement ever devised.” Manufactured until 1957, over 5 million M1 Rifles in varying models were produced. Phased out of American military use, the rifle was distributed to other countries around the world.

Working for 34 years with the US Ordnance Corps, Garand retired in 1953. Though he had patented his important inventions, Garand had signed over his rights to the United States government, and received no financial benefit for his work other than his civil service pay. His highest salary per year was $12,000. The Award for Meritorious Service was given to Garand in 1941, and he received the Medal for Merit in 1944.

Garand Collectors Association at Springfield Armory

Perhaps the greatest honour that continues yet today was to have the M1 rifle nicknamed the Garand Rifle. A bronze bust was donated by the Garand Collectors Association on June 6, 1994 to the Springfield Armory with the descriptive words on the accompanying plaque about John Garand, 1888 – 1974: “A quiet genius who gave to his adopted country ‘The Greatest Battle Implement Ever Devised,’ The M1 Rifle”.

Survived by his wife and two children, John C. Garand died in Springfield, Massachusetts on February 16, 1974. He was laid to rest at Hillcrest Park Cemetery.

With a genius for metalwork and an understanding of rifles, the little French boy from Canada grew up to make an enormous impact on the military defences of the United States of America.

This article first appeared on on June 23, 2010. Copyright Susanna McLeod


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