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C93 Borchardt: the First Successful Self-Loading Pistol



Hugo Borchardt was a brilliant and well-traveled firearms designer. He was born in Germany but emigrated to the United States at a fairly young age, where he became engaged in the gun trade. He spent time working with Winchester, Remington (where he patented improvements on James Paris Lee's box magazine idea), and Sharps (where he designed the M1878 rifle and worked as Superintendent). With this experience under his belt, he returned to Germany and worked with the Loewe/DWM corporation.

Borchardt's seminal invention in Germany was his C93 automatic pistol, which was the first of its kinds using a reasonably powerful cartridge and a locked-breech action. Unlike the other designs extant at the time, the C93 went into commercial production, and 3000 were ultimately made. The gun was safe and reliable, and it set the standard for locating a detachable box magazine in the grip, which remains the standard today. However, its very bulky mainspring assembly led to it being a rather awkward handgun to use (although it was a quite nice carbine when used with its detachable shoulder stock).

Borchardt's talents came hand-in-hand with a fair amount of hubris, and he refused to consider the possibility that his pistol could be improved. Several military trials requested a smaller and handier version of the gun, and when Borchardt refused to make those changes, DWM gave the job to a man named Georg Luger. Luger was very good at taking existing designs and improving them, and he transformed the basic action of the C93 into the Luger automatic pistol, which of course became one of the most iconic handguns ever made.