The first commercially successful semi-automatic pistol, the Borchardt C93 helped shape the modern handgun world.
Commonplace now, it’s easy to take for granted the performance we get out of semi-automatic pistols. High rate of fire, inherent accuracy and fast reloads, it doesn’t matter the make and model, we expect these advantages nowadays. But how did these assets come about? What was their origin? For the most part, semi-autos — no matter their caliber or operation — trace their root to a rather odd gun that today is somewhat forgotten outside collectors circles — the Borchardt C93.
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Designed by German Hugo Borchardt in 1893, the C93 is considered the first successful commercial semi-automatic pistol. Though the term ‘successful' is somewhat relative. The Borchardt had a modest production run, with only around 3,000 built from 1893 to 1902. Not overly impressive. On the other hand, what it brought to the table, particularly for its time and compared to its predecessors was extraordinary. The short-recoil operated toggle-lock pistol actually worked shot in and out, more than could be said of the blowback and delayed blowback military prototypes that predated it.
The pistol fired 7.65x25mm Borchardt, which has the distinction of being among the first successful rimless cartridges. While the ammunition is a relic now, what it went into is commonplace among all modern pistols and perhaps is the greatest contribution of Borchardt's design. The gun utilized an 8-round box magazine that fit into the grip. As anyone who's pulled the trigger on a pistol knows, this is a nearly universal configuration now and a darn handy one to boot.
It's toggle-lock acton lived on for a while, long enough to spur one of the most historic guns of the 20th Century — the Luger P08. The famous gun was actually Georg Luger's improvement on Borchardt's design, removing the main flaw of the older gun — the bulbous extension on its rear. This rather unwieldy protrusion housed the mainspring and was generally frowned upon by the militaries that tested the C93. However, it did feature a lug, which a stock could be attached making it a carbine.
By today’s standards, the Borchardt C93 seems antiquated to the point of a flintlock. But the innovations the pistol ushered in are still with us in even the most modern cutting-edge pistols.