In a matter of seconds, the Pedersen device made the bolt-action Springfield M1903 a semi-automatic rifle.
There’s an old adage about military firearms: You enter a war with the gun perfect for the last conflict you fought. This was absolutely the predicament the U.S. found itself when if headed overseas to fight the Great War.
Though a legend, the military’s main battle rifle of World War I – the Springfield M1903 – was ill-suited to the type of fighting in the war. As you should remember from high school history, up-close and dirty trench warfare defined the conflict, with soldiers scrapping it out close enough to smell each other’s breath. Not exactly the type of fighting where a long, 5-round, bolt-action rifle built for accuracy excels. Yet, there was a somewhat unheralded firearms genius that cooked up a solution that, in a matter of seconds, helped the Springfield overcome its shortcomings.
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Called the greatest gun designer in the world by none other than John Browning himself, John Pedersen’s answer was a simple blowback mechanism that made the M1903 a semi-automatic. Dubbed the Pedersen device, the apparatus had the potential to be a gamechanger, fitting in the Springfield’s breech and all but instantly converting it to a firearm fit to lay down high a high volume of fire. There were trade-offs, of course. Instead of shooting the powerful .30-06 Springfield cartridge, the rifle spit out pistol-caliber rounds akin to the 7.65×20mm Longue. But with 40-rounds on tap from a detachable box magazine, it was a vast improvement on the gun’s previous firepower potential.
Clever as it was, the Pedersen device didn’t see any action, the war ended before it could be utilized. Afterward, the government kept them in storage for about a decade, then declared them obsolete and destroyed most of them. Exceedingly rare, a functioning Pedersen device now draws top dollar among collectors.