The iconic Glock 17 transformed the modern handgun world and continues to exert its influence today.

Why the Glock 17 is among the most popular pistols made:

  • Developed for the Austrian Army to replace their P-38.
  • From 1986 capture around 70 percent of the US law enforcement market.
  • Used in an official military or government capacity in over 42 countries
  • The G17 is still Glock’s most popular model.
  • The low barrel sits above the shooter’s hand resulting in less muzzle rise.
  • Due to its weight and balance it is known as a smooth-shooting pistol.

This is the first model Glock brought to market. The original. The one that started it all. The Glock 17 is the most innovative handgun design since John M Browning’s 1911, and when you add to that the way that Glock revolutionized handgun manufacture, the G17 is probably most innovative handgun ever.

Glock 17 Development

Some would argue that this is the best Glock ever made; the third generation G17.
Some would argue that this is the best Glock ever made; the third generation G17.

The Glock 17 was developed by Glock for the Austrian Army to replace their P-38, a gun that had been in use since World War II. Word quickly got around about this new upstart that beat out established gunmakers. By 1985 Glock had a contract with the Norwegian Army and suitors by the dozen vying to import the G17 into the US.

Glock decided to go their own route, however, and Glock USA opened its doors in 1986. From there, Glock would capture around 70 percent of the US law enforcement market, and become one of the (if not the) most popular handguns in the US civilian market. No other handgun brand is as recognizable by shooters and non-shooters alike. Today Glock is used in an official military or government capacity in over 42 countries. This does not include non-national police forces.

Why The Glock 17?

In the early days there was confusion and incorrect information as to why the first model was called the 17. To this day some of the confusion still exists amongst new Glock owners. Some sources said the reason was that the Austrian army laid out 17 requirements that must be met by the potential service pistol to be considered for adoption. Other sources stated it was due to the 17-round capacity of the Glock magazine. Both make sense, but neither is correct. Popular fiction perpetuated these myths.


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In the novel Killing Floor, by Lee Child, the protagonist, one Jack Reacher, is confronted with a Glock 17. In his mind he goes over everything he knows about the weapon, which he says he knows well, with one of those things being, “Seventeen rounds to a magazine, hence the name.” Reacher got a lot right about the Glock, but this wasn’t one of them. The true reason the first Glock is named the 17 is because it was the 17th patent filed by Gaston Glock.

A G17 first generation. Incidentally, the two clips on the web belt…those are made by Glock, too.
A G17 first generation. Incidentally, the two clips on the web belt…those are made by Glock, too.

Still, it’s interesting to watch movies and read articles from that era and read the various theories as to the origin of the name. The other thing he got wrong was that Reacher recommended rejection of the Glock for the US Army, and instead recommended the Beretta 92F. In reality, the G17 was never entered into the official army trials. The US Department of Defense did receive from Glock four samples for unofficial testing and evaluation, but when they invited Glock for an official submission, Glock declined. It would have required extensive retooling of manufacturing equipment, which was something Glock wasn’t going to do at that time.

In another famous and hilarious Hollywood moment that was indicative of the perception of Glock pistols at the time, in Die Hard 2, John McClane (played by Bruce Willis) said of the Glock, “That punk pulled a Glock 7 on me. You know what that is? It’s a porcelain gun made in Germany. Doesn’t show up on your airport X-ray machines here, and it costs more than you make in a month.” Sure, this was before the age of the Internet and Wikipedia, but that is just lazy script writing.

The Glock 17 Enduring Legacy

Amazingly, after all these years, the G17 is still Glock’s most popular model. I’ve gone back and read books and magazine articles written at the time of the introduction of the .40 S&W G22 and the .45 ACP G21, and at the time some writers discussed the demise of the 9mm G17 and G19 because of the introduction of these other calibers, especially the .45 ACP — we are a .45 ACP nation, after all.

How often have you heard someone say, “if it doesn’t have a ‘4’ in front of it, it’s not big enough for self-defense.” But the G17 and the G19 didn’t become obsolete, and they weren’t replaced by the .40 S&W or .45 ACP. In fact, their popularity has only increased right along with the Glock itself.

A G17 is a great handgun for beginners, it’s soft on recoil, and the lack of a manual safety makes the shooter especially mindful of finger awareness.
A G17 is a great handgun for beginners, it’s soft on recoil, and the lack of a manual safety makes the shooter especially mindful of finger awareness.

There have been spikes in popularity of other models, especially when they are first introduced, but after the hoopla is over the Glock 17 9mm charges on. This is particularly amazing, given the popularity of the G22 among law enforcement agencies, and the numbers of those sold. It’s really quite remarkable how well the G17 still sells, and is a testament to the handgun.

I personally think the 9mm cartridge is just starting to come into its own in America. It’s kind of a curiosity that it took so long, but over a century after it was introduced, we’re just starting to appreciate it. I believe we’re in the Golden Age of the 9mm in America.

How The G17 Measures Up

A Gen4 G17 is 7.95 inches in length, 5.43 inches in height and 1.18 inches in width. It weighs 25.06 ounces unloaded and 32.13 ounces loaded. The barrel height is 1.26 inches, which is low, and has a lot to do with the minimal muzzle flip compared to other handguns. The lower a barrel sits above the shooter’s hand (bore axis), the less it will rise as a bullet is fired. The Gen3 is identical in dimension, with the exception that it is 8.03 inches in length, which is .08 inches longer.

All of the standard-frame, full-size Glocks (G17, G22, G31, and G37) are nearly identical in dimensions, with one minor exception; the G37 has a slightly wider slide, and the height is 5.51 inches, which is .08 inches higher. There is also a difference in weight, though not significant. Unloaded, the G22 weighs 25.59 ounces, the G31 weighs 26.12 ounces, and the G37 weighs 28.95 ounces.

Shooting The Glock 17

I’ve gotten to shoot a lot of Glocks in a lot of calibers and a lot of sizes. All of them, in fact. The very first two I fired for the book were the G17 Gen1 and Gen2. Then I shot everything else, with the very last two pistols I fired being the G17 Gen3 and Gen4. I’ve shot them before, but it’s been awhile.

Some would argue that this is the best Glock ever made; the third generation G17.
Some would argue that this is the best Glock ever made; the third generation G17.

After shooting everything else, I forgot how nicely the G17 shoots. The recoil is handled very well — much more so than 9mm guns from competitors, and it shoots as smooth as butter. It’s just a great gun, one of the all-time classics. I got to fire some American Eagle 115-grain FJM, as well as American Eagle 124-grain non-toxic primer TMJ (Total Metal Jacket). Then I finished it off with some Federal Premium 124-grain Hydra-Shok JHP.

Early Glock 17 Models

With Gen3 and Gen4 and Gen5 models, it’s simple to get them — they are all on the shelf of almost every gun store you walk into. The first two generations are not so easy to find — none of my friends or acquaintances had them, and it’s not like you can check them out on loan. I knew my only course of action would be to track them down and buy them. With a lot of research and a little work, I did just that.

A field-stripped third generation G17. The Flat Dark Earth frame is a special run that is made periodically.
A field-stripped third generation G17. The Flat Dark Earth frame is a special run that is made periodically.

Those two Glocks — which are both becoming very collectable — are still just as good as they were when they were released. They could be placed against any competitor’s guns on the market and still fare well. They are timeless designs, and built to be a workhorse. I have since decided to collect the G17 generations, since this is the only model that spans all four generations.


This article is an excerpt from…

Glock Reference GuideGlock Reference Guide
By Robb Manning
Undeniably one of the most notable and influential firearms designs in the past half-century, the Glock pistol maintains its reputation as the preferred autoloading pistol for law enforcement and personal protection. With Glock Reference Guide, explore the evolution of the Glock pistol from the beginning to the very latest models. Coverage of every model produced is provided, as well as detailed descriptions and images. Buy it here

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