The Story of the Glock Sidearm

March 1, 2019

Glock has been around for over thirty years. The phrase Glock 19 for sale has become a key marketing phrase for gun stores everywhere. The polymer frame and magazine capacity immediately caught the attention of the gun-owning public back in the early 1980s when Glock introduced the gun Glock Sidearm to the U.S.

Since then, by most estimates over 60% of the police in America use some form of Glock.

Gaston Glock

Gaston Glock worked as an engineer for a variety of companies in Austria until 1962. That year, he began his own company making curtain rods.

He eventually won a contract with the Austrian army to make knives. His factory began producing knives and entrenching tools along with the sheaths.

His use of polymers in making the sheaths became a critical design element in the first weapon his factory generated.

Glock Guns

In the early 1980s, the Austrian Army and security services still used the World War II-era Walther P38 sidearm. Gaston heard details about this at a dinner discussion one night with some senior Austrian Defense Department officials and offered to design a new handgun for the Austrian Army. The Austrian government agreed, and Glock immediately went to work.

Famous semi-automatic shotguns designers at the time, Steyr, Beretta, Sig Sauer, and H&K all competed against the upstart Glock.

In the shooting trials, the Glock easily outperformed all the others and won the government contract.


The timing of Glock’s radical rethinking and manufacture of his handgun worked in his favor in terms of sales outside Austria, specifically the United States.

Federal and local law enforcement in America had been using the classic .38 caliber revolver since the beginning of the 20th-century. Criminals and terrorists, however, increasing armed themselves with semi-automatics and high-tech weapons.

The radical design and quality workmanship of the new Glock Sidearm quickly garnered U.S. interest.

Introduction to the U.S. Market

The first generation Glock began U.S. production in 1986. Gaston established his first factory outside Austria in Smyrna, Georgia to service better the growing popularity of his icon handgun.

Production costs were low due to the design and, at the time, unique materials used in the manufacture. The Smyrna Plant became very profitable, taking a significant market share away from the traditional handgun maker, Smith, and Wesson.

The Polymer Design Advantage

The primary design element that made the Glock so different from the competition was the polymer frame.

Glock found he and his design team could use the same basic polymer used in his knife and entrenching tool sheaths as the frame for his new gun.

The tough polymer withstood the rigors of repeated firing as well as traditional frames.

Using plastic not only significantly reduced costs, but it also created an incredibly light-weight weapon.

Safety Features

Glock added a unique, three-part, safety feature that made this gun incredibly safe yet straightforward to use: The Safe Action System.

The first part of the system, the trigger safety, uses an extended trigger lever that sits in front of the secondary part of the trigger mechanism. When at rest, the trigger bar extends away from the sear. Effectively, there are two triggers that both must depress before the gun fires.

The second part of the system concerns the firing pin block. If the trigger is in a resting position without any pressure applied, a cylindrical block lowers automatically between the firing pin and the chambered cartridge, preventing the gun from firing. Pulling both triggers raises the block out of the way so the gun will discharge.

The third safety piece of the Glock is the drop safety mechanism. Since the trigger bar ramp keeps the firing mechanism from engaging the sear unless the shooter depresses both triggers at the same time, the gun will not go off if dropped.

Striker-Frame Design

A double-action design provides a long trigger pull that cocks the hammer and then releases it, firing the gun. Single action weapons require the shooter to manually cock the weapon, or in the case of a 1911, for example, racking the slide back before firing your first shot.

Striker-frame designs like the Glock uses a spring-loaded firing pin, kept under tension by racking the slide. There is no external hammer the shooter can pull back, or that is pulled back by pulling the trigger.

This design results in a very light, simple trigger pull that helps with accuracy and ease of use.

Other Features

Polymer frames were not the only feature Glock incorporated into his radical new gun. His team spent many man-hours determining how else to differentiate the new Glock from other manufacturers.

These features included:

Magazine Capacity

The Glock had a 17-round magazine capacity. Most semi-automatics had, at most, a 15-round capacity. Many competitor’s weapons held less than ten, and revolvers only carried six.

Trigger Pull

The new Glock had a trigger pull of less than half that of a revolver: five pounds compared to a Smith and Wesson revolver’s 11-pound pull.

Number and Interchangeability of Parts

A standard revolver in the 1980s had over 70 parts whereas the Glock used 36 or 38 only.

Moreover, all Glock parts are interchangeable, unlike those used in other weapons.

Anti-Gun Group Disinformation

The Glock was so simple and easy to use and performed so well; many gun control groups tried to restrict or ban the weapon.

Rumors began stating that the polymer frame made the gun undetectable by airport x-ray machines. This simply was untrue. Glocks have some metal parts, such as the slide.

Despite this, New York City and some other cities and jurisdictions banned the Glock based on false facts though most ultimately gun-owner lawsuits forced New York City to rescind the ban.

1982-1988: Generation I

Glock produced what are considered First Generation Glocks between 1982 and 1988.

Within a year of the first Generation Glock 17s introduction, the Glock name became almost as well known around the world as Beretta or Smith and Wesson. The cutting edge, for the time, the technology used to manufacture the weapon, and the standard features never seen together in one handgun ensured its instant success.

The iconic Glock 17 was the first weapon imported to America. Within a year, law enforcement, the military, and professional competitive shooters discovered the benefits of owning a Glock.

Glock listened carefully to the public response and feedback, and quickly made changes and upgrades, creating different versions of the original Glock 17.

Responding to the demand, Glock produced the 17L, incorporating a longer barrel and slide assembly, with an even lighter trigger pull and extended magazine catch.

Glock produced the third and final first-generation Glock, the Glock 18, to meet select-fire requirements requested by the military and law enforcement.

1988-1997: Generation II

Glock introduced several important features with the Generation II models.

Law enforcement began favoring .40 caliber ammunition, and in response Glock added the full-size Glock 22 and the compact Glock 23 in that caliber.

The company also began producing two .357 models: The Glock 31 and the Glock 32.

Given the popularity of the .45 in America, in 1990 the .45 ACP caliber Glock 21 became one of the available models.

Generation 2 was also when Glock added textured front and back straps along with an integrated recoil spring assembly.

1995-2019: Generation III

Glock added a forward accessory rail along with finger grooves molded into the front strap.

Another change included some interesting frame modifications. Glock added SF or Short Frame versions to some models as part of the company’s retail line.

SF models had shortened trigger reaches and heels, making the weapon more comfortable to grip for women and others with short hands.

Transitional models sold included the Glocks 19C, 20, 20C, 21, 21C, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30, 33, 36 and 39.

During the Generation III time frame, Glock started marketing, in partnership with the Speer ammunition company, a proprietary caliber round call the .45 GAP or Glock Automatic Pistol. The companies designed the ammunition as a shorter version of the .45 ACP with the same stopping power.

Glock also began manufacturing subcompact models in this and other calibers during this time.

2010-2016: Generation IV

Generation IV

You can identify Glock Generation IV models by “Gen4” roll-marked after the model number on the left side of the slide.

You can also recognize a Generation IV gun by the less aggressive frame texturing.

Each weapon produced after 2010 has interchangeable backstraps, a dual recoil spring, and a reversible magazine catch. Gen4 models come with four backstraps, two with extended beavertails and a smaller basic frame.

For competition, The Glock 41 Gen4 has a 5.31-inch barrel, using .45 ACP. In addition to the dual recoil spring for recoil reduction, the guns have white-dot front along with rear sights outlined in white.

One of Glock’s handguns designed for concealed carry, the Glock 43 has a diminished overall length of 6.26 inches. Shooters can carry seven rounds: six rounds in the single-stack magazine and one in the chamber. The weight is a very light 17.95 ounces unloaded.

Generation IV introduced the new Modular Optic System (MOS). Shooters have a choice of mounting plates that accept different reflex sights also.

2017-Today: Generation V

Glock continues to listen to its users and began producing Generation V guns in 2017. Gen5 guns include flared magazine wells to help with quicker loading in stressful situations.

Glock also removed the finger grooves from the grips, something many users complained about for some time.

Gen5 Glocks now come from the factory with Ameriglo GLOCK Spartan Operator lights. These have a tritium lamp front sight and two black outline tritium lamp rear sights.

All Generation V Glocks have a slightly more rounded front and no longer have a locking block pin on some models. All models now have a two-pin system.

Glock has done something to help left-handed shooters by adding an ambidextrous slide stop, accessible from both sides.

Gen5 Glocks have a new coating: the nDLC finish. Proprietary to Glock, this finish is supposed to last longer and protect better against corrosion and scratching.

Some internal changes to Generation V guns include reshaping the firing pin, making it less oval and with ramping along the sides. The trigger return spring is now located inside the housing.

A Generation V Failure: The loss to Sig Sauer for the $500 million U.S. Army Tender in 2017

The U.S. Army invited Glock to bid on a tender worth half a billion dollars to replace the aging M9. The U.S. Army adopted the Beretta M9 in 1985.

Although Glock was a strong competitor, the company lost the contract to Sig Sauer, due more to strategic reasons than the quality of the offering.

Ultimately Glock lost out more due to price. There was little difference in craftsmanship and features among the competitors.

Glock made two mistakes, both related to pricing. In the end, price matters, especially if two competing companies produce two similar, high-quality competing items.

Sig Sauer underbid them on the price by 100 million dollars.

Sig Sauer also partnered with Winchester for ammunition, which gave Sig a slight advantage in caliber availability and, once again, price.

The good news though is that Glock now sells this Generation V model gun built for the U.S. Army tender to the public: the modular Glock 19x.

Glock Accessories

Glock generally remains committed to perfecting the handgun. However, they do have some interesting accessories sold through their shop.

Glock Sidearm still sells versions of their original Austrian Army knife and entrenching tool, with the polymer sheaths.

In addition to the standard coffee mugs, branded gun cases, t-shirts, and other paraphernalia, Glock also sells several versions of a tactical light and laser that mounts on their weapons.

Final Thoughts

Glock has continued to surprise proponents and detractors alike with their commitment to innovation, quality, and desire to provide their customers with the broadest range of models and styles possible.

Glock listens to its constituency and reacts accordingly.

No matter what sort of shooter you are, military, law enforcement, competition, or a member of the public looking for an every-day, concealed carry firearm, Glock Sidearm has something for everyone.

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