Eugene Morrison Stoner, the father of the AR-15 and the M16, is a titan in the world of both military- and civilian-use firearms. If he had done nothing but design the AR-15, his name would go down in history. But, of course, he did so much more than that. In addition to changing the landscape of American firearms, as well as the world stage, Stoner was also the archetypal “self-made American man,” working his way up from nothing on a high school education to forever change the world as we know it.
Born in Gosport, IN, in 1922, Stoner attended high school in Long Beach, CA, before working at the Vega Aircraft Company installing armament. Once World War II started, he enrolled in the United States Marine Corps, specializing in Aviation Ordnance. He served in Northern China and the South Pacific.
In 1945, at the war’s end, Stoner went to work in a machine shop owned by Whitaker, eventually working his way up to design engineer. In 1954, he went to work as the chief engineer for ArmaLite, then a division of Fairchild Engine and Airplane Corporation. His first projects were forerunners of the AR-15, with creative names like AR-3, AR-9, AR-11 and AR-12. These were all prototype small arms that never saw production. He did, however, see success with the AR-5, which was used as a survival rifle by the United States Air Force.
In 1955, Stoner completed the initial run of design on the ArmaLite AR-10. This was a revolution in the world of small arms – a weapon that boasted a compact size, was easy to fire and didn’t weigh too much. The AR-10 was chambered for the 7.62x51mm NATO, and was first tested at the U.S. Army's Aberdeen Proving Ground in 1956. It beat the competition largely due to its comparatively compact size. Still, the weapon was originally rejected in favor of the T44, which became the M14, mostly because of its late arrival in the testing cycle. Dutch company Artillerie Inrichtingen manufactured the AR-10 under lease until 1960. But this didn’t mean the AR-10 was anywhere near done.
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