A Brief History of the AR15

Posted by Iron-Pig Armament Staff on 25th Feb 2023

Although not what the "AR" stands for, many call this America's Rifle. 

As of 2020, it was estimated that there were approximately 20 million "AR-Style" rifles owned by private citizens in the US. But what is the origin story of this American classic? 

Let's take a short dive into the history of the ArmaLite AR-15.

After World War Two and the Korean War, the US military sought to develop a new weapons system consisting of a select fire rifle and a general-purpose machine gun that used the same cartridge, the 7.62 x 51 NATO. The trials began, and in the fall of 1956, ArmaLite submitted the AR-10 for consideration. 

Despite being incredibly lightweight with a new and innovative design, the military decided to go with the Springfield T44, and the M14 was born. 

Early in the Vietnam War, however, reports were coming in that the M14 was nearly impossible to control in full auto, the soldiers couldn't carry enough ammunition, and were being outmatched by the AK-47. As a result, the Army decided to pursue a smaller caliber, the 5.56. In 1958 ArmaLite again submitted a rifle for consideration, this time a scaled-down version of the AR-10, the AR-15. 

Testing revealed the AR-15 to be significantly more reliable than the M14, and the soldiers could carry three times as many rounds (649 rounds of 5.56 vs. 220 rounds of 7.62). Despite these advantages, General Maxwell Taylor, the Army Chief of Staff at the time, decided to stick with the M14.

In 1959 ArmaLite sold the rights to the AR-10 and AR-15 to Colt, who then slightly modified the design. General Curtis LeMay, the Vice Chief of Staff of the Air Force, saw the AR-15 in a demonstration in 1960 and was so impressed he ordered 8,500 rifles. After a few years of infighting amongst the top brass in the Army and Air Force, the AR-15 was finally adopted by the US military in 1963. And in November of the same year, Defense Secretary Robert McNamara approved the order of 85,000 M16A1 rifles for the Army and 19,000 M16 rifles for the Air Force. 

The only difference between the M16 and the M16A1, is that the Army insisted on having a forward assist on their rifles which is why it has the A1 designation at the end. 

(Fun Fact:  Iron-Pig Armament Gives a little nod of recognition to this tidbit of history, in that like the M16, the "Predator" line does not have a Forward Assist.  Whereas like the M16A1, the Gladiator line does have a forward assist.  Those are not the only differences...but now you know...and knowing is half the...well, nevermind...).

After the M16 was born, colt dropped the name "Colt ArmaLite AR-15" and introduced a semi-auto version for the civilian market called the "Colt AR-15." 

Over the years, many slight changes have been made to the original design, including different stocks, barrel lengths, forends, etc. It has now become, possibly, the most versatile and customizable weapons system ever made. 

The M16/M4 has proven its effectiveness in battle over the last 60 years, and thanks to its modularity, accuracy, ease of handling, and dependability, the AR-15 has become the most loved and popular rifle on the civilian market today.