Even if you don’t like guns, you’ve probably heard of Glock. The company is so popular in the gun industry (and beyond) that its name has become synonymous with handguns.
Glock guns are everywhere, from security agencies worldwide to civilians and experienced shooters carrying the guns for self-defense, home defense, and external safety.
However, as Glock history reveals, it wasn’t always this way. So let’s take a deep dive into the past to learn how this gun manufacturer came to be so entrenched in pop culture.
In 1963, the Austrian businessman, engineer, and injection molding manufacturer, Gaston Glock, founded Glock Ges.m.b.H.
Before manufacturing the Glock handguns that would become the firearm industry darlings we know and love, the company started making consumer goods like injection molding parts and curtain rods. The latter product was a call back to Gaston Glock’s experience working in a curtain rod factory before founding Glock.
However, the 1970s saw Glock shift focus to the defense industry, with the company manufacturing military products like field knives, grenade casings, and belt links for machine guns. This change in business model was the precursor for Glock’s current success in the firearms industry.
Entry Into the Handgun Market
In 1980, the Austrian military (the Bundesheer) wanted to adopt a new service pistol to replace the Walther P38, its World-War-II-era handgun.
The Austrian armed forces desired their new combat pistol to have two key features: a self-loading design and a chamber capacity of 17 rounds. However, before you think otherwise, the Glock 17 is so named because it was Glock’s 17th patent, not because the first Glock pistol met the large magazine capacity requirement.
Thus, when the Austrian Army put out a tender for their desired Walther P38 replacement, Gaston Glock, who had no experience producing firearms, responded.
In 1982, Glock (the founder) put together a team of experts, some from law enforcement agencies, others with a background in the military, and set to work designing and creating the original Glock pistols.
Birth of the Glock 17
Because the Glock pistols were meant to be used by Austrian law enforcement, they had to fire at the drop of a hat in dangerous situations.
At the same time, Glock had to find a way to prevent accidental discharge occurrences, or at least keep them to a minimum.
Therefore, Glock designed the handgun with three internal safeties: a firing pin, the trigger, and drop safeties. These safety precautions ensured the gun performed to its optimal level, keeping the chances of an accidental discharge low.
Also, as previously mentioned, the gun met the Army’s expectations for capacity (it was chambered in 9 mm) while using lightweight materials as inputs for the build.
In line with present-day Glock’s continuous innovation (integrated recoil spring assembly, Glock tactical lights, loaded chamber indicator, and the like), the first Glock pistols featured a hammer-forged barrel and a consistent trigger pull.
Additionally, Glock kept things simple by incorporating a small number of parts into the gun’s design. To this day, Glock assembles its pistols with only 34 parts. Moreover, Mr. Glock’s background in injection molding and plastics would benefit the design process, as he’d innovate by creating polymer-framed handguns.
Unsurprisingly, Glock’s first pistol passed the Austrian Army’s stringent tests, beating more established competitors like Heckler and Koch, Sig Sauer, Beretta, and Steyr, the oldest gun manufacturer in the country. Thus, in 1983, the Austrian Army adopted Glock’s creation as its official service pistol.
More success would soon follow when, in 1984, the Glock pistols passed the NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) durability test, catching the attention of the Norwegian Army. Impressed with the Glock 17, Norway’s armed forces adopted it as the body’s standard sidearm, paving the way for the adoption of Glock pistols in militaries and police departments worldwide.
The year 1986 saw the opening of Glock Inc., Glock’s U.S. subsidiary (and soon-to-be headquarters) located in Smyrna, Georgia.
Initially established to handle handgun sales and assemble parts imported from Austria, by 1986, the entity oversaw the proliferation of Glock guns in the U.S. civilian market. As a result, Glock’s products are some of the most popular handguns for concealed carry in the United States.
By 1988, numerous iterations to the Glock 17’s design had been made, making it more ergonomic than previous generations. Since then, Glock has introduced new features and designs for its handguns (up to the fourth generation, gen 5, and beyond). Some of these features include:
- The Universal Glock rail (an accessory rail)
- The subcompact Glock (and other subcompact models)
- A modular optic system
- A steel plate (carrying the pistol’s serial number)
- A rough-textured frame
- Interchangeable backstraps
- A front strap and back strap
- Polygonal rifling
- A reversible magazine catch
Additionally, the company continues to adjust the components of the polymer frame on its guns, introducing attributes like finger grooves, thumb rests, a trigger guard, and a trigger pin.
Adoption by U.S. Law Enforcement
With Glock’s success reverberating across the U.S. gun market, it wasn’t long before America’s law enforcement agencies became interested in the brand. At the time (the 1980s), drug-related crime was on the rise, with its ascent fueled by the introduction of cocaine.
U.S. police forces felt the increasingly-violent criminal organizations involved in the drug trade were better armed and so began to transition away from revolver-style firearms in favor of self-loading pistols with a high-capacity magazine. Glock understood an opportunity when it saw one and began to market its pistols to U.S. law enforcement.
Using every marketing tactic at its disposal (including rock-bottom discounts and allowing law enforcement agents to trade in their old pistol for a new Glock), the company attempted to capture a significant market share in policing.
By the time the 1990s were in full swing, Glock’s strategy had paid off handsomely: in 1998, 50% of the law enforcement market used its guns. Later, that figure rose by 15% for a 65% market share in 2017.
Glock Enters the Mainstream
Besides an increase in law enforcement market share, Glock’s focus on marketing to policing agencies had another positive side effect: its guns became attractive to the general public.
U.S. police forces using the Glock in training and during service gave the pistol an aura of being a reliable firearm that wouldn’t disappoint in life-threatening situations. In addition, its small number of internal parts, excellent grip, large magazines, and options for customizability with other accessories were a hit with ordinary firearm-carrying citizens.
Therefore, it wasn’t long before Glock’s pistols made their way into Hollywood productions of action movies, with the earliest appearance being in the Bruce Willis vehicle Die Hard 2. Additionally, rappers like Tupac Shakur and Dr. Dre name-dropped the pistol in their lyrics, further contributing to its popularity and perception as a high-caliber weapon.
Weathering Negative Press
Despite a successful entry into the North-American market, Glock’s products weren’t without their detractors. However, you could say that the gun’s popularity made it appealing to actors, both good and bad, causing different factions to take notice.
For example, back in 1986, the American media coverage around Libya’s desire to buy Glock 17s didn’t do the gun any favors from a reputational standpoint.
Additionally, anti-gun lobbyists feared, wrongly, that the pistols could be used by terrorists to pass metal detectors due to their polymer frames. Of course, these unfounded fears overlooked the fact that Glocks of the day were made with steel, an alloy that can easily set off a metal detector.
Luckily, Glock was able to weather this bad press by explaining to congress how its product was easily detectable, avoiding a ban on its guns.
The Elusive U.S. Army
While Glock was able to get U.S. police departments to adopt its guns, it hasn’t had the same success with the military. The company has been invited to participate in the XM9 pistol trials (which sought to replace the M1911 as the military’s standard sidearm) on two occasions, first in 1983 and again in 2017.
Unfortunately, the company’s bids proved unsuccessful on both occasions, with Beretta winning the first time and Sig Sauer taking the prize on the second occasion.
Glock is a renowned pistol maker whose firearms are used by armies and security apparatuses worldwide. From the first-generation Glocks to its current fifth-gen offerings, no other firearm enjoys the name-brand recognition associated with these pistols.
What makes the brand’s history fascinating is that Glock’s founder didn’t have a background in producing firearms, only making the leap when the opportunity presented itself.
However, thanks to a little good fortune, aggressive marketing, and unwitting product placement, the company’s brand will be on the lips of gun enthusiasts and non-enthusiasts for years to come.