#Lookback: John Pedersen- The Greatest Gun Designer in the World

    A series where we take a #lookback at the stories and history of our community, brought to you by Mick Pryor, Financial Advisor with Edward Jones.

    John Douglas Pedersen was born in Grand Island, Nebraska in 1881. He grew up in a family of ranchers and lived in several western states, including Jackson Hole, Wyoming, where he lived following the death of his parents. Pedersen began work for Remington Arms and developed influential pieces of technology and weaponry that advanced the firepower of the U.S. Army. 

    Pedersen’s first revolutionary invention was known as the “Pedersen Device.” This device increased the firepower of the average infantryman. Designed during World War I, the Pedersen Device modified the standard issue Springfield M1903 rifle. His design allowed the average soldier to fire .30 caliber cartridges in semi-automatic mode. His device in essence fed a semi-automatic pistol with a long 40-round magazine sticking out of the top right of the rifle at a 45-degree angle, with an ejection port being cut into the left side of the rifle’s receiver.

    On October 8, 1917, Pedersen traveled to Washington D.C. for a secret meeting in which he demonstrated his device for the Chief of Ordnance General William Crozier and a group of army officers and congressmen. Impressed, the Army placed orders for 133,450 devices and 800,000,000 cartridges for their 1919 planned offensive. The Pedersen device was to be unveiled in the 1919 spring offensive with the introduction of the M1918 Browning Automatic Rifle. Pedersen filed 4 patents accordingly with his device (all filed with his residence listed as Jackson) and the Army paid Pedersen $50,000 for the rights to produce his device with a royalty for 50 cents for each device manufactured. 

    Production started in 1918 along with the modified rifle, though the war soon ended. Pedersen’s contract was canceled at the beginning of March 1919, but not before 65,000 devices with 1.6 million magazines, 65 million cartridges, and 101,775 modified Springfield rifles were produced. With the $50,000 initially paid and the 50 cents royalty, Pedersen made a total of $82,500 total, roughly $1.8 million today. The Pedersen Device, along with its magazines, ammunition, and modified rifles, were all placed in storage but declared surplus in 1931. When the Army decided they did not want to pay the cost of storage, nearly all of the devices and modified rifles were destroyed.

    Pedersen’s other technological marvel was the Pedersen Rifle, officially known as the T1E3 rifle, which was a semi-automatic rifle produced during the 1920s for a replacement of the M1903 Springfield rifle following World War I. the Infantry Board began testing designs submitted and early on the Pedersen Rifle was the early favorite. The Pedersen Rifle was notably efficient and reliable, helped as the cartridge cases were coated in a mineral wax to ease extraction, though army officials were afraid that the wax could pick up dirt and cause operating failures. In spite of their fears, in February 1926 the Pedersen Rifle was tested and praised by the Army Chief of Infantry and Chief of Cavalry. In June of the same year, the Infantry Board recommended further testing but believed that the Pedersen Rifle was the most developed among the competing rifles. In 1928, after further improvements, the Infantry Board once again tested the Pedersen and even called for it to be adopted to replace both the Model 1903 Springfield and the Browning Automatic Rifle as the standard issue weapons of the army. Tests were even done against anesthetized pigs to test their lethality by the aptly named “Pig Board.” 

    At the conclusion of the Infantry Board’s tests in August of 1929, they believed that there were two standout rifles: The Pedersen Rifle and John Garand’s T3 rifle. Both the Pedersen Rifle and the T3 were subject to malfunctions, though now the Board believed the T3 was superior. Again, lethality was tested, this time by the “Goat Board” which tested on anesthetized goats. Over another couple years, the Board alternated preference between different models of the Pedersen and Garand rifle. 

    By 1931 the board seemed largely in support of the Garand rifle due to issues with the Pedersen T1E3. The Board recommended approval of the T3E2 (the .276 model of the Garand) for limited production by the Army and to develop the T1E1 (the .30-’06 Garand). The Pedersen was dropped from consideration and in four years, the newly improved Garand T1E1 would be adopted as the M1. The M1 became the standard service rifle for the US Army throughout World War II and the Korean War, with over five million produced during World War II alone. 

    Though the Pedersen Device was not used during World War I due to poor timing of its approval and production, and the Pedersen Rifle was not selected by the Infantry Board, Pedersen still remained in high regard as a gunmaker. Famed gun designer John Moses Browning claimed that Pedersen was the “greatest gun designer in the world.” 

    Author Kevin Scannell

    Next up for the Fremont County Museum

    March 27, 6pm at the Dubois Museum, “Bruce Blevins: Mapping Yellowstone” Wyoming Community Bank Discovery Speakers Series

    April 13, 10-4pm at the Riverton Museum, “Riverton Museum Open House”

    April 20, 9-2pm “Pioneer Museum Garden Expo-Historic Plant Booth” Bailey Tire/Pit Stop Children’s Exploration Series

    April 25, 7pm at the Pioneer Museum, “Lander in 1924” Wyoming Community Bank Discovery Speakers Series

    April 27, 1-3pm at the Pioneer Museum, “Sheep Shearing Day” Bailey Tire/Pit Stop Children’s Exploration Series

    Call the Dubois Museum 1-307-455-2284, the Pioneer Museum 1-307-332-3339 or the Riverton Museum 1-307-856-2665 for detail regarding their programs.

    The Wind River Cultural Centers Foundation has been created to specifically benefit The Dubois Museum, the Pioneer Museum in Lander and the Riverton Museum.  The WRCCF will help deliver the long term financial support our museums need to flourish.  In the current economic environment, the museums are more reliant than ever on donations from the private sector to continue to provide the quality programs, collections management, exhibits and services that have become their hallmark over the last four years.  Please make your tax deductible contribution to be used specifically for the benefit of the museum of your choosing by sending a check to Wind River Cultural Centers Foundation at PO Box 1863 Lander, WY 82520 or taking it directly to the museum you choose to support.  

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