Glock is one of the most recognizable names in the firearms industry. This company’s products are so popular and well-known, the word Glock has entered common vernacular as a synonym for any handgun, just as Colt once did.
Discover Glock’s atypical history, how it became a firearm company, who invented the Glock pistol, and how Glock pistols became successful.
Foundation and Beginnings
Glock Ges.m.b.H is an Austrian company based in Deutsch-Wagram, 15 miles northeast of Vienna. The history of Glock starts in 1963. Glock was initially known for producing various consumer goods like doorknobs and curtain rods from steel and injection-molded plastics and polymers.
It wasn’t until the 1970s and 1980s that Glock entered the defense industry. They applied their knowledge to the production of combat knives (Feldmesser 78, Feldmesser 81), hand grenades (HdGr81), entrenching tools (Feldspaten), and other miscellaneous military equipment.
The First Glock Firearms
In 1980, the Austrian Federal Army (Bundesheer) placed tenders for a new combat handgun to replace their aging WW2-era Walther P38.
The new handgun had to be a self-loading design chambered in 9x19mm NATO, capable of accepting a minimum of 17 rounds. It also had to meet a series of stringent safety and durability standards.
The company’s founder and head engineer, Gaston Glock, had no experience designing firearms. However, he intended to use his extensive knowledge of plastic materials to respond to the tender and produce his own combat pistol.
In 1982, Glock assembled a team of industry specialists and experts with law enforcement and military background, providing the company with input on what would make an ideal combat pistol.
Their expertise, combined with Gaston Glock’s experience with polymers, resulted in the creation of the first Glock pistol. Glock produced working prototypes of their first pistol in just three months. As Glock’s 17th patent, the new handgun was named Glock 17.
The first Glock 17 samples competed against large and well-established manufacturers, such as FN Herstal, Beretta, Heckler & Koch, SIG Sauer, and Austria’s oldest gun manufacturer, Steyr.
Despite being a complete newcomer to the gun industry, the Glock 17 defeated its competitors. The Austrian armed forces, the Bundesheer, formally adopted the pistol in 1983 as the Pistole 80, placing an initial order of 30,000 units.
Original Glock Pistole 80
Norway followed suit in 1984, becoming the first NATO country to adopt the Glock pistol, giving it NATO National Stock Number: NSN 1005-25-133-6775.
Glock Goes to America
In late 1985, Glock opened its first international subsidiary, Glock, Inc., in Smyrna, GA. Initially, Glock’s U.S. branch mainly handled sales and assembly of firearms from parts produced in Austria.
By 1986, the first Glock pistols became available on the U.S. civilian market. The first ads marketing their availability appeared on page 20 of the June 1986 issue of the famous gun magazine, American Handgunner.
In 1988, the first updates to the Glock pistol design were introduced, creating what is now known as Generation 2 (Gen 2). Although most of the changes were minimal and focused on improving ergonomics, the ATF (Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives) requested another. It wanted a steel plate bearing the pistol’s serial number embedded into the frame under the muzzle.
Adoption by law enforcement
By far, Glock’s most well-known customers are American law enforcement officers. The mid-1980s were a period of rising drug-related crime, fueled mainly by the introduction of crack cocaine.
Criminal organizations were becoming better armed and more violent, and U.S. law enforcement agencies felt increasingly outgunned. In response, most police agencies nationwide started transitioning away from .38 Special or .357 Magnum revolvers in favor of high-capacity, self-loading pistols.
Seeing an opportunity, Glock started marketing their pistols to the police market during this unique period in American law enforcement history.
The company aimed to capture the market and convert as many police departments as possible. Glock employed aggressive marketing tactics, including deep discounts, trading previous service handguns for new Glocks (sometimes at no cost), and even inviting police chiefs and agency representatives to strip clubs in Atlanta.
The strategy was highly effective. Throughout the 1990s, Glock quickly took over the law enforcement market. In 1998, the Austrian gunmaker’s products dominated 50% of the market share, and by 2017, the percentage rose to 65%.
Once the U.S. law enforcement community adopted Glocks, their products immediately gained a positive reputation. Glocks are lightweight, highly reliable, accurate pistols that are simple to use and even simpler to maintain, making them ideal for shooters of any level.
The Glock quickly entered pop culture and became a staple of action movies. One of the first depictions of the Glock pistol was Die Hard 2. In the movie, an infamous scene depicts Bruce Willis describing it as a “porcelain gun from Germany that doesn’t show up on airport metal detectors.”
Although the infamous movie line is wildly inaccurate, it reflected common misconceptions about polymer-framed handguns in the early 1990s. At the time, they were still relatively uncommon to shooters and enthusiasts.
Eventually, the Glock pistol’s popularity with civilians and law enforcement contributed to these misconceptions dissolving. It became a staple of the handgun market, winning customers over through its simplicity, reliability, and reasonable pricing.
Glock and the U.S. Military
Glock products equip nearly ⅔ of America’s law enforcement agencies and almost 50 countries’ armies, police forces, and security agencies. They are also popular in the special forces community, including the Green Berets and the Navy SEALs.
However, one achievement has eluded the Austrian firm for over 30 years: Becoming the standard service handgun of the U.S. military.
In 1983, the Department of Defense invited Glock to participate in the XM9 pistol trials, seeking a replacement for the M1911. Military officials requested 35 samples from the company, but Glock was unable to meet the request at the time. The XM9 trials concluded with the adoption of the Beretta 92F, becoming the U.S. Military’s M9 pistol.
Glock had another chance in 2017 when the DoD announced the XM17 Modular Handgun System competition to replace the M9. This time, Glock came fully prepared. They offered the Glock 19 MHS, meeting all DoD requirements - including a manual safety, something Glocks typically lack by design.
However, the Austrian company lost to longtime competitor SIG Sauer, whose P320 pistol was adopted and designated M17.
Today, Glock is an established and highly-respected name in the firearms industry. The company has created five generations’ worth of models suitable for nearly any customer. The selection includes full-size models for combat, duty, and home defense, compact models for general-purpose use, and subcompact models for concealed carrying.
Despite producing some of the world’s most popular handguns, Glock is atypical among firearm manufacturers for never having developed rifles, shotguns, or pistols not derived from the original Glock 17.
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