Fabbrica d'Armi Pietro Beretta, commonly known as just Beretta, is the oldest and longest-operating firearms manufacturer globally. Europe has an incredibly rich history in the realm of firearms, probably born out of necessity from the sheer volume of wars that European nations have waged, whether from global conquest (or global response) or regional foe.
A Storied and Long Tradition
Beretta has an attribute that no other firearm company in the world can equal: longevity. Having first come into existence in the 16th century, Beretta has been manufacturing firearms or firearm components for around 500 years. No, that is not a misprint; Beretta has been at it for five centuries.
In the 1500s, their inaugural products were barrels for percussion rifles used by the Italian army in the 16th century. Beretta has provided arms in one form or another for all European wars since the 17th century. The Beretta company's great part is that it had remained in the same family's ownership ever since its inception centuries ago.
Beretta not only has a strong history but also has remained at the edge of technological advancements. In 1918, Beretta designed and manufactured the Model 1918, one of the first submachine guns ever produced.
After World War II, Beretta was involved in a project which would arm the Italian army with the BM-59 battle rifle. If it looked familiar, it was expected; the BM-59 was an adaptation of the M1 Garand battle rifle, of which a number were given to post-war Italy. In appearance, the BM-59 very closely resembled the M14 and was functionally very similar as well. They were re-chambered in the NATO standard 7.62x51mm, with a 20-round capacity detachable box magazine and other accessories.
Beretta's Big Break
In the early 1980s, the U.S. military was looking for a replacement standard sidearm for the venerable Colt M1911, which has been the standard sidearm for seven decades. The 1911 platform is still a cult-favorite pistol, but it was getting a little outdated as a standard-issue sidearm. With a capacity of 8+1, it was low on capacity and very high on overall weight. Also, 1911 is a beautiful firearm, but it is not incredibly easy to field strip, and again, it is cumbersome. The 9x19mm Parabellum was gaining ground as a standard sidearm caliber globally (it would become the NATO standard pistol caliber) and easily outpaced the big-bore .45 ACP in capacity. Also, it was far lighter in recoil.
The Beretta M9 won out, although barely beating the fantastic SIG Sauer P226, which was passed over merely because of cost constraints. After winning the U.S. military, the civilian version the Beretta 92F became somewhat of a cultural icon, and enjoyed a run as the standard sidearm of a few noteworthy law enforcement agencies to include the LAPD, and was iconic in the Die Hard and Lethal Weapon franchises.
The Future of Beretta Firearms
It is tough to say whether Beretta has the clout ever to recreate their 1980s success and land a significant weapons contract like the LAPD or U.S. military, of which each has a stake in SIG Sauer or Glock. Either way, the 92-series is still a popular seller, and their line of excellent sporting shotguns are fantastic. Only time will tell what the future holds for the oldest firearms maker in the world.