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SLR Prototypes: The Smith-Condit Self-Loading Rifles

By Michael Heidler | Photos by Patrick Quinn

In the years prior to World War I, the U.S. Ordnance Department was already investigating the possibility of introducing a self-loading service rifle. As early as 1904 and 1909, the office had made up lists with specific testing procedures for future self-loading weapons. From 1910 onward, several different rifles were tested, including examples from Dreyse, Madsen (Schouboe), Benét-Mercié, Bang, Kjellman, Rock Island Arsenal and Standard Arms Company. However, the performance of these weapons did not convince the military. Most of the weapons were too complicated in design, too prone to failure or difficult to handle. Only the Bang self-loading carbine was examined more closely.

One of the unsuccessful weapons was the gas-operated rifle of the Standard Arms Company. It is also known under the name “Smith-Condit Self-Loading Gas-Operated Rifle,” after its designer Morris Smith, and the company secretary of Standard Arms, W.D. Condit. The company had high hopes for their weapon projects: In 1907, a factory building in Wilmington, Delaware, was acquired by means of capital from the famous DuPont family for the production of weapons. The aim was to generate 150 new jobs and an output of 50 guns per day (according to The Iron Age Magazine, May 1907). But that came to nothing. The “Standard Semi-Automatic Sporting Rifle, Model G” sold sluggishly, and even the design as a slide-action (pump gun) “Model M” did not sell much better.

The weapons were indeed superbly manufactured and visually appealing, but they soon earned the reputation of being unreliable, because the design was prone to failure. The company got more and more into financial difficulties. The military requested some weapons for testing, leading to hope for a large order that would rescue the company. But even there, the judgment was scathing: In both trials on April 16 and June 8, 1910, in Springfield, the self-loading rifle flunked. This was mainly because it wasn’t robust enough in the eyes of the military, but also because its rate of fire was less than 90 rounds per minute and its disassembly procedure was cumbersome...

This article first appeared in Small Arms Review V22N4 (April 2018)
and was posted online on February 23, 2018

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