Olympic Pistol History

With Ode to History & Tradition . . .

“If we are to have a pistol, let us have the best, and let us be properly instructed in the same, so that we can work with it with confidence and precision.” 

-- Arthur Corbin Gould, Modern American Pistols & Revolvers (1888)

After Cody and before Miculek, there was Paine, Lane and Frederick. Those are the pistol legends of yesteryear that helped create great American interest in the sport of pistol shooting around the turn of the 20th century.

While the game and culture has changed significantly in the more than 100 years since, that Olympic dream is still every bit as alluring now as it was then for young men and women across this country.  America’s Pistol Team needs your help and it is time to declare Shooting as Your Olympic Sport and help change the future for this challenging and fascinating pistol discipline. 

Can you invest in the idea of getting an American pistol athlete back on the podium? Pierre de Coubertin, a French pistol champion and founder of the Modern Olympic Games, ensured shooting’s place in Olympic competition right from the very beginning in 1896. Over the next 50 years, American pride and innovation helped fuel some pretty good success in pistol shooting. The Paine brothers got it started in 1896 with a combination of Colt Army and Smith & Wesson Russian revolvers, and .22 caliber Stevens and Wurfflein single shot pistols. Twenty-year-old “pistol wizard” Alfred Lane would collect six Olympic medals during the 1912 and 1920 Olympic Games using a Colt Officer’s Model revolver, chambered in .38 S&W Special.  Learn more about Alfred Lane . . . 

All these pistol greats had one thing in common.  American ingenuity and support. The rise of American gun manufacturing traces back specifically to Olympic pistol competition.  From the ranks of international competition rose the names of Colt, Smith and Wesson, H&R, High Standard, Stevens (now Savage) and Wurfflein. 

A cash-strapped U.S. Revolver Association leaned on the goodwill of Colt and Smith & Wesson to help send pistol athletes to Antwerp, Belgium, site of the 1920 Olympic Games.  It was there that another pistol star arose in 39-year-old Karl Frederick, who would win the Free Pistol match and earn two team medals.  Frederick would later go on to become NRA President from 1934 to 1935, a critical timeframe in NRA history with passing of the National Firearms Act. Learn more about Karl Frederick . . . 

Joe BennerFrederick’s S&W single-shot pistol wouldn’t be retired until some 28 years later when he loaned it to Joe Benner at the 1948 Olympic Games, finishing just out of the medals in fourth after losing the tiebreaker after shooting the second-best score for the match.  Benner would avenge that tough defeat with a gold in Free Pistol in 1952. finished fourth after being tied for second and pushed out of the medals in the tiebreaker. Free Pistol. He’d revenge that 1948 bitter disappoint by taking gold in 1952. 

Marine Lieutenant Colonel William McMillan was a six-time Olympian using a High Standard .22 caliber pistol to achieve his success internationally including as the 1960 Olympic gold medalist in Rapid Fire Pistol.  His use of the Colt Match .45 helped also earn him domestic top honors year after year.  

Learn more about William McMillan . . . 

America’s Olympic pistol athletes have left a distinguished mark on their sport and country. From influences on the early beginnings of the NRA and a stout military prowess, pistol athletes represent the best of America.  1948 Olympian John Layton served as Washington D.C. Police Chief from 1964 to 1969. His teammate Walter Walsh was an FBI agent and helped bring down the Brady gang in 1937.  He’d later join the Marine and would serve in World War II.  1952 Olympian was an NRA Board member who served in the Marines during World War II and enjoyed a distinguished career with the Detroit Police force. 

MEET AMERICA’S PISTOL LEGENDS:   Lane | Walsh | Benner | McMillan | Fox