December 24, 2013
AK-47 Inventor Dead At 94
Former Soviet Lt. General Mikhail T. Kalashnikov passed away on December 23 of this year. His name might be familiar but the invention that bears his name is downright infamous – that would be the AK-47 assault rifle, arguably the most abundant firearm ever made through its various models, including the AKM version.
While it could be easy to ask how many millions have died as a result of the AK-47, the simple answer is that it wasn’t the first – nor will it be the last – truly infamous firearm. Hundreds of millions of the weapon were made and during the Cold War, the Soviet Union gave it to revolutionaries around the world, and it was produced “under license” by many of the Soviet’s allied nations, including China.
The gun did not make Kalashnikov a rich man, at least not while the Soviet Union existed. As numerous authors, including Larry Kahaner in this book “AK-47: The Weapon That Changed the Face of War,” and C.J. Chivers noted in his book “The Gun,” the man who made this most notorious of guns lived a modest life. While the AK-47 was licensed to many nations, there had never been a patent, so Kalashnikov never saw a ruble for his designs. He survived in his retirement in what would be considered squalor by most American standards.
Yet Kalashnikov was a retired General and a decorated Hero of the Soviet Union – one of the highest awards anyone could have received in the communist nation. His invention was so popular that rap songs have been written about it, and it even adorns the flag of Mozambeque.
Kahaner in his book chronicled the visit of Kalashnikov to the United States, which only occurred in 1990 under the goodwill of glasnost. The Soviet Union was dying and Ed Ezell, the small-arms curator of the Smithsonian Institution invited Kalashnikov to visit the United States. The two had correspondent for years, but it began as a shock for the former General, who even reported the first correspondence to the KGB!
As it wasn’t with the Smithsonian Institution’s budget, nor Kalashnikov’s, the Virginia Gun Collectors Association paid footed the bill to have the gun maker and his daughter come to America. When he arrived he didn’t look so much like an honored guest but a very poor old man.
His hosts offered to take him shopping.
During the trip he found shoes he liked very much but was distraught the ones on the shelf were not his size. He couldn’t believe that the store had stocks of shoes in all sizes.
A dinner was arranged so that Kalashnikov could meet Eugene Stoner – a name few Americans know, yet again we all likely have heard of his invention. That would be the M-16, the standard American rifle since the Vietnam War.
At dinner the two discussed their respective guns, but Kalashnikov was shocked to hear that Stoner was essentially unknown in his nation and received no medals for his invention. He was more shocked to learn that Stoner made about $1 dollar per M-16 sold, and flew to the dinner in his own plane!
While never a rich man Kalashnikov was able to market his name to some extent, and his likeness could be found on products such as vodka.
Both Kalashnikov and Stoner (who passed away in 1997) have now passed to the ages, but each has left his mark on the world – for better and worse.
Image Credit: Oleg Zabielin / Shutterstock