Indiana’s own Eugene Morrison Stoner cut his teeth in small arms as a Marine Corps armorer in World War II and left the world some of the most iconic black rifles in history.
Born on Nov. 22, 1922, in the small town of Gosport, just outside of Bloomington, Indiana, Stoner moved to California with his parents and graduated from high school in Long Beach. After a short term with an aircraft company in the area that later became part of Lockheed, the young man enlisted in the Marines and served in the South Pacific in the Corps’ aviation branch, fixing, and maintaining machine guns in squadrons forward deployed as far as China.
Leaving the Marines as a corporal after the war, Stoner held a variety of jobs in the aviation industry in California before arriving at ArmaLite, a tiny division of the Fairchild Engine & Airplane Corporation, where he made soon made his name in a series of ArmaLite Rifle designs, or ARs, something he would later describe as “a hobby that got out of hand.”
What do you do if you want to design a better AR15, without using any of the parts, technology, or patents involved with an actual AR15. Well, if you are ArmaLite in the 1960s, you remember what you did with Eugene Stoner and get him to work it out, and not just to 16, but all the way to AR18.
ArmaLite was a little known California based company that spun off from Fairchild Aircraft in the 1950s. With Eugene Stoner as their Chief Engineer, they produced a number of ArmaLite rifles (ARs). First came the AR-5/7 Survival Rifle, then the AR-10, then the AR-15, which was paydirt for the company. Cashing out early in January 1959, they sold the designs and trademarks for both the AR-10 and AR-15 to Colt who, somewhat needless to say, did their own thing with them.
This however left the company with just their AR-7 22LR crash guns—not a diverse product listing for a company still looking to grow in size. Seeing how effective the AR-15 design had been, Stoner was tasked with repeating it. But there was two catches. One, it of course had to be better than the AR15 and, two, it couldn’t use any of the designs Colt now held the patents on lest they be seeing them in court. Stoner began work on what ArmaLite called first the AR-16, then the AR-18.
Read the rest in my column at Guns.com