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.”
The “AR” in each case does not stand for “assault rifle” as those who are uninformed often think. It is, in fact, short for Armalite, the firearms company that employed a generation of incredible forward-thinking gun designers, engineers, and inventors including Eugene Stoner, Charles Sullivan, Charles Dorchester, Arthur Miller, Daniel Musgrave, Robert Fremont and even the great Melvin Johnson (inventor of the M1941 Johnson rifle series).
Established in the early 1950s as a division of the Fairchild Airplane Corporation, the latter perhaps most famous today for their A-10 Warthog tank buster attack plane, Armalite leveraged aviation industry’s advances and applied them to firearms. Their engineers registered some of the first firearm patents incorporating foamed plastics in both stocks and handguards, aluminum receivers, self-lubricating alloy gun barrels, folding synthetic buttstocks, and other developments.
Before the original Armalite company tanked in 1983, they made it from the AR-1 to the AR-180, with lots of interesting stops in between to include bolt-action rifles, 22s, and even shotguns.
A better look at the whole AR lineage in my column at Guns.com.