The Glock is a series of semi-automatic pistols designed and produced in Austria. The company’s founder, engineer Gaston Glock, had no experience with firearm design or manufacture at the time their first pistol, the Glock 17, was being prototyped in 1982.
Glock did, however, have extensive experience in advanced synthetic polymers, knowledge of which was instrumental in the company’s design of the first successful line of pistols with a polymer frame. Glock introduced ferritic nitrocarburizing, a form of case hardening, into the firearms industry as an anti-corrosion surface treatment for metal gun parts.
Despite initial resistance from the market to accept a ‘plastic gun’ due to durability and reliability concerns, Glock pistols have become the company’s most profitable line of products, commanding 65% of the market share of handguns for United States law enforcement agencies, as well as supplying numerous national armed forces, security agencies, and law enforcement agencies in 48 countries.
In 1980, the Austrian military announced that it would seek tenders for a new, modern duty pistol to replace their World War II–era Walther P38 handguns. The Austrian Ministry of Defence formulated a list of criteria for the new generation service pistol including: the design has to be self-loading; the magazines must have a minimum capacity of 8 rounds; all actions necessary to prepare the pistol for firing and any actions required after firing must be done single-handed, either right- or left-handed; the pistol must be absolutely secure against accidental discharge from shock, stroke, and drops from a height of 2 meters onto a steel plate; and disassembly of the main parts for maintenance and reassembling must be possible without the use of any tools.
Glock became aware of the Austrian Army’s planned procurement and in 1982 assembled a team of Europe’s leading handgun experts from military, police, and civilian sport shooting circles to define the most desirable characteristics in a combat pistol. Within three months, Glock developed a working prototype. The new weapon made extensive use of synthetic materials and modern manufacturing technologies in its design, making it a very cost-effective candidate. Several samples of the Glock 17 (so named because it was the 17th patent of the company) were submitted for assessment trials in early 1982, and after passing all of the exhaustive endurance and abuse tests, Glock emerged as the winner.
In the mid-1980s, American law enforcement agencies were becoming concerned that they were being ‘outgunned’ by heavily armed criminals involved in the crack cocaine trade. In response, Glock’s U.S. representatives marketed their new weapon to police, pointing out its higher capacity for ammunition and arguing it was more accurate and easier to maintain than the revolvers most departments were using at that time. The introduction of the Glock led to incorrect reports by the media claiming that the polymer composition of the gun’s frame would render it invisible to metal detectors and airport X-ray machines, a belief which was also echoed in the movie ‘Die Hard 2.’ These incorrect portrayals of the Glock pistol exposed the gun to a great deal of publicity, invariably leading to an increase of sales.
The Glock’s frame, magazine body and several other components are made from a high-strength nylon-based polymer invented by Gaston Glock and called Polymer 2. This plastic was specially formulated to provide increased durability and is more resilient than carbon steel and most steel alloys. Polymer 2 is resistant to shock, caustic liquids, and temperature extremes where traditional steel/alloy frames would warp and become brittle.