Why Your Professor Doesn’t Let You Cite Wikipedia, and Other Misfacts

What was the first Double-Action/Single-Action self-loading pistol? We think we know the answer, but let’s check with Wikipedia. In the article on “Trigger (firearms)” they tell us several times what it is:

This is an original WWII-era PPK. Note the short grip frame and the fragile wraparound grip.

This is an original WWII-era PPK. Note the short grip frame, safety with 90º of rotation, and the fragile wraparound grip. The circular marking above the magazine release (all PPKs were made with the Browning-style release used on all but the earliest PPs) is the logo of RZM, the Reichszeugsmeisterei — literally “Imperial Thing Master” but really the Nazi Party’s quartermaster store. (It later was part of the now defunct McGraw Kaserne in Munich). 

In the late 1930s and early 1940s, Walther introduced the first “double-action” semi-automatics, the PPK and P.38 models, which featured a revolver-style “double-action” trigger, which allowed the weapon to be carried with a round chambered and the hammer lowered.

Umm… conventional wisdom is that it was the PP, in 1929 (although as we’ll see, the conventional wisdom is almost as wrong as Wikipedia on this).

Very Early Walther PP. This one has a heel magazine release like its forerunner, the internal-hammer SA-only Model 8. (It's for sale in Pennsylvania).

Very Early Walther PP. This one has a heel magazine release like its forerunner, the internal-hammer SA-only Model 8. (It’s for sale in Pennsylvania). PP stood for Polizei Pistole, and the shortened (in both grip/mag and barrel) was the PP “Kriminal” or “Detective Police Pistol.” (Plainclothes detectives were and are called the Kriminalpolizei). 

The PPK didn’t come along until 1931, and design of the P.38 didn’t even get rolling until the mid-thirties. But they repeat this “fact” that isn’t a fact, in the same article:

There are thousands of examples of DA/SA semi-automatics, the Walther PPK being the first, followed up by the Walther P-38.

Again, the PPK wasn’t even the first Walther. Wikipedia has no PPK article, (the PPK links above go to the Walther PP article), but the PP article is a dog’s breakfast of random and contradictory claims. It does note that the PP began to be manufactured in 1929 but elsewhere (on the same page!) claims it wasn’t used as a German service pistol until 1935, was produced in France from 1945 to 1986, was produced in the USA from 1945 for Interarms (Interarms didn’t exist yet, and there was no need for a US-made PPK before the Gun Control Act of 1968), and a few paragraphs from the French production from 1945 claim, they date the onset of French (Manurhin) production to 1952, and that the PPK is much more popular than the PP. (Not if you count German police sales).

See, this is why your professor goes ape if you cite Wikipedia on a term paper. Because if you use it to look up something you already know about, you see how crummy it really is. There are literally dozens of mistakes on the two pages we cited and linked.

Starting with, “What was the first double-action semi-automatic pistol?”

However, Wikipedia is not alone in crediting it to Walther. Some other outfits that do include:

In 1929, the company revolutionized the world of semi-auto pistols with the introduction of the first double-action (DA) model, the Walther PP. This was followed in 1930 by the slightly more compact Walther PPK.

Why this little bit of Walther historical trivia?

Uh, cause it’s wrong? That’s probably not why he included it, eh. He probably didn’t know. Who else didn’t know?

The Walther PP, introduced in 1929, was the first commercially successful double action (DA) pistol.

Well, to his credit, he didn’t say PPK and he included “commercially successful.” But even given this weasel-wording, he’s wrong, as at least one DA/SA auto pistol was made in quantities of tens of thousands before the Walther PP saw the light of day.

Jeez. Did anyone get this right? At least, that the PP wasn’t the original DA/SA automatic?

Well, yeah. Garry James at the American Rifleman, come on down:

Introduced in 1929, Carl Walther’s PP (Polizei Pistole) was by no means the first double-action semi-automatic ever designed—several had appeared since 1905—but unlike most of the earlier attempts it worked, and worked well.

James is right. Who else? How about no less an authority than Edward C. Ezell?

Walther was not the first company to introduce a double-action, self-loading pistol, but they were the first to create a commercially attractive and economically practical double-action self-loader. ….

Although the PP can be viewed as a simple evolution of design– it has the same disassembly system as the Model 8 –it was really a revolutionary product at the time.NOTE

We do think even Ezell overstates the case for the uniqueness of the PP.

And next week (after we’ve sorted the gunsmith special on our bench) we hope to have some info on the real first mass-produced SA/DA autopistol:  the Little Tom of Alois Tomiška, which we mentioned last month in a post that featured images of two .32 ACP versions.

A .32 Little Tom produced by Wiener Waffenfabrik in Wien (Vienna), Austria in the 1920s.

A .32 Little Tom produced by Wiener Waffenfabrik in Wien (Vienna), Austria in the 1920s.

Oh, and the Little Tom? The most unique thing about it is not its DA/SA lockwork, because other designers went on to copy that.

2 thoughts on “Why Your Professor Doesn’t Let You Cite Wikipedia, and Other Misfacts

  1. Sommerbiwak

    that wikipedia article is a mess. Looks like many hands messing with it and mixing it up. And nobody bothered to set the whole article straight.

  2. DaveP.

    My lady is a librarian/”information specialist” with a MLS. Don’t get her started on Wikipedia.

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