Today is the birthday of Eugene Stoner - one of the most underappreciated American firearms designers of the 20th century.
Eugene Stoner was born in Gosport, Indiana, in 1922. After attending high school, Stoner enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps during World War II; he served overseas in both the South Pacific and northern China.
After the war, Stoner worked as a design engineer for ArmaLite, a division of Fairchild Engine & Airplane Corporation. In 1955, Stoner finalized designs on his ArmaLite AR-10, a revolutionary military rifle that was compact, easy to fire, and lightweight. Due to the changing needs of the U.S. Continential Army Command (CONARC), new parameter challenges were set out for firearm companies in the beginning of 1957. Five months later, Stoner gave a live demonstration of his modified version of the AR-10, soon to be known as the infamous AR-15. The new rifle exceeded supersonic speeds at 500 yards, could shoot both semi-automatic and fully automatic, and could penetrate steel plates at 500 yards. These feats were capable due to a modified cartridge Stoner had helped develop, which would be later known as the .223 Remington. In the proceeding years, Stoner was able to demonstrate the AR-15’s superiority with live testing in the presence of Commanding Army General Willard G. Wyman and Air Force General Curtis Le May (who later ran as VP with George Wallace). With the impressive accuracy, power, and low failure rate, 80,000 AR-15s chambered in .223 were ordered for the Air Force to replace the lacking M-14. The following year, the ArmaLite AR-15 was adopted as the official rifle of the U.S. military, being named the M16.
Stoner eventually left ArmaLite to work for numerous other firearm companies, assisting with weapon and caliber innovations. He designed the Stoner 63 Weapons System – among the first modular weapon systems able to reconfigure as a standard automatic rifle, a light machine gun, a medium machine gun, or a solenoid-fired fixed machine gun. He co-founded ARES Incorporated of Ohio, where he designed the ARES Light Machine gun, an evolved version of the Stoner 63. In 1990, he joined Knight’s Armament Company (KAC) where he invented the Stoner Rifle-25 (SR-25), which is currently being used as a sniper rifle by the U.S. Navy.
In May of 1990, Eugene Stoner and Mikhail Kalashnikov (creator of the notorious AK-47) had the opportunity to meet for the first time in Washington D.C. The two pioneers in firearm innovations bonded over their similar passions by visiting the NRA’s National Firearms Museum, shooting at a local gun range, and having the opportunity to witness new weapon testing at the Marine Corps base in Quantico, Virginia.
On April 24, 1997, Eugene Stoner passed away at the age of 74 due to cancer. He was interred in Quantico National Cemetery in Quantico, Virginia.