An Interesting Gun Made in Rhode Island

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Today when we think of some of the interesting or iconic arms of World War II certain examples come to mind. The German G41, G43, STG44, the Russian SVT-38 and 40. In the United States we might think of the Thompson Sub Machine Gun, the Browning Automatic Rifle, and the M1 Garand, sometimes called “the gun that won World War II.” But there is one odd duck out there that isn’t as well-known but interesting in its own right, the Model 1941 Johnson rifle.

Melvin Johnson was born in Boston, Massachusetts in 1909. He joined the Marine Corps Reserve and in 1933 he was commissioned a 2nd Lieutenant, and by 1934 had graduated Harvard Law School. In 1935 he was an observer for the Marine’s at Springfield Armory just as the U.S. Army was looking for a semi-automatic rifle to adopt and Johnson had a design in mind. At the same time, John C. Garand had designed the M1 Garand rifle which was accepted into service in 1936. That didn’t stop Johnson from working on his design. He continued on designing and building a weapon he felt had some superiority over the Garand. It had a larger magazine capacity at ten rounds and could be easily loaded with a stripper clip in use with the U.S. Model 1903 bolt-action rifle. But the gun was a little more complex, prone to jam, and not as easily stripped in the field for cleaning and maintenance by the common soldier. It was accepted into service in limited numbers and used by the Marine Corps to some degree in the Pacific Theater of operations.

The Johnson rifle was built in a company called “Universal Windings” of Providence, Rhode Island. They then set up production in Cranston, RI, with the company name of “Cranston Arms Co. inc.” - just around the corner from our gallery.

The rifle was slated to be sold to other countries but not many were ever shipped. I read an estimate that stated only about 30,000 of them were ever built but the records don’t exist to really know for sure. At the end of World War II, the arms issued to the Marines were turned in and Johnson bought them back and sold them privately through American Rifleman magazine.

Sadly, Johnson died of a heart attack on a business trip to New York City in 1965. He was only 55 years old.

Given the production numbers of the Johnson Model 1941 rifle and their interesting story, it is no wonder that these are highly collected today by those that want to have all of the examples of the arms used during World War II.

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