Walther firearms are renowned for their excellent quality in their native Germany and throughout the world. Therefore, it is hardly surprising that James Bond loves this brand and is often seen spotting a PPK or P99. Today, the German manufacturer makes a wide array of weapons, including:
- Submachine guns
- Tactical knives
Although it has achieved international prominence, the company had humble beginnings, and its story is nothing short of intriguing. Here is a brief history of this remarkable company.
Walther Firearms: The Beginning
Walther’s story began in 1886 when 28-year old Carl Walther opened a gun-production workshop in his parents’ home in Germany. Being a war veteran, he certainly had experience with guns and knew how they worked.
He started with simple manufacturing tools, namely a foot-pedal lathe, a vise, and a forge. His greatest asset, however, was his creativity and commitment to designing quality guns. It was only a matter of time before he expanded his production to hunting and target rifles.
He would soon need two employees, as well as help from his five sons. By 1903, the company could no longer run from his parents’ home. He, therefore, extended the original building by three stories, and there was enough space for the growing business.
The Growing Business
Carl’s firstborn son, Fritz Walther, played a crucial role in the exponential expansion of the company. He spent some time in Munich, where he saw high demand for pocket pistols. People, especially in Austria-Hungary, needed guns for personal protection due to political unrest.
Fritz knew that the Walther company was well-equipped to produce pistols in bulk. In 1909, he submitted a patent request for a gun that used blow-back technology. Thus was born the world-famous Model 1 of the Walther pistols.
The company went on to produce nine pistol models. Models 1 to 5 had a 6.35 caliber, while models 7 to 9 were in 7.65 calibers.
The company experimented with a nine-caliber bullet for their Model 6 pistol, but it was unsuccessful. Only 1000 of these guns were made. Consequently, there is a high demand for these guns among collectors.
The Effect of the World Wars on the Walther Company
WW1 sunk Germany’s economy, and it also negatively impacted the Walther family. For one, Carl’s middle son Willy was conscripted to the army and suffered a mortal injury. He lost his life in 1914.
This was a significant blow to the Walther family and one that Carl couldn’t handle. In 1915, he, too, passed away. The leadership of the firm thus fell squarely on Fritz’s shoulders.
The second negative impact that the war had on the Walther family was the dwindling economy. Because of the country’s harsh financial conditions, people were struggling to meet basic needs. They didn’t have money to spend on non-essential items like guns.
Faced with countless challenges and realizing that the pistol market was crowded, Fritz decided to focus on manufacturing police pistols, commonly known as PPs.
The production of police pistols started in earnest in 1929. These garnered popularity quickly for three reasons. They were highly dependable, of good quality, and cost little to manufacture.
He would, later on, produce guns for the German army during the second war, designing the 9mm caliber P.38 pistol. The demand for this gun rose to astronomical levels during the war, exceeding Walther’s ability to produce them. Eventually, the company had to outsource production services.
Due to the exceedingly high demand for guns and excessive pressure on the Walther company, it ceased to prioritize quality control. Cheap aluminum replaced quality steel, and plastic replaced wooden parts.
Eventually, the Walther factory and village were destroyed during the war. Fritz was left with nothing but the patents and designs for his guns.
Despite the havoc that the wars wreaked on the Walther company, Fritz did not give up. He set up shop once again in Ulma in 1953, where he renamed the P.38 to P1. In 1957 he was awarded a contract to equip the new West Germany Army known as the Bundeswehr.
Fritz passed away in 1967, and his son Karl took over the company’s management. He focused his attention on manufacturing sport rifles. In 1993, the company was acquired by Umarex, a subsidiary of the PW Group.
Today, the company is still thriving and trades in the United States under Walther Arms Inc. It is based in Fort Smith, Arkansas.
The tale of Walther’s is as riveting as it is inspiring. The company is considered one of Germany’s success stories, and it shows how far resilience and creativity can take a person.