Greatest Gunsmiths: Georg Luger

  • George Demopoulos

“If you want peace, prepare for war.” That’s a line that turn-of-the-century gunsmith Georg Luger took to heart. Luger’s name may not be as ubiquitous as modern gunmakers like John Garand, Eugene Stoner, or even Luger’s contemporary John Moses Browning. However, many readers are probably intimately familiar with Luger’s greatest work: the 9x19mm cartridge, also known as “9mm Parabellum.” We’ll take a look at the life and times of Georg Luger in this post.

Cutaway of a Luger pistol chambered in 9x19mm.

Who Was Georg Luger?

Luger was born in the Tyrol region of Austria to a surgeon. He joined the Austrian Empire’s Army Reserve as an officer in 1867 while simultaneously working on weapons designs. During his early years making firearms, he developed both a rifle and a pistol. While this early pistol had many similarities to the later Luger pistol designs, it had one major difference: it was chambered in 7.65x21mm.

However, Luger saw some improvements to be made over the 7.65x21mm cartridge. He kept refining his design, and in 1908 the German Army began churning out Luger pistols chambered in an entirely new caliber: 9x19mm.

Georg Luger and the 9x19mm Parabellum

Although Luger invented a pistol that would bear his name (and became Germany’s standard-issue pistol in both World Wars), that’s not his claim to fame. Instead, the invention that immortalized Luger was the cartridge he invented for the Luger pistol: the 9x19mm.

Luger himself dubbed the round “9mm Parabellum.” The name came from the old Roman adage “si vis pacem, para bellum.” Translated into English, the phrase means “if you want peace, prepare for war.”

Although it seems bellicose, the phrase was meant to describe a way to avoid conflict: make yourself so ready for war that no one would dare attack you. That summed up Luger’s intentions behind the cartridge itself.

The 9x19mm cartridge saw extensive use by the Axis forces (particularly Germany) during the Second World War. Since then, it’s made a name for itself as one of the most popular present-day cartridges for military, law enforcement, and civilian purposes. 

The cartridge has become one of the most ubiquitous rounds today. By some estimates, more than 60% of police used 9mm pistols in 2008 – a number that has likely only increased in the years since.

7.65x21mm cartridge on the left. Two 9x19mm cartridges to its right. Photo Courtesy of Cebalrai

9mm Parabellum Specs

  • Bullet Size: 9.01mm diameter.
  • Bullet Weight: usually 115 or 124 grain (7.45g or 8.04g respectively).
  • Velocity: between 1,180 ft/s and 1,400 ft/s, depending on powder load.

Later Years and Death

Although Luger invented the most widely-used pistol round in history, he barely got paid for it. He sued the German arms company Deutsche Waffen- und Munitionsfabriken for unpaid royalties, and eventually won his case. He died in 1924 at the age of 74.

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