Lawn mowers and AK-47s
Even if you have no interest at all in the world of warfare and weaponry, chances are you’ve heard of the legendary AK-47. And it’s hard not to. The rifle is everywhere – it’s probably the most common assault rifle you’d see in a video game or in a movie, and there have been countless references to it throughout modern day pop culture, due to its incredible popularity and its high rate of production. This is a gun that’s been around since the late 40s, and many soldiers still swear that there is yet to be an assault rifle than can surpass it in practicality, functionality, and efficiency.
The history surrounding this killing machine obviously traces back to its inventor Mikhail Kalashnikov, who died recently on December 23, 2013, at the advanced age of 94. He was born in 1919, to a peasant father and mother, and was the 17th among 19 children, only 8 of which survived past their childhood. His father was deprived of property and was sent to Siberia, whereupon he died. His mother remarried, and after a near-death experience due to an array of early life illnesses at the age of 6, Mikhail began his foray into poetry and machinery. In his teens, due to the harsh living conditions of Siberia, he began going hunting more often than not in search of food, using his father’s rifle. He continued hunt well into his 90s thereafter.
Yet his experience with machinery first began after seventh grade, after he asked his stepfather’s permission and hiked back to his hometown of Kurya, where he found a job as a mechanic at a tractor station and first developed a passion for developing weaponry. By 1938, he was enlisted in the Red Army and began his work as a tank mechanic, eventually becoming a tank commander with his engineering skills and relatively small build. In 1941, he was hospitalized after his tank took a German shell, and overheard fellow soldiers complaining about the lack of Russian rifles and the overwhelming superiority of the German assault rifles. Subsequently, he began work on designing a rifle for his own country. After his release from hospitalization, his talent in weapons design was recognized, although his first gun was rejected for use. He was reassigned to the Central Scientific-developmental Firing Range for Rifle Firearms of the Chief Artillery Directorate of the Red Army, which, if you’d ask me, is a hell of a lot of text to fit onto a door.
By 1947, after a prototype assault rifle began the line that would culminate in his first success, he had developed the legendary AK-47 (short for “Avtomat Kalashnikov model 1947“). By 1949, the Soviet Union adopted the AK-47 as its standard issue assault rifle, and Kalashnikov was praised nationally. He further refined his invention, creating the AKM in the 60s, and the later AK-74 in 1974.
Yet despite the updates to the design, the AK-47 remains to be the favorite among rebels and terrorists, with an approximated 100 million weapons produced by 2009, half of which are counterfeits. Financially, rights to the weapon and its design were never claimed by Kalashnikov, as he refused to make money off of his invention and claimed that he got to work designing the rifle as a service to his country – despite that, the official producer of the AK-47 and its subsequent designs, Izhevsk Machinebuilding Plant orIZHMASH, patented the gun in 1997, yet only controlled about 10% of global production by the end of 2006.
Kalashnikov himself owns 30% of his grandson Igor’s labeling company “Marken Marketing International“, which uses the family name to produce and sell merchandise such as vodka, umbrellas and the likes.
Over the years leading up to his death, Kalashnikov remained active in both the design of around 150 small arms and his more personal hobby of poetry and education, having written several children’s books in an effort to help educate Russia’s youth after the fall of the Soviet Union. He claimed that, looking back at the conceiving of his most famous invention, he wished he would have invented something more useful rather than destructive, “for example a lawn mower.” Despite that, he defended his original intentions and stated that he created the weapon to help his country and his army, although he expressed deep regret about the misuse of his design and the way the gun easily gets into the wrong hands: “I created a weapon to defend the borders of my motherland. It’s not my fault that it’s being used where it shouldn’t be. The politicians are more to blame for this.”, as the rights and responsibility of the gun’s design went to the Russian state, not to Kalashnikov himself.
He was hospitalized earlier this year in November, before eventually succumbing to old age on the 23rd of December.