Inventor of AK-47, most popular firearm ever, dies at 94
MOSCOW — Mikhail Kalashnikov started out wanting to make farm equipment, but the harvest he reaped was one of blood as the designer of the AK-47 assault rifle, the world's most popular firearm.
It was the carnage of World War, when Nazi Germany overran much of the Soviet Union, which altered his course and made his name as well-known for bloodshed as Smith, Wesson and Colt. The distinctive shape of the gun, often called “a Kalashnikov,” appeared on revolutionary flags and adorns memorabilia.
Kalashnikov died Monday at age 94 in a hospital in Izhevsk, the capital of the Udmurtia republic where he lived, said Viktor Chulkov, a spokesman for the republic's president. He did not give a cause of death. Kalashnikov had been hospitalized for the past month with unspecified health problems.
Kaslashnikov often said he felt personally untroubled by his contribution to bloodshed.
“I sleep well. It's the politicians who are to blame for failing to come to an agreement and resorting to violence,” he told The Associated Press in 2007.
The AK-47 — “Avtomat Kalashnikov” and the year it went into production — is the world's most popular firearm, favored by guerrillas, terrorists and the soldiers of many armies. An estimated 100 million guns are spread worldwide.
Though it isn't especially accurate, its ruggedness and simplicity are exemplary: it performs in sandy or wet conditions which jam more sophisticated weapons such as the U.S. M-16.
“During the Vietnam war, American soldiers would throw away their M-16s to grab AK-47s and bullets for it from dead Vietnamese soldiers,” Kalashnikov said in July 2007 at a ceremony marking the rifle's 60th anniversary.
The weapon's suitability for jungle and desert fighting made it nearly ideal for the Third World insurgents backed by the Soviet Union, and Moscow not only distributed the AK-47 widely but also licensed its production in some 30 other countries.
The gun's status among revolutionaries and national-liberation struggles is enshrined on the flag of Mozambique.
Kalashnikov, born into a peasant family in Siberia, began his working life as a railroad clerk. After he joined the Red Army in 1938, he began to show mechanical flair by inventing several modifications for Soviet tanks.
The moment that firmly set his course was in the 1941 battle of Bryansk against Nazi forces, when a shell hit his tank. Recovering from wounds in the hospital, Kalashnikov brooded about the superior automatic rifles he'd seen the Nazis deploy; his rough ideas and revisions bore fruit five years later.
“Blame the Nazi Germans for making me become a gun designer,” said Kalashnikov. “I always wanted to construct agricultural machinery.”
In 2007, President Vladimir Putin praised him, saying “The Kalashnikov rifle is a symbol of the creative genius of our people.”
Over his career, he was decorated with numerous honors, including the Hero of Socialist Labor and Order of Lenin and Stalin Prize. But because his invention was never patented, he didn't get rich off royalties.
“At that time in our country patenting inventions wasn't an issue. We worked for Socialist society, for the good of the people, which I never regret,” he once said.
Kalashnikov continued working into his late 80s as chief designer of the Izmash company that first built the AK-47. He also traveled the world helping Russia negotiate new arms deals, and he wrote books on his life, about arms and about youth education.
“After the collapse of the great and mighty Soviet Union so much crap has been imposed on us, especially on the younger generation,” he said. “I wrote six books to help them find their way in life.”
He said he was proud of his bronze bust installed in his native village of Kurya in the Siberian region of Altai. He said newlyweds bring flowers to the bust. “They whisper, ‘Uncle Misha, wish us happiness and healthy kids,'” he said. “What other gun designer can boast of that?”
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Starkey: Tomlin lived in his fears
- Slain St. Clair officer walked into ‘worst nightmare’ for police
- Founder of Z&M Cycle Sales in Hempfield killed in Florida motorcycle crash
- W.V. entrepreneurs offer hope as coal fades as economic engine
- Ex-recreation director settles age discrimination lawsuit against Pittsburgh
- 7 percent in Allegheny County allowed to carry concealed gun
- Field conditions could play factor for Clairton in PIAA quarterfinals
- Penguins’ reshuffled top line of Crosby, Dupuis, Kunitz looks familiar
- Mentor takes young Brackenridge hunter under his wing
- Increasing player salaries pinch financial flexibility of Pirates
- 2,200 union employees of ATI lose coverage