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The History of The Modern AR 15

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The modern black rifle is the most popular firearm sold in the U.S. But why? Where’d it come from, and what kind of storied history qualifies this rifle to be so ubiquitous with gun culture and the Second Amendment? Let’s find out:


The AR 15 began life as the ArmaLite 15, a rifle designed by one Eugene Stoner in 1956, though the design is not entirely original.In short, the ArmaLite 15 was the little brother to Stoner’s first firearm prototype: The AR 10, a 7.62 NATO-chambered battle rifle. Stoner was tasked with miniaturizing his creation into a lighter, fully automatic rifle, chambered in 5.56 NATO. It’s important to remember that small arms design at this time featured mostly stamped steel and wood. When the AR 15 rifle premiered, it looked like something out of the future. The heavy use of polymers and plastics was revolutionary at the time, and that made the rifle superbly light and easy to handle. 

This original example of Eugene Stoner's AR 10 inspired most of the AR 15's design

Purpose-Built for The U.S. Military

Stoner’s design was purchased by Colt in 1959 and became the Colt ArmaLite AR 15 rifle. This initial design, while more polished and militaristic in looks when compared to Stoner’s prototype, was still very different from the AR 15s we know today. One of the biggest changes Cold made included relocating the charging handle from the top of the receiver to the rear, a unique function we all know and love, as well as adding a forward assist. In 1964, the AR 15 was adopted by the U.S Military and designated the M16.

Colt's AR 15 more closely resembles the current black rifles we know and love

The M16 offered troops a lighter, more compact rifle in a lighter recoiling round compared to the then-standard-issue M14. The M16 doubled the amount of ammunition troops could lock and load (20 rounds vs. the M14’s 10 rounds). The M16’s shorter barrel and overall length made it easier to use in the dense jungles of Vietnam, and it worked even better in clearing buildings and navigating alleyways the cities. Unfortunately, the M16 made a terrible first impression with troops and was subject to malfunctions on a large scale. 

This wasn’t an issue with the design, but rather the military’s introduction of the rifle. Military leaders told troops the M16 was a self-cleaning rifle and so the U.S. Army did not issue any cleaning equipment. On top of that, Colt did not line the bore and chamber with chrome (offering critical rust and corrosion protection), which was a terrible fault considering the humidity and moisture troops experienced in Vietnam. The 5.56 NATO ammunition originally issued was at fault, too. It used ball powder, not IMR powder. Once ammunition was reconfigured to use IMR ammo, and once appropriate cleaning equipment was issued, the M16 rifle became a solid performer and troop favorite.

The Changing Face of the AR 15 Rifle

The AR 15s of the civilian world closely mimicked the M16’s continuous development as it adapted and evolved to meet the challenges of warfare. Colt marketed the AR 15 to civilians and while it wasn’t an instant hit, momentum built. The rifle’s modularity ensured it could change and improve as time passed. The first M16 grew smaller and lighter, carbines were developed, and the civilian side followed suit. 

5.56 (7" Barrel & Magpul MOE Handguard) AR Pistol Upper

Our ultra-compact AR Pistol Uppers are some of the most accurate on the market

In the early 2000s, two major events caused the development and ownership of the AR 15 to increase exponentially: The War on Terror began and the 2004 ‘Assault Weapons Ban’ was dropped, once again allowing regular Americans to own real AR 15s. The Iraq and Afghanistan wars forced the M16 and M4 platforms to evolve and once again, the AR 15 followed suit. The rifle became more adaptable, more modular, and thus remained a favorite of civilian shooters. 

Building AR 15 rifles from parts like we love to do is a new trend compared to the age of the rifle. Our business became marketable less than a decade ago and has only grown in popularity as more and more companies produce more and more components. The AR 15 rifle is really the first and only rifle a normal, everyday Joe or Jane can build at home, without needing an entire machine shop, of course. The past of the AR 15 rifle is already established, but the future? That lies in the hand of you, the builder. 

Think building is too tough? Check out our build video, and then take a look at our complete rifle kits. You’ll realize just how easy it really is! You need no mechanical expertise -- just a little patience, an 80 lower jig, and a free afternoon. Our Ultimate AR 15 Rifle Kit includes literally every component and tool you need to go from a box of parts to a 100% functioning, legal, firing AR 15. Take a look!

The Ultimate AR 15 Rifle Kit


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