A Fascinating Behind-the-Scenes Look At the History of the AR-15

Richard Douglas

Everyone has heard of the AR-15. As a long-standing staple of both the American military as well as homesteaders looking to protect their property, the AR-15 has had a long and controversial history

When and Why Was the AR-15 Developed?

The AR-15 was originally developed during the Vietnam War as a counter to the AK-47. At the time, the American Army was using the M14 as their standard firearm, and it was failing them miserably. The guerilla forces on the other side not only had superior tactics when it came to fighting in their home terrain, but they were using much faster and more reliable weapons.

M1 Garand Rifle

The United States only had one option. They had to commission a new type of rifle to be made that was faster, more versatile, more accurate, and more lightweight than the one they were currently using. ArmaLite Inc. responded to the request with a model for a new type of rifle that had never been seen before, the AR-15.


Unlike the M14, the AR-15 was a high-velocity semi or fully automatic rifle. On top of that, it was the first automatic rifle to utilize high caliber .223 bullets. This significantly increased its firepower, utility, and cost-effectiveness. Today, Ruger makes an affordable and popular model in the AR-556.

However, although ArmaLite designed and developed the new rifle, it wasn’t until Colt purchased the design from ArmaLite that the Army placed a mass supply order for them. It’s partially for this reason that while not many remember who ArmaLite was, Colt has become a household name.

How Effective Was the AR-15 vs. the M14?

The AR-15 was superior to the M14 that the Army was actively using at the time in every way. It was lighter, faster, and more efficient than the much clunkier M14. Additionally, due to its lightweight frame, soldiers were able to carry a lot more ammo with them which turned the tide of many skirmishes. 


They weren’t perfect, unfortunately. Although it remains a popular weapon today, AR-15s are known for needing an almost excessive amount of maintenance to ensure that they continue working properly. When the rifles were initially distributed to the Army, Colt made the mistake of describing the rifles as “self-cleaning”. 

Because of this claim, the first soldiers to receive them weren’t given cleaning kits. The rifles jammed frequently and commonly failed to release the cartridges after firing them. This made them notorious for being less reliable than the Ak-47s that the guerilla forces used. 

Are AR-15s Still As Popular Today?

Today, AR-15s have become a favorite of hunters and people looking to protect their homes and families. These rifles are especially popular when combined with the best long range scope for AR-15

Unfortunately, in today’s media, the AR-15 has gotten a pretty bad reputation due to the prevalence of shootings that have taken place in recent history. Part of the problem is that the term AR-15 has become an umbrella term that is misused, often when referring to other types of rifles that were used in these shootings. 

One of the main reasons for the confusion is that many believe that the AR initials stand for automatic rifles or assault rifles. Although that is what the initials have come to be synonymous with, the initials originally, and have always, officially stood for the manufacturer’s name, ArmaLite. 

The AR-15 is a rifle that has a lot of history, and there are numerous reasons as to why it remains so popular and so controversial nearly seventy years after its creation.