In 1911, Colt began production of their now-iconic Government Issue Model pistol, which was of course adopted by the U.S. Army that year as the Model of 1911. Other than licensed production by a few companies– North American Arms and Remington Arms – UMC– as well as production by the Army-owned Springfield Armory during the Great War, the company maintained all the patents and remained the home of the “M1911.”
Post-war came some more licensed production overseas in Norway (by Kongsberg) and Argentina (Esteban de Luca Arsenal) for limited military contracts, but Colt remained caretaker of the model, which was upgraded to the M1911A1 after 1924, for another decade and a half.
Then came World War II, where Colt once more was forced to allow competitors (Ithaca and H&R) and other manufacturers new to the gun market (typewriter maker Remington Rand, railway signal maker US&S, and the Singer Sewing Machine company) as well as the Army’s arsenals to produce their vaunted .45 ACP hardballer for Uncle Sam.
Colt reverted to the status as prime 1911 maker after 1945 and remained on top until the late 1970s when a few small companies (AMT, Essex, Auto-Ordnance, etc.) started horning in on the action, which led to Colt securing new patents for “80 Series” guns in an attempt to retain market share.
By the late 1980s, though, all bets were off, and more companies started making custom 1911s (Caspian, Clark, Wilson Combat) while overseas guys like Llama and Star in Spain made a ton of budget near-clones.
And so on until today when it seems most of the largest pistol makers– such as Browning, Dan Wesson, Kimber, Ruger, Savage, Smith & Wesson, Springfield Armory, SIG Sauer, and Walther– are all in the game.
Meanwhile, even though Llama and Star faded away, they have been replaced by a very eager (and particularly good for the money) Rock Island/Armscor from the Philippines, EAA/SDS/Tisas in Turkey, Taurus in Brazil, and Cimmaron in Italy.
Meanwhile, several top-shelf 1911 makers have opened shops in the past 25 years– guys like Nighthawk Custom, Ed Brown, Les Baer, and Cabot– who specialize in the bespoke and truly eye-catching.
It is a wonder that Colt still makes 1911s at all with all the competition.