For over 130 years, Walther Arms has been a fixture in the firearms industry. The company story is really quite fascinating. Originally, the company began as a family business that operated out of the Walther home.
“Do everything so well that no one can surpass you.” -Carl Walther
With keen attention to market demand, remarkable advances in design, and tenacity through near-impossible circumstances after World War II, Walther Arms has secured its domain in the industry. Here is a look at the company from humble beginnings to global recognition.
Read our related articles.
Walther PPK, Walther PPQ, Walther P22 — and more
Over the years the Walther has grown into a globally recognized manufacturer of high-quality firearms.
The Walther Story
In the late 19th century, early German firearms manufacturers centralized in the iron-ore rich region of the east-central state of Thuringia, Germany. The area was perfect for firearm development and manufacturing because it provided the ore necessary to make steel. It was also thick with the forests that provided the fuel for the process. These natural resources provided the necessary elements that the Walther family needed to begin what is now a highly esteemed manufacturer in the firearms industry.
In 1886, with generations of rifle manufacturers behind him, Carl Wilhelm Freund Walther started his rifle-making and repair business in his parent’s house in Zella-Mehlis, in Thuringia.
Those were still the early days of gun-smithing, as some people during that time were still using muzzleloaders. Over the years, Carl and his wife had five sons: Fritz, George, Whilhelm, Erich, and Lothar. The oldest three each learned the profession of rifle making at their father’s business. By 1903, the business had grown so much that they built a small factory on the Katzenbuckel hill Zella-Mehlis.
Carl’s oldest son Fritz was the son who took the Walther company in a new direction, after apprenticing with another gun manufacturer in Berlin at the age of 16. During his apprenticeship, Fritz saw that revolvers were becoming outdated. He grew interested in auto-loading handguns, believing that they would be in high demand in future years. During his apprenticeship, he wrote many letters to Carl about his ideas, eventually convincing him that the company should create its own handgun. When Fritz returned home from the apprenticeship in 1908, he and his father created a prototype and applied for a patent.
Three years later, the “Deutche Selbstlade Pistole Walther, Modell 1910, Kaliber 6.35” went into production. Walther changed the name of this pistol later after the Model 2 was created. After the Model 2, Walther continued on with the series, which ended with the Model 9, released in 1920 and produced until 1945.
While the company continued on with Model 9 production, it was hugely successful in the late 1920s, ’30s, and through the end of World War II with the PP, the PPK, and the P38. The Double Action/Single Action trigger pull was very well received and has been an industry-standard ever since. At the end of WWII, however, Walther experienced a significant setback when the factory was destroyed and firearm manufacturing was banned in Germany. Fritz Walther was only able to walk away with a folder that contained design drawings and more than 80 patent rights. He started over in a shoe repair shop, eventually opening production sites to manufacture office calculating machines until he was able to return to weapons production in the late 1950s.
Once Walther was back in the industry, the PP, PPK, and P38 were still in high demand. The P38 became the P1 and was adopted as the sidearm for the new German armed forces. Walther designed several other pistols: the TP, TPH, PP-Super, P5, and the P8. Walther also made hunting and sporting rifles, like the KKS and KKM series.
Fritz Walther died in 1969. His son Karl-Heinz took over the company, expanding the line of sporting guns and relocating main production facilities to Ulm, Germany. In 1983, Karl-Heinz Walther died, leaving the company in the hands of his nephew, Hans Fahr. Hans was the last company representative of the Walther family.
In the spring of 1993, it looked like Walther was about to be acquired by a foreign company. However, just before the acquisition, two well-known men in the German arms industry—Wulf-Heinz Pflaumer and Franz Wonisch—bought 90 percent of Walther shares. Thus, Walther became a part of the Umarex Group, remaining in German hands.
The new owners brought new ideas to the company and by 1996, Walther surprised the industry with its new polymer-frame pistol, the P99. From then until just recently, Walther released several polymer-framed pistols, including the P22, PK380, PPQ, and the Creed. In 2013, Walther USA was established in Arkansas in order to better meet American demand. Walther USA currently imports PPK and PPK/S models and other Walther pistols that are made in Germany. These current models feature a longer frame tang designed to prevent injury to the web of the shooter’s hand, which can be caused by the edge of the slide breaking the skin, especially those with larger hands.
Walther’s most recent innovation is the Q5 Match, which is a deviation from the polymer-framed handguns that the company has been releasing since the 90s. This new pistol combines the old with the new. The frame is constructed of steel, like the old-time pistols, but it has many modern features. Walther indicates that they plan on introducing a whole family of steel-framed pistols, showing the world that they intend to stick to Carl Walther’s motto, “Do everything so well that no one can surpass you.”
Walther Company Timeline
1886 – Carl Walther Started his own rifle making business in his parents’ home in Zella Mehlis.
1903 – A three-story addition was added to the home on the Katzenbuckel hill in Zella Mehlis to accommodate the growing business.
1908 – Carl and Fritz created a prototype of the Model 1
1911 – After receiving a patent, the Model 1 went into production in a 6.35 mm version.
1915 – Carl Walther dies, Fritz Walther took over the company with brothers by his side.
1920 – Walther Model 1-9 series ended.
1924 – The company added calculating machines to the Walther product line so that the company could branch out into the civilian market.
1929 – Walther introduced the PP model with double-action/single-action.
1931 – Walther introduced the PPK model.
1932 – Walther designed double-barrel shotguns, followed by small-caliber models.
1938- Werhmacht adopted Walther’s design and called it the “Pistole 38.” The pistol went into full production by mid-1940 and became standard issue in the World War II.
1945 – Walther factory destroyed in WWII.
1947 – Walther opened a calculator factory at Gerstetten.
1948 – Another calculator factory opened at Nieder-Stotzingen.
1949 – Walther employees celebrated the 1,000th calculating machine. The calculating machine enterprise generated enough revenue for the company to return to firearms manufacturing.
1953 – Production of small-caliber match rifles. Ex: KKS and KKM series.
1961 – Introduction of the Rapid-fire OSP
1966 – Friz Walter died. His son Karl-Heinz took over and expanded the line of sporting guns. He moved the main production facilities to Ulm.
1969 – Walther GSP launched – a small-caliber sport pistol.
1980 – New factory in Ulm Germany
1983 Karl-Heinz Walther died on November 2, leaving the company in the hands of his nephew, Hans Fahr – the last company representative of the family.
1983 – Walther licensed Emco in Gadsden, Alabama to manufacture the PPK and PPK/s – production continued until 1999.
1993- Walther joined the Umarex Group when Wulf-Heinz Pflaumer and Franz Wonisch bought 90 percent of Walther shares.
1996 – Walther P99 introduced. This pistol surprised the industry because it featured a polymer frame instead of a steel or light-metal frame.
2001 – Smith & Wesson became the licensee to product the PPK and PPK/s.
2002 – P22 released.
2006 – Walther’s new facility dedicated at the company’s120’th anniversary. Acquires trademarks of Swiss sporting weapons manufacturer H.a.mmerli.
2009 – Walther releases PK380.
2011 – Walther releases PPQ.
2013- Walther USA established in Arkansas.
2016 – Release of Walther Creed.
2019 – Release of the Walther Q5 Match Steel Frame pistol.
Walther Models 1-9
From 1911 to 1920, Walther transitioned from Models 1-9. Best we can tell, the Model 9 was in production until around 1940, so that’s approximately thirty years of production.
The patent for Walther’s first pistol was granted in 1911. Right away, Walther began production of the “Deutche Selbstlade Pistole Walther, Modell 1910, Kaliber 6.35.” It became available in the 1911 ALFA Catalogue of Arms and the Outdoors that same year.
Also referred to as the Model 1910, it had a simple design. It was a .25 caliber with a six-shot magazine and a heel-side magazine release. It was a striker-fired pistol with an exposed, fixed barrel and open-top slide with sides that extended forward to enclose the recoil spring that was situated underneath the barrel. After a while, Walther determined that the takedown procedure was too complicated, with small parts that were liable to come loose and be lost. So Walther redesigned the pistol and came out with the Model 2. It wasn’t until after the Model 2 was released that Walther renamed the Model 1910, dubbing it the Model 1.
Also a .25 caliber pistol, the Walther Model 2 was most likely manufactured from 1913 through 1915. It was smaller and less top-heavy than the Model 1 and featured an internal hammer with a concentric recoil spring (the spring surrounded the fixed barrel instead of being situated underneath it). It had a 6-round magazine with a side-mounted extractor. The rear of the slide had a gripping surface of nine square-angled cuts about a millimeter wide each, making it easier to retract the slide.
The Model 2 was available in two variants. The first variant had a pop-up rear sight and a magazine safety. Also, the rear-sight served as a loaded-chamber indicator. Estimates indicated that only a few hundred to a few thousand of the first-variant Model 2’s were made. The second variant did not have a rear sight or a magazine safety. Instead, it had a groove down the top of the slide with a small front site that didn’t rise above the sides of the groove.
After Model 1 and Model 2, Walther transitioned through a full sequence of pistols in the series until they ceased manufacturing the series in 1920. Model 2 through Model 7 are similar, each with blowback operation, fixed barrel, concentric recoil spring, concealed hammer, and a positive safety that locks the hammer when cocked. These models are designed in such a way that the slide is locked to the frame and cannot be blown off the gun to the rear.
This model was most likely in production from 1912 through 1913. It was a hammer-fired, unlocked-breech automatic pistol with a fixed barrel in .32 caliber. Basically the Model 3 is the same as a Model 2, but the connector and ejection port were on the left instead of the right. Also, the Model 3 has a short bushing with a slot underneath that forms the front barrel shroud, instead of a muzzle nut with a bayonet lug. Like the Model 2, this model has a sighting groove along the top of the gun with a small sight attached to the front bushing, as well as a magazine release that pushes to the rear. Most Walther Model 3 pistols had 13 vertical triangular-cut slide serrations at the rear of the slide, but at the end of production, they reduced it to 12. This difference marks the only difference between variant 1 and variant 2 of the Model 3.
Walther designed the Model 4 .32 caliber pistol in response to wartime demand for a handgun that was suited for military duty. In many ways, the Model 4 is like an upsized Model 3, with a larger grip, longer barrel, better sights, and increased magazine capacity. Like the Model 3, the extractor and ejection port are on the left. The concentric recoil spring was held in place by a bayonet-type lug that covered the front of the barrel and a sleeve at the rear. The rotating thumb lever safety positively locked the cocked hammer.
There were four variants to the Model 4, with differences in slide serrations, sights, and safeties. In May of 1915, the Prussian government ordered 250,000 Model 4’s.
The Walther Model 5 was a .25 caliber pocket pistol. Mostly the model 5 was a Model 2 with some cosmetic changes. They moved the serial number to the other side of the pistol and renamed it Model 5. Soon after they began production, they changed the slide serrations to 16 fine triangular-cut serrations at the rear of the slide. Some say that the Model 5’s had a better finish than the Model 2’s, but this is difficult to confirm since the known models are old with varying states of preservation.
Walther made two Model 5 variants. The first variant retained the sight groove on the top of the slide and the integral front sight that didn’t rise above the sides of the groove. It also sported the oval-shaped ejection port of the Model 2. The second variant of the Model five had a reshaped ejection port that was more squared-off with rounded corners. They made a slight alteration to the top curve of the slide and added a rib to the top of it, similar to the first variant of the Model 2. They also gave this model a rippled non-glare finish.
In 1915, the idea for a new military service handgun was introduced. Noting that the German government liked the 9mm parabellum cartridge, Walther scaled up the Model 4 and chambered it for 9mm.
This was a powerful cartridge for a blowback handgun, so designers relied on the spring pressure and the mass of the slide to prevent the slide from opening at high pressure. It had an 8-round single-stack magazine and weighed 34 ounces, which was a bit heavier than the Model 4. However, the extra weight was necessary to safely accommodate the cartridge. The Model 6 was the biggest pistol in the 1-9 series. Only about 1000 of them were made because the German government wanted a locked-breech gun. Some of these saw service as officer private pistols, but they were discontinued in 1917.
The Model 7 was produced for a short time during World War I concomitantly with the Model 5. Basically, the Model 7 was a larger version .25 caliber pocket pistol with a longer barrel, appropriately longer front barrel bushing, and increased magazine capacity. There were two variants of the Model 7, with differing slide serrations and markings. Both variants of the Model 7 had adjustable rear sights, but some of the late second variants had fixed rear sights at the very rear of the slide. Walther only produced about 45,000 of these.
The Walther Model 8 was a single-action pistol produced through the 1920s-30s. It was a .25 caliber pocket pistol that incorporated most of the internal features of previous models, with fewer parts and easier take-down. The slide extended to the end of the barrel, with no bushing and the trigger guard doubled as a take-down lever. There were three variants of the Model 8.
The first variant’s breach assembly could be removed from the slide and a small latch on the bow of the trigger guard on the right side released the trigger guard for disassembly. In the second variant, the breech block is was integrated into the slide, but the take-down latch button on the right side of the trigger guard was retained. The latch button was eliminated with the third variant, and a spring was added near the pivot point of the trigger guard to tension it upward. To accommodate the new trigger guard and spring, the trigger was slightly modified, which gave the third Model 8 a different profile.
Walther manufactured the Model 9 from 1921 through 1945. Originally it was manufactured to replace the Model 5, even though both models were available until the existing stock of Model 5’s were exhausted. Walther intended it to be the smallest .25 caliber vestpocket in the world, Stylistically, it was similar to the Model 8 with the same straight lines and identical grip medallion. It had a 6-round detachable box magazine, open-top slide, top-mounted extractor, and a recoil spring situated beneath the barrel.
Chambered in .25 ACP, Walther chose to replace the internal hammer of Models 2-8 with the spring-loaded striker that they had used on the Model 1 in order to reduce the pistol’s overall size. This proved to be the gun’s greatest weakness, because the small striker spring lost power when compressed for extended periods of time, failing to ignite primers.
Walther produced an estimated total of 250,000 Model 9’s in three variants. Type 1 had blue enamel grip medallions, with no magazine safety. The medallions were eliminated and replaced with a washer and screw in the Type II variation, for practical purposes. The Model 9 Type III had a magazine safety on the right side.
Both PP and PPK were initially chambered for the 7.65 mm (.32 ACP), but the .22 Long Rifle and .380 soon added. A few pre-WWII PP and PPK pistols were chambered for the .23 ACP – these are rare.
There are many variations in the PP series with different finishes, grips, engraving patterns, special editions. There are more than 70 different listings for PP and PPK values in the Standard Catalog of Firearms.
In 1929, Walther reached a milestone and introduced what some call the most famous handgun in history—the Polizei Pistole (Police Pistol). To design this pistol, Fritz and his team combined most of the technology available at that time. The PP models were the first mass-produced pistols with stamped parts, which increased dependability and lowered manufacturing costs. It had an exposed hammer and a Double Action/Single Action (DA/SA) trigger—double-action trigger pull for the first shot and a lighter single-action pull for follow up shots. The PP was the first DA/SA to achieve commercial success and some say it has set the standard for double-action pistol manufacturers ever since.
It operated on a straight blowback system, featuring a visible hammer, loaded-chamber indicator, left-side magazine release, and hammer-block safety. The combination safety/decocking lever is still used in many modern DA/SA semiauto designs. Several companies have manufactured PP series pistols, available in .22LR, .25 ACP, .32 ACP, and .380 ACP.
The PP had a sleek design and was a popular sidearm in Germany. Eventually, it was issued to Nazi Officers. Walther continued manufacturing it until the end of WWII in 1945 when the Walther factory was destroyed. At that point, firearm production was prohibited in Germany and in 1953 Walther contracted with the French company Manurhin to resume production of the PP. Manurhin continued manufacturing the PP and PPK’s until the Gun Control Act of 1968 (GCA68) went into effect.
An iconic pistol, some may remember this scene, in which James Bond was issued the PP.
A few months after the PP was released, Walther introduced the Polizei Pistolen Kriminal (plain-cloth or detective pistol), chambered in .380 ACP. As Walther puts it “At the time of its invention over 80 years ago, the PPK inspired an entirely new category in the firearm industry, now widely known as the concealed carry pistol.”
It was designed to be concealable and practical for undercover officers to use, featuring a shorter barrel, frame, and grip, as well as the DA/SA trigger that decocks when the safety is rotated down into the safe position.
PPK fans say that this pistol has stood the test of time, and after nearly 90 years, it’s still a relevant firearm. Walther says “To this day, the PPK is still one of the most sought after concealed carry pistols on the market. This demand serves as a testament to Walther’s long-enduring legacy of excellence and unparalleled performance. The timeless design and superior engineering make the PPK a true legend amongst firearms.”
In the USA, the PPK is now manufactured in the U.S. as the slightly reconfigured PPK/S.
According to GCA68 regulations which prohibited the importation of small handguns, the PPK was banned from import into the United States. The barrel and grip were both too short to meed regulations, but since American demand for the pistol was high, Walther developed the PPK/S to satisfy import regulations by mounting a compact PPK slide onto the larger PP frame, and adding the “S” for “Sport”. The PPK/S model passed the GCA68 point system and is now manufactured at Walther Arms in Fort Smith, Arkansas.
Since the PPK/S is larger, it isn’t as concealable as a PPK. However, some shooters say that it is more comfortable to shoot as people with larger hands appreciate the longer grip. It has a fixed barrel, operates on an all-steel blow-back system, and has a 7-round magazine. The slide locks to the rear after the last round is fired, but there is no way to manually drop the slide.
PPK used by James Bond in the movie “Skyfall.” So the PPK/S is considered a ‘spy gun.’ and functions as a concealed carry handgun.
The Walther P38 9mm semi-automatic pistol is considered by many to be the most famous handgun Walther ever made. It was designed to meet German Army demand for a pistol that was easier to manufacture at less cost than the Luger P08. Adopted as the German Army Sidearm in 1938, production didn’t begin until late 1939.
The P38 was the first pistol to combine a locked breech with a DA/SA trigger and one of the first service pistols to employ a loaded-chamber indicator, a small piece of rod that protrudes out of the top toward the rear of the slide when a round is in the chamber. single-column, It had a single-stack eight-round magazine, fixed front blade sight, and a fixed notched rear sight.
The P38 was popular with the troops because it was more reliable and rugged compared to the Luger P08. At one point during WWII, Walther could not keep up with war-time production demands, so the German government got Mauser—the manufacturer of the P08—and Spreewerk GmbH of Berlin to assist in production rates. After the war, about 600,000 more P38’s were produced from 1957 to 2000. It remained the German service pistol until 1994.
Walther’s first polymer handgun was designed by former Glock and Steyr engineers. It was originally available in 9mm in two versions. The compact was 6.6″ long, 3.5″ barrel, with a 10-round capacity. The full-size version was 7.1″ to 7.2″ long, with choice of a 4″ or 4.2″ barrel, and a 12-round capacity. Eventually, Walther made a P99 chambered for the slightly heavier .40 Smith & Wesson caliber.
Walther kept the striker-fired DA/SA trigger pull for the P99 and gave it a large trigger well, and a large textured grip that angled inward at the base. An opening at the rear end of the pistol allows the user to determine if the striker is cocked. The paddle-style magazine release at the base of the trigger well is an ambidextrous lever that protrudes on both sides of the pistol. This design requires a minimum of trigger finger movement to drop the magazine while the other hand obtains and inserts a fresh magazine—an important benefit when it’s necessary to return to action quickly.
In 2004 the Walther P99 got an upgrade to include a set of three interchangeable backstraps making it possible to fit the firearm to different sized hands, as well as a Picatinny rail under the barrel for accessory attachments. This pistol is still being manufactured in Germany, although the cosmetics have been revised a few times and it has been copied or cloned by other manufacturers.
Walther introduced the P22 in 2002, once again changing the standard by releasing the first polymer frame semi-auto rimfire pistol. It has a blowback operation and is chambered for .22 LR rimfire ammunition. It has interchangeable backstraps which some say establishes the P22 as one of the most comfortable handguns available today. The ambidextrous magazine release and slide safety make this pistol user-friendly for both right and left-handed shooters. The P22 features windage adjustable rear sight, captured recoil spring, double-action/single-action trigger, and a threaded barrel.
Introduced in 2009, the PK380 was the first semi-automatic polymer pistol developed with a rack that was easy to slide. This pistol maintains the SA/DA trigger and internal slide stop from the PPK. It is chambered in .380 ACP, which Walther says “…provides noticeably soft and manageable recoil, allowing for the best shooting experience possible.”
The PK380 features a slide-mounted ambidextrous manual hammer-block, with both a paddle-style magazine release and slide safety. Unlike other Walther pistols, there is no slide release lever so the slide must be pulled rearward and released to chamber the first round.
Although the grip is constructed of polymer for reduced weight, the slide, barrel, and internal frame are made of steel. The PK380 will only accept the #505600 8+1 single-stack magazines that are designed specifically for this handgun.
The PPQ (Polizei Pistole Quick Defence) was introduced in 2011 for law enforcement, security forces and the civilian shooting market as a potential replacement for the Walther P99. It maintains some features from the Walther P99QA but differs in that it has a Picatinny rail, uses a fully-cocked striker, and the ‘Quick Defense’ trigger. Some shooters say that this trigger is the best out-of-the-box trigger on the market. The PPQ has adjustable grip size with interchangeable backstraps.
Introduced in 2016, the Walther Creed chambered for 9mm with a 16-round capacity. According to Richard Johnson, the Creed”…was specifically designed to offer all the great ergonomics and shooting characteristics of the company’s flagship pistols, but at a price that puts it within the reach of nearly anyone needing a defensive firearm.”
The Creed is a full-size handgun with a polymer body and a hammer-fired (instead of striker-fired) system. It has a pre-cocked double-action trigger system and bobbed hammer to ensure a no-snag draw. The magazine release is ambidextrous, and the slide is made with front and rear cocking serrations. The Creed has a 4” barrel, Picatinny accessory rail, 3 Dot Metal Sights (the rear sight is adjustable for windage), and the signature ergonomically designed Walther grip.
Walther’s latest release for 2019 is a divergence from polymer, as the Q5 Match is constructed with a steel frame. Walther says that this new steel frame has been well received on the market as if people were waiting for a steel-framed pistol with modern features. According to Walther:
“…the slide is outfitted with features previously found only on custom handguns. It is ported and optic ready, with LPA sights as well as front and rear serrations. Walther’s superior accuracy is quickly realized when shooting thanks to the 5” barrel with polygonal rifling and stepped chamber.
The interchangeable backstraps allow you to tune your grip, giving you a perfect, straight-back trigger pull. This adjustability also provides access to the magazine and slide releases without shifting your hand. Designed for right and left-handed shooters, the Q5 Match M1 features an ambidextrous slide stop and an ambidextrous paddle-style magazine release.”
Walther plans to release a whole family of steel-framed pistols.
Walther on the Aftermarket & Accessory Side
There are a number of after-market upgrades for Walther owners. Many are universal of course, from the perspective of “most pistols will run them”, but some are brand specific. In the former category, for instance, is the line of Crimson Trace Walther accessories. Don’t need a Walther PPS laser? Then maybe take a look at the Apex Tactical Walther trigger upgrade line.