Glock: A History Across Five Generations

I have previously discussed the differences and similarities between Glock, Smith and Wesson, and Sig Sauer. This article is a deeper dive into Glock’s history and how that history has resulted in its market position today. What do they do right? And what the future might hold.

History

Glock Ges.m.b.H is the official name of the Austrian privately held company. It was founded in 1963 by Gaston Glock and is headquartered in Deutsch-Wagram, Austria. Initially, Glock created plastic and metal parts (curtain rods, plastic kitchen boxes, ammo belts, pressure cooker safety valves, etc.) until the late 1970s. As the 1970s ended, Glock started applying their knowledge of metals and plastics to Austrian military contracts. First, releasing their combat knife (Field Knife 78) in 1978 and an entrenching tool in 1983. Later, saw teeth were added to the Field Knife 81 version, which remains in production today. In 1982, Glock became aware of the Austrian military’s plans to replace its current handgun (Walther P38).

To answer the 17 requirements of the Austrian military, Gaston Glock gathered handgun experts from across Europe and had a working prototype of what would become the Glock 17 in a matter of months. The Glock 17 (Gaston Glock’s 17th patent) was chosen as the new handgun of the Austrian military by the end of 1982, having easily passed all the requirements and coming in at a more cost-effective price than other guns (beating out Beretta, H&K, Sig Sauer, Steyr, and FN). The gun was dubbed the Pistole 80 (or P80) and adopted by the Austrian military and law enforcement.

Military Application

Military interest in the new gun spread as the U.S. military considered it in 1983 (and again in 2016). Norway formally adopted it in 1985, Sweden in 1988, Britain in 2013, and France in 2020. Glocks have seen even more popularity in law enforcement, becoming the dominant sidearm of U.S. police departments. Currently, Glocks are produced in sizes ranging from pocket (3.41″ barrel) to competition (5.31″ to 6.2″). They are chambered in .22LR, .380 ACP, 9X21, 9mm Luger, .357 Sig, .40 S&W, 10mm, .45ACP, and .45 G.A.P. Glock’s focus on creating a line of very similar handguns across frame, slide, and chambering is one of the things that appeals to many shooters.

A Glock is, for the most part, a Glock. In other words, there is a similar feel and function across all Glocks. Today, Glock makes knives, entrenching tools, handguns, apparel, and, for European markets, horse-related items. In addition to some special editions and releases, Glock pistols have continued to be perfected since their release in 1982 through 5 (currently in 2024) editions.

Gen 1 (1982-1988)

As the first Glocks are retroactively known were produced with a pebbled frame surface, no finger groves on the grip, and a smooth dust cover (no rail). It was these Glocks that first came to the U.S. civilian and law enforcement markets in 1986, packaged in the infamous “Tupperware” boxes. The Gen 1s consisted of the Glock 17, 17L (long slide), 18 (fully automatic), and Glock 19, chambered in 9mm Luger.

Gen 2 (1988-1998)

Gen 2 saw the change to the standard boxes currently associated with Glocks and a change to the texturing of the sides of the grip. Models included numbers ranging from 17 to 33 chambered in 9X21, 9mm Luger, .357 Sig, .40 S&W, .45 ACP, and 10mm. Chambering above 9mm had an additional pin in the frame in the 2nd Gen, while the 9mm Glocks retained a single pin.

The Glock 17 Gen 1 and 2
The Glock that started it all, the now labeled Generation 1 to the left, and the first upgrade on perfection, the Glock 17 Generation 2 to the right. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Gen 3 (1997 to present)

Gen 3 changed to a finger groove set-up on the front of the grips, added a Glock rail on the front bottom of the frame, and added a thumb grove to the top of the grip. New guns include the Glock 34-39, and chamberings expanded to include the .380 ACP and .45 G.A.P. By the early 2000s, all Gen 3 Glocks, including the 9mm Glocks, had two pins.

Gen 4 (2010 to present)

Gen 4 retained the two-pin design, finger grooves, and thumb rest but changed the grip’s texturing to a more aggressive pattern. Glock also released a modular series of backstraps, allowing users to increase the grip surface’s overall size. New models included the 40 and 41 (long slide 10mm and .45 ACP, respectively).

Gen 5 (2017 to present)

Gen 5 would see the elimination of the finger grooves but retain the adjustable back straps and aggressive grip surface, flared magwell, and ambidextrous slide stop. This edition would see the development of many hybrid models. Starting with the Glock 19X (later the similar-sized Glock 45) and the MOS (optic-ready models). The Gen 5 line has yet to produce any Glocks in .357 Sig or .45 G.A.P. but otherwise represents all the previous chamberings and added the .22LR in the Glock 44. The Gen 5 models also returned to a single-pin design across chamberings.

Glock 17 Gen 3, 4, and 5
Glock has continued to tweak the basic design of the Glock handgun. From left to right the Glock 17 Gen 3, Gen 4, and Gen 5. Photo Credit: us.Glock.com

Training and Support

There are many reasons that Glock is so popular in the U.S.  First and foremost is their focus on the law enforcement (LE) market. Their Blue Label Program provides its already relatively affordable handguns to LE sources at a further discount. Glock also has a reputation for providing armorer and advanced armorer certifications to LE and civilian gunsmiths.

Armorer courses are offered nationwide, with 7-10 classes every week (both open and LE only). They also offer between nine and ten Advanced Armorer classes in Smyrna, GA, each year. Additionally, Glock hosts various Instructor, Operator, MOS, Transitions, and Low-Light classes across the United States. Having taken several of these classes over the years, Glock’s focus on high-quality training for LE and civilians is unrivaled.

Two pictures of Glocks being shot
Glocks are used by the majority of police departments and are routinely in the top 5 civilian sales lists year after year.

Sports Shooting

The Glock Sports Shooting Foundation (GSSF) was founded in 1991. Due to the similarity of Glocks across models and chamberings, they’ve established a fairly simple set of rules and divisions for their competitive shooting events. The GSSF hosts about 75 indoor leagues a year (each consisting of three matches, often over three months), as well as about 60 outdoor matches (three shooting courses of fire over a weekend) each year. These matches are held across the continental U.S. in both indoor and outdoor events. Shooters compete for multiple prizes that include morale patches, plaques, knives, entrenching tools, monetary checks, and, most significantly, free Glocks. Again, through the GSSF, Glock’s support for shooting sports, civilian, military, and LE shooters is unrivaled in the gun industry.

Glock Sports Shooting Association
Glock has further supported its products by supporting sports shooting through the Glock Sports Shooting Association (GSSF).

The Future

Unfortunately, Gaston Glock passed in late 2023. The company currently seems to be in the hands of Gaston’s second wife and Glock Ges.m.b.H board member Kathrin Glock. Until recently, she has been primarily in charge of Glock Horse Performance Center and Glock’s extensive charitable activities. It remains to be seen if there is a serious legal challenge to her continuing Glock’s legacy in the firearms industry.

The current U.S. Glock web page prominently features the slogan “Perfection Continues,” with a photo of Gaston on the left and Kathrin on the right. Entering 2024, Glock continues to produce more crossover models (the newest being the Glock 49 (19 frame with a 17 slide). Many are wondering if, with the change in ownership, we might start to see Glock expand into long guns. My conservative money is on Glock continuing to focus on what made them the success they are today: handguns.

Final Thoughts

I never thought I would become a “Glock Guy”. I came to the Glock game relatively late (Gen 4) and did not fully start to carry, train, and compete with a Glock until the Gen 5s in 2017. What won me over? The support, sponsorship of shooting events, training, and overall consistent reliability I have not seen in other guns. I have used and abused my Gen 5 Glock 17 over the years with tens of thousands of rounds. Even now, it shows no signs of disappointment. Glock is unlikely to lose their hold on the U.S. Civilian and LE markets anytime soon. They continue to dominate based on an affordable, well-known, increasingly modular system that just works. I often call the Glock the Honda Civic of the gun world; nothing fancy, but damn reliable!

Joel Nadler is the Training Director at Indy Arms Company in Indianapolis and co-owner of Tactical Training Associates.  He writes for several gun-focused publications and is an avid supporter of the right to self-sufficiency, including self-defense. Formerly a full professor, he has a Ph.D. in Psychology and now works as a senior consultant living on a horse ranch in rural Indiana.  Feel free to follow him on Instagram @TacticalPhD.

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