On this day in history, Mikhail Kalashnikov was born in Russia. Kalashnikov went on to become a Russian general as well as a designer of small arms – most famously, the Avtomat Kalashnikova assault rifle developed in 1947, commonly known as the AK-47.
The AK-47, recognizable by its banana-shaped ammunition magazine, was the most popular rifle in the latter half of the 20th Century. More AK-type rifles have been produced than all other assault rifles combined. As of 2009, some 100 million AK-47 assault rifles had been produced, although it is estimated that half of them are counterfeit. (Izhmash, the official manufacturer of AK-47 in Russia, did not patent the weapon until 1997, and in 2006 accounted for only 10% of the world’s production.)
The main advantages of the Kalashnikov rifle are said to be its simple design, fairly compact size, and adaptation to mass production. It is inexpensive to manufacture, easy to clean and maintain, and is rugged and reliable.
The AK-47 is included in the flag of Mozambique (it is the only national flag in the world to feature such a modern rifle); the coat of arms of East Timor; and on the flag of Hezbollah, inter alia.
Kalashnikov died on 23 December 2013 at a hospital after a prolonged illness. He was 94. On his 90th birthday he was named a “Hero of the Russian Federation” and presented with a medal by President Dmitry Medvedev who lauded him for creating “the brand every Russian is proud of.” Still, he said in 2002, he would have prefered to have invented a machine that people could use and that would help farmers with their work — “for example a lawnmower.”