Hand-Picked Daily GUN DEALS, and Exclusive Coupons Codes >>>

Rise of Polymer-Framed Pistols: How Did Plastic Fantastics Get So Popular?

The last several decades have seen the rise and domination of polymer pistols but how did we get here? We answer that question and more!

If you are old enough to buy a gun, you’ve probably heard the partisan internet warfare that modern, polymer handgun designs have produced in the gun-owning public.

Though it’s slowly dissipating, the gun world has had a love-hate relationship with polymer as a component of firearms construction since its debut in the 1950s.

RMR Type 2 on Polymer80 Glock

As recently as the 1990s, the stock Glock trigger was a common reason why one might refuse to own such a pistol. It was, in fact, perceived to be so bad that it precluded people from owning any Glock products.

Oddly enough, it’s now commonly held that the stock Glock trigger (indeed the whole Glock, except for the stock plastic sights) is the standard by which all other modern handguns are judged out of the box.

Glock 19 Gen 5, Stock
Glock 19 Gen 5, Stock

So how did we go from polymer handguns being derided as “combat Tupperware” to becoming the darling of custom gunsmiths producing “Roland Specials” for your average concealed carrier?

Join us as we take a trip down memory lane and see how we got here.

Table of Contents

Loading...

Early Days of Polymer

Polymer has two major advantages over traditional gun-making materials like steel and wood — cost and weight savings.

money meme
Pretty much sums things up…

In the 1950s, Remington looked into manufacturing an affordable .22 semi-auto, and for the first time, modern synthetic materials were considered for gun parts.

Fortunately for Remington, DuPont was their parent company, and the two developed the Nylon 66, named after the proprietary material DuPont had developed.

Remington Nylon 66 (Photo: All Outdoor)

It was thoroughly tested and found to be remarkably reliable. With help from some clever marketing, including a world-record torture test involving over 100,000 hits on 2.5-inch wooden blocks, the Nylon 66 was a runaway hit.

599
at Guns.com

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

Available Coupons

With the way for plastic firearms parts thoroughly paved by Remington’s commercial success and the AR-15’s military success in the 1960s, the first true commercial polymer handgun was the H&K VolksPistole 1970.

HK VP70
HK VP70

Not only did the VP-70 use the same plastic furniture concept that lined Remington’s pockets so effectively two decades prior, but the action was a revolutionary double-action only (DAO) striker-fired system.

This may seem like a natural combination if you are a fan of poly pistols. Most such guns today use the same design, but this was the first time the two had been paired.

HK VP9 Trigger
The VP9 has its roots in the Volkspistole.

Despite being as fantastically modern as the Nylon 66 had been for its era, the VP-70 was designed as a partisan weapon to help the west fend off the Red Hordes due in Paris any day.

Those hordes never came, and neither did the orders, but perhaps more detrimental to sales was the famously awful trigger.

The VP-70 was a success only as a groundbreaking concept. As a weapon, it is an interesting and unusual but poorly reviewed collector’s item today.

Teen Angst

Despite the abysmal reception of the VP-70, one person certainly seems to have taken notice of the things it did right — Gaston Glock.

Gaston Glock
Gaston Glock

Developed for the Austrian military, the Glock 17 took features the VP-70 had already debuted and added even more unusual traits like the total lack of external safety on a semi-auto pistol.

At a time when the average police sidearm was either a revolver or a steel-framed DA/SA, or SAO pistol, this was immediately polarizing. But in 1980, it was readily accepted by the Austrian Armed Forces as a high-capacity, easy to learn, and easy-to-shoot sidearm.

Glock G17 Gen 4
Glock G17 Gen 4

Vetted by a western military, Glock set its sights on the massive American law enforcement market, and the lack of an external safety actually helped here.

Switching from a revolver to a semi-auto in the early 1980s involved learning a very different manual of arms and adapting to shooting a much heavier weapon.

399
at Guns.com

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

Available Coupons

Additionally, guns like the double-action Sig Sauer P220 or Smith & Wesson Model 59 would have a very heavy trigger pull on the first shot and a much lighter one for subsequent shots. The first squeeze of the trigger cocked the gun and fired, while the action did the cocking for follow-up shots.

Sig Sauer P220 Condition 4
Sig Sauer P220

The Glock 17 had a consistent trigger pull that, while not 1911 crisp, was a dramatic improvement over the VP-70, no external safety, and weighed quite a bit less than its contemporaries.

Cops accustomed to revolvers found it simple and easy to operate, much like their predecessors in the Austrian Armed Forces.

An early and substantial law-enforcement discount, as well as clever marketing strategies, catapulted the company and polymer pistols, in general, to the forefront of the firearms market and public consciousness.

Glock Rap
Glock and pop culture go together like PB&J.

Maturation and Eventual Market Saturation

While holdouts and diehards would abound through the early 2000s, it was apparent that the idea was here to stay by the beginning of the 2010s.

The Glock was no longer alone and had now begun to share the market with guns like the Springfield Armory XD. Likely taking the feedback of those very diehards, Springfield included a grip safety on their plastic frame and addressed some of the more common complaints about the Glock design.

My EDC gun is a Springfield XD Sub Compact in 40 S&W...the Kit Bag carries it easily
Springfield XD Sub Compact in 40 S&W

The very things about Glocks that appealed to the police market had dogged them in the civilian one, and the XD took full advantage.

Springfield’s supposed Glock-killer rapidly became a successful example of polymer frame pistols and is still considered by many to be the standard alternative to Glock to this day.

Best Trigger (Beginners, Home Defense)
540
at Palmetto State Armory

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

Available Coupons

However, Springfield was hardly the only one to jump into the plastic handgun game. Today, there are innumerable poly pistols for sale from nearly every manufacturer.

Sig Sauer, H&K, S&W, Berretta, Walther, CZ, and many others have their own successful versions, be they striker or hammer fired, with every feature combination you could want.

Final Thoughts

The last several decades have seen the rise, and some would say domination of polymer pistols in the military, sporting, and civilian collection and concealed carry markets.

Micro Dots - 2-1

Its concept has been refined quite a bit since 1980, and many newer competitive and concealed carry gun owners even regard traditional steel-framed pistols as a curiosity to explore outside their normal training time.

Where do you fall between SAO steel-framed guns and DAO polymer wonder-gats of the future? Let us know in the comments below. If you’re in the market for something polymer that’s not a Glock, check out our article on the Best Non-Glock Alternatives.

The Best Gun Deals, Coupons and Finds

Subscribe to Pew Pew Tactical's sales and deals email.

2 Leave a Reply

  • Commenter Avatar
    Davin Valkri

    My objection to Glock isn't so much the existence of polymer frames and striker fired triggers so much as it marketing itself as "perfection", down to writing up safety recalls as "voluntary upgrades" or "technical advisories". The NYPD had early failures involving the Safe Action System not working the way it was supposed to and Glock framed fixing the issue as a "voluntary upgrade program". Combine that with "perfection" that seems to require paying the price of the gun again in aftermarket sights, triggers and springs, grip stippling, etc., and it's all just a bit...obnoxious.

    August 5, 2022 10:05 am
  • Commenter Avatar
    Alternator

    Cheaply made, disposable stuff for ignorant masses is the direction of history. No other explanation is necessary. The future of guns is propaganda, bans, taxation, lawsuits, and bankruptcy.

    August 4, 2022 10:41 am
Join the community! Log in
Please provide a valid email address.
Password is required.
or
Register
Please provide a valid email address.
The password should contain at least 8 characters with at least one number and one capital letter.
or
Trouble logging in?
Type your email address and we’ll send you a link to reset your password.
Please provide a valid email.
Password
Type your new password and hit button below to confirm it.
Field is required.
Account already exists
We already have an account registered for email address () which is linked to your Facebook account.
To log in type your Pew Pew Meter password below.
Field is required.
Account already exists
We noticed that you have previously logged in with your Account which is linked to the same email address () - we can link both of your accounts together.
In order to link your accounts, hit button below and log in to your Account with the same email as above.

Account in Pew Pew meter means more

Check what do you get by creating an account
Check and save your reviews!
Bookmark and compare your favorite firearms
Manage your newsletter subscription
pew pew tactical logo

new here?

Personalize your experience.
Select what level shooter you are!

pew pew tactical logo

level up your gun knowledge

Thanks! We'll send you the latest guides and training tips geared towards your level.

pew pew tactical logo

welcome!

You'll now receive newsletters of our best articles on techniques, guns & gear.

$47 value

yours free!

targets targets
free

practice targets

printer icon printable

our 9 favorite targets and drills

free

practice targets

printer icon printable

enter your email to download

We'll only use the information provided according to our privacy policy.

success icon

Ready to Download

Click below to begin your download

download pdf