Gun History: The International Harvester M1 Garand

The receiver of an International Harvester M1 Garand. photo from American Rifleman.

You might be familiar with the M1 Garand, the U.S. military's general-issue .30-06 combat rifle in WWII and later conflicts. If not, you can read our brief history here, and while you're at it, take a look at this gorgeous Garand owned by John F. Kennedy that was recently auctioned.

Even if you know the gun, you may not know about the International Harvester M1 Garand, profiled in this story from American Rifleman.

The IHC Garand is what collectors call a "genre" of the rifle that was created to meet a production need and a military strategic need, though things didn't quite work out as planned.

The military thought their inventory of Garands left over after WWII was adequate, but five years later, when the Korean War began, they weren't so sure, so the Garand was put back into production as quickly as possible, the story says.

The government turned to private companies to help with production, such as International Harvester Co., to which they contracted 100,000 M1 rifles to be manufactured in the firm's plant in Evansville, Indiana.

Oddly enough, the plant was built during WWII by the Republic Aviation Corp. for production of the P-47 Thunderbolt fighter plane. IHC bought the plant in 1945 and converted it to make farm implements as well as refrigeration and air conditioning units.

Selecting the company to make Garands was more about its geographic location than its experience with this type of work, of which it had none, according to the story. They'd manufactured vehicles like half-tracks and trucks during the war, but never firearms.

So why did the military pick IHC? Because of the bomb.

All the previously made M1s, numbering at about 4 million, were made within a radius of about 60 miles by Springfield Armory in Massachusetts and Winchester in Connecticut. Since the end of WWII, the Cold War had begun, and strategists were concerned about the bulk of America's arms manufacturing plants being concentrated in New England. This caused the Department of Defense to "establish a policy of geographic dispersion of vital defense production to mitigate vulnerability to a nuclear strike," the story notes. So, a company that makes trucks and tractors in Indiana started making semi-automatic rifles.

One of the ways you can identify an IHC Garand is an "LMR" barrel marking. The company thought they could use their existing machinery to manufacture firearms parts. They soon found that they were being a bit naive and had an especially tough time making barrels, a task they outsourced to the Line Material Corp. in Milwaukee. The barrels they produced were of superior quality and were also used to meet demands for Garand rebuilds.

IHC needed help from both Springfield Armory and Harrington & Richardson engineers to start rolling out Garands that actually functioned. They resorted to using parts made by other companies, including using four distinct variations of M1 receivers manufactured by Springfield for IHC: the SA/IHC "Arrowhead" Receiver; the SA/IHC "Postage Stamp" Receivers (the most rare, only 800 to 900 made); the SA/IHC 4.6 Million "Gap Letter" Receivers; and the SA/IHC 5 million "Gap Letter" Receiver. Additionally, there are also IHC Garands with HRA/IHC Receivers from Harrington & Richardson.

For details about the differences and markings on each type of receiver and lots more history on the IHC Garand, check out the excellent American Rifleman story here.

Ultimately, IHC delivered 337,623 M1 Garands to the U.S. government between 1953 and 1956. The International Harvester M1 has become one of the more popular examples of M1 genres among collectors because of the receiver variations and its relative scarcity compared to Springfield Armory Garands from the same time period. Occasionally, the Civilian Marksmanship Program periodically has IHC Garands available for sale, the story says.