Union/Reifgraber .32 S&W Autopistol

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The Reifgraber, aka Union Automatic Pistol, is an interesting mechanical design from an inventor with an interesting personal background.

Joseph Joachim Reifgraber was born in Austria in 1856, and emigrated to the United States at some point before the mid 1880s. He was a machinist by trade, and was clearly a political activist as well, in the mid and late 1880s, he published a German-language anarchist newspaper in St Louis, entitled Die Parole. He also served as delegate to at least a couple trade unionist conventions around the same time.

However, his political activism seems to waned as time went by, and he began to take out patents on firearms development. He submitted both rifles and pistols to US military testing (not exactly the actions of a truly devoted anarchist…). His pistol design here is an unusual short recoil, locked breech action which was marketed by the Union Firearms Company of Toledo, Ohio. Interestingly, it was chambered for the rimmed .32 S&W revolver cartridge, and could be supplied with a second barrel for use with .32 ACP cartridges.


Hi guys thanks for tuning into another Video episode on forgotten weapons I’m Ian I am here today at the Rock Island Auction house checking out some of the Guns that they are going to be selling In their upcoming December of 2015 Premiere auction one of them that I Noticed here was something that I Actually recognized from an old Advertisement that I’d found the Union Firearms company of Toledo Ohio sold two Different firearms one of them was this Kind of interesting little automatic Revolver sort of based on an Iver Johnson and the other was this automatic Pistol so I’d seen pictures of this and When I noticed that they actually had One here for sale I figured it’d be a Great chance to take a closer look at it It’s got kind of an unusual mechanism For a 32 caliber pistol and the more I Dug into it kind of the more interesting This story got now this was marketed by The Union firearms company it originally Cost $18 and this was they were for sale Between like 1910 and 1912 in total only About a hundred of these were Manufactured the highest serial number Known is 88 this one is either 66 or 99 It’s kind of hard to tell because the Number could kind of go either way at Any rate this pistol was patented and Designed by an Austrian immigrant he was Born in Austria in 1856 moved to the

United States at some point and lived Until 1938 his name was Joseph Yo Keem rife grandpa I may or may not be Pronouncing that quite right but I think I got the gist of it there and he’s got Kind of an interesting history aside From being a machinist and an inventor He actually also published an anarchist Newspaper out of st. Louis from about 1884 to probably about 1890 called deep Parola and had a circulation of about 2,000 so there’s if you look in Literature about the the trade unionist And anarchist movements in the United States around that time you’ll actually Find a number of references to this Fellow he was a convention attendant in Some trade union conventions and he Shows up in in that part of history and Then interestingly he also shows up as a Firearms inventor so clearly probably an Interesting guide Talk to now he did a number had a number Of firearms inventions in around 1902 There’s record of him submitting a rifle Design to the US military for trials or For potentially to be accepted into Trials and it wasn’t it was rejected but He made an attempt at it in 1910 he also Supplied he attempted to supply a pistol To the US military for trials this of Course was kind of at the tail end of The u.s. pistol trials which had been Going on since 1907 and a little bit

Earlier and he submitted a drawing of His pistol along with a letter and Mentioned that he didn’t have one in 45 But his pistol had all of these Interesting qualities to it and the Ordnance Board said basically said sure We’d be interested in taking a look but He never did actually complete a 45 Caliber pistol I think by the time he Was ready to do that 1910 1911 had Rolled around and the US had already Adopted the Colt so at that point why Bother However at that point clearly he was Still working on his pistols because That’s right about the time when the Commercial reef cropper automatic Pistols become available through the Union firearms company so this Particular one is kind of rough Condition but it’s good enough for us to See how the mechanism worked which is Pretty cool so why don’t we do that I Want to start with just a couple of Quotes from the Union firearms company Advertisement for this pistol because They make some pretty bold claims for One thing they say it can be taken apart Or assembled at an instant without the Aid of a single tool this gun fits the Hand with unusual nicety and the balance Is perfect it would be impossible to Find a pistol that would shoot more Accurately or with greater penetration

It cannot jump under any circumstances a Scientific employment of the gasp gas Pressure positively prevents it it’s Automatic mechanism is intensely Practical strong simple and substantial It is built from start to finish by our Most skilled workmen only the best Quality strongest and safest materials Are used All working parts are made of chrome Nickel steel the outside finish isn’t Exceptionally fine blue now this one of Course is a bit over 100 years old and Has lost all of that fine blue but we Can still take a look at how it would Have worked so let’s start with just an Interesting fact here this pistol was Advertised and marked although it’s very Difficult to see it on this particular One as being you can just barely see Here 32 Cal well there’s also the other Part of the marketing has worn off on This one it actually originally said S&W 32 Cal now the the Smith & Wesson 32 Caliber cartridge was a rimmed revolver Cartridge however it appears that these Pistols were actually designed to use Revolver ammunition which is kind of Interesting I tested one the cartridges Do actually fit in the magazine and they Do also fit in the breech face so in Addition to that the original Advertisement mentions that regular Centerfire cartridges are used and a

Special magazine is required for the use Of Colts rimless smokeless now Colt Rimless smokeless would be the 32 acp at This time so it appears that these Pistols were actually designed primarily For 32 Smith & Wesson revolver ammo but They could also function with 32 ACP Which is kind of a cool feature now now When they say that you can take this Apart at an instant without any tools That’s actually not that much hyperbole To disassemble it you take this lever Pull it down this one is really tight There we go we’re going to pull it down To a vertical position and then we can Actually pull the back strap off of the Gun now unfortunately like I said this One’s in pretty rough condition this is Actually the hammer so most of our Firing mechanism is in fact contained in This removable grip back strap which is Cool this does also function as a grip Safety or it would have originally you Can see it’s got a three-part mainspring Back here which is kind of like the 1911 At any rate it’s retained by this Semicircular notch so our bar back here Has a square side and a round side and When you’re in this position this piece Comes off freely and when you lock it This way it retains so nice nice set up There we do also have our magazine Release here on the back of its a heel Release and this is also frozen up so

All right now that we’ve got the the Back strap off the gun we rotate this Takedown lever to the rearward position And then I can take the plug in the back Of the frame rotate it about 45 degrees And it comes right off so there’s our The rear plug and notice it’s got that Interrupted thread to keep it in place We then have our recoil spring and guide Rod here then I can dump out the bolt The barrel and the locking lug so here’s The barrel pretty simple it does have a Bearing surface up here where it rides Inside the frame as well as this bearing Surface this blade guy right here is our Ejector that slides in this slot in the Bolt so when the bolt comes fully back That ejector shows through the punctures Through the front of the breech face Like that and kicks the cartridge out That direction so of course on the Breech face we have our extractor on the Opposite side and it’s spring which is Sort of intact actually this hole is Where the the main spring guide rod goes Through and then that is our firing pin So you saw that the hammer was on the Back strap so hammer hits that firing Pin to fire the gun the firing pin is Also broken off here so not not complete The way this actually works is you have The the bolt in the barrel here and then We have this locking lever locking tab Which sits right here

Now the important thing to realize there Is this pivots and when it’s pivoted Like this we have a little locking Surface exposed and when it pushes down That locking surface disappears so in Practice when the bolt is flush up Against the front of the barrel that Locking block right there prevents the Bolt from coming backwards effectively It locks the bolt and the barrel Together and then this whole unit cycles Backwards in the gun until the the tail Here hits a little tab in the frame Pivots up the barrel stops and then the Bolt can go backwards and on its return Stroke it chambers a new round and then This whole thing moves forward hits Another cam in the receiver in the frame Which re-engages this locking block so That’s how the pistol actually works not Necessarily all that excessive 4:32 you Could design a blowback pistol but you Know what this has a nice light spring As a result of having this delayed Locking action all right if we assembled The pistol so we can see how this works In actual practice you’ll notice that The muzzle of the barrel actually sticks Out the front of the frame and when I Pull the bolt handle the little gripping Surfaces back you can see that the Muzzle retracts that’s because the bolt And the barrel are locked together by That little tilting block back here so

They are locked until right about that Position so right there is where that Little cam that that block hits a cam And unlocks the bolt then the bolt can Travel backwards it ejects the spent Case load so a new cartridge in pushes Forward Andry locks so that’s how the Pistol works All in all a pretty clever system not a Bad design now it’s interesting to note This was $18 in 1910 to 1912 the other Pistol from the Union firearms company Was an automatic little automatic Revolver that cost $10 so this was Probably killed by its price more than Anything else well thank you guys for Watching I hope you enjoyed the video Hope you enjoyed the chance to take a Look at this interesting Turn-of-the-century anarchist design Mechanically unusual 32 caliber pistol If it’s something you’d like to have Yourself it is of course up for sale This being an auction house and all Check out the link in the description Text below and you can find rock Island’s catalog page on the pistol with Their pictures and description and Everything you need to create an account Place a bid online from the comfort of Your computer chair thanks for watching

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