It all began in 1886 when the Austro-Hungarian army adopted the first practical clip-fed, repeating rifle, the 11mm Repetier-Gewehr M.86 Mannlicher.
Later that same year the French shocked the world’s military authorities by announcing the general issue of their Fusil d Infanterie Mle. 1886 (the “Lebel”) firing the world’s first successful smokeless powder cartridge, the 8mm Balle M. This engendered a panicky, non-stop arms race as the major powers, and most minor ones, endeavored to develop a small bore, smokeless powder repeating rifle for their armies.
The twenty year period between 1886 and 1906 was one of the most momentous in the history of firearms design. These two decades saw the perfection of smokeless powder and the small bore jacketed bullet cartridge as exemplified by the 7×57 Mauser and .30- 06; the bolt action repeating rifle in the likes of the Gewehr 1898 Mauser and Lee-Enfield; while the semiautomatic pistols of Browning and Luger set the standard for the next century; and Sir Hiram Maxim and Laurence Benet gave the armies of the world its first really practical machine guns.
Those nations lacking the means or funds to set up manufacturing facilities of their own looked to the great European arms makers for suitable weapons. This led to the international market being flooded with Mausers, Krag- Jorgensens, Berthiers, Mosins, Mannlichers, Arisakas and Lee-Enfields as arms makers attempted to recoup expenses by selling weapons outside their own borders. Competition was heated as Germans competed with Austrians, who competed with Belgians, who competed against the French. The smaller and non-industrial nations of the world represented a lucrative market. One of the most influential European arms makers at the time was the Austrian firm of Osterreichische Waffenfabrik-G essellschaft of Steyr (“Steyr”). Established in 1853 by Josef Werndl, by the 1860s it had become the Austro- Hungarian empire’s premier source of military weapons and a major player in the international arms market. By 1880 Steyr’s output of rifles alone exceeded that of any other arms company in the world! But the firm’s most notable contributions to arms making history were the result of their long association with Ferdinand Mannlicher (1848-1904).