The Firearm Blog had a nice post and video on the “top 5 most historically significant pistols.” They use the very specific term “pistol” to mean semi-automatic pistols, not revolvers — a fairly modern distinction, as most handguns were referred to as pistols for much of history. Even so, some of their choices are intriguing…
The Mauser M1896 Broomhandle is hard to argue with, although you could make a good case that the Borchardt pistol, from which both the Mauser and the Luger draw from, would be a more important pistol for the purposes of innovation, if not longevity.
The Luger 9mm, of course, is an excellent choice. It brought us the most popular cartridge in the world, the action was simple and robust, and it remained popular well past the point when it had been overtaken by better weapons.
The FM M1900 is another excellent choice — it’s the first iteration of the Browning pistols and led to the likes of the 1911A1 and the Browning High Power. Almost every semi-automatic pistol is based on this venerable design. It was the most popular “pocket pistol” in the world until the 1950s. The .32 round was a popular cartridge with police in Europe and is still in use today.
The 1911A1 is, in many ways, a refinement of the M1900. It served the US military for about 75 years as a standard issue sidearm, and still sees use in police and military units worldwide because of its robust and reliable design.
The H&K VP70Z is innovative in that it set the stage for the arrival of Glock and other polymer-framed, striker-fired autos.