Did you know that a convicted felon developed one of the most prolific military weapons? The M1 Carbine, built around David “Carbine” Williams’ short-stroke piston system, was the World War II rifle of choice for troops needing a lightweight, handy carbine. After being convicted of murder of a police officer, David “Carbine” Williams served only eight years of a 30 year sentence and after being released, went onto be employed by the Winchester Repeating Arms Company, where he was part of the team that made the M1 Carbine. My, how things have changed, haven’t they? David Marshall Williams was born in November 13, 1900 in Godwin, North Carolina. Even though Williams was quite the cuss, he showed a talent to handcrafting firearms at a very young age. He made his first pistol at a mere 10 years old with parts build out of fishing poles. The newsobserver blog writes, “Those early guns were made from the reeds that people also used as fishing poles. He would wind his mother’s sewing thread around the reed give it a coat of shellac and repeat the process several times until the gun barrel was made.” (www.blogs.newsobserver.com)
Williams left school after eighth grade and had a few years of misadventures. Williams joined the Navy, but was discharged when they had found out he lied about his age, expelled after he spend a short time at a military academy, and eventually ended up working for a railroad.
Railroad work apparently did not bring in the bank Williams was wanting, so he started bootlegging moonshine. Not being able to avoid the law forever, during a raid on his distillery, Williams and the law got in a shoot out. Williams took the rap for the murder of Deputy Sheriff Al Pace. Though he claimed his innocence, Williams decided to plead guilty to second-degree murder and they sentenced him to 30 years in prison.
Warden H.T. Peoples learned Williams was skilled in working on firearms, while he was serving time at Caledonia Prison Farm. In the prison’s blacksmith shop, Williams worked on the guards’ rifles. It was in the shop that on the sly he could build and design his own firearms. From 1923 to 1928, he built two rifles. One from scrap metal and a fence post and the other constructed from a tractor axle and the drive shaft from a Model T Ford.
The courts granted Williams a pardon in 1929, after only serving eight years, and they released him from jail. He then moved to Godwin to start his own workshop. In 1939, the Winchester Repeating Arms Company hired Williams.
When the United States military was searching for a new rifle chambered for the equally new .30 caliber cartridge, Winchester Repeating Arms put Williams on the development team. Using his short-stroke piston system, the M1 Carbine was born. It took Winchester’s team 13 days to complete the rifle for testing. It won hands down. There were over 8,000,000 M1 Carbines made by different manufactures in WWII. Demand for the M1 Carbine was so high, that Winchester had to be innovative in their manufacturing processes. For example, for the first time, women worked the factory floor, previously deemed unsuitable women’s work.
The book, Winchester Repeating Arms Company Its History & Development from 1865 to 1981, claims that Williams played a bit part in the creation of the M1 Carbine, the short stroke piston being his only contribution to the rifle. Herbert G. Houze writes that Williams pulled out of the project soon after it started and that he even threatened to kill a co-worker who had suggested he rejoin the team. Winchester supposedly reported that Williams was hard to work with.
Another innovative design Williams developed was something that has become increasingly more popular in the last few years. Williams’ “floating chamber system” allows centerfire rifles be converted to shoot .22 Long Rifle. Williams was contracted to convert the .30 caliber Browning machine gun and the Colt 1911 to shoot .22 Long Rifle for training purposes. The floating chamber system made it possible for the Remington 550 so that the gun could shoot .22 Long Rifle, .22 Short, and .22 Long interchangeably.
In 1952, MGM released a movie about his life starring James Stewart called “Carbine Williams.” Throughout his life, David Williams held 50 patents. He passed away in 1975.