Over the years newspapers, magazines, radio talk shows, videos, and websites have shared a number of variations of the legend of "Carbine Williams", to include an
MGM movie by this name and the book "Carbine, The Story of David Marshall Williams" by Ross E. Beard, Jr. The primary source for many of these stories was often
Willams himself. Or people who had obtained their information from Williams. Many of these earlier stories have been the primary source for various subsquent stories.
For the purposes of this website the author chose to review the previous stories but then research the claims by examining primary and secondary sources during the
time of the events. History is what history was and I don't rewrite it with bias. Many of the documents located are included here in pdf format via links throughout these pages.
The documents speak for themselves.
This author's research led me to the conclusion that to present "The Legend" and/or his limited contributions to the design of the U.S. Carbine alone
would be like examining history with one eye closed.
Williams was indirectly responsible for one of the key components used in the design and development of the U.S. Carbine. This one component was part of a basic
concept developed and used by Williams to design and develop a number of firearms. Over time other inventors borrowed from this concept to operate the
semi-automatic action of their firearm(s), the developers of the U.S. .30 caliber carbine included. Williams was also briefly consulted for help with trouble shooting
one of the carbine prototypes. More detailed information of his involvement is presented throughout these next five pages.
This is not the lifelong story of Williams. Nor is it a complete accounting of his work. The intent is to address the legend while at the same time
presenting his designs and inventions. When presented collectively and chronologically they provide a basic historical account of his work
that helps understand what he did and didn't do and how it related to the design and development of the U.S. Carbine.
Inevitably some people will choose to believe the legend regardless of the facts. One of the more interesting things I found during my research are the myths of the
legend of "Carbine Williams" have actually drawn attention away from his true historical contributions he should receive more credit for.
This research is presented in six parts
The Murder, & Whodunnit:
Ordnance, Colt, & Remington
The Origin of "Carbine Williams"
"Carbine Williams" was the name of the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) movie that premiered April 24, 1952 at the Colony Theater in Fayetteville, NC. The script and movie were based on the life story of David Marshall Williams of Godwin, NC,
as told by Williams himself. The story tells of his life as an incorrigible youth eventually sentenced to prison for the murder of a law enforcement officer during a raid on a still during prohibition. During his time in prison he gained the trust of the
warden, who allowed him to pursue his interest in firearms design and development that included building a number of firearms while incarcerated. The story claims his efforts led to a pardon and his release from prison, after which he continued with
his firearms design and development eventually leading to his employment by Winchester Repeating Rifles and his design and development of the U.S. M1 Carbine. The same carbine manufactured in the millions and used by American troops
during WWII and the war in Korea.
Interest in the movie had gained a tremendous boost when MGM announced the actor playing the part of David Marshall Williams would be James "Jimmy" Stewart with a strong supporting cast that included Jean Hagen (Mrs. Williams) and
Wendell Corey (the Warden). The attention the film received was in keeping with iconic status of these well known key actors.
When it became known the film's premier would be held in Fayetteville and attended by the movie producer, director, the stars and cast along with other celebrities, government officials proclaimed the day of the premier
as "Carbine Williams Day". No doubt some of this was initiated by MGM's marketing personnel but it could not have happened without the assistance and support of the City of Fayetteville, Cumberland County, and to a lesser extent the State of North Carolina.
The premier was preceded by a parade, ceremonies, autographs and lots of media attention. The parade and ceremonies included Generals Douglas MacArthur and Lucius Clay, WWII Medal of Honor winner Audie Murphy (whose acting career
had started in 1948), Governor Cherry of North Carolina, and other dignitaries.
After the premier, Williams traveled the country appearing where the film was shown, offering autographs and photographs. By the time David Marshall Williams returned to Godwin, NC, he was known
as "Carbine Williams" and personally adopted the moniker. To include having it painted on the side of his convertible Cadillac.
"Based on a True Story"
Movie and television producer/director Michael Mann once told me movies are not about truth or reality, they're intended as entertainment to help people escape their own daily realities. Movies of truth and reality are called
documentaries and do not attract the crowds or make the money that entertainment does. A truthful and realistic perspective from a man who has been fairly successful in the entertainment industry. When a movie and/or it's
advertisements contain the words "Based on a True Story", what this means is the true story was a concept the movie used to create entertainment.
The story presented in the movie "Carbine Williams" was entertainment based on the story as told to MGM's producers by David Marshall Williams. Verbally, in writing, and as a technical consultant during the production of the movie.
The movie's script is maintained in the MGM Collection by The Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Science, Special Collections, Margaret Herrick Library, Beverly Hills, California (Turner/MGM Scripts; Ref: 495503.f-C-306.f-330)
and consists of two documents. "The Williams Story" by David Marshall Williams (copyrighted by Williams February 9, 1951 - Copyright AA0000174857). "Army Carbine: The Rifle that was Born in Prison" by David Marshall Williams "as told
to B. Fay Ridenour". The "script" is not the actual lines of the actors, it's an overview of the story. A cover page indicates the script was prepared by a member of the MGM script department March 15, 1951.
The library does not allow the script to be copied or photographed. At the time of this writing the movie and it's script were an active copyright owned by Warner Home Video, a division of Time Warner Entertainment Company (Document Number V3422D754).
B. Fay Ridenour was a newspaper reporter for the Charlotte Observer. The original story of the "Army Carbine: The Rifle that was Born in Prison", as authored by Williams and told by Ridenour, was published
in the Charlotte Observer newspaper on February 25, 1951 (prior to the movie script).The article includes an introduction by Ridenour declaring the article to be a correct accounting of events.
Within the article Williams is quoted: "In 1939 I went to work for Winchester and it was while working for them that I invented the U.S. Army Carbine that is in use today".
February 25, 1951
Legend vs. Reality
The document copyrighted as "The Williams Story" may have been authored for the specific purpose of inclusion in the movie script as it hadn't appeared prior. While it can be argued "The Williams Story" was intended as a work of fiction,
the "Army Carbine: The Rifle that was Born in Prison" and it's introduction by Ridenour published by the Charlotte Observer clearly present the story as factual and as told by Williams.
Over the years Williams also made the claim of having invented the M1 Carbine during interviews with a number of authors and periodical editors.
- "The Story of Carbine Williams" by John Kobler, Collier's Magazine, March 1951
- "big trouble and a big idea" by Lucian Cary, "True's Gun Expert", True Magazine, March 1951
- "The Impossible Shotgun of Carbine Williams" by William B. Edwards, Guns Magazine, October 1956
Mention needs to be made of the article "The Most Unforgettable Character I've Ever Met", by Capt. H.T. Peoples (Former Superintendent, Caledonia State Prison Camp, N.C.), published in Reader's Digest March 1951. From the article:
"With the Winchester staff of gun designers, he produced the pilot model of the carbine in just 13 days! Royalties soon began coming in on the carbine, and Williams was on his way to fame - and considerable wealth." This is a good
example of a variation of the legend. Williams himself indicated he had originally negotiated with Winchester for royalties on any of his inventions but did not receive royalties from the development of the M1 Carbine, he was paid
with a lump sum payment. This is supported by other documentation covered in the pdf's of the original documents whose links follow.
Captain Peoples also indicated Williams had been pardoned. Williams received a sentence commutation not a pardon. A pdf of the commutation document is provided in the pages that follow.
A warden would know the difference between a pardon and a sentence commutation, as do the majority of prison inmates. Why Peoples would indicate Williams
was pardoned when it wasn't the case is not known.
No one person can take credit for having designed, developed, and/or invented the Carbine. It was a team effort to produce two prototypes with the second prototype being the one chosen by the Ordnance
Department as the U.S. Caliber .30 Carbine, Model M1.
David Marshall Williams was hired by the Winchester Repeating Arms Company on July 1, 1939 and assigned to work on firearm design, research and development. Shortly thereafter Williams was assigned the task of working on a rifle prototype
initially designed by Jonathan Edmund Browning (half brother of John and Matt Browning). Browning had died before completing the project Williams then inherited. Winchester hoped to submit the rifle as an alternative to what has become
known as the M1 Garand. The M1 Garand had already been accepted by the Ordnance Department and production had started, including at Winchester. However, the level of criticism of the Garand design led Winchester to initially believe
they should pursue an alternative. The caliber .30-06 rifle Williams worked on was eventually designated the Winchester Model G30.
By May 1941 Williams had produced several prototypes of this rifle, the latest weighing only 7 1/2 pounds. But Winchester was realizing the likelihood of replacing the M1 Garand was becoming remote.
Williams 7 1/2 lb. Caliber .30 M2 Rifle
Separately, testing and evaluation had already begun on a number of submissions to the Ordnance Department's lightweight rifle competition (that led to the U.S. Carbine). Winchester had not entered the competition
due to their other commitments, including the rifle being designed by Williams. His recently completed 7 1/2 lb. prototype along with Winchester's realization that it would not be replacing the M1 rifle
prompted Winchester to notify the Ordnance Department they might be able to design and submit a smaller version for the lightweight rifle competition. The challenge was whether or not Winchester could produce a submission in time to meet the Ordnance deadlines.
Winchester assigned several people other than Williams the task of producing a prototype for the lightweight rifle competition, using the design of the larger Williams prototype as a starting point.
The first prototype they produced became known as the "Winchester 13 Day Carbine". This first carbine prototype was not a smaller version of the larger Williams design. While a few parts were similar the one
thing both firearms shared was the concept of using a short stroke gas piston to operate the semi-automatic action. Williams had patented this concept (U.S. patent 2,090,656) prior to working for Winchester. The actual
design of the short stroke piston Williams used to improve the Browning design was different than the one shown in the patent. Both of these were different than the short stroke gas piston design used
for the two Winchester lightweight rifle (carbine) prototypes.
Winchester's 1st Prototype Light Rifle
(by Winchester designers Roemer and Humeston)
Winchester's first prototype was tested and rejected by Ordnance with recommendations for changes to correct a number of deficiencies. Winchester had very little time to produce the 2nd prototype so they formed a
team of designers headed by Williams for its development. Almost immediately conflicts between Williams and others on the team ground work to a halt. Williams was removed from the team who continued the work
without him. Williams was given the opportunity to come up with his own design and worked concurrent to, but separate from, the original team.
The team completed their 2nd prototype with less than 48 hours remaining before the Ordnance Dept. deadline. Several minor problems remained so Winchester requested Williams assist several others in an attempt
to work out these problems. Collectively a solution was found and the teams 2nd prototype was submitted in time and subsequently won the competition.
Winchester's 2nd Prototype Light Rifle
(by Winchester designers Roemer and Humeston)
Limited production of the winning design had already started by the time Williams finally completed his prototype. His design would have given the team's prototype some serious competition had it been completed in time.
Keep reading for more history and the Williams inventions.
This research is presented in six parts
The Murder, & Whodunnit:
Ordnance, Colt, & Remington
Should you have questions, assistance is available on our Discussion Forum.
The Discussion Forum also serves as a reference desk for the more advanced material that could easily overwhelm a website and is often subject to opinions that may vary
due to a lack of original documentation. A number of researchers and authors are present on the forums, helping others and seeking information for various research projects.
© Copyright 2012-
The Carbine Collectors Club. All Rights Reserved.