The Remington 51 is a small pocket pistol designed by John Pedersen and manufactured by Remington Arms in the early 20th century for the American civilian market. Remington manufactured approximately 65,000 Model 51 pistols in .32 ACP and .380 ACP calibers from 1918 to 1927, though small numbers were assembled into the mid-1930s.
Made in .380 ACP and later in .32 ACP caliber, it was marketed as a pocket pistol. While the European market embraced small-caliber pocket pistols, the American market favored revolvers. More expensive than the Browning-designed competition, the Model 51 was not much smaller. Furthermore, Remington was a company known for their long guns; their handguns had previously been limited to revolvers forced to play second fiddle to Colt in terms of sales.
Due to these factors, the Remington Model 51 enjoyed only limited commercial success. If competing with cheaper single-action blowback autoloaders made sales difficult, the stock market crash made sales nearly impossible. Impending autoloading pocket pistols like the Walther PPK ended any chance of further success by Remington pistols. For the smaller calibers it was made in, blowback operated pistols were cheaper, only slightly heavier, and did not produce excessive recoil. While the locking mechanism is still superior in many respects, the disadvantages in its complex trigger and safety mechanisms made the pistol difficult to sell. In many respects, the pistol came too early. In the 1980s and beyond, companies like Glock promoted their pistols multiple, intuitive safety systems and advanced human engineering. These were both features Pedersen had pioneered over half a century prior.
General George S. Patton owned a Remington 51 and was thought to favor the weapon. Despite critical praise, no government or private agency is known to have adopted the weapon for use. Some examples are seen today with inventory numbers, however their origin is unknown. An anchor proof marking on some pistols has led to the mistaken belief that they were US Navy pistols bolstered by the fact that the Navy did indeed recommend a .45-caliber version for adoption.
In the 1970s and 1980s, an inventor named Ross Rudd designed and prototyped a .45 ACP caliber pistol based on the Pedersen layout but with an inclined surface in place of the locking surface. This served to delay the opening of the breech rather than locking it. The pistol was planned for manufacture, but was never produced. The Italian firm Benelli produced limited numbers of B76, B80, and B82 pistols quite similar to the Rudd pistol however utilizing a lever-delayed blowback system.
Because the breech is locked, this pistol can handle greater pressures than a blowback firearm yet without the size and weight penalty of other locking systems. The design also allows the recoil spring to be placed around the barrel making for a shorter profile gun. Lighter operating parts and greater breach lock time provide less felt and actual recoil. A lower bore axis gives less muzzle rise which also lowers felt recoil. A fixed barrel allows for greater accuracy and reliability as well as simplifying construction. Overall, this system is lighter than a blowback, simpler than any conventional locking mechanism, and has less recoil than either of the other systems.
The Remington Model 51 uses an internal hammer and features a single-action trigger. A unique combination lever on the rear of the grip-frame acts as a safety, bolt hold-open device and bolt release. This is in addition to a manual safety and relatively heavy trigger pull. The grips are held on with spring-tensioned studs rather than screws. Not a single screw is used in the entire pistol. Pedersen was greatly concerned with human engineering and developing a comfortable grip angle for his pistol while not sacrificing the slim profile. Field stripping the pistol is cumbersome but not overly complicated.
Because of a lower bore axis, lighter slide, and locked breech, the Remington 53 boasted much less felt recoil than the M1911. This fact was attested to by noted firearms expert Julian Hatcher. The Remington pistol was also more accurate, lighter, and had fewer moving parts than the 1911. Despite its advantages over the M1911, there was too little civilian market to support a large-bore pistol at that time, a military contract was now unlikely, and the M1911 already had a firm foothold. Remington abandoned the larger pistol and focused on the Model 51.