An Enduring and Fruitless Quest

Posted by Bruce Canfield

I’ve been hearing for many years about somebody making a “replica” Pedersen Device but, for a variety of reasons, this hasn’t happened. Most of you who read these postings probably have at least a rudimentary knowledge what a Pedersen Device is. For those who may not, briefly, the Pedersen Device was a mechanism developed by John D. Pedersen in WWI to convert a slightly modified M1903 rifle into a semiautomatic weapon firing a .30 caliber pistol-size cartridge from a detachable 40-round magazine. In order to insert the Device in the rifle, the regular rifle bolt was removed and the mechanism slid in place. It could just as easily be removed, thus returning the rifle to its original bolt action operation firing the powerful .30-06 cartridge. The only substantive change from the M1903 rifles modified to operate with the Pedersen Device (designated as the Model 1903 Mark I rifle) was the incorporation of a lozenge-shaped hole in the left side of the receiver to function as an ejection port for the fired cartridge cases. The trigger, sear and magazine cut-off were also slightly modified but none of the changes prevented the rifles from functioning as standard bolt-action ‘03s. By necessity the .30 Pedersen round was quite puny and useful only a very short range.

 Some 65,000 of the Devices were made by Remington and given a Top Secret status. The plan was to surprise the Germans with these “semiautomatic ‘03s” during the “Grand Offensive” planned for the spring of 1919. As events transpired, the war ended before the Devices could be used. They remained in storage until the early 1930s when our government determined the Devices were no longer worth the storage space and orders were given for them to be burned and the resultant hunks of metal sold as scrap. Virtually all were destroyed but a literal handful were quietly slipped into a coat pocket, lunch box or otherwise carried home, some showing signs of being burned. Most of the Mark I rifles had the special Pedersen Device-related components removed and issued as standard service rifles. Needless to say, surviving Pedersen Devices are quite rare and are highly coveted collector items. Depending on condition and accompanying accessories (magazines, metal carrying cases, etc.) prices can range from $15,000 or $20,000 to upwards of $50,000.

For many years some guys have come to the conclusion that it shouldn’t be exceedingly difficult to make a Pedersen Device either by finding a copy of the Remington production drawings or “reverse engineering” an existing Device. To my knowledge, there are no extant copies of the manufacturing drawings/blueprints so that option is probably off the table. Apparently the reverse engineering idea hasn’t come to fruition either because, at least to my knowledge, there have been no “replica” functioning Pedersen Devices made. Nevertheless, hope springs eternal and from time to time somebody will get all charged up with the idea of making a Pedersen Device. However, their ardor soon cools down when they come up against the harsh reality that such a project sounds easier than it really is.

I suppose with enough time, talent and money, almost anything can be duplicated. However, in the case of a Pedersen Device, it would seem that the negatives far outweigh the positives. I think it highly unlikely a replica Pedersen Device would be feasible unless someone was willing to invest a lot of time and money and had no desire to see any return on their “investment.” Maybe some extraordinarily talented craftsman/machinist with a lot of money and time on their hands might be able to fabricate a Pedersen Device but I’ve not heard of that happening. Even more unlikely is the possibility that some entity will bite the bullet (no pun intended) and go into production on a replica PD for the mass market. Why not? Good question. Let’s take a look at the realities:

  • ·For starters, I doubt if the potential market is big enough to justify tooling up to make a reasonably accurate Pedersen Device copy. It would cost a small fortunate to acquire the necessary machine tools, fixtures and jigs to make the many intricate machining cuts necessary to fabricate a working Pedersen Device. I don’t know if it would feasible to make such a mechanism using the investment casting method of production. Even if it could, while this would be less expensive than machining, it wouldn't be, by no means, cheap.
  • ·Not only would they have to machine the rather intricate Device, no mean feat in and of itself, they would also have to make the special parts. While not rare, M1903 Mark I rifles are not available in large numbers. Even if a Mark I rifle can be found, virtually all have had the special Mark I parts (trigger, sear, cut-off, etc.) removed, thus making them useless for firing a Device. Surplus triggers, sears, etc. are few and far between, thus the would-be replica Pedersen Device magnate would have to go into production on these small, but somewhat complex, components.
  •  Eventually the limited supply of Mark I rifles would be exhausted and it would be necessary to convert standard ‘03s by annealing the receiver and milling out the hole for the requisite ejection port. This is not a job for a hobbyist in his basement workshop and would run up cost of ownership of a replica Pedersen Device substantially.
  • Even if the above obstacles could be addressed and remedied, it must be remembered that surviving .30 Pedersen ammunition is quite uncommon and typically priced at several dollars per round. Additionally, all of the ammo is well over 90 years old which makes functioning problematic, at best. Convincing an ammunition manufacturer to go into production on such a limited item would be quite unlikely. I suppose ammo could be hand-loaded, but that would also be cost-prohibitive if the cartridges were needed in any appreciable quantity. I’ve heard some speculate that such as Device could be chambered for the .30 carbine round or the .45 ACP. Leaving ballistic considerations aside, such suggestions obviously come from folks who don’t have the slightest idea as to how a Pedersen Device works. In the case of the two afore-named cartridges, the .30 carbine cartridge is much too long to function in such a manner and entirely too powerful for a blow-back action as used in the PD. In the case of the .45 ACP, I wouldn’t want to be the poor schmuck that tries to fire a .45 caliber bullet through a .30 caliber barrel…the math just doesn’t work!
  • There are also serious product liability issues involved and obtaining insurance to cover them would be extremely expensive. This would further add to the already hefty price tag involved.

I’ve heard it said that a manufacturing company in China or Mexico could produce a replica Pedersen Device much less inexpensively than a domestic firm. Perhaps so, but lots of luck getting approval from the government to import such items. Also, this still doesn’t address the issue of having to convert M1903 rifles or making the ammunition.

In conclusion, I think it extremely unlikely that you’ll be seeing ads for replica Pedersen Devices in the Shotgun News or American Rifleman. If this was feasible, you’d have seen them a long time ago. Trying to make such an item would soon prove to be highly impractical and a waste of time, effort and money. Sorta sounds like Obama’s economic policy.

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