This Day in NC History: ‘Carbine’ Williams, inventor and inmate dies

On January 8, 1975, David M. “Carbine” Williams, designer of the short stroke piston, died. More than eight million Allied soldiers carried the M-1 carbine, a light, semiautomatic rifle, in World War II. General Douglas MacArthur described the weapon as “one of the strongest contributing factors to our victory in the Pacific.” J. Edgar Hoover and others had similar praise for “Carbine” Williams, the weapon’s designer.

In 1921, law enforcement officers raided one of Williams’s illegal distilleries and, in the ensuing gunfight, Deputy Al Pate was shot to death. Williams denied firing the fatal shot but pleaded guilty to second degree murder and was sentenced to thirty years. As a “trusty” in the blacksmith shop at Caledonia prison, Williams began innovating with scraps. His designs drew the attention of Colt Firearms, whose representatives visited him in prison.

Governor Angus McLean commuted Williams’ sentence, and in 1929, he was released. In 1940, working with a team at Winchester, Williams created the .30 caliber M-1 carbine. Williams, a colorful character with his long sideburns, Stetson hat, and cigar, became wealthy and patented over fifty inventions. In 1971, Carbine Williams gave his workshop and its contents to the North Carolina Museum of History—it is on display on the museum’s 3rd floor.

For more about North Carolina’s history, arts and culture, visit Cultural Resources online at

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