Gaston Glock, the Austrian engineer who invented the boxy Glock handgun, which has become a weapon of choice for national security forces, law enforcement officials, violent criminals and gun enthusiasts in America and around the world, died on Wednesday. He was 94.
The Glock company announced his death on its website. Their statement did not provide further details.
The Glock is almost everywhere: fired in massacres and shootouts, glamorized in Hollywood movies, featured in television dramas, jammed into the belts of killers and thugs, worn by two-thirds of America’s police officers and the security forces of at least 48 countries. Its praises are sung by gangsta rappers, its silhouette is posted at airports, and it is a focus of gun-control debates.
Its creator was almost nowhere: a reclusive billionaire who owned his company and lived on a lakefront estate in Austria shielded by guards, lawyers, financiers and servants. He was in the news rarely — in 1999, when a business associate tried to have him killed (Mr. Glock knocked his assailant unconscious); in 2011, when at 82 he divorced his wife and married a 31-year-old woman; and in 2012, when “Glock: The Rise of America’s Gun,” by Paul M. Barrett, was published.
In 2017, Forbes estimated worldwide Glock sales at more than $500 million, with a 65 percent market share of handguns sold in the United States. In 2021, Forbes estimated Mr. Glock’s personal fortune at $1.1 billion.
Before his gun became a global phenomenon, Mr. Glock managed a car-radiator factory near Vienna and, with his wife, ran a small business in his garage making door hinges, curtain rods and knives. He had not handled a gun since he was a teenage conscript in Hitler’s Wehrmacht at the end of World War II.
But one day in 1980, he overheard two Austrian Army officers talking about a prospective new military contract for a pistol. He spoke to the officers, and later to experts on handguns. He then designed and patented a lightweight 9-millimeter semiautomatic, partly made of tough plastic, that could rapidly fire 18 rounds and be reloaded easily with a clip in the handle.
It was a dull black, industrial-looking wedge of rectangles without the fancy wood grip or sleek steel curves of the Smith & Wesson revolver. But it was cheap to produce, accurate and reliable, ready to fire even if soaked by rain, left in the snow or dropped on the sidewalk. Although its parts were plastic, its metal barrel set off airport security alarms. In 1982, the Austrian Army ordered 20,000 Glock 17s — so named because it was his 17th invention.
Overcoming legal hurdles and benefiting from promotional campaigns, the Glock became a phenomenal seller, especially in the United States. It arrived in the mid-1980s, when crime rates were soaring and police officers felt outgunned. New models and calibers with extended clips were introduced. Two-thirds of America’s police forces, including New York City’s, adopted the Glock, as did many federal, state and county agencies.
Mr. Glock established manufacturing plants in the U.S., Europe and Asia and amassed a large personal fortune.He bought jet planes and a yacht, built an equestrian center to indulge his passion for horses, and turned his vacation retreat at Velden, Austria, into a mansion on a guarded estate. He traveled and entertained associates, including the right-wing extremist Jörg Haider. But he avoided publicity and valued his privacy.
He was vilified by gun-control advocates and hailed by gun aficionados. Despite the Glock’s popular depiction as a criminal’s weapon and its use in some of America’s most spectacular mass shootings, Mr. Barrett, the author of “Glock,” said the gun had not commonly been traced to crime scenes — indeed, far less so than other firearm brands.
“Glock, then, is not a particular villain within the fraternity of firearms,” Mr. Barrett wrote. “Nor is he a hero — regardless of what Hollywood tells us on both scores.” In summation, he added, “Gaston Glock is one of the giants in handgun history, deserving of mention alongside Colt, Browning, Smith and Wesson.”
Gaston Glock was born in Vienna on July 19, 1929, the son of an Austrian railroad worker. He attended public schools and, after his brief military service, graduated from a technical institute. Trained as an engineer, he joined a company that made hand drills, worked his way up to management and held a series of supervisory jobs.
He and his wife, Helga, were married in 1962 and had three children: Brigitte, Gaston Jr. and Robert. They were divorced in 2011, after which they were embroiled in litigation for years over hundreds of millions in assets and alimony, and over control of the business. Later in 2011, Mr. Glock married Katherine Tschikof, who had been his nurse when he suffered a stroke in 2008, and who became the director of his equestrian center in Southern Austria after they married.
Information on survivors was not immediately available.
Gaston and Helga Glock settled in Deutsch-Wagram, a suburb of Vienna, and he became manager of a car-radiator factory. With a metal press in their garage, they began a small side business making curtain rods and brass fittings for doors and windows. They later won contracts to make knives and bayonets for the Austrian Army. It was on a visit to the Defense Ministry that Mr. Glock overheard the conversation that led to his gun contract.
As Glock sales soared to $100 million a year in the 1990s, a business associate, Charles Ewert — a financial adviser who had set up shell companies as tax shelters for Mr. Glock — tried to have him assassinated, evidently to conceal his own embezzlement of millions from the company. In July 1999, Mr. Glock went to Luxembourg for a meeting with Mr. Ewert and was attacked in a garage by a masked man wielding a hard rubber mallet.
As Mr. Ewert ran off, Mr. Glock, who was 70 but physically fit from swimming every day, fought back and, despite receiving seven head wounds, knocked the assailant unconscious. Mr. Ewert returned with the police and was himself arrested after being implicated in the plot.
In 2003, Mr. Ewert and the attacker, Jacques Pêcheur, were found guilty of attempted murder. Mr. Ewert was sentenced to 20 years. Mr. Pêcheur drew a 17-year term after testifying for the prosecution against Mr. Ewert, but he was released after seven years for good behavior.
Investigations of Glock corporate financial affairs later revealed a global chain of shell companies that hid income, laundered profits, reduced taxes, deflected liability lawsuits and made payments to lobbyists and the campaigns of public officials. Some company officials were prosecuted, but Mr. Glock was not.
After his divorce and remarriage, Mr. Glock’s first wife filed lawsuits in Austria, claiming alimony for her 49-year marriage and asserting that she had been wrongly deprived of a 15 percent interest in the firearms empire under a 1999 trust intended to perpetuate family control. Under the trust, Mr. Glock owned 99 percent of the company and Mrs. Glock 1 percent. She also said her adult children had been unjustly fired from positions in the corporation.
Helga Glock won her alimony case, but she lost her lawsuit demanding a larger stake in her former husband’s company. In 2014, she resumed the fight with a lawsuit filed in a federal court in Georgia, claiming that Mr. Glock had cheated on her both in their marriage and financially. Her case was dismissed in 2017 and again in 2018.