Sure, the AR has been the longest-serving military rifle in U.S. history, and, sure, it is extremely popular. But before you had plastic and aluminum you had 10.5 pounds of wood and steel, a semi-automatic rifle that immediately announced itself with authority when you picked it up and fired it, leaving no question of its efficacy and power.
The M1 Garand was the first semi-auto issued to American fighting men when our enemies and allies were mostly carrying bolt-action rifles little different from those of World War I. This revolutionary design was adopted by the U.S. military in 1936, after more than a decade of development and even then saw some key changes before ending up as the rifle carried to victory in WWII and Korea. The M1 Garand was so successful that it continued to see use in Vietnam and with reserve troops into the early 1970s, although as a frontline-service weapon it had been officially replaced in 1957. Into the 1980s, the Garand was still in use by the militaries of numerous friendly nations, ones we equipped with the weapon, including the Greek army.
Designed by Canadian-born John C. Garand, a longtime Springfield Armory engineer, the rifle that bears his name is a long-stroke, gas-piston-operated, eight-shot-clip-fed, semi-automatic rifle chambered in the same .30-06 cartridge as its predecessors, the 1903 Springfield and the M1917 Enfield.
The long-stroke piston on the M1 is similar in concept to that found on the AK-47 and constitutes a long, steel operating rod that forms one piece with the charging handle and joins the rotating bolt, which features two locking lugs on its face. When firing the operating rod, the handle and the unlocked bolt move back as one unit, improving the rifle’s reliability in field conditions but also theoretically reducing its precision. (The bolt handle can also serve as a forward assist to properly seat a round.) Nevertheless, the M1 was considered very accurate and used in the sniper role with scoped variants.