Hecho en Mexico —- The Mondragon Rifle
Patented by Gen. Manuel Mondragon in 1887 and adopted in 1908 by the Mexican Army, the Mondragon Rifle is the first semi automatic rifle formally adopted by any military. Many versions were built in different calibers for testing by other nations, but the standard Mexican Army model was chambered for 7x57 Mauser. While taken for granted today, the rifle operated with a gas cylinder piston arrangement, truly revolutionary when most people at the time were using lever and bolt action rifles. Most models had an eight round box magazine but they were also available with a twenty round magazine. Later, a fully automatic light machine gun version was created with 100 round drum magazines.
Due to economic and political instability the Mexican government could not afford many of these rifles and they were initially issued in limited numbers. The workhorse of the army remained the Mexican bolt action Mauser. At first these rifles were manufactured by SIG arms in Switzerland. By 1910 adequate facilities in Mexico were built to manufacture the Mondragon. By the 1930 the Mondragon rifle had almost completely replaced the Mauser as Mexico’s firearm of choice.
Incredibly, most of these rifles would be used by foreigners, and not Mexicans in combat. During World War I SIG would sell 5,000 Mondragon’s to the German Army. German soldiers complained that they were not rugged enough for trench warfare conditions and most were issued to air crewman. The Weimar Republic (post WWI Germany) would purchase rights to the Mondragon, and believe it or not they were manufactured for the new Wehrmacht in the early days of Nazi Germany, although few ever saw combat. Many more would be sold to China during World War II in order to help the nationalist Chinese stave off the Japanese and Communists. Many were capture by the Chinese Communists, and as a result, a few examples of the Mondragon were found on the battlefields of Korea and even in Vietnam.
In 1949 the Mexican Army began phasing out the Mondragon Rifle, later adopting the 7.62 Nato FN FAL. Gen. Mondragon also invented a new 75mm field gun. Unfortunatly he backed the losing side of the Mexican Civil War and was forced in exile. He died in Spain in 1922.