Obituary: Chip McCormick, Legendary Gunsmith and Innovator

BY Herschel Smith
4 months, 3 weeks ago

Shooting Illustrated.

A true industry legend, Michael “Chip” McCormick, has passed away.

I can think of no other man who has changed the industry in more ways than McCormick. Most people know him for his industry-leading 1911 magazines, but few are aware McCormick was responsible for many other innovations that transformed the gun world. An intensely private man, he quietly invented many things we take for granted today. He took the drive that pushed him to two World Speed Championships and focused it on inventing and manufacturing.

Before CMC (Chip McCormick Custom), there was no such thing as the now ubiquitous drop-in AR-15 trigger. Gunsmiths would put together a trigger with parts, often from a kit. McCormick created a single-unit trigger that installs in minutes; literally a “drop in.” Of course easy installation was not good enough for McCormick, he made it crisp, clean, with no creep….Match grade. Now dozens of imitators crowd the market, the market created by Chip McCormick.

Before Kimber, the 1911 had to be fitted from oversize parts. If you saw one in the gun store, it was usually a basic government model that the owner would have to customize. McCormick conceived of the “spec” 1911 with all parts being within specific tolerances so the gun could be assembled, instead of fitted. McCormick approached several companies, but they turned him away. Kimber’s Leslie Edelman saw the potential and quickly struck a deal for Chip to create a production gun. Unlike anything else on the market, it was fully accessorized with beavertail grip safety, extended slide release and ambidextrous thumb safeties. Not only was the Kimber handgun line born, but so was a new way of building the 1911. Now the production 1911 is the industry standard, as are fully accessorized guns.

When we think of the 2011, the first company that comes to mind is STI, which has since become Staccato. Few know the true origins of the company. It was Chip McCormick who conceived of the modular gun based on the 1911. Even with his vast experience, he lacked sufficient knowledge in plastic molding. McCormick had several other companies, so he also lacked the bandwidth to take on such a project. A team was assembled, including Sandy Strayer and Virgil Tripp. McCormick invested money and made agreements to buy parts to help fund the fledgling company. Strayer and Tripp took McCormick’s concept, developed and patented it, creating what we know as the 2011.

While he never said it, I believe the innovation that McCormick was most proud of was his RPM magazine. McCormick’s mind was always going and he often didn’t sleep. On one particular sleepless night he put his mind to thinking about the problem that vexed him and all 1911 enthusiasts. Of course, that of which I speak is out-of-spec feed lips. John Browning just didn’t leave enough room. Though McCormick didn’t get any sleep that night, he did get inspiration. Staring at his ceiling he figured out how to turn them back on themselves, making smooth, amazingly strong lips. That was revolutionary enough for most…but McCormick wanted to create something truly different. The RPM follower is unique as it is a two axis leaf spring, pushing up and sideways. This innovation is important because when the magazine is emptied, the follower sticks out of the top of the magazine tube and twists counter clockwise.  The results are that the slide always locks back when empty. I can still remember the satisfied smile when he explained how it worked. It was a simple, elegant solution and that was McCormick’s way.

I know that Chip McCormick made some great 1911 magazines, and also that Wilson Combat bought him out.

I didn’t know that Chip was responsible for all of those things.  I do very much like and admire self-starters and self-taught engineers and mechanics.


Comments

  1. On June 7, 2021 at 9:15 pm, Wes said:

    Thanks for sharing that, I’d not heard. Like you I was not aware of many of those things. I was always a fan for his magazines; come to think of it, that’s still good enough for me.

  2. On June 7, 2021 at 10:15 pm, Ozark Redneck said:

    Also a huge fan, used his magazines all the time when shooting IPSC back in the day. Made the best. Thanks for letting us know. God bless him!

  3. On June 8, 2021 at 8:05 am, xtphreak said:

    I typically toss factory 1911 mags and use McCormick mags exclusively.
    Research how many manufacturers use his mags as OEM.

    As an engineer, I appreciate an engineer who thinks out of the box and I was unaware he had contributed as much to the gun industry as he had.

    Like Richard Lee (Lee Precision) who invented many of the reloading tools sold by his competitors or George Kellgren (KelTec) who has come up with some of the most interesting firearm designs in the last 50 years.

  4. On June 8, 2021 at 9:05 am, Longbow said:

    We have lost one of the Greats. God rest his soul and give peace and comfort to his family.

  5. On June 9, 2021 at 6:50 am, CPL Antero Rokka said:

    Had a slight run-in with Chip years ago. A ‘tempest-in-a-teapot’ thing.

    He was the consummate Gentleman–gave me facts, figures, and views from his vast experiences, such that he settled the matter forthwith!

    R.I.P. Bro!

  6. On June 10, 2021 at 5:24 am, Thomas Haley said:

    ..sad day..RIP..prayers to his family..always been a fan of his triggers..actually talked to chip on phone some years back..genuine fellow..great loss to all who knew his contributions to shooting industry..

  7. On June 12, 2021 at 7:39 am, Jack said:

    How old was Chip??? Usually on an obituary they list the persons age. For some reason there’s no information anywhere that relates to this, at least anything related to his passing. Odd.

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This article is filed under the category(s) Firearms,Guns and was published June 7th, 2021 by Herschel Smith.

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