FN Herstal: The History Behind the Legend

— Jason MosherCADRE Dispatch

FN Herstal is an international gun manufacturer with a long history of making military arms and firearms for public sale. Over the years, the company, now called FN Herstal, has made some of the most iconic firearms ever produced. Under its American-based brand, FN America, the company continues to produce military and civilian firearms today. More than 130 years old, the company was formed in 1889 by approximately 12 arms makers from Belgium and a plant was set up there in a town called Herstal.

Because most companies were too small to produce large amounts of firearms, the separate companies merged so they could fulfill a request for military rifles. The company’s original name, Fabrique Nationale d’Armes de Guerre, translates to “National Maker of Arms of War.” And from that start, FN would become known as a military arms manufacturer. It produced its first order of FN Mausers 1889 in 1891, making more than 150,000. The company continued making military arms after that and built a reputation for quality and reliability.

FN Reflex
The FN Reflex is one of FN Herstal’s newest additions to their CCW line of handguns. [Photo: Jason Mosher]

Today, the company is known as FN Herstal (FNH) and operates under the parent company, Herstal Group. FN Herstal operates FN America, FNH UK, and Noptel which is based in Finland. Along with their international locations, firearms and ammunition are still made in Belgium today. The Herstal Group is owned by The Walloon Region of Belgium, which owns 100 percent of the company after purchasing the remaining shares in 1997.

FN Herstal’s connection to America’s iconic John Moses Browning

While FN Herstal started out manufacturing rifles for the Belgium army, it wasn’t long before they had a strong connection to the US. By 1897, FN Herstal had started producing bicycles as another source of revenue since firearms sales were down. A sales manager for FN was in the US regarding bicycle sales when he met John Moses Browning. Browning gave the sales rep one of his .32 ACP semi-automatic pistols to show the owners of FN Herstal.

It wasn’t long before a contract was signed, and FN Herstal was making Browning’s guns. Colt and Smith & Wesson also did business with Browning causing some competition between patent rights to Browning’s designs. This relationship with Browning would continue until his death in 1926 when he died while visiting FN Herstal. The company continued to make Browning firearms long after his death. Some of the iconic guns include the Auto-5, a semi-auto shotgun, BAR, and High-Power pistol.

John Moses Browning
John Moses Browning invented many of the world’s most famous firearms. He had a long relationship with FN Herstal.

Making guns for the US military opened the doors for the company to sell firearms to the civilian market as well. FN Herstal purchased Browning’s firearms company in 1977, which was fitting because of his close connection with the company. As FN Herstal began making arms for the US government, they expanded their manufacturing capabilities by opening a new plant. Columbia, South Carolina, was chosen as the new location for all FN military manufacturing for the US. In 2014, FN created “FN America” as the US branch of firearms and less-lethal products.   

Does FN Herstal still have military contracts?

While FN Herstal is not as well known to many in the US as some US gun manufacturers, it has a significant role in manufacturing guns of war. In fact, FN Herstal and American legend John Moses Browning were in the spotlight after the assassination of Archduke Franz Fernandez and his wife Sophie in 1914. Browning’s 1910 pistol was manufactured by FN Herstal and was a popular handgun in Europe at the time. It was also the gun used for the assassination that would ignite the first worldwide war.

FN-made guns would then be used on both sides of the war after German forces took control of some manufacturing facilities. After WWI, FN Herstal was again a key arms producer during WWII and even more so during the Cold War. FN Herstal continues to make guns for militaries around the world, including the US. In 2022, FN Herstal was granted a contract for the M240L, a lighter version of the M240B machine gun.

FN Herstal's M240L
FN Herstal’s M240L is among the newest machine guns used by the military. [Photo: FN Herstal]

They also produce small arms including belt-fed machine guns, M4 style guns, handguns, and more for the US. Some of their most famous battle rifles are still being used by other militaries around the world. Two of the most notable battle rifles produced by FN are the FAL and SCAR. FN Herstal also produces several popular handguns including the 509 and Five-Seven.  

Do the police use FN Herstal guns?

While the most popular handgun used by today’s law enforcement is Glock, some have turned to FN Herstal. The most notable is the LAPD with their switch to the 509 MRD-LE. An intense testing process was performed by the LAPD during their search for a new handgun. This test included multiple types of ammo and a total of approximately 22,000 – 24,000 rounds. Seven total models were selected for this process and while the LAPD has not commented on the other six, they selected FN.

Sheriff's Deputy training on the range.
Some agencies in the United States have begun using the FN 509 duty gun. [Photo: Jason Mosher]

LAPD Sgt. De Bella stated that FN America’s 509 MRD-LE had zero malfunctions during the testing process. It also held an MOA of 2.5 inches from 25 yards. He also said that ease of maintenance and the ability to work with the most popular red dots on the market played a role as well. When you consider FN Herstal’s long history of making battle guns for militaries, this is not surprising.

The 509 has also become a popular handgun with civilians in the US. Another popular handgun from FN is the Five-Seven which is used by more than 40 military and law enforcement agencies around the world. Because of its caliber (5.7x28mm), it has remained a controversial handgun. With the right ammunition, this small but fast bullet can penetrate body armor. Since 2004, FN has been available to the public with civilian-grade ammunition for self-defense. Some agencies in the US however utilize the gun because of its high capacity and penetrating abilities.

Safariland 7360 RDS holster.
Safariland makes plenty of options for FN Herstal handguns. [Photo: Jason Mosher]

Are Safariland holsters available for FN 509 handguns?

For some, selecting a firearm for self-defense or duty depends on the equipment available for it. In the case of handguns, optics, lights, and of course, holsters are things to consider.

Safariland, one of the world’s largest manufacturers of duty and military-grade holsters offers multiple selections for FN Herstal handguns. For example, the 6354 RDS – ALS Multicam tactical/combat holster is available for the FN 509. For duty purposes, the 6360 level III retention holster is an excellent choice. Aside from the 509 combat/duty gun, Safariland makes holsters for many other FN Herstal products including their FNP and other models.

Other facts about FN Herstal you may not know

While FN Herstal has manufacturing facilities around the world producing famous military-grade arms, it also owns some other popular companies. Two of the most notable are Browning Arms Company and Winchester. As mentioned above, the company purchased the Browning Arms Company in 1977. They also purchased the Winchester Repeating Arms Co in 1989 after Winchester filed for bankruptcy.

FN Herstal has a reputation for making some of the most reliable battle guns in the world. From handguns to machineguns and automatic grenade launchers they are trusted by many including the US Military. Aside from automatic small arms, the company also makes several excellent long-range sniper rifles. The SPR A5M XP is one of FN’s most popular long-range guns. Built for law enforcement, the SPR (Special Police Rifle) is a bolt-action rifle focused on precision.

It has a hammer-forged, chrome-lined barrel and uses a box-fed magazine. One of their newest models, the FN Ballista (patent pending), can be reconfigured for different calibers within minutes. This gives the shooter the ability to change from .308 Win to .338 Lapua in a short time. A 26-inch barrel offers precise accuracy in a battle or competition setting.

Regardless of the type of gun you are looking at, if it has the FN Herstal name, you can be confident it is a quality firearm. The company has a rich history around the world. Their reputation precedes them in the firearms industry and they continue to make superior products.  

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