The AR-15 is well known for being a tinkerer’s dream of a firearm — so much so that it’s often called the ‘Lego Gun.’ And, given the ease with which you can swap out the various components of the upper receiver and attach new accessories, comparisons to those incredibly variable toy building blocks seems apt. That’s not the only toy connection that’s been attached to the AR-15 though. There is also a pervasive myth that toy manufacturer Mattel, famous for brands like Barbie and Hot Wheels, was responsible for manufacturing the military’s version of the AR during the Vietnam War. But is there any truth to that myth?
A Different Era
The M-16, the military equivalent to the AR-15, became the U.S. Army’s standard rifle in the 1960s, so it saw a rapid upswing in production and use during the Vietnam War. It was generally well-received, at least at first. The M-16 had the benefit of being lighter and smaller than its predecessor, meaning troops could carry it longer distances and shift to a ready position more expediently. All good things when one’s life was on the line.
Of course, that initially bright outlook dimmed a bit when many troops had ongoing issues with jamming and misfires. Colt Firearms Corporation bought the rights to the AR-15 in 1959 — the same year Barbie was first introduced to the American public. We’ll come back to this in a minute; it’s important — The problem many experienced with the M-16 is that it jammed or misfired with increasing regularity, especially when it wasn’t kept clean. Given the levels of dust and mud the troops encountered on Vietnam battlefields, keeping their firearms pristinely clean was a next-to-impossible task. One of the most common issues was a “failure to extract.” A bullet would be fired, but the casing would be trapped in the chamber and have to be popped out with a rod shoved down the barrel. This type of misfire effectively sent troops back about 100 years in terms of technology because the jams turned the M-16 into a single-shot rifle.
A Widespread Myth From… Complaints?
Plenty of complaints arose after the widespread jamming and misfire issues, and understandably so. As humanity does, the discontent led to plenty of complaints, many of which centered on the changes made to the standard-issue firearm. Before the M-16, troops were used to heavy wood for much of a firearm’s makeup. The plastic components of the M-16 made it much lighter, but it also gave the troops a focus for their complaints — especially with the Mattel logo embossed into the hand grip.
Yes, you read that right. Mattel was, at the time of the Vietnam War, making components for the M-16. By this time, Barbie was becoming a widely-known household name in the toy world, which meant Mattel was also gaining major notice. It stands to reason that troops would notice when their firearms were branded with the same logo as children’s toys. When their guns started having problems, Mattel took a lot of that flack because the forend grip was branded with their name. After all, who wants a firearm made like a toy?
So, The Myth Is True?
The myth about Mattel making M-16s is true, but only to an extent. They never actually manufactured the firearm itself. However, they did make some of the plastic components on the gun for a time. It was a patriotic way for the toy makers to support our troops. And, at least initially, the M-16’s hand grip was imprinted with their logo. As soon as they started gaining notoriety for their involvement in the M-16’s manufacture, however, Mattel stopped embossing their logo on the grips. But, while the grips no longer bore the Mattel logo, that didn’t mean they had stopped making the part. They continued to do so and simply stopped adding their logo. But, but that point, the damage was done and that one little detail gave rise to an ongoing myth.
These days, it’s a lot more common, and even expected, to have firearm components that are made from durable plastics rather than wood. Of course, there are myriad other lightweight and durable materials in play, too. For a sturdy, lightweight forend grip that doesn’t slip around, don’t trust Mattel. Visit Rail Scales for our specialized handguard rails and forend grip options designed to increase control without adding bulk to the front of your AR. Shop online today!