By Dan Shea, photos by Knight’s Armament Company
Eugene Morrison Stoner is the designer of what became the M16 system, but he was far more than that. He was a weapons designer for sure, but his interests included rotary winged aircraft, boats, and many other things. He was a genius on many levels.
Stoner was born on 22 November 1922, in Gasport, Indiana, an irony not lost on many AR-15 family collectors. He was a WWII veteran of the USMC, serving as an aviation ordnance technician in El Toro, the South Pacific, the Philippines, Okinawa, and in North China. He died 24 April 1997 in Palm City Florida. As a veteran, he had a solid understanding of what traits an infantryman wanted from a fighting rifle; it should be simple, reliable, robust, and accurate.
Most people today understand the effect Stoner had on modern weaponry; this article is not really about that. What we’re here to discuss is the birthday event that Stoner’s close friend and business partner C. Reed Knight, Jr, put on to celebrate Stoner’s 100th birthday.
In all their years of friendship, Mr. Knight had managed to hunt down and collect almost all the Stoner designs. Hundreds of firearms were found, and in the process, one of the most amazing small arms collections in the world grew to fantastic size; first in Vero Beach, then in Titusville, Florida. The collection is referenced as either the Knight Collection, or more properly, the Institute of Military Technology. Reed Knight had a lot of dreams. He pursued, adjusted, and excelled at many, but a fervent one was to create a university, more or less, for mechanical engineers to learn firearms design. The institute provided the road map and the collection… well, it’s a working reference collection, one of the finest in the world. The collection goes far beyond just the designs of Stoner and Knight, it covers the development of small arms in almost every country in the world and provides an amazing glimpse into the weapons of our enemies and allies.
When it became close to Mr. Stoner’s 100th birthday it appeared the date would coincide with the 60th anniversary of the M16 and 40th anniversary of Knight’s Armament Company, Mr. Knight and his staff sprang into action with a very ambitious plan; a party for 1200-1400 people. Many members of Knight’s Armament and the Institute’s employee groups devoted a lot of time to make impressive presentations. Attendees were treated to a band, local barbecue, and facility tours. The list of attendees was impressive, many manufacturers and government people were there, as well as members of the general public who had signed up for the tours. All in all, it was an excellent day. Good barbecue, good company, and one of the world’s most