By Tyler Hilliker
You have probably heard of the world famous Uzi and its variants, even if you aren’t really a “gun person.” The infamous little 9mm is just one of those guns that’s almost universally recognizable by almost anyone, much like the Tommy gun, M16, AK47 and GLOCK.
The Uzi was first introduced in Israel in the early 1950s, seeing use through the present day with several militaries, including the ongoing Russia-Ukraine war. Uzis of one kind or another have also been featured in literally hundreds of action films, TV shows, music videos and video games. If you’ve ever seen photographs from the 1981 attempted assassination of Ronald Reagan then you have surely seen the little sub gun being famously wielded by Secret Service agents.
Today we will be taking a look at the life of its inventor. I present to you the man, the myth, the legend…Uziel Gal.
This year marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of the Uzi, born as Gotthard Glas. Born on December 15th 1923 in Weimar Germany to a Jewish family, they to England in 1933 after the Nazis came into power. Then in 1936, they moved to Kibbutz Yagur in what was then the British Mandate of Palestine at which time he also changed his name to Uziel Gal.
From his youth, Gal was interested in weapons engineering. He designed his first automatic gun (which shot arrows) at age 15. At 20, now a member of the Haganah defense force and was arrested by British troops for carrying a gun (it was forbidden to Jews in Israel at the time). He spent three years in prison during which he studied mechanical engineering before being pardoned in 1946.
He joined what is now known as the Israeli Defense Force during the Israeli war of Independence in 1948 at the age of 24 where he saw combat in Northern Israel. That’s where he demonstrated his homemade prototype submachine gun in Yagur. It was during that time that Captain (later Major) Gal was sent to work at Israel Military Industries where his Uzi first went into production in 1950. It was adopted officially in 1951 and first saw use with IDF special forces in 1954. Eventually over 10 million would be made.
Interestingly enough, Uziel didn’t even want the gun named after himself, but it proved to be so popular that his requests were ignored. In 1955, the IDF decorated him for his work with the Tzalash HaRamatkal. And in 1958, he became the first recipient of the Israel Security Award which was given to him by Israeli Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion.
Uziel remained with the IDF until 1975, rising to the rank of Lt. Col. when he retired. Shortly after, in 1976, he and his family emigrated to the United States, specifically Philadelphia, so that his daughter, Tamar, could receive proper extended medical care for a rare brain disorder. She unfortunately passed away in 1984 in her early 20s.
After coming to America, Uziel worked with Action Manufacturing (Action Arms) originally prototyping a .30 caliber military rifle. In 1978 He was approached by the owner of Action Arms to bring his Uzi to the U.S. civilian market.
As a career IDF officer, Uziel had always felt that his invention for the Jewish state was part of his duty, and he never received any royalties on the original military design.
Working with Israel Military Industries, the first intended civilian model was sent to the ATF for approval, but was quickly denied, considered readily convertible to a machinegun. As it was simply a 16” barreled Uzi sub-machinegun with a metal bar welded into the removable grip frame to prevent the selector from being switched to full auto, it’s quite obvious why this original model was denied for import as a semi-auto.
Uziel then worked to design a truly semi-automatic only version of his design, which included a welded steel bar inside the receiver to prevent installation of a full auto bolt, and a change to a closed bolt design, amongst many smaller changes.
With an Uzi model newly approved for import, the gun was first introduced to the public at the 1980 SHOT Show, receiving a significantly higher than expected 7,000 orders initially. In the first three years, they managed to sell more than 36,000 additional semi auto Uzi’s.
In 1989, an American assault weapons import ban went into effect. Essentially dooming the Action Arms’ plans. The Uzi is still being manufactured in both licensed and unlicensed through the present day.
Uziel eventually left Action Arms over a royalty dispute. He sued the company and won after four years of litigation. In the end, Uziel was awarded a substantial sum for royalties, which had been bumped from 5% to 10% by the judge, as well as a large sum in damages.
In his later years, Uziel worked with Ruger on the development of the Ruger MP9 Sub Machinegun, as well as a number of of other small projects. His wife passed away in 1998, and Uziel died in September, 2002. His body was returned to Israel where he is buried alongside his wife at the foot of Mount Carmel.
Uziel Gal will be remembered for his distinguished service to Israel, for his extraordinary creativity and the iconic, eponymous submachinegun he invented. He is survived by his son, Iddo Gal.
Tyler Hilliker is a USCCA certified firearms instructor, 2A advocate, and federally licensed firearms manufacturer. He is a vocal advocate, fostering informed discussions and is working to leave an indelible mark on the firearms community through education, training, and unwavering advocacy.