The Army’s specifications of 1906 for its next round of automatic pistol testing required an “automatic safety.” This requirement was satisfied in the Model 1907 test pistols by what we now call the “grip safety,” designed by Ehbets at Colt.
The grip safety that we now know was the last significant modification to the Browning/Colt design, and is the distinguishing feature between the Model 1910 and Model of 1911 pistols. The manual safety was added at the Army’s request so that a pistol that had been fired but was not empty could be made safe for reholstering.
The manual or “thumb” safety, was a Browning design patented in 1913.
The Ordinance Board reported in part, “The Colt pistol had a grip safety and in addition a slide lock safety which prevented the hammer from being let down on the firing pin when both the trigger and the grip safety were manipulated, thus allowing the pistol to be carried with perfect safety in a holster at full cock.”
Neither the grip safety nor the thumb safety were part of the Model of 1911 by Browning’s design, but rather were the results of the Army’s field testing from 1900 onward, and to satisfy the needs of the Cavalry. Once both were incorporated, the concept of Condition One was born… In November 1910.
And, what is “Condition One?”
- Condition One refers to slide forward, round chambered, hammer back, safety engaged.
- Condition Two is cartridge chambered, hammer down.
- Condition Three is chamber empty (though the magazine is full), hammer down.
In Condition One, the shooter is able to disengage the manual thumb safety by simply obtaining a proper firing grip on the pistol.
Condition Two has no practical purpose and I think, with many other firearm enthusiasts, has no business being used.
Condition Three is simply a means of moving to Condition One. I cannot think of a time when one would stay in Condition Three, since the NRA Rules for Firearm Safety recommend that a firearm not be loaded until ready to use.
Much of this discussion is moot now that striker-fired pistols have become the norm and DAO firearms resolve any issue of carry safety.