Mikhail Timofeyevich Kalashnikov (10 November 1919 – 23 December 2013) was a Doctor of Technical Sciences, twice Hero of Socialist Labor, holder of the Lenin Prize and the State Prize of the USSR, deputy in the USSR Supreme Soviet, Russian small arms designer, most famous for developing the AK-47 assault rifle, as well as the AKM and AK-74 assault rifles.
Kalashnikov was born in Kurya, Kuryinsky District, Altai Krai, Russia, to Aleksandra Frolovna Kalashnikova (née Kaverina) and Timofey Aleksandrovich Kalashnikov. Kalashnikov's father, Timofey Aleksandrovich Kalashnikov (1883–1930), was a peasant. He completed two grades of parochial school and could read and write. In 1930, he was named a kulak, deprived of property and deported to Siberia, where he died shortly thereafter. In 1901 he married Aleksandra Frolovna Kaverina (1884–1957), who was illiterate through her life. They had 19 children, but only eight survived to the adult age; Kalashnikov was born 17th, and was close to death at age six. The eldest three siblings, daughters Agasha (b. 1905) and Anna and son Victor, were already married by 1930, and remained in Kuriya when the rest of the family was deported to Siberia. After the death of Timofey Aleksandrovich in 1930, Aleksandra Frolovna remarried Efrem Kosach, a widower who had three children of his own.
Mikhail Kalashnikov married twice, the second time to Ekaterina Viktorovna Moiseyeva (1921–1977). She was an engineer and did much technical drawing work for her husband. They had four children: daughters Nelli (b. 1942), Elena (b. 1948) and Natalya (1953–1983), and a son Victor (b. 1942). Victor also became a prominent small arms designer.
In 1930 most of his family were deprived of property and deported to Siberia, to the village of Nizhnyaya Mokhovaya, Tomsk Oblast. In his youth, Mikhail suffered from various illnesses and was on the verge of death at age six. He was attracted to all kinds of machinery, but also wrote poetry, dreaming of becoming a poet. He went on to write six books and continued to write poetry all of his life. Kalashnikov's parents were peasants, but after deportation to Siberia had to combine farming with hunting, and thus Mikhail frequently used his father's rifle in his teens. Kalashnikov continued hunting into his 90s.
After completing seventh grade, Mikhail, with his stepfather's permission, left his family and returned to Kurya, hitchhiking for nearly 1000 km. In Kurya he found a job in mechanics at a tractor station and developed a passion for weaponry. In 1938, he was conscripted into the Red Army. Because of his small size and engineering skills he was assigned as a tank mechanic, and later became a tank commander. While training, he made his first inventions, which concerned not only tanks, but also small weapons, and was personally awarded a wrist watch by Georgy Zhukov. Kalashnikov served on the T-34s of the 24th Tank Regiment, 108th Tank Division stationed in Stryi before the regiment retreated after the Battle of Brody in June 1941. He was wounded in combat in the Battle of Bryansk in October 1941 and hospitalized until April 1942. While in the hospital, he overheard some fellow soldiers complaining about the Soviet rifles of the time.
Seeing the drawbacks of the standard infantry weapons at the time, he decided to construct a new rifle for the Soviet military. During this time Kalashnikov began designing a submachine gun. Although his first submachine gun design was not accepted into service, his talent as a designer was noticed. From 1942 onwards Kalashnikov was assigned to the Central Scientific-developmental Firing Range for Rifle Firearms of the Chief Artillery Directorate of the Red Army.
In 1944, he designed a gas-operated carbine for the new 7.62x39 mm cartridge. This weapon, influenced by the StG 44, lost out to the new Simonov carbine which would be eventually adopted as the SKS; but it became a basis for his entry in an assault rifle competition in 1946.
His winning entry, the "Mikhtim" (so named by taking the first letters of his name and patronymic, Mikhail Timofeyevich) became the prototype for the development of a family of prototype rifles. This process culminated in 1947, when he designed the AK-47 (standing for Avtomat Kalashnikova model 1947). In 1949, the AK-47 became the standard issue assault rifle of the Soviet Army and went on to become Kalashnikov's most famous invention. While developing his first assault rifles, Kalashnikov competed with two much more experienced weapon designers, Vasily Degtyaryov and Georgy Shpagin, who both accepted the superiority of the AK-47. Kalashnikov named Alexandr Zaitsev and Vladimir Deikin as his major collaborators during those years.
From 1949, Mikhail Kalashnikov lived and worked in Izhevsk, Udmurtia. He held a degree of Doctor of Technical Sciences (1971) and was a member of 16 academies.
Over the course of his career he evolved the basic design into a weapons family. The AKM (Russian: АвтоматКалашниковаМодернизированный – Kalashnikov modernized assault rifle), first appeared in 1963, was lighter and cheaper to manufacture owing to the use of a stamped steel receiver (in place of the AK47's milled steel receiver), and contained detail improvements such as a re-shaped stock and muzzle compensator. From the AKM he developed a squad automatic weapon variant, known as the RPK (Russian: РучнойпулеметКалашникова – Kalashnikov light machine gun), and the PK (Russian: ПулеметКалашникова – Kalashnikov machine gun), which used the more powerful 7.62×54R cartridge of the Mosin-Nagant rifle. The PK series is a general-purpose machine gun. It is cartridge belt-fed, not magazine-fed, as it is intended to provide heavy sustained fire from a tripod mount, or be used as a light, bipod-mounted weapon. The common characteristics of all these weapons are simple design, ruggedness and ease of maintenance in all operating conditions.
Approximately 100 million AK-47 assault rifles have been produced by 2009, and about half of them are counterfeit, manufactured at a rate of about a million per year. Izhmash, the official manufacturer of AK-47 in Russia, has patented the weapon only in 1997, and in 2006 accounted for only 10% of the world's production. Kalashnikov himself claimed he was always motivated by service to his country rather than money, and made no direct profit from weapon production. He did however own 30% of a German company Marken Marketing International (MMI) run by his grandson Igor. The company revamps trademarks and produces merchandise carrying the Kalashnikov name, such as vodka, umbrellas and knives. One of the items is a knife named for the AK-74.
During a visit to the United States in the early 2000's, Kalashnikov was invited to tour a Virginia holding site for the forthcoming American Wartime Museum. The former tanker Kalashnikov became visibly moved at the sight of his old tank in action, painted with his name in Cyrillic.
Turned 90 on Tuesday 10 November 2009. On that day, Kalashnikov, the creator of the famed (or to some people, infamous) AK-47 assault rifle, received Russia's highest honorary title. President Dmitry Medvedev awarded him the Hero of the Russian Federation medal at a ceremony in the Kremlin. "The Kalashnikov is today one of the best-known Russian words... Such shining creative achievements move our country forward," Medvedev said during the ceremony. He described the AK-47 as "an excellent model of Russian weaponry" and "a national brand that makes each citizen proud."
Accepting the award, Kalashnikov voiced regret that his creation, the world's most widely used rifle, has been often misused. "I created a weapon to defend the fatherland's borders. It is not my fault that it was sometimes used where it shouldn't have been. This is the fault of politicians." Kalashnikov takes no pleasure in the destructive power he unleashed all those years ago. "I'm proud of my invention, but I'm sad that it is used by terrorists," he said on a visit to Germany in 2002. "I would prefer to have invented a machine that people could use and that would help farmers with their work - for example a lawnmower." On his 82nd birthday, Kalashnikov said "The youth should know that I created AK-47 assault rifle in defensive purposes exclusively. And it must be applied to defense the Motherland only". Despite estimated sales of 100 million, Kalashnikov, who lives in the Western Urals city of Izhevsk, claims not to have profited from the AK-47 and receives only a state pension.
On 17 November Kalashnikov was hospitalized in an Udmurtian medical facility. He died on 23 December 2013 at a hospital after a prolonged illness.