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Uzi started out as a boy who played with guns

The inventor of the eponymous submachine gun used around the world had a lifelong passion for firearms
Uzi Gal and his Uzi (via National Library of Israel)
Uzi Gal and his Uzi (via National Library of Israel)
Uzi Gal and his Uzi

As a young boy he got hold of a pistol to experiment on, and when imprisoned in a British jail for weapon smuggling he invented the submachine gun that eventually would arm the world.

This is the unbelievable story of Uzi Gal.

Meet Gotthard Glas, the child with a dangerous hobby: weapons.

When he was ten years old, Gotthard Glas burned his hand. How? He decided to saw an old, long rifle to repurpose it as a personal weapon. That’s what happens when the family home in which you grow up in Munich is full of pistols, swords and other ancient weapons.

A Hanukkah menorah made of old Uzi machine guns. The Dan Hadani Collection, 1979

When the child became a teenager living in Kibbutz Yagur, having moved in 1936 to Mandatory Palestine, his great passion for guns returned. He heard that the geography teacher in the district school owned a tiny Italian Black Powder gun. He sold his stamp album, bought the weapon and began working on his dream: to turn it into a well-oiled war machine.

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Unfortunately, a teacher in the school caught him working on the gun, and his plans were foiled once again. Glas did not give up: at the age of 15 he invented a bow that shoots arrows automatically, a “submachine bow and arrow” if you will.

Prime Minister Yitzchak Shamir shooting an Uzi, December 16, 1986. Photograph: Nati Henrik, GPO

When Glas joined the Palmach fighting force of the prestate Yishuv, he found the perfect occupation: Weapons development and weapons engraving. Just as in his school days, he was caught once again – and sentenced by the British to seven years in prison. To his joy, he was pardoned after just over two years in Acre Prison. Guess what he did to pass the time in jail: He designed a submachine gun.

Photo: Yaacov Elbaz. The Dan Hadani Collection, 1969

In 1949, while still a cadet in officer’s training course and after making an intimate acquaintance with all the weapons the IDF had to offer, the young boy, who had meanwhile become Uziel Glas (and would later be known by the name Uzi Gal) chose to write a letter to his commanders:

“To: The Commanding Officer of the Officers’ School, Lieutenant Colonel Meir Zorea.

From: Cadet Uziel Glas 120946.

Date: October 20, 1949″

The long letter contains a detailed description of his dream of the perfect submachine gun.

From: “Uzi Submachine Gun: Lesson Plans”, which the IDF distributed to commanders in 1970

Five and half years later, on April 27, 1955, at the IDF’s traditional Independence Day Parade, the army unveiled the new submachine gun, which bore none other than the name Uzi. By the way, Guthard/Uziel/Uzi Glas/Gal didn’t want the submachine gun to be named after him, but the decision was out of his hands.

IDF soldier with her Uzi. The Dan Hadani Collection, 1974

Within a few years, the Uzi was not exclusively used by the IDF. It became a phenomenal success throughout the world.

The entire State of Israel encountered this unassuming young man when he received the Chief of Staff Citation in 1955, and was awarded the “Security Prize” by David Ben-Gurion.

Defence Minister Itzhak Rabin with IDF soldier. photo: Danny lev, The Dan Hadani Collection, 1989

When asked about his invention he simply replied: “I did my duty in the army just like a cook does and just like everyone else.”

The Uzi, Chuck Norris’s weapon of choice!

In writing the article I made use of volume 17 of “IDF: Encyclopedia of Army and Security”, and of Eli Eshed’s article “Sixty Years of the Uzi Submachine Gun”.

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About the Author
Nati Gabbay is the Director of Digital Content in the National Library of Israel.
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