The Army contacted the Inland Manufacturing Division of General Motors to develop the new pistol, and Inland’s chief designer, George Hyde, was assigned the project. The gun was given the purposely misleading name of “Flare Projector” to disguise its true purpose and designated as the “FP-45” (Flare Projector-.45 caliber). To further conceal the nature of the project, the engineering drawings referred to the barrel as the “tube” and the trigger and related parts as the “yoke.” Hyde and his team hand-fabricated several samples to evaluate the suitability of their design. The work was carried on in a very small room (about 25 square-feet) at the Inland facility and only those personnel with direct involvement with the project were permitted entry. Five prototypes were submitted to Ordnance, and the design was approved in early May 1942.
By this time, Inland was heavily involved in the manufacture of the M1 Carbine, so further development and eventual production of the FP-45 were transferred to GM’s Guide Lamp Division in Anderson, Ind. Guide Lamp had extensive experience in the fabrication of stamped metal automotive components, thus had the machinery and expertise required to manufacture a firearm constructed primarily of stamped sheet metal.
On May 15, 1942, Guide Lamp was granted a contract for the manufacture of 1 million guns. While officially designated as the FP-45, the single-shot was known by other monikers including the “Woolworth Gun” and, more commonly, the “Liberator.” Some 300 workers, sworn to secrecy, were assigned to the project. Guide Lamp began production during the second week of June 1942. The work force labored 24 hours a day, seven days a week and the million pistols were completed on Aug. 21, 1942, just more than 10 weeks later. It has been calculated that the average assembly time per pistol was 6.6 seconds. This gives the Liberator the somewhat dubious distinction that it is likely the only gun manufactured in less time than it took to load. There was at least one experimental double-barrel version fabricated, but that variant was never put into production.
Each Liberator had to be fired at least once after manufacture to satisfy inspection requirements with a few random samples being fired as many as 50 times for more extensive testing. That resulted in more than 1.5 million rounds of .45 ACP ammunition being expended during the course of manufacture. Obviously, it didn’t take long for the workers to conclude that they weren’t really making flare projectors. A foreman was killed when he accidently shot himself in the abdomen with a FP-45 although the “official” story was that he was injured due to a malfunctioning piece of equipment.
As the guns were test-fired, the relative fragility of the design became apparent. Some examples revealed that damage, primarily splitting of the welded seams, could occur after as few as 10 or 15 rounds. Reportedly none could continue being safely fired after 50 rounds. Accuracy from the 4-inch, smooth-bore barrel was, predictably, quite problematic at anything but close distances. The 230-grain bullets would typically begin to tumble or keyhole soon after leaving the muzzle. This obviously was detrimental to accuracy but could produce rather gruesome wounds. None of those seemingly negative aspects were viewed as troublesome for a gun that was only intended to be fired one or two times at very close range before being discarded.
As would be expected given their clandestine nature, the pistols were not stamped with serial numbers or manufacturer’s markings. Most were completely unmarked, but some had a very inconspicuous single letter stamped inside the grip while a few others had a small one- or two-digit-mold number embossed on the cocking-knob. The Liberator pistol weighed about 1 pound (unloaded) with an overall length of 6 inches. The guns were not blued or Parkerized in the traditional manner but were “bonderized,” a procedure commonly applied to galvanized steel and similar metals prior to painting. Since the gun was intended to be more or less a disposable and not designed for long-term survivability, a durable finish was not necessary. Indeed, that was viewed as an advantage.
As stated in a late 1942 government report: “This weapon recommended itself … as a way of arming friendly subjugated peoples of the Far East. Here it has a value because it could be useful only for a short period before the humidity of the tropics would rust it away. In this way, it would be safe to arm people for the purpose of fighting the Japs, while at the same time not giving them weapons which would later be an embarrassment for the allies.”
Each pistol was packed in a cardboard box along with 10 rounds of .45 ACP ammunition (manufactured in 1942 by Frankford Arsenal), a wooden dowel (necessary to punch out the fired cartridge case from the chamber) and a sheet of cartoon-like illustrations showing how to operate the pistol. The wordless instructions could be used in spite of language barriers or even illiteracy. A crude drawing of the gun with smoke billowing from the muzzle was stamped on top of the packing box. After packing, the boxes were dipped in hot paraffin to provide some measure of protection from moisture until the guns were to be used. The hollow butt of the pistol—designed to store the 10 rounds of .45 ACP ammunition—could be accessed by a sliding sheet metal cover. The cost of the gun and packaging was $2.10 which, adjusted for inflation, equates to about $32 today.