“After six months we finally get a phone call. ‘Bad news, Congress cut all developmental funds. We thought you ought to know. You can continue with development if you want. There’s no guarantee when you’ll be paid.’ If it were any other public company they would have stopped development right there. Stockholders wouldn’t have put up with it. Well, I was the principal stockholder,” John said with a laugh, “and I decided to proceed. Luckily, about six months later the funds were reinstated and we began getting progress payments.”
The holster’s design posed some enormous challenges in synthetic materials development, manufacturing, and in achieving John’s first caveat, it had to be ambidextrous. That was a strategic word in Bianchi’s vocabulary. He was left-handed, and had in fact been responsible for Armand Swenson developing the ambidextrous safety for the Colt M1911. Swenson crafted the first one for Bianchi.
Bianchi got to the point at which the holster was completed except for a functional ambidextrous fastening mechanism. “One day I left the plant and on my way home it hit me like a bolt of lightning. Whammo! There it was. I saw it in my mind’s eye. I rushed into the house, got a coat hanger and a beer can and I fabricated a working model. The next week our design staff made the first prototype by hand out of sheetmetal and a spring wire clip. We put the finished holster together and submitted it for approval.” The Bianchi design was accepted by the DoD in 1984, and that is where the designation UM84 (Universal Military 1984) originated. Bianchi Int’l initially produced around 70,000 M12 (the military designation for the UM84) holsters.
Just about every holster Bianchi has designed, or some variation of it, is in use today somewhere in the world. As for the M12 it became the most successful military holster ever devised and is still in use by the U.S. more than 25 years later, while Bianchi Int’l (which John sold in 1987 and retired from in 1992) continues to offer civilian UM84 versions in a variety of configurations and colors for the Beretta 92FS and other models.
Looking back on the development of the UM84, Bianchi admits that it was the most demanding, expensive design project in the history of the company, but through the years its technology led to the development of the Ranger line of synthetic holsters, belts and accessories and the AccuMold Elite police duty gear in use today. Like many things throughout Bianchi’s life the UM84 went beyond the profit motivation and truly became a labor of love. “Our goal was to design a holster that would be in service for the foreseeable future, and we achieved that goal,” he said.