1. Glock 17 – Although not the first polymer frame handgun, the Glock 17 is certainly the one that changed the landscape of modern handguns. In addition to its polymer frame, the 17 had many features preferred by military, law enforcement and civilians. No wonder more than 4 million Glock 17s (and variants) have been produced.
2. Colt 1911/1911 A1 – In production for nearly a century, and faithfully serving the United States through several wars, the 1911 has been there and done that. Today, its popularity is greater than ever, with more companies offering varied models than during any other time.
3. Smith & Wesson Registered Magnum – This is the handgun that started the magnum craze and opened the door to handgun hunting. Without it, there would have been no N-frame, .41 Mag., .44 Mag., Dirty Harry, .454 Casull or X-frame, among other things.
4. Thompson/Center Contender – The Thompson/Center Contender not only made switch-barrel handguns widely available and affordable to the American market, its versatility in chamberings is unmatched - except by its Encore and G2 counterparts. With the Contender, the company also started the switch-barrel trend that continues even today.
5. Luger P-08 – Although the Luger P-08 served the German army well through two World Wars, for me its place on this list was due to one of its chamberings. The 9 mm Luger (9 mm Parabellum), remains one of, if not the, most popular pistol cartridges ever designed, offering effective stopping power with minimal recoil. It's among my favorite cartridges.
6. Browning Hi Power – Holding 13 rounds of 9 mm Luger in its staggered, double-column magazine, yet still possessing a manageable grip, the Hi Power had everything desired in a handgun – and was well ahead of its time. It found favor with civilians, law enforcement and militaries alike - no wonder.
7. Walther PPK and PPK/S – Among the first successful double-action pistols, the blowback-operated PPK was popular for police, military and civilian use. Even the fictional James Bond chose the PPK. The PPK and PPK/S are renowned for their reliability and concealment qualities, and the former inspired the Soviet Makarov and Czech CZ50, among other handguns.
8. Colt Single Action Army – Adopted by the U.S. military and fielded from 1873-91, the Peacemaker was both powerful and reliable. Not only did the military use it, so did law enforcement and law-abiding civilians. Among those who used the Model 1873 were Gen. George S Patton, Bat Masterson and Wyatt Earp.
9. Remington Double Derringer – By today's standard, the Double Derringer has little appeal for self-defense – by the way, they are still manufactured and serve their owners well. But, through its 60-plus-year production, Remington's diminutive Double Derringer, chambered in .41 Short, proved to be immensely popular, offering easy concealment and access to two shots at an affordable price. In a day dominated by full-size handguns, the Double Derringer was different, and in a good way.
10. Smith & Wesson X-frame – With the X-frame (Extra Large Frame), Smith & Wesson achieved the titles of world's most powerful production revolver (Model 500) and world's fastest production revolver (Model 460 XVR) – titles unlikely to be broken anytime soon. The X-frame, and cartridges housed in it, were instrumental in renewing interest in big-bore revolvers and handgun hunting.