1. U.S. Model of 1911 – There are more makers of M1911 pistols today than any other cartridge handgun design at any time, anywhere. This product of John Moses Browning, the best minds in Army Ordnance and Colt in its heyday, was perfect from the beginning. It is the handgun of the American Century. Oh, and it gave us the greatest handgun cartridge of all time - the .45 ACP
2. Smith & Wesson Model One – Why does a gun few have heard of rate so high? The Smith & Wesson Model One is the granddaddy of all modern cartridge guns. It employed a bored-though cylinder on the Rollin White patent and introduced the .22 rimfire to the world. There were other self-contained cartridge guns before the Model One, but it is this diminutive .22 that forever changed handguns and ammunition.
3. Mauser Broomhandle – There were other semi-automatic handguns before the C96 "Broomhandle" Mauser, but it was this gun that proved to the world the semi-automatic pistol was viable for commercial and military use. It didn't hurt that Mauser's massive worldwide sales organization was behind it. It was state of the art at the turn of the last century.
4. Smith & Wesson Military & Police – The Model 10 or Military & Police remains to this day the epitome of what a double-action revolver could and should be – they may be different, but they can't be better. In commercial blue for lawmen and civilians or Parkerized for the military, the M&P has "been there and done that" all over the world. It is the basis of all modern Smiths.
5. Ruger .22 Pistol – When Bill Ruger placed an advertisement in American Rifleman in 1949 for a semi-automatic pistol he had designed, it was the beginning of one of America's great gunmakers. With a grip angle based on his line of previously designed hand tools (an endeavor that failed), his pistol forever changed the landscape of .22 pistols. Do you know anyone who doesn't have one?
6. Walther PP/PPK/PPK/s – The first double-action pistol, the PP, changed how semi-automatic triggers would operate. Originally a police and pocket pistol, the double-action trigger mechanism would translate to other designs, as would its decocker. In production for more 80 years, there are innumerable variations for collectors. Oh, and the James Bond association doesn't hurt either.
7. Volcanic Pistol – This gun blends the history of Smith & Wesson and Winchester together in what is arguably the world's first successful – well, semi-successful -repeating handgun with a self-contained cartridge. It wasn't a metallic cartridge, but the "rocket ball" was at least one-piece.
8. Glock 17 – The Glock 17, although predated by the Heckler & Koch VP-70 in its polymer construction, changed how and what handguns are made of – and more importantly, how their triggers would operate in the future. Within a decade of its introduction, it went from an odd Austrian handgun abnormality to the dominant handgun in American law enforcement. The Glock is the defining gun of the last 25 years.
9. Browning Hi Power – The Browning Hi Power, even though eschewed by the French in favor of a Gallic design in the trials that spawned it, has had a career that spans seven decades. It has been built in Europe, North America and South America. It was the handgun of most NATO forces in the Cold War era, and was used by both sides during World War II. In terms of pure shootability, the Hi Power stands alone among 9 mms, and its styling is unsurpassed.
10. Colt Single Action Army – For aesthetics and heritage, it's hard to beat the Colt SAA. Easy to shoot and of sufficient power with its .45 Colt chambering, the SAA rolls in the hand naturally, and there is no sound in the world like the four clicks as the hammer goes back. Hollywood brought this icon of the American West into the living rooms of a new generation of Americans, and it's here to stay.