Mikhail Kalashnikov, the inventor of the AK-47 rifle, has died at the age of 94, according to reports from RT. Kalashnikov was hospitalized last month in Russia, and had spent two weeks at a cardiology clinic in May, according to the Associated Press.
Kalashnikov's life was a kind of rags-to-riches tale. Born the 17th-child of a peasant, he rose to engineer one of the world's most effective killing machines. Kalashnikov invented the weapon shortly after World War II, when he was an officer in the Red Army. The AK stands for “Avtomat Kalashnikova,” or Kalashnikov's Automatic. (The number represents its year of invention). His work garnered him plenty of applause in Soviet circles, and he was recently hailed as a "truly legendary" figure by President Vladimir Putin.
Originally designed for the Soviet leadership, today, the AK-47 is the gun of choice for rebels, terrorists and self-identified freedom fighters throughout the world; it is responsible for about a quarter-million deaths per year. The rise of the AK-47 from Russian weapon to the world's most-used gun was chronicled thoroughly in C.J. Chivers' The Gun. As The Washington Post explained in 2006, the AK-47 was "a device so cheap and simple that it can be bought in many countries for less than the cost of a live chicken." In addition, it needs little care, can be assembled easily, and never jams.
In his life, Kalashnikov had conflicted feelings about his invention. At times he was unabashedly satisfied with the gun, which aided the Soviet military. "I created a weapon to defend the fatherland's borders. It's not my fault that it was sometimes used where it shouldn't have been. This is the fault of politicians," he said. However, at other times he has expressed regret. In 2002, he said in Germany:
"I'm proud of my invention, but I'm sad that it is used by terrorists," he said on a visit to Germany, adding: "I would prefer to have invented a machine that people could use and that would help farmers with their work - for example a lawnmower."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.