• Mossberg Owners is in the process of upgrading the software. Please bear with us while we transition to the new look and new upgraded software.

M-16 Development History


Several of you, like me, went through the M-16 development days during the Vietnam era. This three part series highlights many of the development issues and the evolution of various models from the AR-15 to the M-16 to the M4. There are several more detailed articles available but this is a good top level overview series.

For some reason, I can't open any of the pages there. Probably because I have ad blockers turned on I guess.

But I wanted to share this with you. I have a couple more pictures saved from the old magazine article if I could find them, but this was well before the M16 was adopted.

You may also notice this was originally in 7.62x51 caliber ;)

John, if you search for "smallarmsreview.com" you should be able to find these articles. They are dated 30 September 2022 so just published.

Back in the Vietnam picture thread I did a few months ago there are many pictures of various M-16 models plus other weapons from that era. Many of the early M-16 problems were caused by lack of maintenance proceedures and the Army's change in type/brand of powder which were incompatable with the twist and burn rates of the rifles plus caused problems with bullet stabilzation. Thus many of our Special Operations teams operating cross border used AK-47s.

Last edited:
I have a good friend who was a ranger and said he carried a complete spare bolt in his pocket when he would "go across the river" as he termed it. He had given it to me at some point and @Djcala ended up with it in his collection.

If the gun fouled up, he'd pop the new bolt in it and was faster than trying to expediently clean his gun during a firefight.

I was barely born when you were doing that, but I have heard lots of stories about the guns being unreliable. And as you mentioned, from powder changes mostly.

I have seen a lot of variances from older guns. I recently saw one that was listed that didn't have a chrome lined barrel, however, the chamber was chromed. It was said that was one of the earlier attempts of "fixing it".

Plus, the cartoon book saying they didn't need cleaned, wasn't very helpful either.

They have been in service for so long now, most of the early growing pains have been resolved.

One in particuler, I'm a huge fan of nitride treated bolts and barrels myself. Much moreso than chrome lined stuff. I've seen a lot of 1978 chevrolet truck bumpers that had been chromed when they were made. Most of that has flaked off and rusted underneath of it now. I could only imagine that barrels would be subject to heat and flame and friction would be even more subject to wear and tear than an old bumper.
John, the biggest "in field" problems were stuck cases due to several factors I'll highlight below and that's why many of the pictures you see of folks in the field are with a cleaning rod taped to their weapon which was used to knock out the stuck casing.

First and foremost these guns were being originally designed by industry as a potential replacement for the M14 and at that time the military leadership were still "fighting" the last war which was in Europe and everyone, especially the Army oridinance corps, thought Eastern Europe was the next battlefield. The jungles of Vietnam were a different environment plus these weapons were subjected to river crossings and daily rains plus operating down south in the delta. Corrosion was the big issue and the troops were initially told the weapons never needed cleaning nor oiling. The Army Ordinance folks hated the rifle which was not designed inhouse and most don't remember but the intial fielding was with the Air Force and special ops folks not the Army. Later models came with chrome plated chambers and barrels which helped plus the troops were finally issued cleaning kits and the mx comic book your referred to. The other factor, which is never highlighted, is that the average age of the young fighters was just 19. Many (most) had never seen a weapons until they got drafted!

But as I indicated above the unannounced and untested change in powder brand and type was the biggest issue and for folks who knew their weapons it was an immediate change they noticed.

The other minor problem was the aluminum 20 magazines. Originally these we expendable items that came loaded and when empty were discarded. This became a problem on several fronts. Later guys didn't pay much attention to magazines they were reloading nor took care of them so many malfunctioned. Again this was a learning and training issue but over time the weapon proved out and has remained in the inventory ever since.

Many issues which we could discuss but I'll close for now.

I'll be entirely honest when it comes to magazines.

I always felt the followers were the weakest links. Until the magpul anti-tilt followers came along, I always had to test my mags and dedicate them to certain firearms because they all wouldn't work universally. This was even worse during the ban years because availability was not like it is today. It was more pot luck than anything. Many of which weren't even marked.

When the anti-tilt followers came along, was a God send.

And when the Pmags came along, I liked them even better after running them a while and the feedlips didn't wear out in a few boxes of ammo and swelling wasn't much of an issue, though, I have had a few early magpuls swell and not drop free when left loaded, I haven't noticed that as much with the newer gens. I'm not sure if it was design changes or different polymer or what, but the newer ones seems to keep on ticking like a timex.

I have a lot of old magazines. Many of which have had new springs and followers put in them and they generally work well now. I like D&H pretty well. But I also like Colts and Magpul very well. OKay/Center industries have worked well after replacing the various colored followers that I have came across in them from puke green to baby poop tan and black. I completely hated the black followers. Every one I ever had would nosedive and cause stoppages. I really hated those.

I have one straight 20 rounder aluminum that's worn down to bare metal in most places. It has a metal follower in it. I don't recall ever using that one.

I'm unsure if it's still on this forum anymore, but at one time, I had a huge topic about different brand mags many years ago.
John, good thoughts on mags. I still have many old OKay 20 rounders and a few old Colts. Great to carry these 20 rounders in your pants pocket when out working or to use for prone shooting.

The thing that many people forget is that magazines like their guns need recurring maintenance. Anti tilt followers and better springs have become available over the years and if you have some old Vietnam area aluminum mags that are not mangled they can be upgraded and will last forever. However, the old Vietnam era mags still function if they have received a little TLC.

Side note: Until the end of 2022 (soon) OKay is still making the original designed 20 and 30 round mags but with newer designed anti tilt followers. If you need any this is the time to buy because they are already becoming hard to find. And like other things once their gone the prices will go up rapidly. Hopefully someone will buy their designs and machinery and continue making them. Who knows?

I have Pmags also and they have improved over the years but I'm not a fan of their recent window mag offerings.

I don't remember a recent mag thread but it would be a good discussion to see who all still has the various brands produced over the years and if they have done any upgrades.

Here ya go buddy.

While the pictures are long gone after photobucket screwed the pooch, there's still a lot of info in it.

John, enjoyed reading the referenced 2011 thread even without pictures.

If my decades old mind remembers correctly the original pre 1963 AR-15 Armalite mags were waffle sided. And, the early Colt 20 round mags which began production in 1963 under an Air Force contract had a bright alloy follower and were marked with Cal .223 with the pony logo. Beginning around 1966 the follower was changed over to a dull alloy finish. Most of the Colt 20 round mags manufactured prior to 1969 were marked as Cal .223 whereas the later ones were marked as Cal 5.56 MM.

Early 30 round Colt mags were manufactured beginning in 1968 and like early 20 round mags were marked Cal .223. Around 1970 when production was ramped up these 30 round mags were marked Cal 5.56 MM and again had the pony logo. The early 30 mags had a green plastic follower whereas later ones changed over to black plastic. Don't remember the exact year. However, during the Vietnam era the componments were swapped out across the board and you would see different color followers no matter the date of manufacture. This trend continued into the 80s.

Like many of the weapons of this era Colt designed magazines were made by many other companies to keep up with the war effort.

Yeah, photobucket image hosting service screwed a lot of different forums due to their greed. So, that's why the lack of photos in posts more than 8 or 10 years old that were removed.

I'm glad that you liked some of the info, even if a picture is worth 1000 words.

I have seen some of the waffle mags, but have never owned one. I do have some Colt mags, but most of mine are newer (newer in this case at least from the 1990's to current). I also have many marked LEO/MIL which were produced and required during the ban years-'94-'04.
Here's a partial list of various manufactures who produced M-16 mags during the early days. There were a couple of sets of Colt equipment which got moved around to small set aside business in the day. I'm sure there were others if anyone remembers.

Center Industries
Cooper Industries
D&H Manufacturing
Labelle Industries
Okay Industries
Precision Products
Simmons Universal
Ya know, there's several on your list that I do recognize. And several that I don't, so I appreciate that you took the time to do that.

I remember the only labelle mag that I had, was probably the most unreliable magazine that I ever used. You couldn't get 3 shots off without at least 1 jam with it.

I've read years ago where they had a pretty big following, but you wouldn't have known it if you had asked me.
John, you are correct that more than one of these brands on this list were junk. The biggest problem was the governemnt contracting which was focused on giving set aside contracts to small and unqualified businesses which didn't have either quality control, craftsmen nor training. We use to look at the bottom plate to see who manfactured the mag and "select" the good ones.

New Rumor -- word on street is that Okay has sold their manufacturing equipment to a thrid party and once they finish existing back orders later this month the equipment will be transfered to the new owner. No announcement as to who the buyer is nor the anticipated date they will begin production. The other unknown is if Okay is selling their name plate.

If I remember correctly Okay has been making their aluminum 20 and 30 round mags since around 1970 and are still being used by several militaries and have a huge civilian following. Earlier this year when they announced they would be closing operations by the end of 2022 their inventory flew off the shelf, especially the 20 round mags.

That's great if they were able to sell. It's sad to see a long standing successful US company close.

I have a lot of Okay Center Industries mags personally.

As a sidenote, our local KY National Guard Armory also has a lot of OKC mags as well. I have several close friends who deployed to Iraq around 2007 and that's mostly what they used.
Going back to Labelle, looks like they are now D&H. This from D&H website:


The origins of D&H Industries go back to LaBelle (started in 1937 in Oconomowoc, Wisconsin) and General Stamping (began in 1975 in New Berlin, Wisconsin). LaBelle was one of the early magazine producers of M-16 magazines for the US Military and law enforcement agencies.


Labelle changed their name to Quest, along with its focus on operations. Quest divested its stamping operations to General Stamping in 1993.


In 1997 Quest purchased General Stamping, forming D&H Industries, and consolidated the operations into the Oconomowoc facility.


In 2007, a local group of business partners purchased D&H Industries. D&H is a vital addition to the three other diverse metalworking companies with a focus on expanding processes to meet their customers’ ever-changing needs.


The founders of D&H worked diligently to develop an ethical business. By their retirement in 2008, their diligence had tripled the sales of metal stamped and fabricated products. They developed business with over 80 major manufacturers and companies during their tenure.


The company implemented lean manufacturing systems and a 5-S program. D&H expanded its plant in 2012, bringing its manufacturing space to 130,000 square feet. Additionally, D&H Industries houses 35 hydraulic and mechanical presses from 32 to 2,000 ton and provide an on-site quality lab with multiple CMMs. In addition to developing commercial OEM customers, D&H continued to grow the quality and customer base for M-16 magazines. D&H Magazine deliveries to our allied customers worldwide have led us to become the primary supplier to the Israeli Defense Forces.


Added 22,000 square feet of dedicated warehouse space and five new presses.
John, that's interesting info on LaBelle and D&H. I don't have any D&H mags but I've heard they are OK.

While you hear a lot about polymer mags these days there are still many aluminum mags being used worldwide and many of the old school military guys still love them especially since OKay installed anti tilt followers. And yes the aluminum feed lips can get bent but within reason they can be straightened in the field. The polymer mags are good and I have many but I had to laugh then MAGPUL brought out their Gen 3s with the new "dust" cover feature which if you do your reearch is really an "impact/dust" cover because reportedly some older fully loaded mags that got dropped cracked the feed lips. Plus their gen 3s were modified to be used in other than Colt designed rifles and also have an insertion stop to prevent damage from hard insertion.

People tend to forget that mags are consumable items and while for most folks they last a lifetime they do wear out and/or need maintenance. IMO best to divide up your training mags from your go to war mags.

While you hear a lot about polymer mags these days there are still many aluminum mags being used worldwide and many of the old school military guys still love them especially since OKay installed anti tilt followers.

While I have a few Pmags (and Lancer brand too), my main fighting mags are Colts and Pmag and D&H and Okay Centers (*in that order). All of my mags, regardless of brand, get anti tilt followers if they don't initially have them when new. I won't run an Ar mag without them.

I know there may be a few that would scoff and turn their nose up at my next statement, but I have some South Korean steel mags that I like as well as I do my Colts. I'm not sure if it's nitride finish or what they're treated with, but they are slick as snot. Which obviously is good for feeding and resistant to internal fouling. Probably not as good for fighting while wet or bleeding.
John, I've never used any Korean AR mags but have used their AK mags with mixed results. The AK ones have either a gray parked or semi-gloss/gloss black enameled finish so my guess the painted finish is what you have on your mags. The painted finish is slick but the best way to overcome that is a tape wrap. I suspect these steel mags are quite heavy as compared to OKay or D&H?

The Korean AK versions are IMO problematic and have a lot of jams. I certainly wouldn't use them in a fight.