Mikhail Kalashnikov, the designer of the assault rifle that has killed more people than any other firearm in the world, died on Monday at 94, Russian state news agency Itar-Tass reported.
Kalashnikov, who was in his 20s when he created the AK-47 just after World War II, died in his home city of Izhevsk, near the Ural Mountains, where his gun is still made, the agency cited a spokesman for the province’s president as saying. He did not give a cause of death.
Blame the Nazi Germans for making me become a gun designer.
Kalashnikov had been hospitalized for the past month with unspecified health problems.
Kalashnikov once aspired to design farm equipment. But even though his most famous invention – the AK-47 assault rifle – sowed havoc instead of crops, he often said he felt personally untroubled by his contribution to bloodshed.
“I sleep well. It’s the politicians who are to blame for failing to come to an agreement and resorting to violence,” he said in 2007.
AK-47 is the world’s most popular firearm, favoured by guerrillas, terrorists and the soldiers of many armies.
The gun’s status among revolutionaries and national-liberation struggles is enshrined on the flag of Mozambique. An estimated 100 million guns are spread worldwide.
Kalashnikov, born into a peasant family in Siberia, began his working life as a railroad clerk. After he joined the Red Army in 1938, he began to show mechanical flair by inventing several modifications for Soviet tanks.
The moment that firmly set his course was in the 1941 battle of Bryansk against Nazi forces, when a shell hit his tank.
Recovering from wounds in the hospital, Kalashnikov brooded about the superior automatic rifles he’d seen the Nazis deploy; his rough ideas and revisions bore fruit five years later.
“Blame the Nazi Germans for making me become a gun designer,” said Kalashnikov.
“I always wanted to construct agricultural machinery.”
In 2007, President Vladimir Putin praised him, saying “The Kalashnikov rifle is a symbol of the creative genius of our people.”
Over his career, he was decorated with numerous honours, including the Hero of Socialist Labour and Order of Lenin and Stalin Prize.
But because his invention was never patented, he didn’t get rich off royalties.
“At that time in our country patenting inventions wasn’t an issue. We worked for Socialist society, for the good of the people, which I never regret,” he once said.
Kalashnikov continued working into his late 80s as chief designer of the Izmash company that first built the AK-47. He also traveled the world helping Russia negotiate new arms deals, and he wrote books on his life, about arms and about youth education.