Airsoft vs. Softair: 1970’s Japan served as the primordial cauldron for the evolutionary growth of the airsoft weapon. Damn near tyrannical firearms laws left the public yearning for a violent way to get out their aggressions other than running through haphazard, albeit comical, castle mazes full of traps doors and giant rolling foam boulders.
According to a myriad of replicated historical reckonings of the first airsoft gun, it would seem that Daisy, an American company known for replica pellet guns, created the first weapons to fire a plastic ammunition. But it seems that Daisy’s trademark Softair guns (a name they also used to label their ammunition products) were themselves re-branded Maruzens. Several other less verifiable sources refer to these weapons as “Replisoft,” “Comfortable Air,” and “Air Shot.” So where did the term “airsoft” come from? The earliest mass produced airsoft gun I could verify was a 7 mm 1976 Matsushiro SS-5000. One of the first instances of the term “airsoft” to appear on packaging can be seen on a product from the Detachable series of Masudaya airsoft guns. It’s hard to determine exactly why or when the term “airsoft” originated, but the missing link would likely come from somewhere between the American airguns of the 1950’s and 1960’s, and the Masudaya airsoft guns of the late 1970’s.
BB guns are not much different from airsoft guns. BB guns serve their purposes as plinkers just as well as airsoft guns serve their purpose as skirmishing weapons. So what does “BB” stand for? Unfortunately for proponents of common sense, the most common misconception of the meaning of “BB,” is that it simply stands for “ball bearing.” Through research I discovered the world of shotgun shot. It can be theorized that the noun “shot” was derived somewhere between 1550 and the mid-1800’s according to the etymological histories of “shot” and “bullet.” It isn’t until 1886 that we see the round ball airgun ammunition referred to as BB, having been named after the shotgun projectile, “BB-shot”. BB was at the time commonly referred to as “shot” in a standardized sense, being .180 inches in diameter. Users of this shot variation knew it simply as BB or BB-shot. By 1928, when Daisy cornered the market on BBs through a production agreement with The American Ball Company, the BB had become .005 inches smaller (to become .175 inches). By that time, as we lazy Americans would do, we had dropped the “shot.” The BB as you know it today can be either .177 or .175 with interchangeability as an option for some weapons. In relation to airsoft, the term “BB” was applied sometime in the early 1980’s with a break away from the pellet shaped plastic projectile and the advent of the spherical plastic BB. The similar size and function led to the modern nomenclature.
Automatic Electric Guns
“AEG” is the simplest of designations to define. In 1992, the barely solvent Tokyo Marui ventured into a new system of propulsion for the airsoft weapon. Condensing its given name to AEG, this acronym stands for “Automatic Electric Gun.” The creation of the modern airsoft gun was a culmination of the technologies Tokyo Marui was already familiar with, considering their role as an RC manufacturer and an established public interest in replica guns. The earliest references to “Automatic Electric Gun” can be found in a promotional video for their 1991 product lineup.
Gas Blow Back
One of the first references to “gas blow back” airsoft pistols in America can be seen in a 1987 catalog from The Command Post, Inc, where the Tokyo Marui S&W M59 was listed for sale. Surprisingly, “blow back” as it known today appears to be a spin off of “blow forward.” The first recoil operated pistol is known as the Steyr Mannlicher M1894. This predates the first known blow back pistol by approximately one year (Browning’s “Firearm”, U.S. Patent #580923, filed September 14th, 1895). In an effort to replicate real firearms as closely as possible, airsoft manufacturers applied a conceptually similar design to their weapons; a recoiling slide, forced open by expanding gas, that loads awaiting ammunition when closed. Blow back, not being a trademarked term, was applied to the design and prefaced with gas to denote it’s method of propulsion.
Written by Duncan Millar