David “Carbine” Williams (1900 – 1975)

Born in the small town of Godwin (Cumberland County) in 1900, David Marshall “Carbine” Williams was the creator of the M-1 Carbine, the U.S. Army’s favorite semi-automatic rifle during World War II. General Douglas MacArthur praised the M-1 Carbine as “one of the strongest contributing factors to our victory in the Pacific” (N.C. Historical Marker Program).

In the early 1920s, the moonshine trade flourished throughout North Carolina. David Williams, both inventive and entrepreneur-minded, entered the illegal liquor trade in 1921. Shortly after he started making moonshine, law enforcement officers seized one of Williams’s stills.  However, the raid ended with the death of Deputy Sheriff Al Pace.

Although Williams affirmed his innocence until his death, the twenty-year old was sentenced to thirty years at the Caledonia Prison for the second-degree murder of Deputy Pace. Williams soon became a trusted inmate and he was allowed to work in the prison blacksmith shop. While working in the shop, Williams invented his first firearm from pieces of leftover metal. Colt Firearms representatives visited Williams in prison to examine the gunsmith’s inventions.

In 1929, Governor Angus McLean reprieved Williams of his prison sentence. Williams continued inventing firearms after he was released at a small shop in his hometown of Godwin. The United States soon entered World War II, and the military was hard pressed to equip soldiers with weapons to contest German armaments. The Ordnance Department hosted a competition for a light rifle to be used in the war effort.

Constructing a light rifle for Winchester, Williams entered the military’s competition in 1940. Revamping and modifying his Carbine Caliber .30 M-1 over several weeks, the gunsmith eventually finished his prototype. The military selected Williams’ M-1 as its weapon of choice, and between 1941 until 1945, over six million M-1 Carbines were constructed in the United States.

In 1975, Carbine Williams passed away at Dorothea Dix Hospital. In addition to inventing the M1-Carbine, Williams obtained over 50 firearm patents, and he designed gun mechanisms for the major gun manufacturers of Colt, Remington, and Winchester. His iconic life was the basis for the MGM film, Carbine Williams. Released in 1952, the movie featured Jimmy Stewart as the North Carolina inventor.


“Inventions.” William S. Powell, ed. Encyclopedia of North Carolina (University of North Carolina Press: Chapel Hill, NC 2006).

“David M. Williams (1900 – 1975).” North Carolina Highway Historical Marker Program website. A Division of the North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources. http://www.ncmarkers.com/Markers.aspx?sp=search&k=Markers&sv=I-81,  (accessed June 27, 2012).

“North Carolina Inventors: Carbine Williams.” North Carolina Museum of History, 2005. Office of Archives and History, N.C. Department of Cultural Resources.