Mondragon 1894 Straight-Pull at RIA

Most people who recognize the name Mondragon know it from Manuel Mondragon’s model 1908 semiauto rifle, the first such rifle to be adopted on a large scale by a military (the Mexican Army, in this case). Well, Mondragon was designing arms for many years before that particular rifle. For example, in 1894 he produced a number of straight-pull bolt action rifles in cooperation with the Swiss firm SIG. Some of them, including this particular example, included a rather unique 3-position selector lever. In addition to the expected “safe” and “fire” modes, this also had an “automatic” setting, which would cause the rifle to fire as soon as the bolt was fully closed, without requiring the shooter to use the trigger. This was, in theory, for firing from the hip while advancing – but it clearly didn’t turn out to be very practical.

These rifles were made in both 5mm and 6.5mm Mondragon, cartridges designed with the assistance of Colonel Rubin at Neuhausen. They fed from 6-round staggered Mannlicher type clips.


  1. Fascinating indeed. Thanks for the video, Ian! Do you know by any chance how many of these rifles were actually made by SiG?

  2. When you look at this you really must wonder why someone bothered with something like Ross. An astounding product of genius mind.

    • Well, there was the issue of overly-complicated semi-auto small arms of the period… Using late 19th Century logic, it would be easier to have a straight-pull bolt-action which would be user friendly and wouldn’t bankrupt the quarter master than to have a questionably unreliable long arm that may either cause the user to “spray and pray” without any convenient restocking point in sight (logistics issue of the time) or jam often in non-ideal conditions (or even catastrophically self-destruct). The sticking points here are reliability and logistical support.

      The Ross was mostly a failure because the tight-tolerance design did not prevent foreign object intrusion (and it was not designed with muddy conditions in mind) and because it was not a very ergonomic small arm, being too heavy and cumbersome. Even worse, the initial bolt design had nothing to prevent it from being placed in the wrong angular orientation upon reassembly in field (this was corrected in the Mark III, if I’m right). The Mondragon 1894 was also too complicated and expensive for most users, if I’m right…

      But I agree that this was a work of genius. A genius with the right idea, but the wrong implementation for the time period.

      • Sounds like fair assessment. I also recall from reading about state of thought of that period, that main reservation against something which shoots ‘faster’ was worry about logistics, e.i. securing ammunition supply.

  3. Do you know if this was from the same collection as the M1908 serial number 1 you looked at in the last auction? How similar was the bolt internals to the Arisaka? The fore end was some interesting and yes unnecessarily complex wood working, does make for a unique look with out barrel bands.

    Interesting way to get around not loading the rifle Ian.

    Also I went looking for some ballistic info and found this thread online Looks like the cartridge could have an article on its own.

    • municion org knows 2 cartridges named after Mondragon:
      5.2×68 Mondragon and 6.5×53 Mondragón the last is apparently a normal classic cartridge the 5.2 (muncion list following names for it: 5.2×67.6 Mondragon Original (Polte); 5.2×67.7 Mondragon; 5.2×68 Mondragon; 5.5×68 Mondragon) is much more interesting
      Sadly I don’t known español (but I hope there is someone here which known and will translate this for us), but the municion has interesting photo reference:
      cartridge made by POLTE MAGDEBURG
      cut-away cartridge made by POLTE MAGDEBURG
      cartridge made by Maurice Megret, de Annemasse
      The cut-away model allow to understand the principle of operation:
      When the powder is ignites, gases push piston and therefore the bullets, the piston is halted when it hits inside of shoulder of cartridge but bullets still travel, now I’m not sure – has piston hole, so the gases can propel bullet? If so now it is working like classic cartridge fire-arm.

      It reminds me of two others fire-arm related inventions:
      -British APDS shell used in 6-pdr guns during WW2: it also have “piston” and smaller-caliber-than-barrel projectile, unlike Mondragon design the sabot exit barrel together with projectile and after it discard (hence DS in APDS name – discarding sabot) from projectile
      -Soviet SP-4 cartridge (used in PSS Silent Pistol) also used piston, after powder ignition the piston push projectile when it hits inside shoulder surface of cartridge piston and project separate due to inertia. Powder gases were trapped inside the cartridge after shot and therefore the suppressor is unnecessary
      description, photos and technical data in Russian:СП-4_(патрон)

  4. I’d never heard of a firearm wherein the firer’s hand was part of the actions “delayed blowback” mechanism….til now. Rather scary.

    • If firing pin does not reach primer until fully locked it’s ok, assuming sear synchronization and snappy closing. But you are right, it is kind of unused to.

  5. The thinking behind the rapid fire is I suspect a hold over from the days of volley firing, I mean 30 years earlier they were using muzzle loaders and rifle barrels were uncommon, in the 1890s they have now rifled barrels Bolt action repeating rifles and smokeless powder. If you have ever dealt with the military they can be less than fully accepting of change.

  6. I have always thought that Mondragon designs were generally well-conceived and executed, and were often in advance of their contemporaries in a very competitive market to boot. They were, and still are, grossly under-rated firearms that deserve far more credit for innovation and functionality than they have so far received. This is not to say that Manuel Mondragon always got it right — no-one in the annals of human existence, let alone the field of firearms design, ever does — but he was a great pioneer who was not afraid to push the envelope and go on from there.

    • Poor Mondragon was probably shoved out just because Mexico is such an “insignificant” country with almost no way to market the inventor’s design (unless he could have found a way to test his prototypes in different weather and climate patterns so that the rifles could have become more adaptable). Supposing that the Mondragon rifles were redesigned with a more conventional set of bolt lugs and perhaps a way to prevent or mitigate moisture-induced fouling at the receiver group (mud, remember?), would they have been more likely to sell like hot cakes?

      • Hi, Andrew :

        I tend to agree with you about this. Mondragon never really had a chance to pursue full development and refinement of his designs to make them suitable for a wide range of environmental conditions.

        • Mexico was unstable from 1910 to 1920 and Mondragon got caught up in the revoltuion going on, he was on the winning side but then fell out of favor and was ultimately exiled to Spain, where he died at the age of 63. Had he not spent the later part of his creative years in the middle of a revolution maybe he would have become a household name.

          He was notable in that he started out designing artillary, and there do not seem to be many inventors whose designs cover arms from 6 to 75mm.

          • Thanks, Jacob. What a pity about Manuel Mondragon’s career, indeed. Your last comment reminded me of another well-known gun designer who had the same sort of versatile talent and mechanical ability to span both ends of the spectrum — Colonel Lewis. As a U.S. Coast Artillery officer, he invented important artillery fire-control devices such as the Lewis Depression Position Finder, yet was also able to grasp the fundamentals of small-arms design sufficiently to develop the MacLean-Lissak Automatic Rifle design into what later became the Lewis LMG. As I understand it, Samuel MacLean sold his 1903 patents to the Buffalo Arms Company ( also sometimes referred to as the Automatic Arms Company ) of Buffalo, New York, who in turn approached Lewis in 1910 with a request to help develop these patents into a working production gun.

  7. I’d speculate that the “automatic” switch may well have been intended to be used from the shoulder rather than the hip. Somewhat akin to the way western action shooters with lever actions can anchor the gun into the shoulder holding firmly with the support arm while working the action but not supporting the gun with the trigger hand. This video demonstrates the technique that could probably be modified for this Mondragon
    Not as accurate as normal shooting but it could give the gun real potential at close range engagements compared to it’s competitors.

  8. Wouldn’t that Automatic setting make a better rapid firing rifle than a Lee-Enfield? I understand other nations wanting to conserve ammo or rely on machine guns, but the British wanted rapid rifle fire.

  9. At one point Ian talks about “6 rounds, just like an M1” – but an M1 is 8 rounds, no? “just like” meaning “enblock clip”?

    The british used a trick with bolt guns where they cycled the bolt with thumb and first finger and fired with 2nd finger, thus getting a pretty good rate of aimed fire (or so various sources report.)

    I wonder if a person who practiced with the Mondragon would have better rate of *aimed* fire using push/pull with thumb/forefinger in normal bolt mode, or whether one would develop a smooth “strike it home” move in “auto” mode? Sort of thing that would take a while to work out.

    • Bryan, Yeah it holds 6 vs the 8 of the Garand but it is like the Garand enbloc clip in the way it is staggered and can be used either way up. most seem to be single column.
      I think the bolt handle position probably puts the hand too far forwards to use the type of technique you mentioned. It seems that technique is best suited when the handle is closer to the trigger. I found can do it on my weatherby vanguard but not so well on my carcano due to bolt handle location. I reckon you might enjoy googling stangskyting and watching videos. You’ll see it is still used in a Norwegian competition.

    • Sorry Bryan i think i misunderstood your point. You weren’t suggesting the British technique just comparing it.
      That idea of aimed fire while it is pushed shut to fire is very similar to the Nordenfelt really. It’s not hard to imagine at the time that maybe they felt a 10 gun volley would approximate a 10 barreled Nordenfelt in action.

  10. Ian, you need to check the video feed. When it reaches 3:10 it reloads to the beginning, and if I try to advance it beyond that point to get to the next bit it just freezes.



  11. I first saw these guns in an old “Guns & Ammo” annual in the ’70s (I believe).

    Not only did Mondragon work on these straight pulls and his semi-auto, but also I believe, coast battery guns for the Isthmus of Tehuantepc.

    According to the G&A article, the Mexicans were afraid that the Japanese were going to try to annex the isthmus in order to build their own canal in competition to the one in Panama. Hence their effort to fortify the area from hostile landings.

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