Many people consider the Glock 17 pistol, developed by the Austrian manufacturer of its namesake in the early 1980's, as the first modern polymer frame semi-automatic pistol. They will be surprised to find that Heckler & Koch actually developed the first polymer frame pistol around fifteen years earlier.
In 1968 this German manufacturer patented the first polymer pistol design, subsequently named the VP 70. Its model designation of VP stands for Volkspistole, meaning 'Pistol for the People', and the number 70 stands for the first year of its production.
This pistol was designed by the great Heckler & Koch engineer Helmut Welde and company co-founder Ales Seidel. It featured a hammerless striker-fired action and double-action-only trigger common now to almost all modern-day polymer pistols, and a high capacity 18-round double-stack magazine.
The military version, designated VP 70M, came with a detachable butt-stock. The butt-stock actually had multiple purposes. When attached to the pistol, a mechanism in the butt-stock engaged the pistol which would allow it to fire in a three-burst automatic mode, selectable by a small switch on the fore-front of the butt-stock. When detached, the butt-stock could be used to store the pistol, and could even be worn as a hard-case holster.
As advanced as the design was, the VP 70 had its drawbacks. First, it had a fixed barrel with a 'blow-back' style operation. 'Blow-back' is still today a common operation for smaller caliber pistols, but it was found that 9 mm cartridge loads generated excessive recoil in blow-back pistols. Now almost all pistols 9 mm or larger employ a delayed recoil operation with a floating barrel, which significantly reduces recoil. Additionally, the VP 70 had a rather awkward straight-pull trigger with an unusually heavy and uncomfortable 18-pound pull. These two negative attributes made it difficult to maintain accuracy.
Heckler & Koch finally ceased production of the VP 70 in 1989 giving way to the likes of Glock, and other manufacturers of recoil operated polymer frame pistols.