Prior to World War II, the primary US anti-aircraft gun was the 3-inch M1918 gun (76.2 mm L/50), a widely used caliber for this class of weapon. Similar weapons were in British, Soviet and other arsenals. There had been several upgrades to the weapon over its history, including the experimental T8 and T9 versions developed in the early 1930s that were intended to enter service later in the decade.
However the US Army became interested in a much more capable weapon instead, and on June 9, 1938 it issued a development contract calling for two new guns, one of 90 mm which it felt was the largest possible size that was still capable of being manually loaded at high elevations, and another, using assisted loading, of 120 mm caliber. The new design seemed so much better than developments of the older 3-inch that work on the 3-inch T9 was canceled in 1938 just as it became production-ready. By 1940 the second development of the 90 mm design, the T2, was standardized as the 90 mm M1, while its larger cousin became the 120 mm M1 gun.
A few hundred M1s were completed when several improvements were added to produce the 90 mm M1A1, which entered production in late 1940 and was accepted as the standard on May 22, 1941. The M1A1 included an improved mount and spring-rammer on the breech, with the result that firing rates went up to 20 rounds per minute. Several thousand were available when the US entered the war, and the M1A1 was their standard anti-aircraft gun for the rest of the conflict. Production rates continued to improve, topping out in the low thousands per month.
Like the German 88, and the British QF 3.7 inch AA gun, the M1A1 found itself facing tanks in combat, but unlike the others it could not be depressed to fire against them. On September 11, 1942 the Army issued specifications for a new mount to allow it to be used in this role, which resulted in the 90 mm M2, introducing yet another new mount that could be depressed to 10 degrees below the horizontal and featured a new electrically-assisted rammer. It became the standard weapon from May 13, 1943.