In 1968 the Gun Control Act, [aka: the GCA of 1968], was passed in the US. Part of the GCA of 1968 required that newly manufactured firearms be stamped/inscribed with a serial number by the manufacturer, and located on the receiver or frame. Firearms made before 1968 were not required to have a serial number and therefore most, [especially house brand and utility grade weapons], lack one, or if present might be found anywhere on the weapon. Now firearms made under contract for a military or government organization, etc. will almost definitely bear a serial number as most militaries & government agencies require one for records purposes, to keep track of who has what.
For further info on the 1968 GCA: http://www.atf.gov/pub/fire-explo_pub/gca.htm
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