Weather Forecast


John Browning -- the most prolific of all firearms inventors

In relation to his inventive genius, very little has been written of the life of John Moses Browning, the most prolific of all firearms inventors. Browning was a sort of peculiar individual, he did not seem particularly enthused about spreading his fame as a gun designer. Rather, he would continue to work quietly at his shop in Ogden, Utah territory, in 1850 and for the next seventy years or so.

John M. Browning was born in northern Tennessee, when it was still the wilderness. There roamed countless buffalo, deer, and elk, which fed on the succulent grasses. He admired the wild game and soon felt the need for a gun. So he worked on a neighbor's farm and bought a flintlock rifle, but it was unsatisfactory, always failing in one way or the other. The farm the Brownings owned was near a blacksmith's shop, and he learned the trade.

He learned how to repair guns, made some money and was impressed with the remunerations. He toured the area on horseback, looking for gun repair work. Browning went to work at a shop in Nashville, now established as a gunsmith in the territory. He possessed the rare talent of being able to concentrate, figuring out mechanisms of machines made for farm work.

John moved from Tennessee to Quincy, Ill., where there was a good deal more opportunity for a gunsmith. America was moving westward, and the pioneers were in need of workable firearms. The Mormons were there in good numbers and in due time, a Mormon leader came into the Browning gun shop. Browning soon promised to read a book on this religion, and he was converted. Mormons were persecuted in mid-America, and they moved on to the northwestern part of the country. John M. Browning, his wife Elizabeth and his brothers finally settled in Utah territory.

The percussion cap had been invented and Browning saw the opportunity to build a single shot rifle, and subsequently a repeating rifle. Browning was awarded many patents for gun mechanisms, but his first gun was produced in 1878 and it sold for $25 throughout the western territory.

A Winchester salesman saw one of these single shot rifles for $15 and took it back to New Haven, Conn., the armory of Oliver Winchester, the leading maker of repeating rifles at the time.

Winchester's management knew a good thing when they saw it, reasoning that the rifle would be adaptable to the many black powder cartridges that were popular. Winchester bought the patent rights for $10,000 cash.

It was the beginning of a long and fruitful association with the big manufacturer on the east coast. It continued into the twentieth century, and Winchester bought some 35 Browning patents, but elected to produce some and file others away.

Smokeless powder came onto the scene, opening up new opportunities for the inventive genius of John M. Browning. Extremely successful were the Winchester Models 92 and 94 the latter being the famous 30-30 carbine. A moderately successful ten gauge repeating shotgun was invented and produced, but sold poorly.

The Browning Brothers were wealthy now, but continued to live in Utah, following the Mormon teachings. Browning began work on a semi-automatic system that would accommodate rifle cartridges or shotgun shells. He took the new transcontinental train to New Haven to show it to Winchester.

Browning had always sold the patent rights to Winchester, but on this occasion, Browning wanted to license the big arms factory, to receive some percentage of each unit built and sold. T. G. Bennet of Winchester was an astute businessman and insisted that Browning sell the patent.

The disagreement led to Browning calling on Remington's plant at Ilion New York, but before negotiations began, Marcellus Hartley of Remington died while Browning was waiting for an appointment.

Browning packed up his model and set sail for Belgium, to see the giant arms works of Fabrique-Nationale, owned by the Belgian government. All of the demands that Browning proposed were acceptable to FN, and production of the first successful semi-automatic firearm, a shotgun was on the international market. It became the famous A-5 and was made in the U.S.A. by Remington.

The A-5 was soon adapted to rifle cartridges. Browning's next big success was the semi-automatic pistol in 1911, chambered for the 45 Colt cartridge. It was soon made in calibers ranging from the 22 rimfire to the 38 special and everything in between.

By now, sportsmen were aware that it was the genius of Browning that made the sporting arms they were buying from Winchester, Colt and others.

Winchester's monopoly ended when T. G. Bennett wouldn't go along with Browning's reasonable demands.

In 1910, Browning had developed a working model of a machine gun. In Germany the Maxim machine gun was being fed and Colt's Patent Firearms Company was working on one. He had been working on its design for ten years. Back at Ogden, the Browning brothers had fired the gun 25,000 rounds with no malfunctions. It was chambered for the standard military round of that day, the 30-06 rimless. The BAR was soon adapted to the 50 caliber cartridge, by the U.S. Ordinance Department. The BAR was used in all of the great wars of the United States. Between the World Wars, Browning developed the 37mm Cannon. Browning's 30 and 50 caliber machine guns were on every combat aircraft, and their accuracy and reliability were legend.

Shotgun development was centered on an over-under type double barrel shotgun. Browning named it the Superposed, and it appealed to hunters and clay bird enthusiasts.

John Moses Browning was, unquestionably, the world's greatest gun designer and inventor. No one else has even come close. He went to work at the Fabrique National factory in Herstal, Belgium, and he died there, at work on yet another gun.

No gun that Browning designed has ended up in failure. No model has ever been discontinued. Browning contributed much to the security of this nation, with his automatic weaponry designs. Our military superiority, our machine guns, sidearms, rifles for infantry, were all offered to our armed services. Browning served our armed services well, and contributed much to the development of sporting arms for hunters and target shooters.