John Moses Browning was the most famous and competent gunmaker the world has
ever known. He was the son of Jonathan Browning, himself a highly competent
gunsmith, and Elizabeth Clark.
John Moses was born January 23, 1855 in
Ogden, Utah, U.S.A., where his father settled after the Mormon Exodus of 1847.
It was in his father's shop that John Moses first learned the art and secrets of
John Moses, however, was much more than a gunsmith in the sense
that he was much more interested in designing and building new, innovative,
firearms than repairing broken ones. His first creation was a single shot rifle
he built at the age of 14 for his brother, Matt.
1879 was an eventful year
for the Browings. Jonathan Browning died on June 21 and, soon thereafter, John
Moses and his brothers started their own shop. There they first used steam
powered tools, tools that were originally foot-powered but were converted by
John Moses to get power from a steam engine. That year also saw John Moses marry Rachel Teresa Child, and his receipt of
his first gun patent (No. 220.271) for the Breech-Loading Single Shot Rifle.
and his brothers began producing this rifle in their Ogden shop but customer
demand soon exceeded their shop's production capacity. They were unable to
expand the "Browning Gun Factory," as their shop was called, because they lacked
the capital required for expansion and didn't have a well established
distribution channel to market their products. One has to note here that
although John Moses Browning was very satisfied with the sales of his guns he
was also very unhappy that the production chores and the daily work prohibited
him from working on his new ideas.
A salesman for the Winchester Repeating
Arms Company named Andrew McAusland happened to see one of John's Single Shot
rifles in 1883. McAusland immediately bought one and sent it to Winchester's
headquarters. The gun drew Winchester's interest and T. G. Bennet, Winchester's
vice president and general manager, went to Ogden to buy the rights to
Browning's gun. When Bennet arrived in Ogden, it didn't take long for the men to
agree on the sale and Winchester paid John Moses $8,000 for the rights to
produce the gun. The agreement was beneficial to both parties. Winchester was
happy because they turned competitor into a benefactor, plus they added an
excellent rifle to their product line. John Moses was equally happy because the
money from the sale and the ensuing relationship with Winchester allowed him to
concentrate on inventing things instead of manufacturing them.
until 1902, John Moses Browning designed several firearms for Winchester. Some
of them reached production status while others were never produced. They all,
however, were ingenious and innovative designs. In addition to that first Single
Shot Rifle, other guns that John Moses designed and which became best sellers
were: Winchester Model 1886 Lever Action Repeating Rifle, Model 1887 Lever
Action Repeating Shotgun, Model 1897 Pump Action Shotgun, Model 1894 Lever
Action Repeating Rifle, Model 1895 Lever Action Repeating Rifle, etc.
same time, John Moses was also working on another of his ingenious ideas. He
wanted to invent an automatic shotgun that would use the expanding gases of a
fired shell to recock the gun and make it ready for the next shot. John got this
idea while watching a friend of his, Will Wright, shoot his Browning-made rifle.
A clump of weeds just in front of the firing line bent with the muzzle blast.
This gave John the idea of using the gases for something productive like cocking
the gun. He designed a testing gun with
which he tested his ideas.
When the testing validated his theory, John
applied the principle on three different guns: two machine-guns and a repeating shotgun. His machine-guns, the
first fully automatic guns which used expanding gases for cycling, were later
sold to Colt and the U.S. Government and served the U.S. Armed Forces through
three wars. One was Colt Model 1895
Peacemaker machine-gun, while the other was the famous Browning Automatic Rifle, affectionately
called BAR by GI's. Browning's machine-guns are still used by US and other
armies around the world.
The repeating shotgun that John invented was the
primary reason for the break between Browning and Winchester. When Winchester
denied production of this gun, John Moses, packed a sample of his shotgun into
his luggage, crossed the Atlantic, and negotiated an agreement for Fabrique
National de Belgique (FN) to produce his gun. FN was then a young company in
dire need of products to produce. Browning's automatic shotgun revolutionized
the hunting market. This same shotgun was later produced in U.S.A. by Remington,
as their Model 11. Still later, variants of this shotgun were produced by almost
all of the large shotgun manufacturers, including Savage, Franchi, and Breda.
John M. Browning was usually working on more than one project at one time.
He started working on automatic pistols before 1900. He was the first to invent
the slide which encloses the barrel and the firing mechanism of a pistol.
Pistols of his invention were produced by both FN and Colt and they range from baby .25 caliber pistols to the .45
Government Model. The first automatic pistol designed by Browning was produced
by FN as FN's .32 caliber Model 1900. The most famous pistols of John's design,
however, were Colt's .45 ACP M1911 Government Model and FN's Browning High-Power
Model P-35 in 9mm Parabellum. A highly decorated sample of P-35, is shown at
left, while a contemporary version customized by Wayne Novak can be found here.
John Moses Browning passed away in
Liege, Belgium, the day after Thanksgiving, 1926. He died of heart failure while
in his son Val's office at the FN factory. It was the last day on earth for this
ingenious person who invented more firearms than any other gunmaker in the
history of the world.
This medallion was produced by FN to honor the great
Another note: Our troops are still using the M-2 .50 that entered production in 1932. The venerable M1911, developed in 1905-adopted in, well, 1911. Our Special Forces, some Sheriffs Departments, and private citizens are still carrying this pistol.
An inventor like this deserves his own holiday