"It is not thought that any other individual has contributed so much to the national security of this country as Mr. Browning in the development of our machine guns and our automatic weapons to a state of military efficiency surpassing that of all nations..."
- Secretary of War Dwight F. Davis, 1926
John Moses Browning, the United States' most prolific and accomplished weapons designer, was born on January 21, 1855 in Ogden, Utah. John’s father, Jonathan Browning, was a Mormon settler, one of the original Mormons that made the move from Nauvoo, Illinois to Utah. Jonathan Browning set up a gunsmith shop in Ogden in 1852, and this is where John got his interest in weapons. John was one of his fathers 22 children, his father, being a good Mormon, had three wives. John was always an active member of the church, going, for instance, on a two-year mission to Georgia in 1887.
John Moses Browning is most well known, however, for the weapons that he designed. John worked in his father’s gun shop until his father passed away in 1879, the same year he married Rachel Teresa Child. Working with his brothers: Matthew, Jonathan Edmund, Thomas Samuel, William and George, John established the Browning Brothers Company in Ogden. The company made roughly 600 single shot lever rifles by hand. Soon, the demand for these weapons was far beyond their (John and his brothers') ability to produce them. They were unable to expand on their business because they didn’t have enough money to expand and had poor distribution channels to market their products. John was very unhappy that the production of weapons consumed his time, and he was prohibited from working on new ideas.
In 1883, a salesman from the Winchester company named Andrew McAusland happened to bump into one of John’s Single Shot rifles. McAusland immediately bought it and sent it to Winchester Head Quarters. T.G. Bennet, VP and General Manager of Winchester quickly went to Ogden and negotiated to buy the rights to produce the weapon for $8,000. Browning knew that he was more interested in designing guns than actually manufacturing them, and used the money to convert his shop from a factory into a design shop. From 1883 until 1902, John Browning designed many weapons for Winchester. While some were never produced, all of these weapons were innovative and ingenious. Browning’s
all became Winchester best sellers.
In addition to his numerous weapon designs, Browning has patents on pieces of weapons technology that remain standard to this day. While watching a clump of weeds bent backwards by the blast of air escaping the muzzle of a shotgun, Browning had the idea of building a mechanism to cock a weapon using the expanding gasses. Browning invented and patented the gas operated return mechanism, which was a new way of returning a weapon to a loaded and ready to fire condition. The earliest rifles, required the user to grab a lever above the magazine, turn it, and pull the bolt back, which released the case from the previously fired shell, and then move the bolt forward again after it had picked up a round from the clip. The gas operated return mechanism automated this process by using the expanding gas from the gunpowder (when the weapon was fired) to slide the bolt back, eject the shell, and use a springs to load another round and return the bolt to its place. The gas is collected from a port very near the muzzle of the weapon, and diverted through a tube either above of below the barrel; once the gas is in the tube, it presses a piston back which is connected to the bolt. This invention is the difference between a regular and semi-automatic weapon: in a regular weapon, you have to load a round yourself between each firing, but with a semi-automatic weapon, a new round is fired every time you pull the trigger. Browning used his design to build the Auto-5, the first semi-automatic shotgun in 1900, the Colt Model 1895 Peacemaker and of course, the Browning Automatic Rifle.
The Browning Automatic Rifle, a sturdy weapon that saw service from the end of WWI until Korea, is the weapon that John Browning will forever be remembered for. Meanwhile, his Colt Model 1911 is the weapon with the longest period of use in the USA's military, from 1911 to 1986. Updated versions of this weapon are still used today by the FBI’s Hostage Rescue Team and the Marines. His M2 “ma deuce” .50 caliber heavy machine gun was designed prior to WWI and is still in active use today.
Browning’s repeating shotgun was the primary reason that his relationship with Winchester came to an end. Winchester denied production of the gun, and Browning built one, threw it in a suitcase, took it across the Atlantic, and sold it to fledgling arms manufacturer Fabrique National de Belgique (FN). FN was desperate for new products to produce, and scored a major victory when Browning’s automatic shotgun revolutionized the hunting market. This shotgun was later rebranded as the Remington Model 11, and reproduced by all the large shotgun manufacturers like Bereta, Franchi and Savage.
Another of John Browning’s revolutionary inventions was the slide that encloses the barrel and the firing mechanism of an automatic pistol. Pistols using this now standard breakthrough invented by Browning were produced by FN and Colt and include the baby .25 caliber pistol and the .45 Government Issue automatic. The first automatic pistol redesigned by Browning was produced by FN as the .32 caliber Model 1900. The most famous of John’s automatic pistols is the Colt .45 ACP M1911 Government Model and the FN High-Power Model P-35 9mm parabellum.
In 1926 the Browning Arms Company was formed, and is widely known for its Auto-5 semi-automatic shotgun, the BAR, the Hi-Power 9mm pistol, and the famous M2. The Browning Arms Company grosses more then one hundred million dollars in US sales alone every year. During his lifetime, Browning was awarded 128 individual patents and is given credit as the inventor of the semi-automatic shot gun, the pump action shot gun and the water-cooled machine gun..
John Moses Browning died the day after Thanksgiving, 1926 of heart failure in his son Val’s office at the FN factory in Belgium. FN produced a special collectible medal to commemorate the death of John Browning. John Browning’s body was repatriated and buried with full military honors. John Browning will always be remembered as an innovator and a driving force behind firearm innovation and design. From the first gun he hand built out of scrap iron at 13, to the 128 patents in his name, Browning left behind a legacy of weapons and innovation that is impressive and functional to this day. No other person has invented as many weapons or has obtained as many weapon patents as John Moses Browning.
John’s only son Val was born in 1895 in Ogden, and continued his fathers work. Val received 48 patents during his career, and was decorated by King Baudouin of Belgium for an “outstanding contribution to the Gun Making Art.” He had four children and was a benefactor of the Dixie State College where his gifts made possible the Val A. Browning learning resource center and the Val A. Browning library. Val Died in 1994 in Farmington Utah.
A complete list of John Moses Browning's patents can be found here: http://sarg.ryerson.ca/~cmwilson/r2/notes/browning-patents.html
Roberts, Richard C. Browning Arms Company. Utah History Museum. 19 Apr. 2005. http://www.media.utah.edu/UHE/b/BROWNING,ARMS.html
Marple, M. "John Browning." Wikipedia. 21 Mar. 2005. 19 Apr. 2005. http://http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Moses_Browning
Tuley, Bob. "John Browning Biography." BobTuley. 19 Apr. 2005. http://www.bobtuley.com/johnbrowning.htm
"2001 Buisness." 2001 Hall of Fame - Buisness. 2002. Dixie State College. 23 Apr. 2005
"John Moses Browning." The M-1911 Pistols Home Page. 23 Apr. 2005