America has produced some of the world’s greatest inventors and entrepreneurs. Names like Eli Whitney, Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, and Harvey Firestone come to mind. Then we have the tech revolution moguls like Jobs, Gates, and many others. But when I think of great American inventors, the first one I think of is John Moses Browning.
John Browning was born in Ogden, Utah on January 23, 1855 and he died in Liege, Belgium on November 26, 1926. In his lifetime he gave the world and especially Americans some of the greatest firearms of all time; some of which are extremely popular even today.
Browning’s father was a gunsmith and young John learned at an early age the trade of gunsmithing. He made his first gun, a crude single shot, at age 10. Browning had an innate ability to design guns in his mind. He rarely used paper and pencil when designing a new firearm. He simply worked the design in his head, made a prototype, worked on any problems and voila, the result was a reliable, efficient and practical gun. He used this unique process for his entire lifetime.
Browning became associated with Winchester firearms at an early age. T.G. Bennett, the president of Winchester at the time, bought the rights to everything Browning designed for 17 years. Over that time, 44 gun designs were purchased by Winchester. Only 10 were put into production; 7 rifles and 3 shotguns. Probably the most famous Browning designed Winchesters are the Model 94 lever action rifle, the first smokeless powder gun and the Model 97 pump action shotgun. Millions of both models were sold.
Browning developed the first semi-auto shotgun, the Auto-5. He offered the gun to Bennett at Winchester, but was rejected. He then went to Remington, but while waiting to meet with its president, Marcellus Hartley, Hartley suffered a heart attack and died. Browning then traveled to Belgium and met with the young entrepreneurs at FN Herstal. This resulted in a long and profitable relationship for both Browning and FN.
Browning went on to design more guns for FN and other companies, including Remington, Savage, and Colt. Besides the great Winchester lever and single shot rifles and pump and lever shotguns, Browning designed the Remington Model 8 semi-auto rifle, numerous small semi-auto pistols for both Colt and FN, and of course, in my opinion the greatest handgun of all time, the Government Model of 1911.
Browning designed many machine guns and some of those designs are still in use today. The mainstay machine gun for every branch of the U.S. Military for nearly 100 years has been the .50 caliber M2. The “ma deuce” is still mounted on our tanks, APCs, and other vehicles and ships. For decades, it has been used on warplanes, and the jeeps and hummers of American soldiers and sailors in battles worldwide.
Browning’s last military design was a superb 37 MM cannon produced in the early 1920s. After that he returned to designing firearms for the civilian market. The Superposed over/under shotgun design is timeless and even today is often copied by manufacturers worldwide. The 9 MM Hi-Power pistol has and is still used by civilians, police, and military all over the globe.
L Maître or The Master, John Moses Browning is one of America’s great geniuses. He owned 128 firearms patents. The over 100 hundred year old 1911 pistol design is the one all handguns are compared to. It is hard to pick a favorite Browning gun, but, I guess for me, the “Sweet Sixteen” Auto-5 that was my dad’s and the gun I have hunted with for over 40 years is number one in my head and heart. When I hold that gun, wonderful memories immediately come to mind.
Be safe and good shooting.