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John Browning

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John Moses Browning
Browning, c. 1915
Born(1855-01-23)January 23, 1855
DiedNovember 26, 1926(1926-11-26) (aged 71)
Liège, Belgium
Occupation(s)Gunsmith, founder of Browning Arms Company
SpouseRachel Theresa Child
Children10, including Val A. Browning
AwardsJohn Scott Medal (1905)
Order of Léopold (1914)

John Moses Browning (January 23, 1855[1] – November 26, 1926) was an American firearm designer who developed many varieties of military and civilian firearms, cartridges, and gun mechanisms, many of which are still in use around the world.[2] He made his first firearm at age 13 in his father's gun shop and was awarded the first of his 128 firearm patents on October 7, 1879, at the age of 24.[3] He is regarded as one of the most successful firearms designers of the 19th and 20th centuries and a pioneer of modern repeating, semi-automatic, and automatic firearms.[4]

Browning influenced nearly all categories of firearms design, especially the autoloading of ammunition. He invented, or made significant improvements to, single-shot, lever-action, and pump-action rifles and shotguns. He developed the first reliable and compact autoloading pistols by inventing the telescoping bolt, then integrating the bolt and barrel shroud into what is known as the pistol slide. Browning's telescoping bolt design is now found on nearly every modern semi-automatic pistol, as well as several modern fully automatic weapons. He also developed the first gas-operated firearm, the Colt–Browning Model 1895 machine gun – a system that surpassed mechanical recoil operation to become the standard for most high-power self-loading firearm designs worldwide. He also made significant contributions to automatic cannon development.

Browning's most successful designs include the M1911 pistol, the water-cooled M1917, the air-cooled M1919, and heavy M2 machine guns, the M1918 Browning Automatic Rifle, and the Browning Auto-5 – the first semi-automatic shotgun. Some of these arms are still manufactured, often with only minor changes in detail and cosmetics to those assembled by Browning or his licensees. The Browning-designed M1911 and Hi-Power are some of the most copied firearms in the world.[5][6]

Early life and craftsmanship

Browning Brothers gun shop, Ogden, Utah Territory, 1882. From left to right: Thomas Samuel Browning, George Emmett Browning, John Moses Browning, Matthew Sandefur Browning, Jonathan Edmund Browning, and Frank Rushton

Browning's father Jonathan—who was among the thousands of pioneers of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who made an exodus from Nauvoo, Illinois, to Utah—established a gunsmith shop in Ogden in 1852. As was common in the Latter-day Saint community at the time, Jonathan Browning was a polygamist, having taken three wives. He fathered 22 children, including John Moses, and raised two stepdaughters with his wife Elizabeth Caroline Clark.[7]

Browning worked in his father's Ogden shop from the age of seven, where he was taught basic engineering and manufacturing principles, and encouraged to experiment with new concepts. He developed his first rifle, a single-shot falling block action design while he was still his father's apprentice, then, in 1878, in partnership with his younger brother, co-founded John Moses and Matthew Sandefur Browning Company, later renamed Browning Arms Company. The company began producing the brothers' designs and other non-military firearms. By 1882, the company employed John and Matthew's half-brothers Jonathan (1859–1939), Thomas (1860–1943), William (1862–1919), and George (1866–1948).

Like his father, Browning was a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and served a two-year mission in Georgia beginning on March 28, 1887.[8]

He married Rachel Theresa Child (September 14, 1860 – September 30, 1934) on April 10, 1879, in Ogden, Weber County, Utah Territory, and the couple had 10 children, two of whom died in infancy.[9]

Firearm designs

Browning with an Auto-5

Production examples of the Browning Model 1878 Single Shot Rifle caught the attention of the Winchester Repeating Arms Company,[10] who dispatched a representative to evaluate the competition. Winchester bought the design for $8,000 and moved production to their Connecticut factory. From 1883, Browning worked in partnership with Winchester and designed a series of rifles and shotguns, most notably the lever action Winchester Model 1887 and the Model 1897 pump shotgun, the falling-block single-shot Model 1885, and the lever-action Model 1886, Model 1892, Model 1894, Model 1895 rifles. After falling out with Winchester, Browning designed the long recoil operated semi-automatic Remington Model 8 rifle. Many of the models are still in production today in some form; over six million Model 1894s had been produced as of 1983, more than any other sporting rifle in history.[11]

Winchester manufactured several popular small arms designed by John M. Browning. For decades in the late 19th century-early 20th century, Browning designs and Winchester firearms were synonymous and the collaboration was highly successful. This came to an end when Browning proposed a new long recoil operated semi-automatic shotgun design, a prototype finished in 1898, to Winchester management, which ultimately became the Browning Auto-5 shotgun. As was the custom of the time, Browning's earlier designs had been sold exclusively to Winchester for a single fee payment. With this new product, Browning and his brother Matthew sought royalties based upon unit sales, rather than a single front-end fee payment. If the new shotgun became highly successful, the Browning company stood to make substantially more income. Winchester management, which had agreed to royalties for an earlier Browning shotgun design that was never manufactured, now refused to accede to the Brownings' terms. Remington Arms also was approached but the president of the company died of a heart attack while the Brownings were waiting to offer him the gun. Remington would later produce a copy of the Auto-5 as the Model 11 which was used by the US Military and was also sold to the civilian market.[12]

Having recently successfully negotiated firearm licenses with Fabrique Nationale de Herstal of Belgium (FN), Browning took the new shotgun design to FN; the offer was accepted and FN manufactured the new shotgun, honoring its inventor, as the Browning Auto-5. The Browning Auto-5 was continuously manufactured as a highly popular shotgun throughout the 20th century. In response, Winchester shifted reliance away from John Browning designs when it adopted a shotgun design of Thomas Crossley Johnson for the new Winchester Model 1911 SL, (Johnson had to work around Browning's patents of what became the Auto-5[citation needed]) and the new Model 1912 pump shotgun, which was based in small part upon design features of the earlier Browning-designed Winchester Model 1897 shotgun. This shift marked the end of an era of Winchester-Browning collaboration.

Later work and life

Browning in his later years

John Browning was known as a dedicated and tireless innovator and experimenter who sought breakthrough consumer-oriented features and performance and reliability improvements in small arms designs. He did not retire in his later years but dedicated his entire adult life – literally to his last day – to these pursuits. On November 26, 1926, while working at the bench on a self-loading pistol design for Fabrique Nationale de Herstal (FN) in Liège, he died of heart failure in the design shop of his son Val A. Browning. Even the 9 mm semi-automatic pistol he was working on when he died had great design merit and was eventually completed in 1935 by Belgian designer Dieudonné Saive. Released as the Fabrique Nationale GP35, it was more popularly known as the successful Browning Hi-Power pistol, a favorite of sportsmen and gun collectors as well as many military and law enforcement agencies around the world.

The premium-priced Browning Superposed shotgun, an over-under shotgun design, was his last completed firearm design. It was marketed originally with twin triggers; a single trigger modification was later completed by his son, Val Browning. Commercially introduced in 1931 by FN, Browning Superposed shotguns, and their more affordable cousins, the Browning Citori made in Asia, continue to be manufactured into the 21st century and come with varying grades of fine hand engraving and premium quality wood.

Throughout his life, Browning designed a vast array of military and civilian small arms for his own company, as well as for Winchester, Colt, Remington, Savage, Stevens, and Fabrique Nationale de Herstal of Belgium. Browning firearms have been made, both licensed and unlicensed, by hundreds of factories around the world. Browning Arms Company was established in 1927, the year after Browning's death on November 26, 1926, in Liège, Belgium. In 1977, FN Herstal acquired the company.



The M1895 Machine Gun saw action in the Spanish–American War with the United States Marine Corps. The Colt M1911, Browning 1917/19, and the BAR saw action with US forces in World War I, World War II, and the Korean War. The M1911 went on to serve as the U.S.'s standard military side arm until 1986; a variant is still used by special operations units of the United States Marine Corps and the design remains very popular among civilian shooters and some police departments. The Browning Hi-Power has had a similarly lengthy period of military service outside the United States and remains the standard sidearm of the Australian and Canadian armed forces. The .50 caliber M2 Browning machine gun – the enduring "Ma Deuce" – was developed in 1918, entered service with the US Armed Forces in 1921, and has remained in active service for over a century with militaries across the world in a variety of roles. The 37mm M4 autocannon was initially designed by Browning in 1921 and entered service in 1938; it was used both in aircraft and on U.S. Navy PT boats during World War II.



Several of Browning's designs are still in production today. Some of his most notable designs include:











Machine guns


Selected patents


See also



  1. ^ Pelley, Doug (July 2004). "Pictures of Headstones: John M. Browning". Dapcom. Archived from the original on February 5, 2007. Retrieved January 23, 2007.
  2. ^ Borth, Christy (1945). Masters of Mass Production. Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill Company. pp. 152, 156–9. OCLC 609185692.
  3. ^ Rattenbury, Richard C. "John Moses Browning". Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc. Archived from the original on July 26, 2008. Retrieved September 22, 2018.
  4. ^ "Browning Firearms Collection" (PDF). The American Society of Mechanical Engineers. November 18, 1989. Archived from the original (PDF) on November 20, 2012. By 1900, over 75% of the repeating sporting arms on the United States market, both lever and pump, were of John's invention
  5. ^ "The World's Most Copied Pistol". September 2022.
  6. ^ "Best Pistol Ever: What Makes the 1911 So Good?". May 23, 2013.
  7. ^ Browning.com Archived September 5, 2018, at the Wayback Machine "In Honor of the Parents of 'the Father of Modern Firearms'". Retrieved September 5, 2018.
  8. ^ "Early Mormon Missionaries: John Moses Browning".
  9. ^ Browning Archived September 22, 2018, at the Wayback Machine "Honoring 'The Father of the Browning Company'", Browning.com. Retrieved September 22, 2018.
  10. ^ "NRA Museums".
  11. ^ Wallack, LR. "Sixty Million Guns". 1983. In Gun Digest Treasury, Harold A. Murtz, editor, DBI Books. 1994 p.190 ISBN 0873491564
  12. ^ Gorenstein, Nathan (2021). The Guns of John Moses Browning. Simon & Schuster. ISBN 9781982129217.

General sources