Browning: Inventor, Engineer, and Firearms Innovator

Browning: Inventor, Engineer, and Firearms Innovator

On January 23rd, we celebrated the 169th birthday of prolific firearms legend John Moses Browning. Browning is commonly coined as the father of modern gunsmithing, and his birthday is one of the most important days on the calendar.

Browning’s legacy hasn’t faded one bit over the years. Now, put your tools aside for a moment and turn away from your workbench. Take this moment out of your firearms crafting day to celebrate his legacy as the man who revolutionized the weapon industry in the USA.

Inventor of automatic weapons, his list of inventions goes on and on—taking us on a journey from the latter days of the Wild West through to the end of World War II.

Inventor of America’s Iconic Sidearm

Proving that age is no barrier to genius, John Browning didn’t develop the M1911 service pistol until, you guessed it, 1911. He passed away in 1926, so this semi-automatic pistol was one of the later milestones in a long and illustrious gunsmithing career.

The Colt M1911 has a simple, short-action recoil system. It’s a technical masterpiece that rarely fails. That’s likely what made it the obvious choice as a military sidearm back in the early days of the 20th century. Police officers also adopted a version some years later, known as the “Colt Officer’s Sidearm.” Just to give you some idea of its reputation among gun owners, the United States military used the weapon for over 70 years.

For those of you who aren’t aware, that means it rested on the hips of soldiers in both World wars, as well as in both the Korean and Vietnam conflicts, too. Its usage was all down to John Browning, the man who would be king of the automatic weapons revolution.

Legacy of the M2 Browning Machine Gun

It’s possible that some enthusiasts might not have heard of the Colt M1911. The Browning M2, however, is something else altogether. It’s instantly recognizable as the “cough-up-a-storm-of-lead,” large-caliber machine gun that laid down a hail of bullets that could clear the most heavily-fortified enemy positions.

Developed towards the end of World War I, this water-cooled .50 caliber gamechanger has immense stopping power. It was also incredibly versatile, finding its way into vehicle-mounted weapon’s positions and even onboard large American bombers during WWII.

The fearsome “Ma Deuce,” as it was referred to by grateful servicemen, fired hundreds of rounds per minute in various combat zones, including Korea and Vietnam.

The Introduction of the Single-Shot 1885

Short and succinctly titled with its date of conception, perhaps as a convenience to historians, the 1885 single-shot rifle was not only reliable and powerful, it also featured a revolutionary design that set it apart from other rifles of its time.

The original 1885 model incorporated a unique loading system that was robust enough to handle various cartridge calibers. This allowed for quick and efficient reloading, making it a favorite among hunters. Of some interest to shooting-sport enthusiasts; when chambered for high-power cartridges, the design minimized jarring.

The 1885’s heart lies in its innovative falling block action, yet another gift straight from Mr. Browning’s inventive mind. It still exists today as a sought-after hunter’s firearm, courtesy of the famous Winchester brand, and it’s recognized as one of the most reliable and accurate single-shooters offered to gunsmithing critics. Let’s face it, this is where the legacy really started. Strong in action and steady in the arm, the 1885 was the gateway to firearms excellence for many.

Raising the BAR

Browning had already laid much of the groundwork for gas recoil automatic firearms, with recoil and blowback mechanisms creating the repeating energies of automatic fire. The Browning BAR took this principle to a whole other level, all while keeping the design lightweight so that it could be carried through the WWI trenches of France.

Of course, it wasn’t until the late 30s that it was to become one of the Armed Services’ favorite weapons. The BAR was basically one of the very first light, semi-automatic machine guns in existence. The Browning A5 being credited as the first. Expanding gasses powered its cyclical action, ejecting spent shells at a deadly rate of 330 rounds per minute.

What did this mean for the battlefield? It meant bringing in the kind of versatility that could protect allies and cut enemy lives short. One moment, suppressing fire was creating a deadly hailstorm of hot lead, the next, with a twist of a lever, it was firing accurate one- or two-shot volleys right towards the heart of a moving target. Deadly versatility, all without compromise.

A Collaboration of 1886 Repeating Action

An article about John Moses Browning can’t be closed out without a section on the legendary Winchester repeater. This model was a team effort, though. The Winchester is a living testament to Browning’s desire to smith weapons that moved away from the manual-loading mechanisms that got slower men killed in the old West.

Built with a lever-action mechanism that allowed a shooter’s hand to stay by the trigger after each reload, the Winchester repeater evolved out of a Browning design, but it’s Oliver Winchester himself who put the finishing touches on the legendary repeater, as seen in its loop lever-action build in old TV shows like the Rifleman, starring Chuck Connors.

Have you ever thought about the other hand-operated rifle style, the pump-action rifle? Yes, John Browning assisted in their development too. Consider the deadly pump action Winchester 1897, as example.

John Browning sure was a master of all forms of fast-action loading in his day, and he’s earned his place as godfather of automatic weaponry, securing scores of firearms patents. Each January 23rd, look back and give a symbolic tilt of the hat to Mr. Browning and all he’s done for the firearms industry.


Written by: Ryan Clancy, Engineering HQ

Browning: Inventor, Engineer, and Firearms Innovator