Firearms are an important part of the outdoors world. They are what we primarily hunt with. They are what we protect ourselves with when in dangerous and potentially dangerous areas. One man’s ingenuity and innovation is primarily responsible for all the firearms we have today.
Known as America’s Gunmaker, John Browning is that man. The son of a devout Mormon, the Brownings moved from Iowa to Ogden, Utah to escape religious persecution. John’s father was a gunsmith and had moved his business twice before. Living during the settler days, children often spent more time working than going to school, and John was no different. John began working with his father at six years of age.
At the age of ten (some stories have John at the age of thirteen), a man gave his rifle that had severe damage to the barrel to John, figuring it was beyond repair. John worked on the barrel for several days, and soon after tested the firearm. It fired perfectly. A few months later, John wanted to try something different.
John collected damaged and spare parts from the shop’s trash and began trying to build a firearm from scratch. He did not let his father know, but shared what he was doing with his brother Matt, even telling Matt that he would give it to him when he was finished.
When John finished the firearm, he and Matt took it out to test it. They carried a can of hot coals to ignite the powder. While John and Matt were walking to a site to try the firearm, they came across some prairie chickens. John quickly had Matt come over with the coals and ignite the powder. The firearm fired perfectly. To add even more to the legend, not only did it fire, but he took two chickens with one shot.
They proudly walked back to town with the firearm built by a ten year old boy and two prairie chickens over their shoulder.
John later began tinkering with various designs and mechanics and was awarded his first patent at the age of 24.
As an inventor, he was not interested in manufacturing firearms. He was most interested in creating a design that was better than the last or developing a design for a particular purpose, and then moving on to the next project. Because of this, he would sell his designs to firearm manufacturers. His first design sold to Winchester Repeating Arms for $8000 for the Model 1885 Single Shot Rifle.
Winchester purchased many designs including lever action rifles, pump shotguns, and a long recoil semi-automatic rifle design from John Browning.
Arguably, John Browning’s most notable design came in the early 1900’s when partnered as a designer for Colt Firearms.
The United State military primarily used revolvers as sidearms and were looking to upgrade to a new design after failures and ineffectiveness in jungle warfare. Colonel John Thompson put together a competition set of trials between six firearm manufacturers.
Early on, three of the six failed early and were eliminated from further trials. Savage Arms, Colt Arms, and DWM remained. They were asked to go back and work on the designs a little further and return for more testing. DWM dropped out leaving Savage and Colt as the remaining contenders.
When the next round of testing occurred, the designer of Colt’s entry decided to do the testing himself. In front of military officials, John Browning proceeded to fire his semi-automatic pistol design for 6000 rounds over a two day period. When the firearm would get hot from the all the shooting, he would simply dip it into a bucket of water, reload, and fire some more. Over the two day period Browning’s design never failed firing and rechambering once and his model M1911 pistol became the staple of the military from that point forward.
His designs for both the pistol, shotgun and rifle became the basis for nearly all center fire firearms from the early 1900’s up to this current day. While Browning firearms has a large following, it is likely that any firearm you have from any manufacturer has a John Browning influenced design and build.