John Moses Browning (1855 to 1926), was born in Ogden, Utah. He was one of America’s greatest firearms designers and a genius when it came to robust, reliable weapons for our US military. He is a legend among American military and civilian shooters, as many of his inventions and designs are still in use today. As a retired US Marine with 32 years of service and two combat tours in Iraq, I can assure you that it was two of his classic designs that were the most reliable in America’s most recent Global War On Terrorism: the M-2 ‘Ma Deuce’ .50 caliber machine gun and the venerable Model 1911 .45 pistol. As the sidearm that took America through WWI, WWII, Korea, Vietnam and victory in the Cold War, the .45 was repeatedly found to be more lethal and reliable than our sensitive, wimpy Beretta ‘Olive Oil Gun’. Remember what John Moses Browning and his peers said in the Old West: “Bigger holes are better”. As Col Jeff Cooper (WWII Marine vet & Gun Guru legend) reminded us at his Gunsight Academy: Bigger holes make your enemy bleed out faster in shock faster so they are out of the fight faster. Bottom line, they take fewer of our friendlies with them.
By patents alone, John Moses Browning is easily regarded as one of the most successful firearms designers in history. He dominated the 20th century in innovation and reliability. His focused work on the development of modern automatic and semi-automatic weapons is credited with an amazing 128 gun patents. Browning made his first firearm at age 13 in his father’s gun shop, and was awarded his first patent in 1879 at the age of 24.
John Moses Browning influenced nearly every category of firearms design: single shot, lever-action, slide action for a full range of rifles and shotguns. His inventions and improvements were profound. He made major contributions in the military realm of auto-loading firearms. He developed the first auto-loading pistols that were both reliable and compact. Browning invented the first gas-operated machine gun, the Colt-Browning 1895, which saw action with our US Marines in Cuba in 1898. This, with its recoil operation, became the basis for machine guns world-wide. He also made significant contributions to automatic cannon development, which in 20 mm & 40 mm were standards within the WWII US military. He had a long, productive relationship with the Winchester Repeating Arms Company, Connecticut, where his line of pump-shotguns were extremely successful. On a personal note, his Winchester 1885 falling-block .45-70 octagon long barreled rifle is one of my favorites (I was first introduced to it as a kid by our ranch neighbor, the famed Western movie actor Joel McCrea). What a pure joy to shoot! Also of special note is Browning’s impressive line of improvements to US lever-action carbines and rifles, where one stands out. For well over a century, some 7 million Model 1894s have been manufactured, more than any other sporting rifle in world history.
Browning’s inventions speak for themselves. Among his accomplishments are: the M1911 .45 pistol, the Browning Hi Power pistol, the .30 Caliber Water-Cooled and .30 Caliber Air-Cooled Machine Guns, the Browning Automatic Rifle in .30-06 caliber, and the powerful Browning .50 Caliber Machine Gun, and the Browning Auto-5 (military Model 11) Semi-Automatic Shotgun. It should be noted here that Browning’s Winchester Model 1897 Shotgun was tremendously successful and popular with US troops fighting in WWI (where it had a bayonet lug attachment and was affectionately known as “The Trench Gun”), and many were carried over to again be used in WWII & Vietnam. Overall, many of John Moses Browning’s weapons are still in production. They are among the most copied guns in the world.
John Moses Browning was known as a dedicated and tireless innovator. He was a focused believer in experimentation who sought rugged reliability through breakthrough consumer-oriented features. Performance improvements were always ongoing. He did not retire from his career in his elder years, but dedicated his entire adult life (literally to his last day at a firearms workbench), to his work.
Browning designed a vast array of military weapons which greatly contributed to US forces on the battlefields of WWI, WWII, and Korea. His Colt .45 1911, Browning 1917, and BAR were trusted a beloved by Soldiers and Marines. Even today, despite the 9 mm Beretta being adopted in 1985, throughout the US Global War On Terrorism, Marines use a new Kimber Model 1911 with their special operations units. The .45 is still immensely popular with civilian shooters, home defense advocates, and many law enforcement agencies. And nothing quite compares with Browning’s timeless M-2, .50 Caliber ‘Ma Deuce”, which he developed in 1918 and was adopted by the US military in 1921. It remains unparalleled and unquestioned in fulfilling its mission as anti-personnel, anti-vehicular, and anti-aircraft for a century of active service not just with Americans, but also their trusted allies.
John Moses Browning was the definitive American inventor and weapons genius. His civilian small arms work with Winchester, Colt, Remington, Savage, Stevens, Fabrique National of Belgium, and his own company Browning Arms Company, founded a year after his death in 1927.
In my opinion, John Moses Browning’s most notable Top 12 cartridge & firearms designs are:
- The .45 ACP cartridge
- The .50 cal. BMG cartridge
- The U.S. Model 1911 .45 pistol
- The .22 Colt Woodsman pistol
- The Winchester Model 1897 pump-action repeating shotgun
- The Remington Model 17 pump-action repeating shotgun
- The Winchester Model 1885 falling-block single-shot rifle
- The Winchester Model 1894 lever-action repeating rifle
- The U.S. Model 1895 air-cooled gas operated machine gun
- The U.S. Model 1917 water-cooled recoil-operated machine gun
- The U.S Model 1918 Browning Automatic Rifle (BAR)
- The U.S. M2 1921 .50 caliber heavy machine gun