John Moses Browning was a highly successful gunsmith from Utah. Inspired by the work of Hiram Maxim Browning began work on an automatic machine-gun. Unlike Maxim used propelling gas as a motive force. He drilled a hole in the gun barrel to divert some of the gas behind the bullet into a cylinder to drive a piston, which performed the various tasks of extracting the cartridge case, reloading and firing. In 1895 the Browning machine-gun was purchased by the US Navy.
In 1910 Browning produced a new 0.30-inch machine gun. However, the gun was not ordered by the United States Army until 1917. Over the next eighteen months 57,000 of these guns were produced for soldiers fighting on the Western Front.
On reaching the firing range I quit wishing that Charlie and I had changed our shirts that morning, and before anyone had time to say much, we had the gun on the mount, banging away into one of the firing tunnels. I ran the two hundred rounds through so fast nobody could think. When the last empty shell spanged on the floor, with not a hitch in two hundred, Hall and his men were bug-eyed. The changed expression of Hall and his men put a pound of fat on my ribs.
A machine gun is an auto-firing, rifled long-barrel autoloading firearm designed for sustained direct fire with fully powered cartridges. Other automatic firearms such as assault rifles and automatic rifles are typically designed more for firing short bursts rather than continuous firepower, and not considered machine guns. Squad automatic weapons, which fire the same (usually intermediate-powered) cartridge used by the other riflemen from the same combat unit, are functionally light machine guns though not called so. Submachine guns, which are capable of continuous rapid fire but using handgun cartridges, are also not technically regarded as true machine guns.
Similar automatic firearms of greater than 20 mm (0.79 in) caliber are classified as autocannons, rather than machine guns.
As a class of military kinetic projectile weapon, machine guns are designed to be mainly used as infantry support weapons and generally used when attached to a bipod or tripod, a fixed mount or a heavy weapons platform for stability against recoils. Many machine guns also use belt feeding and open bolt operation, features not normally found on other infantry repeating firearms.
1900 — 1950
Colt placed a Browning-designed 38 caliber recoil-operated semi-automatic pistol on the market. It was the first semi-automatic pistol in the United States.
Feb. 8, 1900
The first of four patents were filed on the revolutionary autoloading shotgun. It would be manufactured by Fabrique Nationale in 1903 and by Remington Arms Company in 1905.
Oct. 6, 1900
The first successful autoloading high-power rifle received Patent No. 659,786. U.S. manufacturing and sales rights were granted to Remington Arms Company, and the rifle first appeared in 1906 as the Model 8.
July 16, 1901
Browning submitted a blowback operated 32 caliber semi-automatic pistol to Colt, who immediately accepted it. The marketing agreement stipulated that the pistol would be priced low enough to compete with the revolvers of the period.
In a disagreement about the public acceptability of the autoloading shotgun, John Browning severed his nineteen year relationship with T.G. Bennett of Winchester.
Jan. 8, 1902
An appointment was made to show the new shotgun to Mr. Marcellus Hartley of Remington. This meeting was cancelled by Mr. Hartley's untimely death that afternoon.
With his autoloading shotgun securely tucked under his arm, John Browning embarked on his first ocean voyage. He would offer the new shotgun to Fabrique Nationale.
Mar. 24, 1902
A contract was signed granting FN exclusive world rights to manufacture and sell the autoloading shotgun.
July 10, 1903
Patent application was filed on a pump action shotgun that would become the Stevens Model 520.
At the request of FN, Browning developed a 9mm military semi-automatic pistol.
In the face of restrictive tariffs, FN agreed to cede to Remington the rights to manufacture and sell the autoloading shotgun in the United States.
June 21, 1909
The application for a patent on a 25 caliber semi-automatic pistol was filed. It has been manufactured and sold by both FN and Colt. It was part of the Browning Arms Company line from 1955 to 1969.
Feb. 17, 1910
Patents were filed on a 45 caliber semi-automatic pistol. It served as the official United States military sidearm for almost 75 years.
Nov. 26, 1913
Filed patent on a pump shotgun that would be marketed as the Remington Model 17. It was John M. Browning's last repeater-type shotgun.
Jan. 6, 1914
Patents were granted and production began on a semi-automatic 22 caliber rifle. Remington also produced this rifle as the Model 24.
Feb. 27, 1917
First public demonstration on the Browning 30 caliber Heavy Machine Gun at Congress Heights, Washington, D.C.
Began work on the 50 caliber Water Cooled Machine Gun. Completed too late for World War I, this military weapon played a prominent role in World War II and Korea.
Aug. 1, 1917
Application for patent filed on the Browning Automatic Rifle. The B.A.R. first saw combat in 1918.
July 26, 1919
Patent application filed on a 22 pump action rifle that would be produced exclusively by Fabrique Nationale.
John M. Browning began work on his first 37mm Aircraft Cannon.
Oct. 15, 1923
The first of two patents were filed on the Superposed Over/Under shotgun.
June 28, 1923
Patent application was filed on a 9mm short-recoil, locked-breech, exposed-hammer semi-automatic pistol. This was John M. Browning's last pistol development.
Nov. 26, 1926
John Moses Browning died of heart failure at Liege, Belgium. The great gunmaker had laid down his tools.
J.M. & M.S. Browning Company was incorporated in Utah with the Browning Arms Company as a subsidiary.
St. Louis distribution center and sales organization established. Ogden remained the headquarters, directing all activities.
The Superposed shotgun was introduced into the Browning Arms Company line.
Auto-5 "Sweet Sixteen" was introduced.
After the German occupation put a stop to Belgian production, Remington made an American-Made Auto-5 for Browning. This was their Model 11, but included the magazine cut-off, which was not a part of the Model 11. This was called the American Browning.
Remington resumed making the American-Made Auto-5 for Browning until the discontinued production of the Model 11 to introduce their new 11-49 autoloader.
FN resumes Auto-5 production.
Light 12 Auto-5 introduced, 12 gauge Superposed re-introduced to the American market.
New 20 gauge Superposed introduced.
Browning and Winchester Part Ways
Browning’s partnership with Winchester and more specifically with Thomas Gray Bennett came to an end over what would later become the Auto-5 self-loading shotgun. Browning, who had received a single fee payment for each design that was licensed exclusively to Winchester, had felt that if the shotgun became successful he should be granted substantially more money. However, Winchester’s management rejected Browning’s offer and at this resulted in the prolific gun designer looking for a new partner.
Browning approached Remington Arms, but the president of that gunmaker died before a deal could be reached. While Browning’s company manufactured the shotgun, it was produced by the Remington and other manufacturers until license.
This revolutionary new weapon was designed by the father of the machine gun, John Moses Browning. The Browning M2 Machine Gun finished the design phase on November 11, 1918, and immediately began testing for the United States Army. It was adopted by the United States Armed Forces in 1921. John Browning received a patent for this awe-inspiring gun in 1923.
At the climax of World War I, General John Pershing realized that we were fighting a war on mechanical engineering. Pershing decided that the United States Military needed a weapon that could disable the heavily armored tanks and airplanes commonplace on and above the battlefield while keeping enemy troops pinned down in the trenches. Pershing sent his orders to the only man he knew to be capable of such a tall order: John Moses Browning.
General Pershing’s ordered stated that the new weapon must be a machine gun chamber in .50 caliber, or greater, and have a muzzle velocity no less than 2700 feet per second. Browning, and his colleague Fred Moore, immediately went to work using the M1917 as the basis for this ground-breaking design. Although the M1917 is chambered in .30-06 caliber, it served as a great platform from which to start. Winchester supplied the monstrous cartridges for this behemoth. They are appropriately named the .50 BMG (Browning Machine Gun).
The prototype didn't quite live up to General Pershing's demands. It was too heavy, hard to control, only fired 500 rounds per minute. The muzzle velocity was only 2300 feet per second. Winchester and Browning, alike, made some modifications to their designs. Together, with a little tweaking, they were able to come up with design modifications that brought the muzzle velocity up to an armor-piercing 2,750 feet per second, and a firing rate of 600 rounds per minute.
Sadly, in 1926, John Moses Browning passed away in Belgium only three years after the M2 was adopted by the United States Armed Forces. In 1933, The Colt Company had completely taken over full-scale production of the Browning M2 Machine Gun. Colt worked out the few remaining flaws while keeping the original Browning design. The final design of the Browning M2 Machine Gun is air-cooled, belt-fed, chambered in .50 BMG., and has spade handles to make it controllable. With the tripod mount, it weighs 128 pounds. A heavy-barrel with flash a suppressor was added to the final design for durability.
The M2 is still in production after all these years. It holds the record for the longest production run for a firearm. It was used throughout World War II, The Korean War, The Vietnam War, and other wars worldwide. The M2 can be mounted on tanks, planes, helicopters, and ground vehicles. It can be mounted on a tripod for use as an anti-personnel weapon.
This is what made the M1919 Browning machine gun so deadly
John Browning’s most famous creation, at least in the United States, is the ubiquitous Model 1911. It’s everywhere, and probably within reach of well more than a few people reading this article. The 1911’s active service life in military organizations is pretty much over. However, another of Browning’s continues to serve — the Model 1919 Machine Gun.
GIs from the 77th Infantry Division man a machine gun nest on the island of Shima, May 3, 1945. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)
The Model 1919 was essentially an air-cooled Model 1917. It was chambered in the powerful and effective .30-06 round, modernized following extensive ballistic testing in the post-World War I years. Unlike most ground-mounted WWI-era machine guns, the 1919 was air cooled, had a heavier barrel, and was easier to maintain under combat conditions than its water-cooled cousins.
It didn’t require all the accouterments of a water-cooled gun, such as a bulky water jacket, water, and a condensing can. The 1919 was originally fed by a cloth belt and designed for vehicles—or a very solid (and heavy) tripod. It had a reasonable rate of fire at 500 rounds per minute on average. By WWII, it was the standard U.S. light machine gun, serving alongside Browning’s M1917 and the legendary Browning M2 HMG.
Like most of Browning’s designs, the 1919 was very reliable for the day and age in which it was produced (insert Glock joke here). It was also apparent early on that the 1919 was versatile. By the end of WWII, it was mounted on tanks, in aircraft, and found in various calibers, including .303 British. It served in virtually every Allied army, and if you dig hard enough, you can even find pictures of enemy troops using captured 1919s. It was very effective against personnel, and when loaded with armor-piercing ammunition, it was also effective against thin-skinned armored vehicles.
The Model 1919 was essentially an air-cooled Model 1917. It was chambered in the powerful and effective .30-06 round, modernized following extensive ballistic testing in the post-World War I years. (Photo: Terra Piccirilli, Recoilweb)
In the air, the modified M1919 was called the ANM2. This variant was specifically modified for aerial warfare, boasting a blistering rate of fire at 1,200-plus rpm. The improvements in aircraft technology and design during the period meant rifle-caliber machine guns were only effective when their throw weight could be boosted by increased rates of fire, and by mounting anywhere from two to six of the guns. Feeding them with the most destructive type of ammunition available, generally one form or another of API-T (Armor Piercing Incendiary Tracer), helped.
While the ANM2 served valiantly, it was not as effective as its Browning M2 brethren as an anti-aircraft machine gun. In the decade before WWII, fighter aircraft were increasingly fitted with heavier machine guns, generally .50 BMG Browning variants in the U.S., or 20mm (or larger) cannons in Europe. It wasn’t the fault of the ANM2 that it was less effective against aircraft it was the fault of the ordnance officers who decided to mount it in aircraft in the first place.
In the infantry role, the M1919 was successful within its limitations. Keep in mind the M1919 was designed in an era when the belt-fed machine gun was essentially a static weapon. The exception to this trend at the time was the MG08/15, which was an intentional departure designed specifically to make the infantry machine gun more portable and useful. By WWII, the MG08/15 concept (a highly mobile, portable general-purpose machine gun [GPMG]) evolved into the MG34 and eventually the MG42 in German service. This is where the M1919’s combat failings became apparent.
Although accurate, reliable, and possessing a good sustainable rate of fire, it was clumsy and awkward on a mobile battlefield compared to the MG34 and MG42. The tripod was large and unwieldy, and it was not always easy to emplace. U.S. troops frequently had to improvise with the 1919, more or less propping it up against or on the WWII equivalent of “a rock or something” when the tripod simply wouldn’t work under the conditions.
The M1919 Browning machine gun was very effective against personnel, and when loaded with armor-piercing ammunition, it was also effective against thin-skinned armored vehicles. (Photo: Terra Piccirilli, Recoilweb)
As a result, the M1919A6 was developed. This variant added a buttstock and a bipod to the M1919 in attempt to turn it into a light machine gun, more like the MG34 or MG42. However, it was still about a pound heavier than the standard M1919 without the tripod, weighing in at 32 pounds. It was an improvised solution akin to adding a bipod and a buttstock to a boulder. It was still awkward although it was a bit less unwieldy and more stable, it appeared far too late in the war to have much of an impact.
Again, don’t blame the gun, blame the ordnance weenies.
Until the M60 (a less-than-fantastic GPMG, but a product of the “made here” school of ordnance development) was made widely available during the Vietnam War, the U.S. infantry were saddled with the M1919 and M1919A6 combination.
As a vehicle-mounted machine gun, the 1919 excelled. As a matter of fact, it does such a good job it’s still in service in many places across the globe. It’s been modernized, now using disintegrating link belts instead of old-fashioned cloth belts. Most 1919s still in service were converted to 7.62 NATO, as well, to ease the strain on logistics. Notably, however, one 1919 variant, the M37 Coaxial MG, was somewhat notoriously problematic, again mostly because some people just can’t resist fixing something that works.
There have been some interesting variants of the 1919 over the years. Several ANM2s were converted into a variant called the Stinger. The Stinger was basically a scavenged aircraft-mounted gun with a bipod, carry handle, and buttstock. The extremely high rate of fire was welcomed (for the six or so guns which appear to have actually made it into combat), but the Stinger only served in limited numbers. Its primary claim to fame was being the weapon “Terrible” Tony Stein used during the combat action that earned him a Medal of Honor on Iwo Jima.
If you ever get a chance to fire a ground-mounted M1919, we highly recommend you do so. As it was originally designed, it’s accurate, reliable, and very easy to shoot. As a machine gun for a fixed position, it can easily hold its own against any gun of its era. It’s easy to manipulate, strip, and clean, and it’s very robust in its most common and most current variant, the 1919A4. However, remember it’s almost a 100-year-old design don’t expect it to perform like a modern machine gun.
M1941 Johnson Light Machine Gun (1940)
The M1941 Johnson Light Machine Gun. Wikimedia Commons
The M2 is remarkably well known because its design has withstood the test of time, with a career spanning generations. The M1941 Johnson Machine Gun, also known as the Johnny Gun, isn’t as well known, likely because its service life was a mere blip in comparison.
Melvin Johnson Jr., a lawyer and Captain in the Marine Corp Reserves, designed the M1914 Johnson LMG after he created the semiautomatic M1941 Johnson Rifle. While the Johnson rifle was an innovative design with a rotary magazine, the United States armed services passed over it in favor of the M1 Garand. A handful saw battle, however, with one being used famously by Medal of Honor Recipient USMC Captain Robert Hugo Dunlap in the Battle for Iwo Jima.
The light machine gun shared a number of parts with the semiautomatic rifle, including the short recoil action and the rotating bolt. Unlike the rotary magazine on the rifle, the LMG fed from either a single-column 20-round magazine or a stripper clip placed at the ejection port to recharge the mag in place. In a pinch, single rounds could also be loaded through the breech. The rate of fire could be adjusted anywhere from 200 to 600 rounds per minute, which helped keep barrel temperatures down.
The LMG had some additional features that the rifle lacked, such as a barrel-mounted bipod. This would prove to undesirable, as it needed to be removed for a barrel swap. Later versions of the gun, the M1944, would have a unique folding monopod that utilized two wings to stabilize the gun. It could also be used as a pistol grip in the forward assist position, with the wings serving as a heat shield to protect the operator’s hands. The 1944 iteration swapped the wooden furniture for metal tubing and butt plate.
Ten Johnny Guns so configured were provided for testing in the end of 1943. Unfortunately, these guns all succumbed to the elements at the Aberdeen Proving Grounds. Later testing conducted by the Marine Corps Equipment Board at Quantico would see the LMG perform more favorably—so much so that the Corp sought to replace their aging BARs with the new gun. Unfortunately for Johnson, the Marine Corps Commandant rejected the request, fearing that the Army’s decision to not adopt the gun would lead to complications for the armorers.
Early 1881 – Two newcomers arrive in Ogden, Utah. German physician Dr. A. L. Ulrich and Professor H. R. Ring, both highly-educated, well-travelled professionals, share a consuming passion – shooting target rifles. They both soon discovered the Browning Gun Factory and in short order, along with several of the Browning brothers, they organized the Ogden Rifle Club. It would be the setting for several major innovations in firearms design by John M. Browning.
Early Spring of 1883 – Mr. T. G. Bennett, vice president of the Winchester Repeating Arms Company in New Haven, Connecticut, is shown a Browning Single Shot Rifle. He immediately boards a westbound train for Ogden, Utah to meet the inventor and negotiate purchase of the manufacturing rights for Winchester. In a short meeting with John and Matt in their new gun shop, a deal was quickly struck for $8,000, and Bennett returns on the next eastbound train. It was the start of a design relationship between John M. Browning and Winchester that would last until 1902. In fact, every rifle and shotgun introduced by Winchester Repeating Arms during this 19-year period was designed by John M. Browning. Rugged, reliable, simple and accurate, the John M. Browning designed Model 1885 remains in production today.
1885 – Winchester Repeating Arms of New Haven, Connecticut, adds the Browning Single Shot to its catalog, calling it the Model 1885. It would be produced in several different variations and chambered in everything from .22 Short to the largest black powder express cartridges of the day, and it would remain in the line for more than a dozen decades.
October 1884 through September 1886 – John M. Browning would sell the patents and designs for eleven new firearms to Winchester Repeating Arms Company
1889 – 1892 – After spending two years on a proselyting mission for the Mormon faith in Georgia, from 1887 to 1889, John M. Browning returns to Ogden, Utah, and engages in a flurry of design work. The result is 20 new gun patents granted over the next three years.
Fall of 1889 - John M. Browning begins to experiment with the concept of a fully automatic firearm, capable of continuous fire as long as the trigger was held back and there was ammunition in the magazine. One of his first test bed models was based on a Winchester Model 1873 with a flapper device attached to the muzzle to capture the expanding gas from a fired cartridge to operate the action. Browning files his first patent for a gas operated automatic firearm early in 1890, and the patent is granted two years later.
Circa 1890 – T. G. Bennett of Winchester Repeating Arms asks John M. Browning to design a replacement for the venerable Model 1873 lever action rifle, the “gun That Won the West.” Bennett offered Browning $10,000 if he could deliver the prototype in three months, and $15,000 if it were ready in two months. Browning countered that, figuring in about a dozen days for rail travel, he’d deliver the prototype rifle to Bennett in 30 days for $20,000, or it was free. John and Matt Browning worked out the design details on the train trip back to Utah, and they were test-firing the prototype within two weeks. Bennett had the sample rifle in his hands in less than 30 days, and it was soon introduced as the Winchester Model 1892. A favorite of everyone from Annie Oakley and working cowboys to polar explorers like Admiral Peary, the Winchester Model 1892 remains the top choice of real cowboys and cowboy action shooters to this day.
John Browning Designed Guns for the U.S. Military Like No Other
Here are five famous weapons that Browning made, a few of which remain iconic even today.
There is no denying that John Browning was among the most prolific gun designers of the nineteenth- and twentieth-centuries and he left his mark on numerous civilian firearms, including many that bear his name. During his career he worked for the likes of Colt, Winchester, FN Hertsal, Miroku and Remington.
Over the course of his illustrious career, Browning’s designs also caught the eye of the U.S. military and his designs included the M1911 pistol, the Browning Hi-Power, the M1917 water-cooled machine gun, the M1919 air-cooled machine gun and the Browning Automatic Rifle (BAR).
Colt 1895 Automatic Machine Gun
With the help of his brother Matthew, John Browning developed a gas-operating system that was first used in the Colt-Browning M1895 machine gun—a weapon that earned the somewhat mocking nickname “potato digger” due to its unusual operating system, which was similar to that of a basic lever action design.
The weapon fired from a closed bolt and had a cyclic rate of 450 rounds per minute. It saw use in the Spanish-American War, as well as the Second Boer War and even limited use during the First World War. Some of the weapons were later used in the Russian Civil War and the Polish-Soviet War of 1920, and finally in the Spanish Civil War. It wasn’t the first machine gun, but it was the first successful gas-operated machine gun to enter service.
The Colt M1911 .45
The longevity of Browning’s most famous weapon simply can’t be overstated. It is the Colt M1911 .45 pistol, which was used by the U.S. military from 1911 until 1986, when it was finally replaced by the 9mm Beretta M9 pistol. Even today modernized variants of the M1911 are still used by the U.S. Army Special Forces and U.S. Navy. Colt’s name might be on the handgun, but the M1911 .45 was all John Browning.
Browning M1917 Water-Cooled Machine Gun
During the First World War most of the major powers utilized heavy machine guns based on Hiram Maxim’s design—but even before the outbreak of the war, Browning sought to improve upon that design. He filed a patent in 1901 for an automatic recoil loader, but the efforts to perfect it took more than a decade—only to find that the U.S. military wasn’t actually interested.
Yet, the result was a water-cooled machine gun that was lighter than the Maxim or Vickers and more importantly offered smoother operation. The U.S. military changed their minds when America entered the First World War and the M1917, as it was designated, proved to do just what the Doughboys needed. The .30 caliber recoil-operated machine gun had a rate of fire of upwards of 600 rounds per minute, and it was just the beginning of the things to come!
Browning .30 M1919
It is hard to imagine any military wanting to use a weapon designed more than 100 years ago—but that is just the case with the M1919, essentially an air-cooled version of the M1917. The air-cooled system lightened the weight considerably, and while gunners had to be trained to manage the barrel heat by firing in controlled bursts, the design was so innovative that the M1919 has seen use as a light infantry machine gun, mounted on aircraft and even in anti-aircraft roles.
More than 100 years later the M1919 still remains in use in secondary roles with militaries around the world. The same basic design principles of the M1919 were also applied to the M2 .50 caliber machine gun when it was developed in the 1930s.
Browning Automatic Rifle
During the First World War, the machine gun proved ideal at stopping an enemy assault across “no-man’s-land,” and numerous efforts were developed to attempt to find a way to provide the same amount of firepower to an advancing force.
It was John Browning who was among the first firearms designers to successfully address that issue of “walking fire” with his Browning Automatic Rifle, the first truly successful automatic rifle. It was chambered in the same .30-06 Springfield rifle cartridge used in the main battle rifle of the American military during the First World War. More importantly, the BAR was designed to give an infantryman the ability to move forward with sustained fire.
Browning Firearms: The 9 Best Gun Designs Ever
John Moses Browning is one of the most prominent names in firearms design. He holds a place of reverence among shooters and firearms historians, and deservedly so.
Over the course of his life, Browning devoted himself almost fully to advancing firearms design. He was granted over 100 patents and is credited with developing some of the most influential and enduring guns within the past 100 years or so.
Many, if not most, of these truly innovative firearms are still in use today, either among civilian shooters or among military and police forces in the U.S and around the world. It’s been a little more than 90 years now since Browning’s passing, but his firearms legacy is certainly alive and well, and his contributions are still relevant.
As far as which of John M. Browning’s firearm designs are “best,” that’s a matter of some debate. Listed below are nine of Browning’s most timeless designs. These influential guns clearly don’t represent all of Browning’s important developments in firearms design (being more of an arbitrary “best” list), but they are a good sampling of some of his greatest works and cover categories ranging from single-shot rifles to fully automatic heavy machine guns.
Current production Winchester Model 1885 High Wall rifle. Photo courtesy Winchester Guns.
Winchester Model 1885
Marking something of the beginning of John Browning’s long and productive career in firearms design, the Model 1885 was one of his earliest creations. He developed what would eventually become the 1885 at the young age of 23, and originally built the rifles by hand along with his brother before being approached by Winchester some years later, and thus beginning his longtime collaboration with that manufacturer.
Winchester engineers made a few tweaks to the design and began offering the rifle in both a Low Wall and High Wall configuration — the Low Wall being designed with an exposed hammer and intended for less powerful cartridges and the High Wall a beefier version built for more powerful cartridges.
During its heyday, the Model 1885 was believed to have one of the strongest actions available. It was a significant challenger to other popular single-shot rifles of the era from companies like Sharps and Remington.
Production on the Winchester Model 1885 ended around 1920. However, in recent years, manufacturers have begun offering modern Model 1885s for single-shot rifle fans. Uberti USA, Cimarron Firearms and, of course, Winchester are among those gun makers currently offering the 1885.
Current production Model 1894. Photo courtesy of Winchester Guns.
Winchester Model 1894
One of the most prolific and enduring lever-action rifles of all time, the Model 1894 first entered production the same year as its model designation, and a number of companies, including Winchester, still produce it today. Built originally to chamber and fire the metallic black powder .32-40 and .38-55 cartridges, the Model 1894 was later chambered in a number of smokeless cartridges. However, the most popular, and the one most closely associated with the rifle was the .30-30 Winchester, also known as the .30 WCF.
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Over the years, the Model 1894 in .30-30 Winchester has taken countless whitetail deer. The gun is extremely lightweight, handles comfortably (especially in thicker brush) and packs adequate power for the hunter’s purposes, provided shots occur at reasonable distances.
This usefulness translated to a previously unheard of level of popularity. Well over 7 million Model 1894s have been produced since its release, and it’s still popular among Cowboy Action Shooters, as well as hunters who prefer the classic feel of a lever gun.
A well worn Browning Auto-5 12-gauge shotgun.
Widely acknowledged as the first successful, mass-produced semi-automatic shotgun, the Automatic-5 design also marked a turning point for Browning, in which he ended his collaboration with Winchester. As it goes, he offered the design to Winchester first, but tried to negotiate for a royalty fee on unit sales instead of a one-time, up-front payment, as had been standard, which Winchester refused to do. He then tried to pitch the shotgun to Remington, but the manufacturer’s president died from a heart attack before he was able to do so. Eventually, Browning’s design wound up with FN Herstal of Belgium and the rest, as they say, is history.
The Auto-5 featured a unique long recoil operated design (patented by Browning in 1900) in which the barrel and bolt recoil together following the shot, then separate as the barrel begins to move forward again. At this time, the bolt stays behind to eject the spent shell, before moving forward again to chamber the new shell.
FN Herstal produced the gun for much of the 20th century, and it was also produced under license by a number of U.S. manufacturers such as Remington and Savage Arms, among others. The Auto-5 was produced from a bit after the turn of the 20th century until 1998 however, the Browning Arms Company reintroduced a version of the Auto-5, or A-5, a couple years back. This new version does use a different short-recoil operating system, though, which Browning refers to as Kinematic Drive. Both older and newer models of the “Humpback,” as the gun is endearingly called due to its distinctive high rear end on the receiver, have continued to remain popular.
Browning's Hi-Power is considered to be the first of the “wonder nines.” Photo by Robert Campbell.
Browning Hi Power
Also known as the Model 1935, P-35, HP35, GP, GP35 and High Power, this pistol was one of Browning’s last designs. In fact, being the devoted worker that he was, it is written widely that Browning died of heart failure while working at the bench on this self-loading pistol in his son Val A. Browning’s design shop. Belgian small arms designer Dieudonne Saive completed the design.
Chambered in 9mm Luger, the Hi Power was one of the first true high-capacity pistols, able to hold 13 rounds. This was roughly twice the capacity of other common pistols, such as the M1911 and Luger P08, at the time of its introduction in 1935. Like Browning’s earlier 1911, the Hi Power was a single-action design. And it operated via a unique short-recoil mechanism.
More than 1 million Hi Powers have been produced, and the gun has seen many years of service with foreign military forces. In fact, it remains a standard sidearm with the Australian and Canadian armed forces. Of course, it’s also popular among many civilian shooters here in the U.S. as well.
The Model 1897 is considered one of the first truly successful pump- or slide-action shotguns.
Winchester Model 1897
Just as Browning is credited with designing the first successful semi-auto shotgun, so too is it with the pump gun. The Model 1897, also known as the M97 and simply the “Trench Gun,” was based on Browning’s earlier Winchester 1893 pump-action shotgun but addressed many of the flaws in that prior design.
Produced from 1897 until 1957, the M97 was viewed as kind of the standard by which later pump-action shotguns would be judged. The 1897 introduced a takedown design in which the barrel could removed — this is now a standard feature in pump guns today — and featured an external hammer and lacked a trigger disconnector. This lack of a disconnector permitted the user to “slam fire” the gun, or simply continuously depress the trigger while working the action to fire shots if so desired.
As a historical side note, the M97 “Trench Gun” was so effective and deadly during the First World War that Germany issue a formal protest against its use, stating the use of a shotgun violated the 1907 Hague Convention. The later Winchester Model 12 would eventually supersede the Winchester Model 1897 however, it can still be found in use.
The air-cooled version of Browning's earlier M1917, the M1919 served U.S. forces in a number of wars, usually in a mounted support role.
An air-cooled version of Browning’s earlier water-cooled M1917, which saw some use in World War I, the M1919 was originally similarly chambered for the .30-06 Springfield. However, it would later be adapted to a host of popular military chamberings such as 7.62启 NATO, .303 British and others.
This belt-fed, short-recoil-operated machine gun has served in many of the U.S. conflicts — World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War — and many foreign militaries have also used it over the years. However, the emergence of general purpose machine guns, like the M60, and squad automatic weapons, like the M249 SAW, in later years has largely relegated the M1919 to more specialized and secondary roles, such as mounted use on vehicles.
More than 5 million M1919s were produced, making it another of Browning’s top designs.
Turnbull 1911 Heritage Edition Commander. Photo by Alex Landeen
The Browning design that Americans are likely most familiar with, the M1911, and later M1911A1, was the U.S. military’s standard sidearm until 1985, when Beretta’s M9 replaced it — a move that some still might argue against. In addition to its success as a military arm, it has been, and continues to be, wildly popular among civilian shooters. And a whole host of manufacturers ranging from large to small currently produce 1911s. In short, if there’s one Browning design that unequivocally deserves a spot on this list, it’s the 1911.
The M1911 is a short-recoil-operated single-action hammer-fired pistol. Like some of Browning’s other pistol designs, this one incorporates a grip safety, as well as a thumb-activated (for righties) safety lever on the frame.
The gun, as originally introduced, fired Browning’s .45 ACP, which he designed for the pistol. However, as we know, later 1911s and variants have been offered in a number of other popular calibers such as .380 ACP, 9mm, .38 Super and others. Coonan, Inc. even makes some to chamber the .357 Magnum, and Guncrafter Industries offers 1911s in its proprietary .50 GI for those looking for a true .50-caliber option.
The heavy M2 Browning has been serving the U.S. Armed Forces, and other foreign military forces, for many decades.
Bigger and badder than Browning’s earlier M1919 machine gun, the M2 Browning was and is a potent heavy machine gun. Known by its official designation of Browning Machine Gun, Cal. .50, M2, HB, Flexible, and more colloquially as the “Ma Deuce,” this 80-plus-pound beast spits Browning’s .50 BMG (Browning Machine Gun) — designed for and named for this weapon — at a rate of 450 to 1,300 rounds per minute, depending upon the model.
The air-cooled, belt-fed M2 is a short-recoil-operated design that fires from a closed bolt. Due to its heavy weight, its predominant deployment has been as a mounted weapon on vehicles, naval vessels and aircraft and as a support weapon for troops on the ground. However, it has also been used as a sniping tool, most notably by decorated Marine Corps sniper Carlos Hathcock during Vietnam.
Like the 1911 and some of Browning’s other designs, the M2 has had a fairly long production life. Produced since 1933, the M2 Browning is still in service with the U.S. and a host of other foreign militaries.
The Colt Model 1903/1908 Pocket Hammerless became popular due to its ease of concealment and streamline, elegant appearance. Photo courtesy of Steve Gash.
Colt Model 1903/1908 Pocket Hammerless
Sort of a culmination of some of Browning’s earlier pistol designs preceding and in the few years after the turn of the 20th century, the Colt Model 1903 Pocket Hammerless in .32 ACP — and later Model 1908 Pocket Hammerless in .380 ACP — became quite popular with the military, law enforcement and civilians. Building upon earlier designs like the M1902 and M1903 Pocket Hammer pistol, the Pocket Hammerless featured a 4-inch barrel and, despite the name, utilized a hammer that was recessed and hidden from view under the rear of the slide.
Although it was only produced from 1903 to 1945, making it one of the shorter production lives of the Browning designs listed, more than 570,000 Pocket Hammerless pistols were made. It was popular in large part due to its ability to be effectively concealed due to the hidden hammer, which was less apt to snag on clothing.
Due to its classic, elegant appearance and its interesting history, both the 1903 and 1908 Pocket Hammerless remain popular collector items. Although it is currently not produced to the degree that some other guns on this list are, a few years back, Colt did license U.S. Armament Corp. to produce a limited run of new Pocket Hammerless pistols, for those looking to buy new.
Browning's Superposed over/under shotgun was no doubt a looker. Its relatively high manufacturing cost eventually spelled its downfall, though.
I feel obligated to mention a few other notable John Browning firearms that I did not include above and which were right on the edge of inclusion.
The Browning Superposed, an innovative yet classically stylish over/under shotgun, was the last firearm to be designed by Browning prior to his death, and probably one of his most elegant. It had a decent production run before it was ultimately decided that it was too expensive to manufacture and thus relegated to being a specialty, limited-production item from Browning Arms Company.
The M1918 Browning Automatic Rifle (BAR) and its later variants represent another potential inclusion. The BAR saw some service in the First World War however, its role was much more extensive in World War II and in Korea. More than 600,000 were produced.
One of Browning's less-considered pistol designs, the Woodsman was a fine rimfire pistol with a decent production run.
Remington’s Model 8 was another of Browning’s celebrated designs, though production figures are lower than most, if not all, of the other firearms on this list. It was, however, one of the first semi-auto rifles to see true success. At the time, most were content with their lever guns or the increasingly potent and accurate bolt-action rifles available. Produced under various names from 1906 until 1950, the Model 8 featured a long-recoil-operated design not unlike that used in Browning’s Auto-5 and was chambered in .25, .30, .32 and .35 Remington, as well as .300 Savage.
Manufactured by Colt from 1915 to 1977, the Woodsman is also deserving of a brief mention. More than 690,000 of these little semi-auto .22 pistols were produced, and in a host of different configurations with varying barrel lengths and features.
As previously mentioned, this list is by no means comprehensive. There are a number of other excellent Browning firearms designs that were not included. If one of your favorite and deserving John Browning designs has been omitted, let us know about it in the comments. We always enjoy hearing our readers’ opinions.