John M. Browning

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John M. Browning was a gunsmith and firearms designer. He created and patented a gun that revolutionized the firearm industry. He eventually held 128 firearm patents.

Browning was born on January 23, 1855 in Ogden, Utah. His father, Jonathan Browning, was a young justice of the peace and traveled to Nauvoo, Illinois, in 1840 where he met Joseph Smith. He was so impressed with him, he joined The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He later immigrated West with the members of the Church and settled in Ogden.

John followed his father’s interest in firearms and at the age of thirteen produced his first gun from scrap metal. He worked in his father’s shop until his father passed away in 1879. From an early age, he learned to cut, form, and shape steel. He could design and test his prototypes, but he could also design and improve the machinery on which his designs had been produced.

John registered his first patent for the J. M. Browning Single Shot Rifle. His invention was a “simplification of the percussion mechanism” that made the rifle more durable and reliable.[1] Many of his firearms, which he granted licenses to several manufacturers, have never been surpassed since their invention. He is most noted for his creation of the 9mm hi-power semi-automatic pistol, which has been used by the majority of the world’s police forces and armies since 1907.

While working for Winchester Colt, Browning designed the M1895, the first gas-operated machine gun in the world. His breakthrough was to “realize that the recoil caused by the bullet could be used to force the shell out of the gun and re-chamber another shell.”[2]

Browning worked on pistols, rifles, and machine guns. He worked on single-shot, lever, slide, and semi-automatic actions, and his semi-autos included gas-operated, recoil-operated, direct-blowback, and several types of locking mechanism. Exactly how many designs he did may not have been calculated anywhere: it’s known he designed 44 rifles and 13 shotguns for Winchester alone, a large number of which were not produced, and some of which may not have been made even as prototypes or models.[3]

His most famous firearms were the Browning Automatic Rifle (BAR) and M2 .50-caliber machine gun. The latter was used during World War II and is still in service with some armed forces. “The gun was versatile enough to be used for everything from anti-aircraft defense to infantry support to aircraft-mounted weaponry. Aside from his machine guns, Browning also designed the iconic M1911 pistol, which was only recently phased out in American armed forces after almost a century of use.”[4]

Like his father, Browning was baptized into the Church of Jesus Christ (on September 18, 1867). He remained an active member his entire life. He died on November 25, 1926, in Liege, Belgium. He and his wife, Rachel, were the parents of one son, Val Browning.