L. Neil Smith's
John Moses Browning, American Hero
by Jeff Elkins
Special to TLE
1879. It was indeed another age.
Even considering the depredations of the War for Southern Independence, citizens of the United (by force) States were immeasurably freer than their decendants are today. For most Americans, the inhabitants of swampy Washington DC played no part in their day-to-day lives and the only federal official one might ever encounter would be the local postmaster.
In the dusty desert state of Utah, in a small town called Ogden, a twenty four year old young man was starting on a path that would change his nation and the world. That man was John Moses Browning, son of Utah gunsmith Jonathan Browning. He would go on to become the most famous firearms designer the world has ever known.
Born in 1855, John Moses learned the art of gunsmithing from his father at an early age. He built his first gun when 14, a single-shot rifle for his younger brother Matt. It would be by no means his last.
After the death of his father on June 21st, 1879, John Moses and his brothers opened the Browning Gun Factory and started production of the first of many Browning designs, the Browning Breech-Loading Single Shot Rifle, a direct descendant of the rifle he had created for brother Matt. It was an immediate success, so much so that the fledgling factory was overwhelmed with orders. Browning and his brothers struggled to meet production demands. Their success was actually a source of frustration -- the demands of daily production prevented Browning from developing new and better designs.
In 1883, Browning was approached by Andrew McAusland, a salesman for the Winchester Repeating Arms Company, who had seen a Browning Single Shot and wished to purchase one for evaluation. McAusland sent the rifle onward to the Winchester headquarters where it drew the interest of T.G. Bennet, Winchester's vice president and general manager. Bennet knew a fine firearm when he saw one and undertook the trek to Ogden, where he offered Browning $8000 for the rights to produce the rifle. Browning eagerly accepted.
This was the start of a profitable and productive relationship between Winchester and Browning. Browning went on to design some of the guns that Winchester is best known for today, most notably lever action repeaters and pump weapons, such as the Model 1895 Lever Action Repeating Rifle and the Model 1897 Pump Action Shotgun.
But John Moses Browning's best designs were still in the future. In fact, those future designs would lead to the dissolution of his partnership with Winchester.
While watching a friend shoot a Browning-designed rifle, John Moses noticed that expanding gases from the muzzle actually were powerful enough to disturb a clump of weeds on the firing line. Browning decided to make use of that wasted energy to both cock and load a shotgun, so the operator wouldn't have to cycle a lever or pump. The very act of firing the weapon would prepare it for the next shot. True genius. He quickly designed and built a test weapon, but Winchester shortsightedly rejected the radical new design. The Browning- Winchester partnership was over.
John Moses headed for Europe and signed an agreement with Fabrique National de Belgique (FN). Browning's automatic shotgun revolutionized the hunting market and the design was also produced under license by Remington, as their Model 11. Other manufacturers such as Savage also licensed the design, and it is still the basis for the modern autoloading shotgun.
Browning took his autoloading design and refined it even more. His Browning Automatic Rifle (BAR), Browning Machine Gun and the semi- automatic M1911 pistol first saw saw duty in World War One and are still in use to this very day. If you field-strip any autoloading weapon in use in 2002 you'll still see evidence of Browning's genius, even in weapons as seemly different as the Glock pistol. The 1911-type pistol is arguably still the king of autoloaders, after nearly a century in production by countless manufacturers in almost every civilized country in the world.
If you depend on an autoloading pistol to defend your family and property, you owe a debt of thanks to John Moses Browning.
Could John Moses Browning exist in the world of Twenty First Century? Most emphatically no, at least not in the United States.
Armed state thugs from the BATF and FBI would examine his paperwork with microscopes, looking for the least deviation, merely to harass and slow production. They would delight in finding any error, seeking any means of 'legally' shutting Browning down. The most minor paperwork error would be seized upon and treated as a criminal infraction. John Moses Browning would be harassed, harried and quite probably thrown in jail.
Insects like Chuck Schumer, Diane Feinstein and Henry Waxman would denounce him from the halls of the Senate and demand that he be stopped and that his genius be stifled, 'for the children.' Executive branch midgets like George W. Bush would gladly sign unconstitutional laws criminalizing his art, despite the fact that no government institution has ever designed a reliable, workable weapon.
1879. It was indeed another age.