On This Day: My Favorite Mormon is Born.

John Moses Browning.  Born, January 23, 1855.

Best known as a prolific inventor and firearms designer.

Born in Ogden Utah, from the age of seven, John followed in his father’s footsteps working in his father’s gun shop where he learned basic engineering and manufacturing and was encouraged to experiment with new concepts.  He developed his first rifle, a single-shot falling block action at the age of 23 and he received his first firearms patent at age 24 for this self-cocking single shot rifle.  He and his brother opened the Browning Arms Company and hand made the rifles.

A few  years later, Winchester Repeating Arms Company noted the Browning rifle bought the design from the Brownings and moved production to Connecticut, where it was produced as the Winchester Model 1885  From 1883 (Browning was 28) Browning worked in partnership with Winchester, designing for them a number of arms including the lever action model 1886 rifle

In 1887, at the age of 32 he took a two year hiatus from his gun work to go on a mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Mormon) in Georgia.

When he returned it was with a bang (so to speak) continuing to work with Winchester on the Lever action Model 1892, 1894, and 1895 rifles.  the Model 1894 is still in production today with over 7.5 million produced, first by Winchester Repeating Arms, then by US Repeating Arms under the Winchester brand, then by the Japanese company Miroku (imported to the US by the Browning Arms company).

Browning’s ongoing relationship with Winchester came to an end with Remington’s design of a long-recoil autoloading (semi-automatic) shotgun (what would become the Browning Auto 5).  Previously Winchester had paid him a flat fee for each design.  This time, Browning wanted a royalty arrangement, a fee for each gun sold, which stood to make him more money in the event that the shotgun proved popular.  When Winchester balked at the idea, Browning approached Remington Arms, but as fate would have it the death of Remington’s president from a heart attack interrupted any attempted deal.  Browning ended up going to Fabrique Nationale.  This was the first mass-produced semi-automatic shotgun in the world.

The list of Browning firearms just goes on and on.  Perhaps the most famous is the M1911 semi-automatic pistol.  The military, unhappy with the performance of service revolvers in .38 Long Colt in the Moro War were looking for a new sidearm.  The request was for a semi-automatic pistol in not less than .45 caliber.  Six companies submitted designs.  Three were eliminated outright.  The remaining three had problems identified and of them, only Colt (Browning’s design) and Savage resubmitted to address the problems.

In one key test, six thousand rounds were fired through the pistols over the course of two days.  When the pistols grew too hot, they were simply dunked in water to cool them.  The Browning design passed with no reported malfunctions.  The Savage design had 37.

Browning went on to develop guns after his success with the 1911.  Further designs include the Browning Automatic Rifle, the M1919 .30 cal machine gun, the M2 .50 cal machine gun, and the Browning Hi-Power 9mm pistol.

On November 26, 1926 while in Liege, Belgium, John Browning passed away leaving behind an unparalleled legacy of advances in firearms design.  Most modern firearms owe at least something to the legacy of John Browning.

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4 thoughts on “On This Day: My Favorite Mormon is Born.”

  1. Two of John Browning’s houses survive in Ogden, UT. The smaller has been turned into a B&B and seems to be in good condition. The much larger one seems to be abandoned and is deteriorating pretty badly. At least that was the case when my wife, a friend of ours, and I visited a couple summers ago.

    It’s a shame, both from a historical and an architectural point of view. It’s a lovely old house, and deserves better.

    Both houses are easily found with a google search.

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  2. If you ever get the chance , the LDS Church has a nice reconstruction of his father’s original gunsmith/shop and some, and exhibits some of the legacy of his John Browning firearms at Navuoo IL, along with multiple other historical sites around the town set in the 1840s when it was the center of Mormon life.

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