Friday, January 23, 2009

"You know who designed that gun?"

Anybody who has been around me for any length of time has heard that phrase. And heard it a lot, too, because it is about as near as you can get to a 100% certainty that within your line of sight at any gun store or gun show there will be at least one firearm designed by John Moses Browning, still in production and selling well a hundred or more years after it was first designed. A list of just his commercial successes is illuminating:

Single Shot Rifles:
Winchester 1885

Bolt-action Rifles:
Winchester 1900

Lever-action Rifles:
Winchester 1886
Winchester 1892
Winchester 1894
Winchester 1895

Slide-action Rifles:
Winchester 1890

Recoil-operated Semi-automatic Rifles:
Remington Model 8

Blowback-operated Semi-automatic Rifles:
Browning .22 Semiauto

Double-barrel Shotguns:
Browning Superposed

Lever-action Shotguns:
Winchester 1887

Slide-action Shotguns:
Winchester 1897
Remington Model 17 (later the Ithaca 37)
Stevens 520

Recoil-operated Semi-automatic Shotguns:
Browning Auto 5 / Remington Model 11

Blowback-operated Semi-automatic Pistols:
FN M1900
Colt 1903/1908 Pocket Hammerless
FN 1906 Vest Pocket/Colt 1908 Vest Pocket
FN 1910
Colt Woodsman

Recoil-operated Semi-automatic Pistols:
Colt 1902
Colt 1903 Pocket Hammer
U.S. M1911
FN G.P. 35

Gas-operated Machine Guns:
Colt M1895
U.S. M1918 BAR

Recoil-Operated Machine Guns:
U.S. M1917/M1919
U.S. M2 Heavy Machine Gun

Automatic Machine Cannon:
Colt-Browning 37mm

About the only type of gun design he never really turned his hand to was revolvers and after all, why reinvent the wheel? Along the way, he pretty much invented gas operation, stack-barrel shotguns, autoloading shotguns, the tilting-barrel short recoil system used on almost all major-caliber semiauto pistols today, and a handful of the most familiar cartridges in use, from .25ACP to .50BMG.

Happy Birthday, JMB!


Cybrludite said...

Sad thing is, I didn't need to read past the title to know it's be about JMB (PBUH)

Anonymous said...

a few of his designs were improved eventually. Some, like the Auto 22, are still the pinnacle of the art.

Anonymous said...

Not too many problems you can't fix with either gun tape, lockwire, or an M2HB.


Anonymous said...

Praise be his name. Did you ever see one of his dad's harmonica guns?

Tam said...

Never in real life. :(

Weer'd Beard said...

Hey Tam, since we're on the subject, I've been trying to find this out.

Did JMB invent the Mag disconnect? Seems that most of the eirliest examples of mag disconnects are on his guns, and he certainly favored them in designs (I'm damn curious why...)

So was that him, or did somebody else come up with that rotten idea?

the pawnbroker said...

yes, i know you're a traditionalist, and this is jmb's actual birthday...but if we're gonna have a january monday holiday, could there really be a candidate for celebration that had more to do with making our past and present survivable...and fun?

jmb day...i like the sound of that. and we could have lots of roads named after him in the bitter clingy parts of town...jmb blvds., aves. and lanes all over the place. :o)


Fuzzy Curmudgeon said...

"About the only type of gun design he never really turned his hand to was revolvers and after all, why reinvent the wheel?"


Tam said...

Weer'd Beard,

"Did JMB invent the Mag disconnect?"

I think that was added to his guns later; I know the Vest Pocket and Pocket Hammerless didn't acquire theirs until they'd been in production quite a while.

Daniel Short said...

I still hunt with the Remington Model 11 that my grandfather passed down to me. I hope to someday pass it on to one of my sons or grandsons as well. Built in the early 1920's and is still a better piece than what is out there today.

Daniel Short said...

Or daughter, sorry Tam...

Tam said...


See what I did there?

atlharp said...

I am always curious to ponder what JMB would be doing today if he were still alive. The advent of polymer pistols, updates to the 1911 frame, and advances in different cartridges (45 G.A.P., 40 S&W). With the advances in technology I bet he would like a kid in a candy store today.

Nate said...

You really need to make a road trip to come and visit John's workshop, on display in a museum dedicated to his life and craft. There are prototypes and first builds of many of his guns. The museum is a great place to spend an afternoon if it is too hot to go to the desert to go shooting.

Let me know when you can make it, I'll inflate the air mattress for you.

Armed Texan said...

Just out of curiosity, I wondered what would show up on Google for John Moses Browning (besides the obligatory Wikipedia link) and this came up at top:

If Sarah Brady saw that she would have an embolism. I thought pictures of guns on a school web site would be verboten in Obama's America. I guess he'll get around to that after we all get our unicorns.

Don M said...

Texas is Texas.

But the .25 ACP is the worst thing he ever invented. Most of the rest of them are pretty useful.

What would JMB do today? I have been an engineer on the B-2, F-35, B-1B, F-20, F-16, F-15, as well as an assortment of missiles, guided bombs and pods. But my patent is for a rifle operating system.

Westinghouse developed the pneumatic brake system used on trains. Before that, brake men had to run from rooftop to rooftop setting brakes by hand, in rain, sleet, and snow, and occasionally would fall off. The pneumatic brake system is still used on trucks and trains today, with the brakes on all the time unless turned off.

My point, and I do have one, is that JMB was not near as special as some may suppose. There are thousands of great designers, and i have meet hundreds of them.

Patent 6,076,138

Matt G said...

I think, were JMB alive today, he'd be doing interesting things with caseless ammo and compressed liquid fuel, a la cordless nail guns. I think he'd manage, even in this day of Nothing New Under The Sun, to amaze us with something we hadn't seen or thought of before, that would work.

Unknown said...

I think that, if John Browning were alive today, he'd be clawing frantically at the inside of his coffin...

(17 posts in and no one made that joke yet?)

Jay G said...


What about the Winchester 1906 pump-action rifle? Or does that not count because it's a descendant of the 1890?

(Why, yes, I *am* pumping up the # of JMB creations I own, why do you ask?) :)

Anonymous said...

I believe when the French government hired Browning, they were the ones that specified that the new pistol include a trigger disconnect. My knowledge is based on a consensus of Browning GP fans. Unfortunately, I don't have a cite.

I always wonder about the credit to Browning for Winchester's later lever-action guns. The design seems to be a derivation of D. B. Wesson's earlier one. If we're going to include derivatives, I can say with confidence that every self-loading pistol I've ever owned is a derivative from three of Browning's most famous designs.

You know what would be easier? Making a list of auto-loader pistols that don't borrow an idea from a Browning design. Most of them are evolutionary dead-ends anyway. This is all I could come up with:

* P-08 Luger
* Dardick pistol
* "Metal Storm" pistol

Anonymous said...


100 percent agree, but a minor nit. Overall, I think that Beretta's rotation barrel/breach is slightly better than JMB's tilting design. Yes it is more complex (JMB didn't have CNC machinery), but it makes front sight and screw on silencers so much easier.

Tam said...

"Overall, I think that Beretta's rotation barrel/breach is slightly better than JMB's tilting design."

1) I'd quibble with the "better" part, save maybe if you wished to suppress the weapon (although you still have to account for the suppressor's added mass damping barrel motion, which is required for unlocking/function.)

2) It ain't either "Beretta's" rotating barrel short recoil system. It was first used on the Roth-Steyr of 1907, AFAIK, and has subsequently been used on the Knight/Stoner/Colt 2000 and the SIG-Mauser M2, as well as the Beretta Cougar and 9000...

dave said...

Don Meaker:

There are thousands of great designers....

It's not that he was great, it's that he was consistently great.

Anonymous said...

I always thought it interesting that Browning always used some form of vertical locking bolt in all of his locked breech firearms, whether it was the Winchester 1885 single shot, the 1894 lever action, the 1911 pistol or the M2 machine gun. Can anyone think of a rotating bolt in any Browning designs?

One other thing, the story goes that young JMB designed the rifle that became the Winchester 1885 after was repairing a single shot rifle when his father quipped that JMB could deign a better gun. Anyone willing to guess what that other rifle was?