Johns Moses Browning was just about the greatest gun designer in human history, the father of modern firearms, and designed and built the guns found in literally every Western movie made all the way to massive belt-fed machine guns that are still in operation on vehicles used in every branch of the US military to this day.
With over 150 patents, and over 80 firearms created, an insane number of those firearms are still used to this day. Ol’ Browning invented the pump-action shotgun, the gas-operated ammunition cycling system that is utilized to this day in literally every semi and full auto weapon in use today, and of the 10 guns used by our hero badasses that stormed Normandy, 6 of them were designed by Browning.
If you have ever fired a gun in the great state of Texas, odds are Mr. Browning made that experience possible. From the firearms to the ammo, Browning had a hand in that.
Born January 21st, 1855 in Utah, his dad had been a Mormon gunsmith (who knew?) and helped fix and build weapons for fellow badass American frontiersmen working on the edges of the American countryside. After his old man got into Mormonism big time, they ended up working with Brigham Young during the Mormon Exodus, and he helped build, maintain, and repair the weaponry that protected folks from bears to Indians.
Our hero, John, took to his dad’s trade quickly. He built his first gun for his brother at the age of 14, and gained quite the reputation as the local kid that could fix darn anything with moving parts, but his true passion lie not with running the shop, or making money, but simply building cool stuff.
When father Jonathan died in 1879, 24 year old John Browning inherited the shop. He updated the tools, got married, got his first patent, and started building a seriously cool breech loaders rifle. Browning wasn’t really keen on handling the day-to-day crap that was associated with running a business, but luckily for him, 1883, Winchester Company heard that there was this punk selling rifles faster than he could them. So they rolled into town and offered Browning $8000 for the rights to the Browning rifle. As you might know, $8000 in 1883 was just about a metric TON of cash, so Browning accepted.
While Browning was working for Winchester, he designed and built the 1886 and 1895 lever action rifles, which is what every cowboy hero in every movie ever made uses. It was designed by a kid in his late 20s who just so happened to be a genius at making awesome stuff using machine tools and the power of his mind. Winchester then asked him to build a lever action shotgun, but Browning thought that was stupid so he built it as a pump action shotgun, which was then used by military forces from 1897 all the way through the Gulf War over 100 years later.
Browning built his weapons with two things in mind: speed and reliability. The problem is that every gun was limited by the user’s ability to pump, lever-action, or draw back a firing pin. Even the Gatling Guns were limited by how fast a man could turn a crank. He figured there must be a better way.
He was right.
At a shooting exhibition one day, Browning noticed that the firing of the shell caused the grass and reeds around the barrel to move. He figured that there must be a way to harness that power so that the shells could re-load themselves in the fastest, safest way possible. He drew up some plans, designed the mechanism, and sure enough, he did it. To this day, literally every semi and full auto gun on earth uses the technology that he invented, and is the basis for cycling rounds for the foreseeable future until we invent laser guns or something.
From there, Browning responded to a call from the US military to upgrade our weapons from a .38 caliber to a .45. We got the Colt M1911, one of the most iconic guns in history and was used to beat the crap out Hitler. When testing it, the second best gun the military considered failed 40 times per 6,000 rounds. Browning’s 1911 failed – NEVER. Not one time. The reason? Not only was the gun designed due to his kickass brain, but he also designed the bullets themselves, which is where we have the .45ACP, the quintessential bullet used to this day.
Our boy Browning went on to build the BAR assault rifle, the M1917, the M1919, the M2, that is used to this day on tanks. 13 years after his death, the Allies stormed on D-Day using five of his guns, and on the guns he didn’t design, they used his ammo. Oh, and the guns that the Brits and Canadians were using during WWII? Yeah, he built those too. Just for good measure.
John Browning died the day after Thanksgiving 1926, and left an unequaled legacy in weapon design and construction.