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John Mose Browning The 1911, 100 years old
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John Moses Browning (January 23, 1855 – November 26, 1926), born in Ogden, Utah, was an American firearms designer who developed many varieties of military and civilian firearms, cartridges, and gun mechanisms, many of which are still in use around the world. He is arguably the most important figure in the development of modern automatic and semi-automatic firearms and is credited with 128 gun patents. He made his first firearm at age 13 in his father’s gun shop, and was awarded his first patent on October 7, 1879 at the age of 24.
Browning influenced nearly all categories of firearms design. He invented or made significant improvements to single-shot, lever-action, and slide-action, rifles and shotguns. His most significant contributions were arguably in the area of autoloading firearms. He developed the first autoloading pistols that were both reliable and compact by inventing the telescoping bolt, integrating the bolt and barrel shroud into what is known as the pistol slide. Browning’s telescoping bolt design is now found on nearly every modern semi-automatic pistol, as well as several modern fully automatic weapons. He also developed the first gas-operated machine gun, the Colt-Browning Model 1895—a system that surpassed mechanical recoil operation to become the standard for most high-power self-loading firearm designs worldwide. Browning would also make significant contributions to automatic cannon development.
Browning’s most successful designs include the M1911 pistol, the Browning Hi Power pistol, the Browning .50 caliber machine gun, the Browning Automatic Rifle, and the Browning Auto-5, a ground-breaking semi-automatic shotgun. These arms are nearly identical today to those assembled by Browning, with only minor changes in detail and cosmetics. Even today, John Browning’s guns are still some of the most copied guns in the world.
John M. Browning and Winchester Repeating Arms Company
Production examples of the Model 1885 Single Shot Rifle caught the attention of the Winchester Repeating Arms Company, who dispatched a representative to evaluate the competition. Winchester bought the design for eight thousand dollars and moved production to their Connecticut factory. From 1883, Browning worked in partnership with Winchester and designed a series of rifles and shotguns, most notably the Winchester Model 1887 and Model 1897 shotguns, the falling block single shot Model 1885, and the lever-action Model 1886, Model 1892, Model 1894 and Model 1895 rifles, most of which are still in production today in some form; over seven million Model 1894s have been produced, more than any other centerfire sporting rifle.
Winchester manufactured several popular small arms designed by John M. Browning. For decades in the late 19th Century-early 20th Century, Browning designs and Winchester firearms were synonymous and the collaboration was highly successful. This came to an end when Browning proposed a new semi-automatic shotgun design, a prototype finished in 1898, to Winchester management, which ultimately became the Browning Auto-5 shotgun. As was the custom of the time, Browning’s earlier designs had been licensed exclusively to Winchester (and other manufacturers) for a single fee payment. With this new product, Browning introduced in his negotiations a continuous royalty fee based upon unit sales, rather than a single front-end fee payment. If the new shotgun became highly successful, Browning stood to make substantially more fee income over the prior license fee arrangements. Winchester management was displeased with the bold change in their relationship, and rejected Browning’s offer. Remington Arms was also approached, however the president of Remington died of a heart attack as Browning waited to offer them the gun. This forced Browning to look overseas to produce the shotgun.
Having recently successfully negotiated firearm licenses with Fabrique Nationale de Herstal of Belgium (FN), Browning took the new shotgun design to FN; the offer was accepted and FN manufactured the new shotgun, honoring its inventor, as the Browning Auto-5. The Browning Auto-5 was continuously manufactured as a highly popular shotgun throughout the 20th century. In response, Winchester shifted reliance on John Browning designs when it adopted a hammerless shotgun design of Thomas Crossley Johnson for the new Winchester Model 12, which was based upon design features of the earlier Browning-designed Winchester Model 1897 shotgun. This shift marked the end of an era of Winchester-Browning collaboration.
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