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John M. Browning

don Webster head shot, two people sitting in boat in water on lake, forests line the banks

ne has to wonder how differently the history of not only America, but the entire world would have been if John Moses Browning (January 23, 1855 – November 26, 1926) had not been born.

Browning was not a degreed engineer, but he is, to date, the greatest firearms designer who has ever lived. Consider this: had Browning done nothing but the M1911 pistol, he’d have a place in the top rank of gun designers.

Often referred to as “the father of modern firearms”, Browning was born in Ogden, Utah and began experimenting with his own gun designs as a young man. After receiving his first patent for the Winchester Single Shot Model 1885, he went on to invent and develop many varieties of military and civilian firearms, cartridges, and gun mechanisms. Many are still in use around the world. Since Browning’s death in 1926, there have been no further fundamental changes in the modern firearm industry.

John Moses Browning

Browning’s manually-operated repeating rifle and shotgun designs were targeted at improving the speed and reliability with which multiple rounds could be fired. His guns went from being the classic weapons of the American West to deadly tools of war. When U.S. soldiers fought in Europe during World War I, they carried Browning Automatic Rifles and Browning machine guns. The allies might well be speaking German instead of English had it not been for Browning’s contributions.

There is no doubt that Browning was a genius; but he had a little help, as he was born into the gunsmith trade. Browning's father, Jonathan, made his first rifle at the age of 13 while apprenticing as a blacksmith. He became a designer, innovative inventor and specialist in guns, and in 1824 he had his own gun shop and smithy at Brushy Fork, Tennessee. Later, Jonathan moved to Quincy, Illinois, where he again opened a successful gun shop. He came to the attention of a young, country lawyer named Abe Lincoln, who became a friend and stayed at his home on several occasions. Up the Mississippi River, a group of Mormons running from Missouri extermination were camped in swamps near a settlement named Nauvoo. Curious about their welfare, Jonathan traveled there and met with Joseph Smith; it changed his life. Still under threat, the Mormons fled to Iowa, and then to Utah. Jonathan allied to their cause, repairing and making guns at each way station of the escape. In Ogden, Utah, Jonathan sired 22 children from 3 wives, one of whom apprenticed himself to his father at the tender age of six. It was John. Within a year, John Moses Browning had built his first rifle.

John Moses Browning, gun builder, two men looking at rifle

For those unfamiliar with John Moses Browning’s contributions, here is a list of his most important inventions and developments:

M1911 pistol, Browning Hi-Power pistol, Colt Woodsman pistol, Winchester Model 1892 rifle, Remington Model 8 rifle, Browning Automatic Rifle, Browning Auto-5 shotgun, Browning Superposed shotgun, M2 Browning .50 machine gun, M1919 air cooled .30 cal. machine gun, M1895 ‘potato digger’ 30-06 Springfield, and water cooled M1917 .30 cal. machine gun.

So, when you shoulder your long gun to bag wild fowl or big game or use your pistol or auto-loading shotgun to protect your family or welcome home an American soldier from duty in a foreign land, take a moment and remember John M. Browning. There’s a very strong probability that he’s largely responsible for any good fortune you will have experienced in that regard.

Don E. Webster has been engaged in a wide variety of outdoor pursuits for over 60 years. His recently published book, Bury Me In My Waders -- An Old Duck Hunter Recalls His Fowl Past, currently ranks among the most popular, best-selling duck hunting books on Amazon Books and Amazon Kindle. His next book, “Double-Ought Buck” a novel, will be available in December. Webster was the recipient of the 2013 Phil Ford Humor Award from the Outdoor Writer’s Association of California for his hilarious description of hunting dogs in his MyOutdoorBuddy column entitled “Canine Comics.” Don's website is donewebster.com.

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