John Moses Browning & His Impact on Gun Design

posted on November 13, 2019

While most firearms owners know the iconic Browning brand and the easily recognized Buck Mark deer-head-with-antlers logo, few realize how much the work of the hands of John Moses Browning has impacted the shooting sports—and the firearms they own and shoot.

While Browning is well known as the inventor of the highly-favored M1911 pistol along with the Browning Hi Power pistol, he also designed and brought to production many other popular firearms. These include some of the earliest versions of pocket pistols in the 1890s, numerous models of shotguns such as the 1897 and the world-famous A5 semi-automatic shotgun, and he is credited with creating today’s over/under shotgun that was originally manufactured in Belgium as the Superposed series.

Then there were numerous military rifles and several water-cooled machine guns. Many of the firearms we own, cherish and use today began as a thought in the mind of Browning. Firearm manufacturers such as Winchester, Colt, Remington and others all have produced numerous firearms designed by Browning. Some of those manufacturers simply purchased the rights to manufacture firearms that Browning held patents on.

Browning began working in his father’s gun shop at a young age and then designed his first firearm at age 23—the single-shot 1878 rifle. This is the only rifle Browning every personally manufactured, and Winchester soon learned of the rifle, sent a representative to Utah to purchase the manufacturing rights, and later built the rifle and sold it as the 1885 High Wall.

Numerous other patented firearm designs followed from Browning, including the Colt 1911 pistol, Winchester’s 1886 lever rifle and the semi-automatic A5 shotgun that was made by Fabrique Nationale d’Herstal in Belgium. Browning’s relationship with the Belgium manufacturer began after he had an unsettling disagreement with Winchester over the A5 shotgun.

John M. Browning was a prolific firearm inventor and designer and received more than 120 patents related to firearms designs. Among notable Browning designs are the slide found on nearly all semi-auto pistols today and the gas-operated semi-automatic firearm (Model 1903) action still in use today in many firearms. In addition to the firearms, Browning developed ammunition, including the .50 BMG, .45 ACP, .380 ACP and the .25 ACP.

Many of those cartridges were designed to make the pistol or rifle that were designed by Browning to operate better. Browning’s designs and patents also include the famous Colt Woodsman semi-auto pistol in .22 LR and the world-famous (Ma Deuce) M2 .50-caliber machine gun. Numerous versions of the Browning Automatic Rifle (BAR) were also carried into battle by US forces.

Several firearm manufacturers used Browning designs in the production of their popular firearms. For example, the Remington Model 11 and Savage 720 shotguns are based on Browning’s A5 design. Browning was always thinking of new things and designs and was rumored to have been working on one firearm’s design, thought of another completely different design at that time, and reached over on the wall and wrote notes and made sketches so he could come back to that idea at a later time. Browning also designed many lever-action rifles and pump-action shotguns and rifles. Nearly all of the firearms designed by Browning continue to be produced today in some form.

Oftentimes, the U.S. military approached Browning and discussed problems or needs for specific firearms—and Browning would soon deliver. One fully-automatic water-cooled machine gun design left military reviewers nearly speechless when Browning presented the tripod mounted firearm and then sat down and started shooting. The shooting lasted a prolonged period and far exceeded what the military had asked or hoped for.

Many soldiers in WWI had superior firepower on the battlefield because they carried Browning-designed rifles. Browning’s machine guns were mostly mass-produced for the military by Colt in another Browning partnership. Browning also designed and tested several cannons for military purposes.

Browning died in 1926 at the Belgium Fabrique Nationale factory while working on the Superposed shotgun’s manufacturing process. The Browning brand has since been applied to knives, clothing, camping gear, fishing tackle, fly rods, tennis racquets, footwear, golf clubs and other outdoor gear. John Moses Browning has also been inducted into the National Inventor’s Hall of Fame. You can discover more details via the Browning Firearms Museum in Ogden, UT. The Browning Firearms Museum is located in the Union Train Station at the corner of 25th Street and Wall Avenue in Ogden.


New home for Silencer Central
New home for Silencer Central

Silencer Central Holds New HQ Grand Opening

Larger facilities mean more choices for American gun owners.

First Look: TAC Six Branded Shooting Cases from Allen Company

Gear designed for the tactical market that performs at a higher level.

Colonel Rex Applegate

For me, one of the many bonuses of this gunwriter business has been the opportunity to meet and become friends with a number of the firearm enthusiasts of an earlier generation; legendary figures such as Frank Hamer Jr., Bill Jordan, Bill Toney, Col Walter Walsh and the subject of this column: COL Rex Applegate.

First Look: Armasight Contractor Thermal Optic

Armasight’s new thermal optic, the Contractor, is now available for sale.

Bug Out Bag Essentials

Products to keep you prepared when you need to grab and go.

Beretta APX A1 Carry

Comfort is a big part of daily carry, and it should be. If packing your favorite handgun feels like you are smuggling a shoebox (or an angry hedgehog), then you will squirm, shift and give away the fact that you are carrying. Hot weather makes it even worse, as light clothing offers less in the way of concealment. When EDC becomes too much of a hassle, some just leave it at home. 


Get the best of Shooting Illustrated delivered to your inbox.