When John Moses BROWNING is born, in 1855, many gun improvements are already known:

The revolver (Colt 1835),

the straight pull bolt action (Dreyse 1837),

the metallic cartridge (Flobert 1845),

the repeating mechanism of the future Winchesters (Hunt 1846),

and the falling block (Sharps 1848).

As the son of a gunsmith (his father invented and built a repeating rifle in 1831) and a gunsmith himself in OGDEN, Utah, he knows and has probably maintained or repaired most of the guns commercially available at the time.

His first patent the Browning RIFLE 1878 is not really a new invention, but an ingenious improvement of the SHARPS "Falling Block" system. In improving that, he fills a local need for a powerful, reliable and accurate gun that the SHARPS Company is unable to produce any longer, due to business problems.

This improvement is basically the automatic cocking of the hammer (now central located) when lowering the block. In addition it also shows what would become the trademark of his future inventions: Ease of manufacture, products that are easy to use and maintain.

In 1884 he registers the patent of his ''real'' FIRST INVENTION.

He starts with two actions that he knows very well. The SHARPS falling block and the Winchester 1873 & 1876 systems. He has the genial idea to put them together thus creating the first under lever action capable to handle the most powerful cartridges already existing on the market (the Winchester 1886 then with similar mechanisms, the Winchester 1892, 1894 and 1895.)The solidity of which was comparable to the strongest military guns of the time (Mauser and Lebel), but the firepower of which and ergonomy were far superior.

But he doesn't stop there. His obsession seems to be for repeating guns to now become for automatic guns...a logical continuation of thought.

As a matter of fact, he is primarily a Western hunter, and he is haunted by the idea of a repeating, as soon as 1887, he builds his first under lever gun which is immediately commercialized by Winchester. (However his action is very different from the Winchester since he uses a rotating block borrowed from the Spencer patents??) This system however doesn't allow the shooter to ''double'' fast enough without dropping his gun away from his shoulder on a moving target.

By chance the COLT Company markets a PUMP ACTION RIFLE in several calibers called the ''LIGHTING'' Model, the mechanism of which allows a fast and accurate repeating shooting.

Browning then resumes working and comes up with the second Pump Action gun in the world ( Once again after Spencer in 1882) the Winchester Models 1893 and 1897, patented in 1890.


He had already created a small .22 pump rifle, patented 13/12/1887 that would became known as the Winchester 1890 and 1906.

Around this period, he specifically concentrates on automatic guns and in 1889 and 1890 he creates his first machine guns prototypes. These immediately are of interest to the Colt Company as soon as 1890.

His work is confirmed by a patent registered in January 1890 and received in 1892 (together with two other patents about the same subject) and finally by the manufacturing of (and partial adoption by the US Navy) his COLT Model 1895 Machine gun, a.k.a ''Potatoe Digger'' refering to the ''digging-like'' movement of the vertical piston under the barrel.


The very first guns that could be called ''automatic'' (Here I do not consider the 1861-1862 Gatling gun which is a manual repeating gun) are coming from the genius of Hiram MAXIM in 1884 ( first purchases by the British Army in 1887 & 1889) and also from the works of the Societe HOTCHKISS, in 1892 (first military trials in France in 1897).

The Maxim machine guns works by a short recoil of the barrel, while the Colt 1895 and the Hotchkiss are gas-operated.

After machine guns JMB seems to be immediately interested by automatic pistols known to us as semi-auto's.

His first patents are registered in September 1895 and the begining of 1896.

And what patents !!!

The FOUR GREAT PRINCIPLES at the same time. Two of which are perfectly current and would become the base of zillions of guns made under licence, or copied, the World over.

Here they are:

-FIXED barrel and unlocking by gas and piston perpendicular to the barrel in 1895.

-Locked barrel at time of shooting: unlocking principle by rotating barrel

-Idem--------------------------------: barrel mounted on small connecting rods and carrying the male part of the lock

-Fixed barrel, breech provisionally locked by simple inertia.(Blow back).

The first system has never been mass-produced: Browning prototype (successfully tested by Colt in July 1895)

The second system is very seldom used, but is absolutely satisfactory (Beretta, Unique)

The third one gave birth to the Colts .38 since 1900 as well as to the famous .45 (model 1911) Also Mac 50,Swis SIG. Tokarev, Radom, HP 35 etc..

The fourth one, and also the simplest, will also be the most manufactured. First by the FN, Model 1899, adopted by the Belgian army in 1900 and most copied in the world from Spain to North Korea, Germany and above all by Belgium. In this last country the manufacturing will be conducted, under license, by the FN using the BROWNING name, from caliber .22 to 9mm.

(22 LR, 6,35, 7,65,9mm short, 9mm Parabellum).

JM Browning didn't waste time before to return to hunting guns and automatism and from 1898 (February 1900 patent) he perfected his revolutionary Auto 5 automatic shotgun. This gun, which was a cause of dispute with Winchester, will eventually be produced by the FN from 1903. Then from 1906 by Remington as well as by some other manufacturers until today. Production being up to 6 million guns.


In all probability, the very first automatic shotgun in the world is FRENCH, but it has been custom made in a very small quantity. At least one example remains today in the Liege museum. It is the ''Clair-Eclair'' made by the CLAIR Brothers, gunsmiths in St Etienne with a patent in 1888-1891 and 1893. The actual dates are unknown.

The third automatic shotgun, the Sjögren, was made in 1902 and works by inertia.

At the same time, June of 1900, he creates the first big game rifle in the world capable of handling more powerful cartridges: the REMINGTON No 8 (then No 81) manufactued since 1906. This gun has also been manufactured in Belgium by the FN.

For JMB the following period (1901-1914) will mainly be centered on the improvement of his gun systems:

The .22 LR Rifle which was very simplified at Winchester request , Model 1900 Pump guns, Stevens Model 520 in 1903,

Remington 17 manufactured since 1921 based on a 1913 patent. It was initialy planned for the FN, but stopped by the war.

''Blow back'' auto pistol : FN 1903, 1906 & 1910 -the one of the Sarajevo assassination attempt in 1914- COLT 1903, COLT 1908 in .25 ACP

Short recoil Auto pistol (COLT 1902,1903, 1905) and finally the COLT .45 adopted by the US Army in 1911.

In 1914 and 1915 two new sporting guns are born:

The FN .22LR Type A auto rifle and Remigton Model 24. The ''COLT WOODSMAN'' 22LR Auto pistol. The latest clones of which will be the FN ''Challenger'' and later the ''Buck Mark'' tuned by his grandson, Bruce.

But it is definetely the first world war that will turn his research towards FULL AUTO GUNS capable of giving to the Allies a fire power superior to the automatic guns of the Reich !

These difficult researches will open into two new machine guns working on the short barrel recoil principle, a .30 Cal. M17 (1917) and mainly the .50 (1918) with its new 50 BMG caliber.

This last one, issued too late, will not take part in the WWI, but it will make it up for it later !!

He also develops a new infantry individual gun concept with his revolutionary BAR 1917 ''assault rifle'' that will actively take part in the 1918 campaign in the hands of the 'Tommies'', in France !

NOTE: The very first experiment for an assault rifle is the FEDOROV 1916 which was made in less than 3.200 copies and apparently only between 1920 and 1924. We are making an exception for the prototypes made from 1911 to 1913!

The BAR principle is a gas-operated one with progressive unlocking of the breech and shooting with the breech open. This to limit the risk of jamming and overheating of the barrel.

This extraordinary gun will be manufactured everywhere in the world (mainly in its portable version) until the 60s, and modernized and chambered for the new NATO 7,62 mm (.308 Winchester) round.

As a matter of fact many ''small'' armies are still using this gun today (Nicaragua etc..)

In the period after the war, JMB always active, will once again, bring some new guns to the world:

As soon as 1921, JMB being now 66 years old, develops the first prototypes (answering to a ''contest''of the French army) of the future HP 35 (GP 35) 9mm Para, double stacked cartridges, barrel locking by a ramp rather than by the short back moving rod. The fine tuning of the definitive model will be performed by Dieudonné SAIVE, his FN disciple.

-in 1921 again an automatic 37MM Cannon.

-1922 ''Trombone'' .22 pump rifle, commercialized by the FN

-Finally 1925-26 the extraordinary first semi industrial OVER /UNDER shotgun B25. (he first one, his rare predecessors Boss & Merkel being strictly hand made!!!)

-still manufactured today (the last details will be fine tuned by his son VAL A. A reputed gunsmith himself !)

He will pass away at the FN Herstal plant during these tune ups.

But the story of the guns invented by the Browning family doesn't stop here.

One of his sons, VAL, a Belgian resident, has been trained by JMB. During WWI he was instructing soldiers on the BAR. He was associated to the developing the B25 shotgun and continued to fine tune this gun after the death of his father.

He is responsible for the selective single (mono) trigger of this gun.

He will not only continue his father's work, but will soon create himself a very little known gun : the ''AUTOMATIC DOUBLE''.

This gun, produced by the FN from 1952 to 1971 WITH 65,000 copies presents several historical features:
-First AUTO DOUBLE in the World (without magazine).

-First to use an aluminium alloy frame with a choice of color finishes.

-A short barrel recoil system with instantaneous ''take down''.

Besides its ease of use, it came too early on the market, when game was plentiful. It's probable that today the concept would receive a better reception.


Beretta has just launched a similar gun in 2007 with a tilting barrel.

The Browning family, definitely prolific, also gave us a new inventor Bruce, JMB's grandson .

This ''heir'' of the tradition was going to create two successful Guns:

A new family of AUTO .22 LR pistols, for fun, sport or competition. The Browning ''NOMAD'', ''CHALLENGER'', ""MEDALIST'', 150'' etc. all by-products of the old Colt Woodsman, but offering instantaneous change of barrels.

By-products of this model, the ''BUCKMARK" are still in production.

In 1967, an extraordinary big game auto rifle: the BAR, astutely using the already famous name ''BAR''. This gas-operated rifle chambered for most of the modern calibers is still in production.

Copyright Marc Barret.

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