Admired Designer: John Moses Browning

As someone with an interest in military history, specifically of the 20th century, one designer I admire is John Moses Browning. Browning is responsible for some of the most major advancements of military firearms in the early 20th century. With 128 firearms patents during his life from 1855 to passing away at his work bench in 1926, he heralded new technology that gave American Soldiers a fighting edge during conflicts from the Spanish American War to today.

A U.S. Solider with a Browing designed M1911 on his hip with a Browning designed M2 Machines gun mounted in the background. [A U.S. Infantry anti-tank crew fires on Nazis who machine-gunned their vehicle, somewhere in Holland. November 4, 1944. U.S. National Archives.]
Marines with a Browning designed M1917. [Retreating at first into the jungle of Cape Gloucester, Japanese soldiers finally gathered strength and counterattacked their Marine pursuers. These machine gunners pushed them back. January 1944. U.S. National Archives.]
The put Browning’s impact in perspective, almost every single handgun produced in the last 100 years are based on his design of a recoil operated tilting barrel. The first handgun to express this design, M1911, patented in 1911, was the standard issue sidearm of the U.S. Armed Forces from 1911 to 1987. Special Forces continue to use this weapon in small numbers today. Browning designed his own cartridge for this new weapon, the .45 ACP (Automatic Colt Pistol). Browning is credited with designing several other pistol calibers for his other, less famous pistol designs in the early 20th century.

With some of his major designs coming right at the end of World War I, where advances in weapons and tactics led to the gridlock and slaughter of trench warfare, Browning designed several weapons that were designed to help propel the allies to victory. Many of these designs were the staples of the U.S. military through World War II, Korea, and beyond. The M1918 Browning Automatic Rifle was a mobile automatic rifle allowing for “walking fire” to break the trench stalemate.

A Marine with his Browning designed M1919 (right). [Marine Private First Class Douglas Lightheart (right) cradles a 30-caliber machine gun in his lap, while he and his buddy Private First Class Gerald Churchby take time out for a cigarette, while mopping up the enemy on Peleliu Islands. July 14, 1944. U.S. National Archives.]
A Sailor with his dual mounted Browning designed M2 Anti-Aircraft Machine guns. [A motor torpedo boat marksman provides a striking camera study as he draws a bead with his 50 Caliber machine gun on his boat off New Guinea. July 1943. U.S. National Archives.]
The M1917 heavy machine gun featured a water jacket to cool the barrel during prolonged firing. Iterating his design to the M1919, the air-cooled version was the standard issue U.S. medium machine gun in World War II used by infantry, tanks, aircraft, and naval vessels. Its big brother, the M2, a fifty-caliber air-cooled machine gun was first introduced into American military service in 1933. Featured on every American fight or bomber aircraft during World War II, it is still the dominate heavy machine gun of most western militaries around the world. Browning even designs the cartridge for this weapon, the .50 BMG, or Browning Machine Gun cartridge, a standard service cartridge under NATO.

For civilian firearms, Browning can also take credit for many popular sporting arms. The Winchester Model 1894, a lever action rifle, has been one of the most popular hunting rifles of the last 125 years. Still in production, it has settled the West to protecting British shores during World War II, to hunting deer across the United States. The Ithaca 37 shotgun also saw fame, being introduced in 1915, it is still in production today. Being used for minor military police units, it has also protected many chicken coups and provided many duck and turkey dinners. The featured image of this post shows Browning holding the first semi-automatic shotgun, his Auto-5. Introduced 1899, it was produced for nearly one hundred years. Quite a legacy for one designer.




U.S. National Archives linked through each photo.



Featured Image by George Henry Taggart,



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2 Comments. Leave new

  • Browning’s success is truly remarkable, with of his work still in production now. What of his designs do you find the most impactful, or perhaps a personal favorite? I spoke of ergonomics in response to your comment on my post on Georg Luger, and I must point out Browning’s Hi-Power is also remarkably comfortable, especially in comparison to a lot of modern designs, even those derived from the same operating mechanism.

  • Derek Spatola
    March 5, 2023 5:05 pm

    Hey Alex,
    I also look up to Browning for his long-lasting designs. It is insanely impressive that his designs could remain relevant during such rapid military development. Including designing his own cartridges to make his designs work even better and have those calibers remain in manufacture to this day. Truly a genius designer and a revolutionary inventor.


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