One of twenty-two children, John Moses Browning was born the son of a Mormon gunsmith who was among thousands of Mormon pioneers to make the exodus to Utah, establishing a shop in Ogden, Utah in 1852. Today, the Browning Company remains headquartered in Ogden, the brainchild of John Browning and his brother Matthew, which was incorporated in 1878 after John developed his first rifle—a single-shot falling block design (falling block means that a breechblock, actuated by a lever, is slide open and closed to facilitate the load and extraction of a cartridge).
From the age of seven, John Browning worked in his father’s shop, learning basic principles of engineering and manufacturing. As he grew, he began to experiment with new concepts in firearm design. The first of his many weapons to reach a mass audience was the Model 1885 Single Shot Rifle, which caught the attention of the Winchester Repeating Arms Company, who bought the design for eight thousand dollars. This model was an improvement upon the first rifle that John Browning produced back in 1878, and began a mutually beneficial relationship between the Winchester and Browning companies that lasted for over twenty years. The Model 1885 was produced in two versions: Low Wall, which had an exposed hammer, and fired lower-powered cartridges; and High Wall, which had a steel frame and fired higher-powered cartridges. Winchester made nearly 140,000 of these rifles over the thirty-five years of its production cycle to satisfy the demands of the growing sport of match shooting. The Model 1885 was eventually produced in more calibers than any other Winchester rifle owing to its strong action, which allowed it to be used to test newly created rifle cartridges without fear of wrecking the mechanism.
John Browning perfected his rifle design with the Model 1895, which was the first Winchester rifle to feature a box magazine located under the rifle’s action. This allowed the rifle to safely chamber military and hunting rounds with pointed bullets. A favorite of Theodore Roosevelt’s, the M1895 was the strongest lever-action rifle that Winchester ever produced, designed to hand the powerful smokeless powder cartridges common at the time. Over 400,000 of these rifles were produced, many of which found their way into the hands of famed hunters and adventures. Theodore Roosevelt brought two M1895 rifles with his on his safaris to East Africa, referring to these rifles as his ‘medicine gun’ for lions. The standard barrel length of the M1895 ranged from between twenty-four to twenty-eight inches, and its standard finish was blued steel.
The same year as the M1895, Browning also developed the first successful gas-operated weapon, the Colt-Browning M1895 machine gun. This weapon built on previous designs that Browning had made for lever-action rifles, replacing the mechanical operation of the lever with an ingenious mechanism that utilizes the expanding gas from a bullet’s release to power the chambering and firing of the next cartridge. The gas travels through an opening, and applies pressure to a pistonhead, unlocking the action, ejecting the casing, cocking the hammer, and chambering a fresh cartridge. Colloquially known as the “potato digger,” the M1895 machine gun had a lever hinged near the breech area, and attached to a plug. The gas from a spent cartridge travels down a barrel after firing, entering into a hole at the bottom of the barrel, pushing down on the plug, causing the lever to rotate around the hinge-point, compressing a spring on the other side of the lever that causes the lever to re-rotate, forcing the plug back into its hole in the barrel, reloading and re-firing the weapon. The M1895 machine gun was the first machine gun adopted by the US Military. It saw service with the Army, Navy, and Marines.
After 1895, John Browning turned his attention to shotguns. The Winchester Model 1897 was the most popular of his many pump-action models, with over one million of these guns produced between 1897 to 1957. A pump-action firearm operates via a forehand that is moved forward and backward to eject a spent round and chamber fresh ammunition. Much faster than a bolt-action or lever-action firearm, pump-action weapons do not require the trigger hand to be moved while reloading. The manual operation of the pump-action weapon gives it the ability to cycle rounds that a gas- or recoil-operated weapon could not. The simplicity of the pump-action design improves durability and lowers cost. A pump-action weapon is typically fed by a tubular magazine, which necessitates the individual loading of cartridges, a slower process than inserting a magazine. Produced as a tougher, stronger update to Browning’s Winchester 1893, the M1897 introduced a shotgun design that allowed for the removal of the weapon’s barrel, a revolution at the time. Eventually the M1897 became the most popular shotgun on the American marker—the standard by which other shotguns were judged. The M1897 was offered in a number of barrel lengths and grades, and was chambered in both twelve and sixteen gauge. Twelve gauge guns were provided thirty inch barrels, and sixteen gauge were given barrels of twenty-eight inches. The M1897 uses an external hammer that lacks a trigger disconnector, meaning that a user can hold down the trigger while cycling the shotgun, and produce fire as the action is returned to battery. This shotgun was issued to American soldiers fighting in the war with the Philippines, the first major use of shotguns by the US military.
In 1900, Browning came back to the rifle, producing the first commercially successful semi-automatic rifle available for sale in the US, the Remington Model 8. A semi-automatic rifle contains an action that automatically cycles a new round after each shot, but still requires the shooter to manually release the trigger of the rifle, and re-cock the hammer before firing another shot. The Model 8 is a long-recoil-operated rifle, meaning that the same forces that cause the cartridge to move down the barrel of the firearm also cause a portion of the firearm to move in the opposite direction relative to a stabilizing mass (i.e., the shooter’s body) that holds another portion of the firearm motionless via inertia. The moving and motionless masses are coupled by a spring that absorbs the recoil energy, compressing and expanding to provide energy for the rest of the operating cycle. Long-recoil-operation, in particular, means that the barrel and bolt remain locked together during recoil. In the Model 8, the barrel and bolt move rearward inside the receiver, compressing two recoil springs, after which the bolt is held in place, while the barrel is return forward by one of the springs, allowing the spent cartridge’s extraction and ejection. After the barrel is returned, the bolt is freed from the second spring, picking up a fresh cartridge from the magazine and chambering the cartridge. The Model 8 comes with a fixed five-shot magazine and bolt hold-open device that engages once the magazine is empty. The Model 8 uses a takedown design, which allows the barrel and receiver to be easily separated with no tools.
World War I was boom times for Browning.
In 1911, he produced the M1911, or Colt Government pistol. This is the best known of John Browning’s designs to incorporate principles of short recoil into weapon design. In contrast to long-recoil-operation, short recoil sends the bolt and barrel back only a short distance before allowing them to separate. The barrel stops, while the bolt continues rearward, compressing the recoil spring and reloading the weapon. Short-recoil-action dominates the world of semi-automatic pistols, as it requires less space in which to operate, making it ideal for smaller weapons. The M1911 uses a swinging link and locking lugs to facilitate the movement of the barrel and bolt. The standard issue sidearm for the US Armed Forces for over seventy years, the M1911 was used widely in both World War I and World War II. During its service life, the US procured almost three million M1911 pistols. Variants of this pistol are popular among civilian concealed carry holders given the design’s relative compactness and stopping power.
In 1917, he produced the M1917 Browning, a machine gun used by the Us Armed Forces in World War I and World War II. This crew-served, belt-fed, water-cooled machine gun was used at battalion level and was also mounted on vehicles. It had a cyclic rate of 450 rounds per minute. At forty-seven pounds, this weapon was much lighter than its continental competitors. Its sliding-block locking mechanism lightened the weapon and reduced complexity. At the time of the weapon’s production, the US military showed little interest in machine guns. When war broke out, however, the US brass set about looking for deadly automatic weapons. Browning’s M1917 stood out from the pack because of its exceptional reliability, firing continuously for over forty-eight minutes (over 21,000 rounds) without malfunctioning. The M1917 was replaced after the war with the air cooled Browning M1919, which saw use during World War II. Much lighter than the M1917, the M1919 was distinguished by its smaller size and the use of a holed jacket around the barrel of most versions. Loading the M1919 was accomplished by pulling a tab on the ammunition belt. A cocking handle was then pulled back, which advanced the first round of the belt so that the bolt could grab the first cartridge. As the bolt went into the battery, the extractor would grab the next round on the belt that was advanced. Each time the gun fired, the gun extracted, ejected, loaded, and chambered the next round. All variants save the M1919A6 had to be mounted on a tripod or other type of mount. To aim the gun along its vertical axis, adjustment screws needed to be operated. The gun was aimed using iron sights with range gradations from 200 to 1,800 meters.
In 1918, the M1918 Browning Automatic Rifle was developed. Designed to be carried by infantrymen during an assault, the BAR was meant to fire continuous volleys from the hip, a concept called “walking fire” thought to be essential practice during trench warfare. In practice, however, the US army used the BAR as a light machine gun, often fired from a bipod. The BAR became standard issue in 1938, and saw extensive service during World War II. A selective-fire, air-cooled automatic rifle, the BAR used gas-operation to allow for automatic fire from an open bolt. The M1918 uses double-column twenty-round magazines, with forty-round magazines were used in an anti-aircraft capacity. The BAR is striker-fired, using a trigger mechanism with a selector lever that enables both semi-automatic and automatic operation (hence, selective fire). The weapon’s barrel is screwed into the receiver and is not easily detachable.
At Sarco Inc., we have the Browning parts you need in order to assemble, or maintenance, a Browning of your own. For instance: an original Belgian-made Browning A-5 semi-automatic shotgun stock. These stocks are fully inletted and shaped except for their final sanding. To sweeten the deal, we’ll throw in an original brand-new Browning A-5 buttplate with each stock purchased. We also sell a beautiful Browning Safari Rifle stock with a Monte Carlo rise on its left. The buttplate is already installed. The stock is fully inletted for installing the barreled action. We also sell assorted pins, extractors, buttplates, slides, ammunition boxes, holsters, sears, triggers, and much more. We sell parts for the M1911, the BAR, the M1919, and many other Browning weapons. In addition, full Browning parts sets for the Browning M1919 are available through our website.
Sarco, Inc. is your stop for Browning parts. Since our birth on the gun show circuit, we’ve been passionate about weapons and militaria. Our expansion into arguably the largest dealer in surplus war material in the country is a great point of pride. Located at 50 Hilton St, in Easton, PA, our 7,000 square foot showroom stocks over 2,000 firearms—products ranging from original militaria to new commercial tactical accessories. We provide retail and wholesale product on both the domestic and international levels. Contact us today at (610) 250-3961 to get started with your Sarco Inc. experience.