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The Gun Guy

John Browning, 1855-1926

John Browning and gun

John Browning demonstrating his recoil machine gun.

In short:

Everyone who has ever been hunting or fought with the U.S. Armed Forces has benefited from John Browning – and chances are they don’t even know it!  John Browning’s company holds 128 patents for 80 different kinds of weapons, and he started it all out of his little shop in Ogden.  His gun inventions and improvements were so good that from World War I through the Korean War, the U.S. Armed Forces wouldn’t put a gun made by anyone else in the hands of a U.S. soldier.

More of the story:

Son of a gunsmith.

John liked guns since he was a kid. In fact, he started to make guns with his father when he was only six. His father was a gunsmith in Nauvoo, Illinois, and he had come west with the Mormons in 1852.

John made his own first gun at age 10. It didn’t have a trigger, and you had to pour gunpowder into the barrel for every shot.  He made the gun out of scraps from the shop’s garbage pile, and he didn’t tell his father until after he had finished.  He and his brother Matt tested it out by firing at prairie chickens—and brought the chickens home to the family for dinner that night. 

Inventing like crazy.

By 14, John was making shotguns with triggers, and at 23, he’d invented a lever that popped the used-up cartridge out of the gun and put a new one in its place.  That meant that a shooter didn’t have to stop a reload the gun every time he or she fired it. 

Winchester Arms, a famous gun company from Connecticut, heard about this important invention and paid John Browning $8,000 dollars for the patent.  He developed new kinds of guns for Winchester for 19 more years, including the 30-30 Carbine, and then he branched out into working with companies like Remington, Colt, and a Belgian company called Fabrique Nationale de Guerre in Liege. 

John Browning and gun

John Browning with a shotgun he invented.

Supporting American troops.

Later, John spent a lot of time working to develop weapons for the U.S. government.  They would tell him the problems they were having with their existing weapons, and Browning would come up with ways to fix them. 

He could have made a lot more money working for himself instead of the government,  but he didn’t want to.  He wanted to keep American troops as safe as possible, by giving them the best possible weapons for fighting enemies. 

Who used these guns?

Teddy Roosevelt used the machine gun that Browning made for Colt.  Roosevelt was fighting with the Rough Riders in the Spanish-American War, and he used the machine gun to break a blockade the Spanish had made. Maybe it saved his life so he could become president of the United States!

Unfortunately, some of John Browning’s guns also made it into the hands of criminals.  Gangsters and others used his guns to commit crimes. 

A legacy of protection.

But whatever people do using his inventions, good or bad, John Browning was a very talented man who loved guns and who wanted to help his country however he could.  In the end, his work protecting the troops should be his legacy here and abroad.