Happy Birthday, John Moses Browning!
He’d be 161 years old if he were alive today. You might know him as the designer of the M1911 handgun, which is dear to my heart. You might also know him as the designer of the Browning Hi-Power, the first double-stack mag 9mm pistol. It’s the first Wondernine, about fifty years before anyone started using the term. I’m not super fond of the Hi-Power, but that’s ok. The double stack handgun magazine idea has persisted into guns that I’m more fond of. Like my Glocks.
But John Moses Browning had many more ideas that you may or may not realize belong to him. He first came up with the tilting barrel lockup system, which is now used on just about every handgun1 in production. It beat out all other designs for the first choice because it works well and it’s cheap and easy to machine. It also doesn’t need a ton of lubrication, unlike most alternatives.
John Moses Browning also patented the notion of a slide on a self-loading pistol, and all of them have that these days. It’s just so darn useful. You can look at a lot of goofy pistol designs of the early twentieth century and see designers trying to work around this patent, and the ideas went nowhere once that patent expired.
But wait, there’s more! John Moses Browning’s first commercially-successful handgun design, the FN Model 1899, was striker fired. Yes, just like the Glock 17 currently sitting on my hip. Good old Browning. Getting ahead of the game there. Even though people of the time thought it was exceedingly odd for a pistol to not have a hammer.
John Moses Browning also designed a rather solid machine gun. The rifle caliber incarnation was lighter than the maxim and plenty reliable, and was quite popular as an aircraft weapon. The .50 BMG version, the venerable Ma Deuce, is still in service today. Introduced in the ’30s, it’s been used on just about every vehicle you can think of, from World War 2 fighters to tanks, to helicopters, to ships, to jeeps. If it’s a vehicle, it’s probably had a Ma Deuce on it. It’s even been used as a sniper rifle. Carlos Hathcock got a kill at 2,250 yards with one. Which is pretty impressive for a crew-served, tripod-mounted weapon.
John Moses Browning developed a ton of other stuff too. I could go on, but the above are the biggest things that are still taken advantage of today. Happy Birthday, John, and many happy returns. We certainly have gotten many such returns from you.
1.) Or at least all the popular, cool ones.