In the beginning there was John Moses Browning. Actually, there were hugely influential gun designers before — and after — JMB. Check out the video below for God, Family, Guns list of the Top 10 Most Influential Gun Designers. Then choose your fave and justify your choice. Please.

89 Responses to Question of the Day: Who’s Your Favorite Gun Designer?

  1. Uncle Misha. He made a simple to make and easy to use intermediate cartridge rifle that is so robust it could be made by uneducated Pashtun tribesmen hiding in caves lit by burning camel shit. It may not be the best rifle in the world, but just like the T-34 he drove in WWII, it had the virtue of simplicity and robustness.

    • I strongly disagree. After all the small handful of Eugene Stoners original ideas weren’t used that much and those that were produced in large quantity really hasn’t evolved much since they were invented.

      Where as people like Browning and Kalashnikov had dozens of different weapons designs and entire weapons platforms to their name.

      • It’s hard to argue that the AR platform is not an effective system. It’s main weakness is in the manufacturing process and maintenance requirements inherent to the system. Great weapon for a professional army with a huge logistics tail. Horrible weapon for more or less everyone else. We shan’t discuss the fact that the final AR-15 design wasn’t really Stoner’s sole work product.

  2. JMB

    Arguable the most well versed in the industry but I like everyone on that list quite a lot and there’s a few other names that could easily have made it on that list

  3. Ferdinand Ritter von Mannlicher, who unveiled the first successful semi auto rifle in 1885. Samuel Colt who gave us the first mass produced revolver. Johann Nikolaus von Dreyse who gave us the first bolt action. John Moses Browning who gave us so many designs that have stood the test of time (and more than a couple that didn’t). Doesn’t really matter who you prescribe to they all owe a debt to that poor soul who figured out that if you shove black powder into a pipe, put a rock in front of it, and touch off the powder it would propel the rock somewhere in the general direction of a target. Sadly, his name is lost to history but we all owe that feller a deep DEEP debt of gratitude.

        • This Bud’s for you beer holder guy thank you for always being there when moments of drunken genius strike and our beers must be held and protected from our genius.

      • We do know that he was Chinese, and we also know that the Chinese love their beer, so you are probably spot on. Especially since the first guns were bamboo wrapped with cord.

    • The first guy to touch off a pile of gunpowder in a makeshift tube probably died a horrible death a second later. We owe a far larger debt to his more cautious friend, who stood outside the shrapnel radius and subsequently spent a while thinking about causes and effects and materials. 🙂

      • Perhaps, but you also have to remember that the Chinese had a lot of experience with black powder before the first “firearm,” which technology included rockets full of shrapnel fired at low angles into opposing troops. In fact, the Chinese also invented the multiple tube rocket launcher before they developed guns and later cannon. So you have to assume that these guys had enough sense to stand back when lighting off their creations.

  4. Yeah, by my own estimation you cant do a lot better than JMB himself with Mikhail Kalashnikov right behind him.

    Not to down play any other designer, but in terms of general influence of design you can’t do much better than those two.

    • The problem with Browning’s designs is the requirement for precision machining and fitting. It may make a superior gun, but just as the Germans found out in WWII, having 100 superior weapons doesn’t matter if you’re up against someone capable of churning out 1000 slightly inferior weapons with the same resources. It’s why the Panther and King Tiger are not on the list of “best tanks of WWII”. When you can’t make enough of them to make a difference, their individual quality is largely irrelevant. I still subscribe to the school of thought that Germany would have been better off churning out Panzer IVs and Tigers rather than continuing to try to engineer a “wunderwaffen” without a fundamental paradigm shift in the requisite technology.

      • The other issue I’ve seen with JMB’s designs is that he often assumes that the owner/operator of his guns is as smart and adept as he is. This applies especially to the Auto-5 when it comes to taking one apart and putting it back together.

        Some of us are dumb-dumbs!

        • That’s a pretty common blind spot for geniuses. NOT having that blind spot is why Kalashnikov is so revered…

        • Quick and elegant take downs weren’t common back in his day. I do, however, appreciate the (initial) takedown on the Stevens 520.

      • The “precision machining” in most JMB designs isn’t as precise as many people would think.

        For example, the slide/frame fit on a 1911 is an obsession by many 1911 shooters. They keep trying to tighten up the slide/frame fit until the pistol barely will cycle without some super-lube.

        The truth is, the slide/frame fit has a negligible impact on performance. The fit-up that does matter the most is the barrel bushing – which can be handled by putting the bushing on a fixture, putting it into a lathe (or even a hand drill) and polishing it down until it fits snugly into the slide, and the barrel fits snugly into the bushing. This can be done by hand, with polishing paper. If you ask me “by how much do I need to change these dimensions?” my answer is “Until it fits – and only just fits.” It’s a qualitative thing, not so much an issue of precision.

        There’s very little in the Winchester 18xx rifles that’s precision. There’s very little in the Model 97 shotgun that’s precision. There’s not that much in the 1911 that’s precision other than the barrel/slide timing. I’ve never overhauled a M2, but it seems to me that it can’t be that precise if Marines are changing barrels and headspacing it in the field. From my observation, the typical Marine PFC or LCPL can break an anvil into pieces with a pinfeather, so they’re not the first guys to whom I’d hand a fiddly bit of precision machining.

        Now, the Luger P-08 is an exhibition in precision machining – and that is part of what drives the cost of production of said pistol through the roof towards the moon.

  5. On a strictly technical level, I think there are designers more prolific and influential than William Wellington Greener, but I’d call him my favorite because his books helped me to better understand the function and construction of firearms. They might be a bit self-promotional, but they made a lot of things that were mysterious to me beforehand (like lockwork in a double gun) understandable. He also clearly laid out some of the issues with early breech-loading cartridge firearms, and why various design choices were made (for example, the Snider-Enfield’s lock, which was designed to protect the shooter in the event of cartridge failures. Greener also developed modern choke boring, which is not insignificant- but for me, it’s his explanations that helped the most.

    After that would be Paul Mauser and his bolt action designs, of which little more really needs to be said.

    Another runner up for me would be Benjamin Tyler Henry. The toggle lock he designed led not only to the fine Winchester repeaters, but later was used on the Borchardt C-93, and then the Luger, which led to the modern 9mm parabellum ammunition.

  6. Without the technology from other industries(making better steel, better blueing and other rust fighting tech). We would be carrying around much heavier weapons or using ammo that just won’t do it in today’s world.
    Sadly, it took quite a few armed conflicts and a couple of little world wars to get there, but that is another story.

  7. Dieudonne Saive. I’ve always been a huge, huge fan of the FAL. I know he didn’t invent the tilting bolt, but he applied it beautifully and made a hell of a rifle with it. He also worked hand-in-hand with Browning, if that’s any testament to his talent.

  8. Hugo Schmeisser. One can argue that the StG 44 is the most significant small arms development of the 20th century. All modern assault rifles derive from it….

  9. My favorite firearm designer is Sir Hiram Maxim for designing the first gas blow-back auto repeating firearm.

    (Note: if my History is wrong and someone else designed the first gas blow-back auto repeating firearm, that person is my favorite firearm designer.)

  10. John Moses Browning (all glory to his name) who received his advanced designs through divine intervention. JMB’s holy works created new guns and new bullets across most every weapon system from small pocket pistols to anti aircraft guns. The first lever action shotgun? JMB. The first pump action shotgun? JMB. The first auto loading shotgun? JMB. The primary sidearm of the U.S. Military for almost 70 years? JMB. The pistol that inspired greats like the CZ 75? JMB. Machine guns still in use by the military a hundred years later? JMB.

    JMB’s designs were so prolific and amazing that the vast majority of auto and semi auto designs since then are merely refinements of his work so long ago.

    One could compare other greats like Karl Walther to JMB… if you chose to only look at one weapon class and ignore that JMB also invented new rounds that are still used today with many of his guns.

  11. Dieudonne Saive. The Jedi apprentice of Mr.Browning. Father of the FAL, FN-49 & real father of the Hi-Power. It is kind of a shame Browning is not honored as one of the greatest Engineering minds never to go to a Engineering school: and not just a “gunmaker.”

  12. Question wasn’t who was the best or most influential. It asked who was our favorite. Completely subjective opinion. For me, it’s Eugene Stoner. I thank God his work eventually got us to today’s modern AR system of rifles. There have been many days since where his closely patterned rifles have killed many American enemies. There will be many more killed, too, before it’s all said and done.

  13. I’ve got to give some love to Nick Young from Desert Tech.

    Innovative designs, US made and 2 new designs in the last ten years. They are the standard in caliber agnostic and convertible designs.

  14. 1. John Browning.. It’s very simple and nobody is even close.. his list of guns and cartridges are among the most popular today.

    Pretty much all turn of the century Browning and Winchester guns, Browning A-5, Colt 1911,Colt Pocket Pistols, Browning Hi-Power, BAR, 1917 Water-Cooled Machine Gun, M1919 Air Cooled Machine Gun, Browning M2 .50 Caliber Machine Gun. ,25 ACP, 32 ACP, 380 ACP, 45 ACP, 50 BMG (Browning Machine Gun) Most of these guns are still made in one form or another today. In closing, No one is an equal to the genius of JMB. The Thomas Edison of firearms. His patents are a part of virtually every gun made new today. The 1911 and M2 Machine gun remain relatively unchanged 100+ years later and are still in service.

    Honorable Mention
    Hugo Schmeisser – Developed some of the early auto-loading Bergmann pistol designs at the turn of the century. His handguns were overshadowed by George Luger however. His most famous lasting design would be the STG 44, which the idea of an intermediate cartridge in a select fire rifle would become revolutionary after the Second World War. Once the Allies saw the STG 44 they knew each soldier had to have one moving into the future, the Russians made the AK-47 based loosely on the STG 44 and the US eventually settled on the M16/AR-15 design. He essentially created the modern vision of what we call the MSR/AR today. The days of stripper clip wooden bolt guns fielded by the major world powers were over.

    Wilhelm and Paul Mauser – The Mauser action to this day is the mark of accuracy and quality in a bolt gun. Essentially perfected the bolt gun. They also developed a majority of metric calibers. Their guns were fielded by many nations for almost 80 years.

  15. Have to refer to Browning & Gentry’s EXCELLENT and highly recommended biography of Mr. Browning that I think I was originally referred to on this website. After hearing JMB’s name for years and not knowing anything about him other than most commenters said his name with awe and reverence, I finally bit the bullet [appropriate expression here…] and got the book from my local library this year. It was a revelation, and I finally understood what the fuss was and is about. Great technical explanations that a civilian like me can understand, but also a FASCINATING story of his life, making him sound like he was dropped in fully formed, able to innovate over and over again with just a cursory amount of instruction from his gunsmith father, not to mention his unique business relationships with Winchester and later FN. This book will induce me to see if there are any biographies about the people listed in the comments here who I hadn’t heard of until today, and the few more I was familiar with who will move up the reading bucket list.

  16. John Pedersen! There are undoubtedly more influential and significant designers, but the Model 51 just blows my hair back every time I take it out of the safe.

  17. Gaston Glock (and company).

    A couple of good ideas and a “relatively” clean sheet of paper and you can take over the world.

    It helps to be a semi-gangster/RICO’esque corporation at the same time….

  18. David Marshall Williams. VERY colorful background (not like that Boy Scout JMB) and he invented the short stroke piston. If developing the gas system used in 110% of semiautomatic firearms created after 1960 doesn’t qualify you for the Hall of Fame, what does?

    • Williams is my second choice, for certain. The short stroke piston and the floating chamber are two of the very important inventions he gave to the world!

  19. Browning is in a class by himself. Not only are his designs still in use after a century or more but he produced the most ergonomicly perfect pistols ever made. Whether you think the 1911 and BHP are outdated or not you cannot deny that when you pick one up they just feel right.

    Paul Mauser is a distant second.

  20. John Browning! Thanks for designing my state’s gun, the badass deuce, countless others, and thanks for teaching Pedersen a thing or two so he could design my oh so interesting rem model 10.

    • Since you mentioned Pederson… John Browning himself said that Pederson “was the greatest gun designer in the world.” I tend to agree!

      • He is arguably one of the most significant sporting arm designers in history. The Standard/Mark series pistols have been fielded for countless game AND are one of the most important designs to the rimfire competition pistol shooter. The No.1 is one of the strongest and handiest single-shot rifles ever created. The Redhawk and Blackhawk series of revolvers are incredibly strong without being absurdly large (cough X-frame cough), and in the right configurations are suitable for taking the largest game in North America, and even the largest game on the planet if you dare.

      • He is arguably one of the most significant sporting arm designers in history. The Standard/Mark series pistols have been fielded for countless game AND are one of the most important designs to the rimfire competition pistol shooter. The No.1 is one of the strongest and handiest single-shot rifles ever created. The Redhawk and Blackhawk series of revolvers are incredibly strong without being absurdly large (cough X-frame cough), and in the right configurations are suitable for taking the largest game in North America, and even the largest game on the planet if you dare.

    • Wins hands down in the ‘Last 100 Years’ Division.

      Not only his g un designs, but he also revolutionized the manufacturing process.

  21. Dr.-Ing. Werner Gruener of Metall und Lackierwarenfabrik Johannes Großfuß AG of Döbeln, DE.. His MG.42 was a tour de force in both mechanical design and manufacturing engineering. All modern light machineguns use his innovative two step belt advancement mechanism and his development of roller locking in both the short recoil MG.42 and delayed blowback MG.42v became the basis for many successful firearms designs afterward.

    He also rescued Mikhail Kalashnikov’s sheet metal receiver version of the AK-47 during the period when he was a ‘guest’ of the Soviet government. His warm riveting technique enabled the secure attachment of stampings to machined elements across a broad range of temperatures.

  22. Reverend Alexander John Forsyth. Duck hunter extraordinaire and inventor of the fulminate of mercury percussion cap. You see, the ducks heard the click and flash of the match lock or flint lock and started flying before the main charge ignited. Necessity is the mother of invention.

    This guy created the first firearm that would fire instantly and reliably.

    OK, he’s not really a complete firearms designer in the modern sense, but I was just trying to be different. I do think that the percussion cap is THE big turning point in firearms history, though the rifled barrel is a close second.

  23. JMB for me. But not for the A5. We have a Stevens 520 in 20 gauge that is just a phenomenal old shotgun. Wish the still made this semi-humpback with the same level of quality today.

  24. John Moses Browning. There is no other designer in the history of the gun who was as prolific, solving as many problems, or creating as many lasting designs as JMB. Everyone else is behind JMB. As a gunsmith working nearly 100 years after JMB’s passing, I can point to no other firearms designer who solved as many problems with such durable solutions as JMB. There’s no other designer who has as many ideas lifted by other gun designers as JMB.

    John Pedersen is my #2. Many of his designs are lost to modern gun buyers. Remington could have re-acquainted modern gun buyers by merely re-creating the original Model 51 pistol, but they had to cheapen the design and they wrecked it. The Model 51 is an elegant pistol – it points well, and cycles very reliably and has fewer parts than a 1911. If someone wanted to make a CCW pistol today, they could do far worse than make a Model 51 with modern safety features. Pedersen worked for Remington, and many of his ideas were incorporated into other arms that Remington has shipped.

    Other notables:

    – T.C. Johnson (designer for Winchester – designed such guns as the Model 12, the 52, etc. But he has one lemon to his name, the Winchester 1911)

    – Christian Sharps – designed some of the first precision rifles out there – the first designs that could hold up against modern precision rifle designs.

    – Paul & Wilhelm Mauser – perfected the bolt action. The Mauser 98 is still, for any working gunsmith, the ultimate expression of the bolt action.

    – W. W. Greener (who someone noted above – well done!) – Greener was a man who devoted himself to shotguns.

    – Thompson, the only guy to use the Blish Effect that I know of.

    And now for two gentlemen who are largely forgotten by most in the gun industry:

    – Eli Whitney
    – John Hall

    These two men led to the success of interchangeable parts in gun manufacturing. This was a huge leap forward in gun making in the early/mid 19th century. They also both worked to develop a workable horizontal milling machine. Hall is perhaps the man most responsible for the huge leap forward in mass production of manufactured goods in the US. A gun designer in his own right, his biggest contribution is the gaging system to verify that a part “fit” or should be rejected, and the line shaft idea of how to power a machine shop.

  25. John Moses [By God!] Browniing.

    The 1911; BAR; Browning High-Power; Ma Deuce .50BMG; Way too many lever actions and single shots to list, and way too many compact semi-autos to list.

    The 1911 and the Ma Deuce are still two of the best designs in their class after 100 years.

  26. Hiram Maxim: without his invention of the first true machine gun we could not have weapons capable of killing in the hundreds of thousands in just a few days of battle as in WW1, WW2, Korea, etc etc etc.And to thinks that the US Army rejected his proposals initially; but he sold them in France with great success and later also adopted by Germany and England and later of course by the US Army. His machine guns did more to influence of infantry tactics and modern warfare than any other weapon.

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