Question of the Day: Was John Moses Browning the World’s Greatest Gun Designer? by Robert Farago | Oct 02, 2011 | 35 comments facebook twitter linkedin email [HTML1] comments Nick Leghorn says: October 2, 2011 at 09:06 Yes. The M2 Browning Machine Gun is my favorite gun in the entire world. It’s… perfect. Nothing since is even close. Reply HSR47 says: October 2, 2011 at 17:32 What about the M1919? /sarcasm Reply ROger.45 says: October 2, 2011 at 09:22 Without a doubt. Reply JOE MATAFOME says: October 2, 2011 at 09:35 YES !!!!!! Reply joe says: October 2, 2011 at 10:40 If he wasn’t,I wonder who else was. Browning’s most famous design,the 1911,is still going strong 100 eyars later-the HP35 was the gold standard for 9mm’s for decades-I still carry one-in truth,the HP35 design was finished after Browning’s death by other hands,but the concept was his. Browning is to guns as Randall is to knives(I’d have said Scagel,but so few of his knives exist that it’s hard to justify). Reply Wade says: October 2, 2011 at 11:06 Yes. Followed closely by Samuel Colt and Hiram Maxim. Reply Gabba says: October 2, 2011 at 11:34 JMB is overrated. look at his pistols. some have grip safeties some don’t. some have manual safeties, some don’t. some have exposed hammers, some don’t, some have a heel mag release, some don’t. no consistency whatsoever. the 1911 is the only one in a caliber that most people nowadays don’t deride, and that was the us government’s decision. the manual safety, and the mag release were also client specified. I can’t remember anyone on a gun forum in the past decade saying they liked a grip safety, usually they are regarded with disdain. The whole point of a exposed hammer is condition 2 carry and we all know how popular that is. people are always saying that the HP is only half his baby but the simple fact is so is the 1911. JMB did some stuff that is still in effect today, and he achieved some success in his time, but the reality is far from the man made revisionist myth he is made out to be today. Reply Jason says: October 2, 2011 at 12:36 The 1911 was far from Browning’s only design. He invented handguns, machineguns, shotguns. Both manual and self-loading. All influential, and several still in use today. While there have been other brilliant designers, Browning’s inventiveness covered the entire field. Personally, what I find most enjoyable about Browning’s work is that he wasn’t simply brilliant. He had to work at it. You can see his process of refinement through his prototypes and earlier products. For example, his first attempt at a semi-auto was a deflection plate located beyond the muzzle to catch the muzzle blast. This became the lever arm on the “potato digger”, operating off gas from a port on the barrel. It took him several iterations to arrive at the piston. Even he didn’t see it right away. For another example, the prototype design for his .45 used not one but two barrel links. This of course became one link on the 1911, and was ultimately refined to a simple camming surface in the HiPower, a mechanism which is now almost universally used today. Browning’s work shows not only the value of intelligence, but also perseverance. He was constantly re-examining his own work and seeking to simplify and improve upon it. That’s a lesson we can all apply. Reply Charles says: October 2, 2011 at 13:12 “Personally, what I find most enjoyable about Browning’s work is that he wasn’t simply brilliant. He had to work at it. You can see his process of refinement through his prototypes and earlier products.” BOOM! That’s such a great distinction, I love it! Virtuosity is marvelous to watch, but real craft, refined over time with care and hard work is much more rewarding and lasting. It’s the 90% perspiration 10% inspiration rule, and it shows up in any discipline. Well said. Reply 40&2000 says: October 2, 2011 at 13:38 Didn’t he also develop cartridges as well? 45 ACP, .50 BMG? Reply 2Wheeled says: October 2, 2011 at 13:40 And .25ACP, .32ACP, and .380ACP just to name a few. 2Wheeled says: October 2, 2011 at 12:41 Really? You’re complaining that he wasn’t “consistent”? That the best you got? Who would YOU put up as histories greatest firearms designer? The guy designed a huge amount of the firearms the US Military used from WW1-Korea and beyond, even to this day 1911s and M2s are still in use. And how many armies around the world had their soldiers running around with 1911s or Hi-Powers on the hips? That’s just scratching the surface of his genius. He designed pistols, rifles, shotguns, machine guns… He came up with multiple different operating systems and designs, he didn’t just come up with a single idea and modify it to fit different needs (*cough* Glocks and AKs *cough*). He could design anything he set his mind to. So what some of his designs were modified by others or at the request of the end user? That’s reality! That’s how weapons development works. Reply joe says: October 3, 2011 at 05:47 The HP35 with the spur hammer is good to go in Condition 2. Actually,any 1911 with the firing pin safety is. Grip safeties I can take or leave. Reply Will Litten says: October 2, 2011 at 12:08 Wow gabba, troll. Reply Brad Kozak says: October 2, 2011 at 12:32 Where you find 1911 fanboys, you’ll invariably find the haters. It’s kind of like the theory that superheroes would have no raison d’être without super villains. (Just so’s we’re clear, the “superheroes” in my analogy are the fans of the 1911.) Just sayin.’ Reply Gabba says: October 2, 2011 at 12:56 im not a hater. i like condition 2. Reply michael says: October 2, 2011 at 18:35 You’re right, Brad. For me the 1911 is clunky, a mechanical nightmare, too expensive, doesn’t hold enough ammunition, etc. But I’d sure like to have one or two. Or three or four. I’m my own worst troll. Reply Jason says: October 2, 2011 at 12:43 Y’know, sometimes people just disagree with you. That doesn’t make them trolls. Trolls are just people who want to stir up trouble. By calling someone a troll, you’re saying, “My opinion is so obviously correct that nobody could actually disagree. Anyone who appears to disagree is just doing so for the sake of controversy.” Get over yourself. If your opinion is so obviously right, you should easily be able to offer reasons that are so powerful that it immediately puts them to shame. I believe this person is wrong, but it’s possible they are simply ignorant and can be educated. And even if they are trolling, it’s an opportunity to present those powerful reasons to support your opinion so that other people who might not know them already can be enlightened. Crying “troll” is accomplishes nothing. Reply HAVE GUN says: October 2, 2011 at 13:05 JMB, the genius, was a man of his times. Though hard to believe, he did not receive the inspiration or design of the 1911 on a mountain top directly from the Lord. Sure the US Army wanted a thumb safety, and he delivered. Potato digger now, to me looks silly, even comical. But it wasn’t his last word on machine guns. He had a lifetime of work to point at with varying degrees of acceptance. Can I say workaholic? Dedicated? If not the World’s Greatest Gun Desiger, then who? Reply Ralph says: October 2, 2011 at 14:04 No. All Browning did was invent the standard system employed by every full-power pistol made since, every successful new caliber produced during his lifetime, and flawless rifles and shotguns such as the world had never before seen. Big deal. I vote for the guy who first put pink grips on handguns. Now that was brilliant design. Reply JustSomeGuy says: October 2, 2011 at 18:08 Yep. I’m with Ralph. How can you not acknowledge the superior contribution of pink grips…? JSG Reply Nate says: October 3, 2011 at 07:20 Obviously you’re not too familiar with the pistols of Heckler und Koch. Reply Michael Bakowski says: October 2, 2011 at 15:21 Yes. The 1911 & M2 Browning set so many standards which we still abide by today. Plus we wouldn’t have the .45 ACP, .380 Auto, or Monstrous .50 BMG without JMB. Reply John Ortmann says: October 2, 2011 at 19:01 I didn’t think it was a question. Reply Jay Dunn says: October 2, 2011 at 19:54 Is this even in doubt? Only Peter Paul Mauser even compares with JMB. And can this damned problem with posting from Chrome or FF EVER be fixed?? Reply gemalo says: October 2, 2011 at 21:22 When, oh when, are we going to get his birthday declared a national holiday? I fly my flag proudly every Jan. 21 in his honor. Reply M&B Strategies says: October 3, 2011 at 00:21 How about a hat tip for the lever and pump guns still going strong? I could be mistaken, but wasn’t JMB the brains behind the Win 76, 86, 92 and 94 lever rifles as well as the Win falling blocks? How about the 87, 97, and model 12 shotguns? Almost all of these guns are still being produced (reproduced) today. The 1911 and M2 may be his best known designs to this crowd, but when you look at his work across the entire spectrum, I do not believe there can be any doubt. Reply jessibradshaw says: October 3, 2011 at 01:20 the Jonathan Browning collection in Nauvoo, IL has an incredible collection. Truly inspiring for the time. I am not a gun techie like most of u guys here…but i know what i like. 🙂 Reply Nate says: October 3, 2011 at 07:17 The 1911 and GP35 were great designs, they were revolutionary for their time and obviously very influential. It should also be noted that Dieudonné Saive played a rather large role in the design of the latter. They’ve both been surpassed by modern designs, this is beyond debate. I forget how many weapon designed by Browning were used by the US military. M1911/M1911A1, M1917/M1919, M1918 BAR, M2 and M4 come to mind. That out of the way, I’d put JMB at number one, but only slightly ahead of the runner up. The runner up is obvious to anyone that know guns; Eugene Stoner. The US military has used the AR-7, the AR-15, the Stoner 63, the SR-25, and the Mk 242. Numerous other weapons use the same basic operating mechanism as his AR-16/AR-18 rifles, the G36, the L85, the SCAR, the ACR among others. The one problem Stoner’s weapons had is that they were generally about fifty years ahead of their time. The AR-15/M16 were so far ahead of their time that people today still do not understand them. Reply Charles says: October 3, 2011 at 07:28 ” The AR-15/M16 were so far ahead of their time that people today still do not understand them.” Ok, I’ll bite. What is still misunderstood about the AR-15? Reply Nate says: October 4, 2011 at 16:39 How many times do you hear that the direct impingement gas system causes the rifle to foul and eventually jam? A lot, right? The problem with that statement is that it’s false. The critical areas of the system are kept clean by moving parts and metal to metal contact. As long as you keep those areas lubed, the system will work reliably for thousands of rounds without cleaning. Everyone these days is talking about modular rifles. Well, the US has had one for nearly fifty years now. Look at the rifle the M16 replaced. It was supposed to fill multiple roles, but it was really only a service rifle and not a particularly good one. Then you have the AR which can fulfill the role of sub machine gun to precision rifle to section support weapon. None of this requires any tools or much in the way of knowledge. From the standpoint of ergonomics, the weapon is outstanding. I can’t think of a rifle on the planet that can be operated as rapidly and consistently as the AR. I can’t think of a rifle that works as well within the limitations of the human body. The only fault against it, which is easy enough to fix, is that it’s not fully ambidextrous. Look at it’s manufacturing. How many rifles had been made with precision aluminum forgings and aerospace polymers before the AR? Practically none. How many oak and steel service rifles were made after the M16? Practically none. The M16 was literally decades ahead of it’s time in nearly every aspect of design. Even today, people can’t seem to get their head around how truly revolutionary the design was and still is. Just look how many successors have been developed and failed to succeed it. The SPIW, the ACR, the OICW, the XM8, and now the Individual Carbine and LSAT. I think the design already has to be the US military’s most long serving rifle and it’s probably going to be around for decades more to come. Reply Nate says: October 5, 2011 at 04:02 That isn’t to say the AR doesn’t have weaknesses. The extractor design is obviously not the strongest and I believe that the bolt unlocks far too rapidly. Actually, the rapid bolt unlocking could have a lot to do with extractor problems. If the bolt unlocked more slowly, pressures in the chamber would be lower during extraction. It’s also a design that really isn’t tolerant with regards to poor manufacture. The AR isn’t a rifle you can manufacture (not simply put together) in a basement. You can build the AK from garbage and still have an acceptable, if not amazing, rifle at the end of the day. However, I think that this is less of an issue today as opposed to decades ago. The ever increasing ubiquity of CNC has made complex manufacturing easier and easier to accomplish. 277Volt says: October 3, 2011 at 19:30 “They’ve both been surpassed by modern designs, this is beyond debate.” Maybe to you its beyond debate but there’s a world full of consumers (civilian, military and law enforcement) that fundamentally disagree with you. Reply Nate says: October 4, 2011 at 16:24 Such as? The only military users of the 1911, as far as the US goes, are the Marines in the form of the MEUSOC. No regular unit uses the design. The SEAL teams do not use it, the Army Special Forces do not use it, ect. The fact that there are more capable pistols should be beyond dispute. Just look at a 1911A1 next to a Glock 21. The Glock has twice the capacity while being nearly a pound lighter. Not to mention far more durable, easier to suppress, and doesn’t have a goofy grip safety. I’ve said it a million times, most of the obsession with the 1911 is based far more on emotion than objective fact. If the thing came out today, it wouldn’t be particularly popular. It’s popular because of it’s history, not because of it’s capability. Reply William C. Montgomery says: October 3, 2011 at 10:05 Without a doubt: Ode to Browning Reply Write a Comment Cancel reply Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *Comment Name * Email * Website Save my name, email, and website in this browser for the next time I comment. Notify me of follow-up comments by email. Notify me of new posts by email.