10 Awesome Firearms Patents

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Here at TFB, we’re excited to be sharing new patents with you through our Patent Database. To celebrate, this weekend we’ll be looking at ten firearms patents that changed history, broke ground ahead of their time, or were just plain awesome. Without further ado, here are ten of my favorite awesome firearms patents!

1. John Browning’s Gas Operated Rifle

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Gas operation, the single most common method of operation for selfloading rifles today, began in the United States as an experiment by John Browning to see if the force of gases from the muzzle of a weapon could be used to operate its action. He built several gas operated test rigs to prove the concept, culminating eventually in the adoption of the 1895 Colt-Browning machine gun by the US Army. The first of these demonstrators is described in the patent, and works via gas impinging against a cup near the barrel, not unlike the later Danish Bang design.

 

2. Eugene Stoner’s Direct Gas Impingement Mechanism

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Gene Stoner is most famous for his own form of gas operation, in which force is provided for the action by expanding propellant gases terminating in a piston chamber formed between the bolt and bolt carrier. Though Stoner did not have a direct hand in the development of the AR-15, by far the most famous application of his invention, he did design in large part the AR-10 which preceded it. The rifle described in this patent appears to be an M5 or M6 rifle, predating the use of aluminum in the M7, and Melvin Johnson’s contributions of the multi-lugged rotary bolt that is now almost ubiquitous in American and European military rifle design.

 

3. James Paris Lee’s Detachable Magazine

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The detachable magazine is much older than its early popularity would suggest. James Paris Lee, inventor of the Lee-Metford and Lee-Enfield bolt action rifles, and the Winchester-Lee straight-pull cam-locking rifle, came up with the detachable magazine sometime after the Civil War, which was patented in 1879. Lee’s magazine is the earliest instance of a detachable direct-feeding device for multiple cartridges that I know of, and as such is the ancestor to all subsequent detachable magazine designs.

 

4. John Browning’s Rotary Barrel Pistol

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Steyr is often credited with the invention of the rotary-barrel locking pistol, but it was in fact John Moses Browning, that most talented of firearms inventors who most likely deserves the credit, for his 1897 invention of a rotary-locking recoil-operated handgun. His design for a rotary-barreled pistol was never serially produced, and instead his tilt-locking mechanism became overwhelmingly popular and now represents the mechanism used in the vast majority of modern self-loading pistols. Had things been different, might the rotary-barreled handgun caught on, and the tilt-locking recoil-operated pistol become a curiosity?

 

5. Paul Mauser’s Rifle Loading Device

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The Mauser brothers were a talented duo of designers responsible in large part for the modern bolt-action rifle itself. Where Browning avoided the task of designing infantry rifles, the Mauser brothers seemingly reveled in it, designing a near-infinite number of variations, each an improvement on the last. One of the key ingredients to the Mauser’s success is this magazine-loading device – or stripper clip – designed by Paul Mauser. With feeding devices such as these, the rapid fire rifle era could begin in earnest.

 

6. John C. Garand’s Selfloading Rifle

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The Garand gas-operated semi-automatic rifle is one that needs little introduction. A masterpiece of 1920s engineering that went on to help US soldiers defeat their enemies in the Second World War, Garand’s rifle was from the time of its introduction until its adoption in 1933 as US Rifle, Semiautomatic, Caliber .30, M1 a major contender in the race to develop a selfloading rifle suitable for military use. Garand’s patent here describes the earliest of these rifles, a .276 caliber gas-trap design utilizing the Army’s favored en-bloc clip loading method. It was this rifle that helped convince Ordnance that a truly lightweight selfloading rifle was within reach, and ultimately, heralded the birth of the military selfloading rifle itself.

 

7. John D. Pedersen’s Gun-Operating Cartridge

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Described by John Moses Browning as “the greatest living firearms designer, and probably the greatest of all time”, Pedersen was virtually a superstar when he lived. His selfloading rifle provided fierce competition to the Garand, and though his own surety that his rifle would win proved in part its undoing, he should still be ranked among the greatest and most clever small arms designers of all time. As evidence of this, consider the above patent: A design for an expanding cartridge case, which itself acts as a piston, activating the bolt face of the weapon to unlock the weapon and extract the cartridge once pressure has returned to a safe level; truly ingenious!

 

8. Dieudonne Saive’s Tilting Breechblock Rifle

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Saive was John Moses’ apprentice in Belgium, and it was he who would perfect Browning’s last pistol design after the great designer had died. A highly talented inventor in his own right, Saive would be responsible for the FAL rifle, which armed over ninety countries during the Cold War and for many represented the West’s counterpart to the famous Kalashnikov assault rifle. Saive’s work on this series of weapons began in the 1930s, and, though it was interrupted by World War II, produced eventually the excellent FN-49 rifle, which by the time it was produced was already approaching obsolescence. This patent, one of several taken out by Saive in multiple countries, describes the FN-49 in detail. Note especially the extraction lever, an accelerator designed to help ease the extraction of soft cartridge cases but still provide the power to operate the action reliably.

 

9. Samuel Colt’s Revolving Firearm

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It was with Colt’s landmark revolving firearm that repeating firepower first entered the hands of the common man. First described in this 1836 patent, Colt’s design for a revolving cylinder weapon would become so dominant in the 19th and 20th centuries, that even today the universal icon for “gun” represents a weapon of this type.

 

10. Hiram Percy Maxim’s Silent Firearm

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The Maxim family was blessed with overflowing talent, and Hiram Stevens Maxim’s son Hiram Percy Maxim was no exception. Percy Maxim became the inventor, simultaneously of both the car muffler and the firearm silencer. It is with this pair of 1908 and 1910 patents that Percy staked his claim to the first-ever practical silent firearm. Today, even though heavily regulated under the NFA laws of this country, silencing is more popular than ever, and companies from Advanced Armament Corp to SilencerCo work hard to provide their customers with the descendants of Percy Maxim’s inspired firearm muffler design.

 

What are your favorite firearms-related inventions? Share either a patent or an invention for which you’d like to find the patent in the comments!



Nathaniel F

Nathaniel is a history enthusiast and firearms hobbyist whose primary interest lies in military small arms technological developments beginning with the smokeless powder era. In addition to contributing to The Firearm Blog, he runs 196,800 Revolutions Per Minute, a blog devoted to modern small arms design and theory. He can be reached via email at nathaniel.f@staff.thefirearmblog.com.


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  • Blake

    great article. well-researched.

  • Patrick Mingle

    I don’t think I would have picked a different top ten. Well done!

    • marathag

      Ferdinand von Mannlicher’s en bloc clip rather than Pederson’s cartridge

      • Alas, not all great patents could be included!

  • Don Ward

    My Winchester lever action is the great-granddaddy of the AR-15? We are not so different, Nathaniel, you and I.

  • Kovacs Jeno

    Interesting article, thanks. However, I’d choose other ten from historical significance as main point of view.
    I’m missing: the bored-through cylinder patent of Rollin White. The .22 rimfire from S&W, any Colt or S&W swing-out cylinder DA revolver, the M1911 and its barrel locking, the Walther PP’s DA/SA with decocker, roller-locking of HK, the patent of the Glock 17.

  • notinfringed

    You have a typo in number 9. The patent is from 1836, not 1936.

  • Greg Thompson

    What I would like to know is, how many of these patents are still resulting in payment to some descendent every time they get used? For example, are manufacturers paying a nickel to someone every time they make a certain action?

    • They are all very expired.

  • Excellent write up Nathaniel!

  • Marty Ewer

    John M. Browning was an absolute genius. One of Utah’s own.

  • Fedorov used a tilting breech lock, not a tilting bolt. The first carrier-controlled tilting bolt was invented by the French in the 1920s. Before that existed carrier-actuated (but not controlled) tilting bolt designs like the ZB. 26

    I included the FN-49 rifle patent as a representation of Dieudonne Saive’s contribution to firearms history, including two extremely significant weapons: The GP-35 and the FN FAL.

  • The Garand is, in my opinion, in the opinion of some testers who evaluated both, and in the opinion of John Garand, a better rifle than the M14 in many ways.

  • I am purchasing an original R51 the day after tomorrow, if it hasn’t been sold. Expect an extended review with historical context in April.

  • The Fedorov does not use a tilting breechblock, it uses a tilting breech lock. Those are two different pieces of a rifle. “Breechblock” is often synonymous with bolt, while “breech lock” is any piece that locks the breech, whether it includes bolt components or not.

    • Couch Ninja

      Hi Nathaniel, I’m sure you are going to be at SHOT. If you are interested in new patented items be sure to check out Booth 7608, ADCOR Defense. Not only do they have several new rifles. they are part of a completely new pistol firing mechanism. Its being submitted into the DoD pistol comp. Being unveiled this week. Not to mention several other US Mil. tested, ADCOR patented products.