TFB Field Trip: The John M. Browning Firearms Museum

Excluding the occasional gun hipster who throws out “Maxim!”, most gun hobbyists, when asked who the greatest firearms designer of all time was, will answer without hesitation, and with a tone of almost worshipful reverence “John Moses Browning”.

It’s difficult to argue with this. Others designed mechanisms more clever (Pedersen, for example), or laid more pivotal foundations for future work (e.g., Maxim), but none produced so many designs that dominated their respective competition for so long. Browning has not one, not two, not three, but many timeless classics to his name, including the M2 machine gun, the M1911 handgun, the FN M1905 “Baby Browning”, the FN Model 1910 (a handgun that, while less popular in the US, had an incredibly long production life at FN, only being discontinued in 1983, and that was the only single firearm to start a world war), the Browning Hi-Power, Winchester Model 1894, Browning Auto-5, and Ithaca 37.


On display at the entrance were modern Browning products. Less interesting than what is contained inside, but still a very nice display.


It was therefore a real treat to tour the John M. Browning Firearms Museum in Ogden, UT, the place of Browning’s birth. The museum is small, and resides in he second floor of the old Ogden train station. The facade of the museum (itself also inside the train station – there is little indication from the outside that one of the most important pilgrimage sites for the shooting sports is there), is so adorned with modern products of the Browning Firearms company, that when I first poked my head up the twisted iron staircase, I became a little worried at the thought that the well-presented glass cases inside would only contain representative examples of Browning firearms, and not any historically relevant artifacts. Not helping this worry was the case of (functional) miniature firearms that, while neat, were not really what I came to the museum to see.


There was a multi-partition display containing many of the miniature firearms, including a .22 LR M1917 and a .38 Special M2 machine gun.




In the event, my fears were completely annihilated once I had reached the museum’s main display cases. These were full, yes, of representative production weapons designed by Browning, but above those in each case were original in-the-white Browning toolroom prototypes, which stood out as such due to the numerous corrected mistakes and visible file marks on each. The first on display was Browning’s 1878 single shot rifle,


Followed by a very interesting prototype Winchester 1895 lever action, in military drag:



Do the military stock and fittings of the toolroom prototype of the 1895 Winchester mean that the rifle was originally designed with military contracts in mind? The idea isn’t so far-fetched: 1895 “Muskets” would serve with the Imperial Russian Army in World War I. Browning himself didn’t seem to be fond of designing infantry rifles, which would make this prototype – if it was designed with the rifleman in mind – his sole contribution to the field.

Browning’s original gas-operated and blowback-operated pistol prototypes were also on display:



As were some of his early recoil-operated prototypes, including a rotating barrel weapon the existence of the patent for which I was aware. Seeing the gun in the, well, steel surprised me, however:



The pistol below is described in US patent 580,925. It is available here.




Browning’s FN Model 1900 prototype:


The Auto-5, which famously led to Browning’s schism with Winchester Repeating Arms Co, was not the first selfloading shotgun he designed. That distinction went to his toggle-locked 1900 design, which was not produced for fear of infringing on Borchardt’s toggle-locking patents:



The toggle-joint action can be seen in this close-up:


Also on display were the second and third prototype autoloading shotguns, the latter of which would be produced by FN Herstal as the Auto-5:


Possibly the most significant rifle on display: This is one of Browning’s original gas-operated rifle demonstrators. This rifle would form the basis for Browning’s Colt 1895 machine gun, as well as virtually every other gas-operated rifle from that point onward. While Browning was not necessarily the first to develop gas-operation (there were precedents in Europe), his work was by far the most influential.

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The 1910 semiautomatic pistol, which is the only pistol credited with starting a World War, had its genesis in the prototype on display there:


The top handgun is the toolroom prototype of the “1910” model of pistol, which was the kind tested by the US Army in the 1910 trials, performing the feat of firing 6,000 rounds without parts breakage or malfunction. The bottom pistol is the “hammerless” model of the same:

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The dramatic shift in design can be seen below. The top three handguns were designed by Browning before his death in 1926; the bottom handgun is a Hi-Power, finished by Browning’s protégé Dieudonné Saive:



The Browning prototypes are a fantastic example of Browning’s pragmatism in making toolroom models. The appearance and fineness of the pistols was no object – they simply had to work:

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This example, in particular, had me absolutely fascinated. In the days before computer-aided drafting, pistols were born by hogging them out of metal with roughout files. Once one model was completed and fitted, its flaws became obvious, and once it outlived its usefulness – long before it was finished – it was set aside and a new block of steel was taken up:



Great Model Eight fans should of course take a pilgrimage to Ogden, to see the original Model 8 prototype:


The Model 8 would become a great influence on many significant designs in military selfloader history, including the M1 Garand and AK rifles:



This demonstrator, described in many books as “looking like the product of a blacksmith and his forge” entirely lived up to the reputation. John Browning’s earliest machine gun prototype, it was demonstrated to the US Army, but rejected:



Persistence, though, pays off. The 1895 Colt Machine Gun would later be adopted by the US Army as the first American military machine gun, the prototype for which was on display, as well:



Less well-known than his small arms are Browning’s contributions to aircraft guns. Here the toolroom prototype of the Browning 37mm aircraft cannon, variants of which would later arm P-39 Airacobras in WWII, sits on display below a 48-star American flag:


I couldn’t possibly cover every display at the museum in Ogden, so I will close out with this last prototype. The Browning Automatic Rifle, famous for arming US troops in WWI, WWII, and Korea, started life as a top-ejecting design. The distinctive “hump” of the weapon’s receiver was created by the locking shoulder for the pivoting locking block, and, originally, also formed the rear of the ejection port. The US Army did not like the ejection pattern of these initial weapons, and so the design was changed to the familiar side-ejecting type, but these prototypes still show the original configuration:

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Visiting the Browning Firearms Museum was a real treat; the significance of their collection cannot be overstated. Many thanks to the folks at the museum for having me!

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 is also the author of the original web serial Heartblood, which is being updated and edited regularly. He can be reached via email at


  • USMC03Vet

    More like John M. AWESOME.

  • marathag

    most gun hobbyists, when asked who the greatest firearms designer of all time was, will answer without hesitation, and with a tone of almost worshipful reverence “John Moses Browning”.

    The real argument starts with

    “Who the second greatest firearms designer of all time, after JMB?”

    • Roger Bacon.

      • Tassiebush

        Haha 3rd would be Rev Alexander Forsyth then!

    • Wetcoaster

      I think the issue is that no oneelse was anywhere near as prolific. James Paris Lee contribued one of the longest-lived service rifle actions ever and popularized the detachable box magazine for rifles.

      It looks like just about the only type of firearm Browning didn’t design any of are revolvers.

      • Vince

        I don’t recall him designing any bolt action rifles either.

        • Wetcoaster

          Wikipedia credits him with the Winchester model 1900 – looks like one of the generic single-shot .22s of the era

    • guest

      By what criteria is JMB the greatest?
      Most firearm designs in total?
      Most actually adopted designs?
      Most designs that survived on the market over the years?
      Most practical and wordwide accepted designs/concepts?

      Since people will agree on this just as likely as people will agree on types of food or movies, this will always be an open question.

      IMHO since only the M2 and the 1911 survived in their relative pure forms, first due to military backwardsness and the second due to a heavy fan club, Browning is just as much the “greatest” designer as Rome was the “greatest” empire. At one time, true. Today – not so.

      • By all of the above.

      • marathag

        The trigger/ hammer that he developed for the semiauto Rem Model 8 and Auto 5 ended up inspiring lot of weapons designers, as did his tilting block and tilting barrel designs

      • HSR47

        Why is he the greatest?

        Perhaps you should you should investigate what (small) percentage of modern handguns use something OTHER than the tilting barrel lockup system that Browning patented, and then get back to us.

  • Günter Groß

    Pistols don’t start wars… otherwise a very interesting review.

    • noguncontrol

      JMB’s did.

      • charlesrhamilton

        No, it did not. The gun was a tool used by Gavrilo Princep to assassinate the Archduke, which was then used by Austria as a pretext to invade Serbia. The invasion started the The Great War, not an inanimate object.

        • We could argue all day about World War I and its beginnings. The European tinderbox, a prevalent social-Darwinist attitude, and fanatic nationalism all contributed to the conflict. Mr. Princip certainly contributed when he decided to fire his 1910 out of anger.

  • noguncontrol

    greatest according to what criteria? well if you say number of successful designs and number of designs, or more popular, or greater effect on history and mankind in general. then yes, JMB is the best. but if you use other criteria, then your answer would be someone else.

    for me i would say Ferdinand Ritter Von Mannlicher, not because he had more designs, because he did not, not because his designs were better or more successful, because they were not.

    but because i consider his inventions to be more ingenious, like his enbloc clip system, both the top ejecting and bottom ejecting one. or his straight pull bolt guns both the tilting wedge and rotating bolt. it just has that wow factor, it still fascinates me.

    • marathag

      I’d put Pederson over Mannlicher, hard to top the ‘U.S. Pistol, Model 1918 Pedersen device’ turning a bolt action to a semi-auto repeater for ingenuity.

      Maybe even James Paris Lee above Mannlicher, just for the box magazine

  • M.M.D.C.

    “Excluding the occasional gun hipster…”

    Have hipsters found their way into gun culture? I seem to remember them being mentioned here last week. I’m curious because guns and hipsters seem so incongruous, but perhaps (probably) I’m just naive.

    • Yes, they have.

      Funny as hell too. Go to a shooting range in Austin and see the skinny jeans wearing goobers in scarfs blasting away.

      • ghost

        I stay away from Austin. Weird.

      • M.M.D.C.

        My wife’s youngest brother is a hipster – at least as near as I can tell he is. I took him and his girlfriend (who was terrified of guns) a couple of years ago. They had a blast! His GF even posed with the AR15 for a pic and put it up on FB.

    • Dave

      I’m a 1911 hipster. Most of the tactical community are gun elitist hipsters (“Primary arms? Don’t make me laugh!”). There are glock hipsters and ar15 hipsters overflowing.

      • M.M.D.C.

        So brand loyalty + elitism = hipster(ist)? I thought hipsterism was mostly an ironic fashion sensibility; a way of saying “you can’t brand this and market it” statement made by wearing funny clothes. Kind of a new take on the grunge, I-got-dressed-in-the-dark look of the 90s.

        I’m not disagreeing with you, I’m just a perplexed fuddy-duddy.

        • Cymond

          You’re on-target as a fashion, but the ‘hipster’ mindset/attitude is one that values obscurity + elitism. If it was simply brand loyalty + elitism, then a fashion maven dressed in Gucci and Prada could be called a ‘hipster’.

          A “hipster” gun owner would shun well-known designs in favor of obscure or obsolete firearms.

    • Tassiebush

      They’ve ruined zombies and are working hard to ruin beards. I really hope they don’t ruin guns as well.

      • Roger V. Tranfaglia

        If one “thinks” they are “hip” and flaunt it…well then yea , they ARE hipsters…..

    • Vitsaus

      Skinny jeans, scarves, obscure band T-shirts that are expensive but worn looking and far too tight, operator beards that are nicely trimmed, hitler hair cut… And a CZ75 variant. Hipsters have arrived.

  • Gordon J Davis Jr

    I prefer Eugene Stoner and Gaston Glock to John Moses Browning.

    • 2wheels

      Gaston Glock isn’t a gun designer, he just paid a bunch of gun designers to design a handgun based off of JMBs classic tilt locking design.

      Mr. Stoner created a few semi-successful designs (and one really successful one), but he wasn’t even close to JMB. Browning did invent things like gas operation after all…

      • Scott P


        All Stoner did was combine Melvin Johnson’s M1941 and Erik Eklund’s AG-42 and bam, the AR-10/15 is born.

        JMB, although not immune from using other’s designs, at least came up with some of his own from scratch.

        • The Stoner DI system is much different from the DI used in the AG-42, which was invented in France.

      • Gordon J Davis Jr

        Correct me if I am wrong, bit isn’t Mr. Stoner’s design the longest serving standard issue firearm in the history of ths United States?

        • 2wheels

          Longest serving service rifle? Sure. Longest serving firearm? Nope. Pretty sure Browning has him beat there…

          But that’s not the point anyways, Stoner as a designer doesn’t compare to JMB. Do you really think the AR10/15 was more innovative than the countless designs created or influenced by JMB that we’re still using today?

        • Zach

          Technically stoner didn’t create the finished AR-15, but the AR-10. That award would go to Sullivan and another man, but they just sized down and made some modifications to the AR-10.
          Like the charging handle.

          • Gordon J Davis Jr

            The original charging handle location was pretty terrible.

          • Ben

            Robert Fremont is the other man you are thinking of.

        • wolfgar

          Sullivan also moved the gas tube for re design.

        • spotr

          Standard issue firearm? You probably meant “service rifle”. But since you said “firearm”, I present the M2 Machine Gun (AKA Browning .50 Caliber Machine Gun).
          In service1933–present. Now that is “long serving”.

          • Phil Hsueh

            If you want to go with just plain firearm then the 1911 has both beat, by a couple decades in the case of the M2 and several in the case of the M16.

    • “I prefer the guy who used Browning’s inventions/ideas instead of Browning.”


      • guest

        In all honesty Stoner’s design does not have anything to do what so ever with Browning, and the locking of Glock is a similar (yet very much simpler, from a machnining standpoint) than Browning’s concept. Glock is also not a machnining nightmare unlike all of Browning’s designs – it is the european rationalism that took an old idea and made something much better with it.

        Browning is important as a pioneer and a historical figure, but from what’s on the market today if not for the archaic M2 and the 1911 fanboy club all of his inventions are faded, and only some concepts are used and even they are heavily modernized.

        • There is so much horrible information in your statement that it is easier just to call you a dumbass rather than construct a retort.

  • Browning is a to firearms as Plato is to philosophy.

    “Philosophy is but a series of footnotes to Plato”
    -A.N. Whitehead

    • guest

      Plato’s work will live on and be relevant forever. Browning’s work not so much.

      • Cymond

        Short recoil-operated, tilting-barrel semi-auto pistols will be relevant until we move to something like “phased plasma induction” or whatever else is the next big leap.

        • gunslinger

          you mean a Phased Plasma Rifle in the 40 Watt range?

          • WFDT

            Just stick to what’s on the shelves, pal. 😉

  • greasyjohn

    A .38 Special M2.

    A .38 SPECIAL M2.

    I’LL TAKE 8!

  • Jsim

    I have recently bought a model 8 and its basically a single shot rifle the second round always stove pipes which is a shame, also stripper clips for the model 8 are around $100 if you can find them.

    • marathag

      try SKS strippers

  • Thomas Bennett

    I love living only hours from that place.

  • John McPherson

    I think the 1895 in military drag was taken on the Punitive Expedition in the early 1900s as an evaluation.

  • Cymond

    I was on a road trip back in September that took us through Salt Lake City. I had no idea we were so close to Ogden. The next day, I saw the interstate exit for Ogden, and was extremely tempted, but I still had a 10-hour drive ahead of me, and animals that I couldn’t leave in a hot car.

  • Hopsaregood

    Thank you. I was not aware that this museum was in existence. It makes Ogden a destination in and of itself. Again, thank you.

  • J S

    Damn, just damn….Some really cool stuff there.

  • Brad Ferguson

    One of the things that JMB gets little credit for is the pump shotgun. What led to the pump was his dissatisfaction with the lever action shotgun he designed for Winchester. JMB is my favorite inventor, period…………..His M2 saved my life.

  • Browning Fan

    One often over-looked factoid about John Browning is that his father, Jonathon, was an amazing gunsmith for his time as well. He invented a black powder repeater (magazine looked like a harmonica) in 1834. If you’re ever near Nauvoo, IL his gunsmith shop/home has been restored and is open to the public. They even have many of his original tools, including a barrel rifling jig and several innovations which I found fascinating.