The Greatest Blunder In Commercial Firearms History

Pic-11

What sort of mistake could possibly take the top spot of “worst decisions in firearms history”? It would have to be a decision that not only in retrospect but at the time was one of the worst possible decisions a company could make, and it would have to have longstanding aftereffects that would change firearms history forever.

It would have to be a decision like… Winchester Repeating Arms Co. parting ways with the famous John Moses Browning (page 152):

2015-08-01 02_39_26-Winchester Repeating Arms Company - Herb Houze - Google Books

It may seem impossible today, but it’s true that in 1903, Winchester let go of the firearms designer that would eventually hold the virtually indisputable top spot among firearms designers in the entirety of history. Winchester felt that John Moses Browning, inventor of almost countless entirely new kinds of firearms, was simply too expensive to keep on the payroll. Apparently, though, Browning was not too expensive for Colt’s or Belgian manufacturer Fabrique Nationale, both of whom were quick to offer Browning acceptable agreements to produce his revolutionary firearms designs.

It is quite unthinkable to the modern mind that any company could possibly let go a talent such as Browning’s, but what’s beyond baffling is the fact that the dispute that led to Browning’s release from Winchester was over the design that would become the Browning Auto-5 shotgun – the very first semiautomatic shotgun ever produced. Browning had previously agreed to work for Winchester producing designs for a flat fee – for his revolutionary Auto-5, he wanted revolutionary payment in the form of royalties. Winchester did not accept this, and as a result the company went without Browning’s genius for 23 more years, during which time the greatest firearms designer ever to live invented the handguns that led to the timeless 1911, the Remington Model 8, FN Model 1910, the Remington Model 17 (which itself led to the Model 31, the Ithaca 37, and the Browning BPS) the M1917 machine gun and its air cooled follow on, the M1919, the BAR, the Remington Model 24, the M2 .50 caliber machine gun, the Superposed shotgun, and other firearms. In light of this, Winchester’s assessment that it “shall be perfectly able to get along without the Brownings, and shall probably be better off without them than with them… We do not believe they will get along as well without us as they did with us” can at best be met with protest.

Winchester surely had its reasons for letting the Browning brothers go, but even at the time the folly of this decision should have been obvious. Browning was no novice to firearms design and had already more than once revolutionized the world of firearms with the 1897 shotgun and the 1895 machine gun. It should have been clear to the leadership at Winchester that retaining Browning was a priority above all others… But to the delight of competitors companies like Remington and FN, it wasn’t.



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.


Advertisement

  • Dave S

    I am not a Historian and I will not claim to have done a substantial amount of research, but I disagree with the crux of the authors article that even at the time it was a bad decision. In retrospect, it seems a poor decision to let go of John Browning. The same cannot be said of his brother. The letter from Winchester says as much and based on very limited research, if John Browning had been willing to remain with Winchester without his brother they likely would have kept him.

    • Joseph Smith

      Sometimes you have to accept some overhead/risk to keep talent.

      There are people in today’s world that are very good at what they do, and worth every penny they are paid, yet are hard to work with.

      What companies often lose sight of is that when you separate someone (either party can often decide) that person isn’t dead to the world. He takes his talent/ability and lives on. Maybe even someday to compete against you. Just one motivated innovator can challenge a decades old company’s presence.
      Today, PC is causing companies to make this same mistake.

      • M40

        Speaking from some 30 years experience, the better the engineer… the more personality ‘quirks’ you’ll have to deal with. It’s gets a lot worse when you’re dealing with programmers.

        Many years ago, I worked with an engineer who was famous (or infamous) for surfing porn. After a few complaints, they took him from his cubicle… and gave him his own office (so others couldn’t see what he was doing). He was an absolutely brilliant engineer, and there was no way the company was going to lose that talent.

        Back in the late ’90’s, I worked with a machine programmer (robotics) who produced some seriously brilliant code. He was fast, effective, and often ingenious in his field. He would go out to his car every couple hours to smoke pot. Everyone knew it… he’d come in reeking of it. Sometimes he wouldn’t show up until 2 or 3 in the afternoon, but would often work until midnight. Nobody cared what hours he worked. Nobody cared that he was stoned more often than not. As long as he kept cranking out great code, he was MVP status. Nobody was going to mess with that arrangement.

        Bigger companies tend to lose sight of the individual. They often get rid of brilliant visionaries who don’t fit the ‘model employee’ mold. It’s their loss.

    • Joseph B Campbell

      The biggest disrespect came in saying that Mr. Mason fixed and redesigned Brownings’ material.

      • William Mason was a gifted designer in his own right. Some of his most famous design efforts were from his time at Colt, including the centerfire conversions for cap & ball revolvers, the M1873 Single Action Army, and the M1878 Double Action Army. After Winchester hired Mason, they put him to work designing a new revolver that they promptly offered up to Colt as a quid pro quo: stop making the Burgess lever action and other long guns, and we won’t enter the handgun market.

        • The reality is that prototypes often have to be tweaked and reworked into an economically viable and mass-producible design. The manufacturer has to develop the fixtures, jigs, and specialized tooling.

          While folks recognize D. J. Saive’s role at FN in assisting JMB, William Mason’s work at Winchester, and Fred Moore’s work at Colt have been largely ignored.

          • M40

            One of the biggest problems in the world of engineering today is the utter disconnect between those who design, and those who actually produce. There are far too many engineers who spend their entire careers in an imaginary, 3D computer world where all designs become possible. Working in a 3D software environment can allow for the realization of some brilliant concepts, but in many cases the results are too expensive or laborious to actually manufacture.

            A minimum one-year internship in a machine shop (or similar manufacturing environment) should be MANDATORY for anyone seeking a degree in engineering. This kind of hands-on experience is absolutely invaluable, and produces truly superior engineers. All of the top engineers I’ve ever worked with, had solid hands-on backgrounds as manufacturing techs, machinists, etc.

    • I feel I’ve made a pretty good case for why Browning had already demonstrated that he was a talent worth hanging on to, and why Winchester should have known that at the time.

      Note that forty years later, Winchester would hold onto another great designer of theirs, David Marshall Williams, despite him threatening to murder some of their other designers for stealing his work (no, really).

      • ostiariusalpha

        The same idiots that didn’t need Browning had run the company into the ground by 1931, after that it was an Olin owned company that knew how to nurture even high-strung talent like Williams.

        • It is amazing that the collective egos of D.M. Williams and M.M. Johnson didn’t explode in some sort of critical mass. The relationship between German expat Karl Maier and Polish expat Stefan Janson would have been interesting.

      • I met with Carbine Williams’ biographer, and he corroborated the tale or a similar one. Saying that ‘Ol’ Carbine’ was alerted by the biographer of a man with a small camera snapping shots of his ultra-high rate of fire SMG plans, and in response drew two 1911s, cocked both hammers and aimed them at the offending parties.

    • Marcus D.

      They were not employees, in the current sense, rather they supplied designs for a flat fee, which today would probably be called an independent contractor arrangement. I am pretty sure the bothers stayed at their shop in Utah.

  • borekfk

    The problem was that Browning sold his patents to Winchester for a flat fee instead of royalties, and it worked out just fine. With his new autoloading shotgun, he wanted royalties instead of a flat fee because he felt so strongly about the design. It didn’t help matters when T.G. Bennett passed away; he was the vice-president of Winchester at the time and did most, if not all of the negotiating with JMB.

  • Ko I

    Yeah, and I love how, later, Winchester decided that the A5 really was a good design and made a copy of it (model 1911), but made the colossal blunder of deciding to remove the charging handle from the bolt and make the barrel knurled so that one would charge the gun by pulling the barrel back. I don’t know if anyone died as a result of trying to do so with both hands with the butt on the ground, but it was called The Widowmaker because of, at least, the potential harm of this inept design flaw.

    • Blastattack

      They didn’t decide to remove the charging handle. The charging handle was a patent protected part of Browning’s design which meant that Winchester could not copy it, and would have to find another solution.

  • Jake

    Nathaniel,

    I have to disagree with some of the opinions offered surrounding this letter. Anyone who is an engineer, or works with engineers, knows or has seen this same situation with a large company and is a common occurrence. You can be the smartest guy on the planet, but if you cannot work with people in the company or the team you are with to the point where it does not satisfy the company’s goals, direction, and/or requirements it is a bad situation. Where neither party benefits. If it isn’t a good fit, it isn’t a good fit. This letter seems to be direct evidence of this same situation. And as history has shown Colt, Remington, and FN had the right mindset and environment that better fit the Brownings. They were able create some of the best designs that stand still today. You cannot blame Winchester today. They have made some great firearms and cater more to different market segments with goals being quite different than some of the other companies. One could argue they are in a better position than Colt right now… but I digress. However, it is an interesting part of history and shows that as much as some things change, some do not. Thanks for the article and sharing your opinion.

    • Paul Epstein

      Jake, the Winchester company as a small arms manufacturer died in 1980. So, no, it’s not doing better than Colt. Its corpse got reassembled by someone else decades later, but it isn’t an example you’d want to emulate.

      More importantly, their ability to adapt to the market and produce new types of firearms stagnated dramatically after Browning left. They iterated on what he’d already given them and produced quality copies of other manufacturer’s designs, but they didn’t produce anything innovative from the time he left to the time the company ceased to exist.

      • gunsandrockets

        I don’t think Winchester was that bad, but I do agree they were too conservative. And letting Browning go was a mistake.

      • ostiariusalpha

        Actually, T.C. Johnson engineered many innovative designs for Winchester after they parted ways with Browning, and also the Model 1911 shotgun… that wasn’t a feather in his cap, to say the least. And once John Olin took ownership of the company, he built it into a very well-respected, financially secure company that eagerly aquired talented engineers. They mostly produced .22 LR designs, which doesn’t make for a lot of cache these days, or refinements of existing firearms, like the popular Model 70 bolt action. Still, Olin/Winchester is responsible for the M1 Carbine and it’s culmination into the G30R and the LMR designs, a series of highly innovative (but ultimately fruitless) combat rifles.

    • JeepsGunsTanks

      In a case like this, if your ‘team’ can’t deal with the ‘talent’, you fire the team, and get people who can.

    • First, I am not blaming Winchester today. They are two separate entities.

      Second, Browning clearly could work work others – he proceeded to do exactly that at Colt’s, Remington, FN, etc.

      Winchester just didn’t want to pay their resident prodigy as much as he wanted to be paid. Bad move.

      • Heck, Winchester has been a sister company to Browning for approximately 26 years now. FN Herstal bought the rights after USRAC folded.

    • AYalna

      In other words brown nosing first and ability to deliver results second. The recipe for failure.

  • DaveP.

    If youwant to pick the #1, it’s still going to be the Smith & Wesson/Clinton Administration “When the gun ban comes. we’ll be #1!” deal… it’s not frequent that you see an I international company sold for less than some car dealerships would go for.

    • That’s another good suggestion, Dave!

      • griz

        Followed close by Bill Ruger

        • sam

          Yes, that was horrible of Ruger and Smith… bit the hand, those curs.

  • Rodford Smith

    There has long been a myth that no creative person has done anything significant once past the age of forty. Browning was 48 when Winchester let him go.

  • Dave

    I think he worked pretty well with winchester but as he started to realize that he did have a gift he wanted better payment. Winchester must of thought they had enough designers to compensate for his loss. Seems they were rather mistaken. Ironic that others esp FN werent that stupid and used him to inspire other designers to come up with new things. Maybe thats why FN does as well as it does.

  • ostiariusalpha

    Oh, John, where does that booger-picker belong? Trigger discipline aside, he certainly pushed Winchester out of the rut they were in by the 1880’s, at least 80% of Winchester’s profitable firearms were Browning’s designs.

    • NDS

      Check the furrowed brow; he is clearly about to shoot someone out of frame.

    • If I am not missing anything, modern trigger discipline was invented by Jeff Cooper in the 1950s. Before then, and even in some places still today, the trigger is considered the natural place to put the trigger finger.

      It seems bizarre to us now, but we are much less accustomed to death and injury today. Consider that back then, infant mortality was high. Many if not most first children would have seen the death of an infant sibling. The flu could easily kill you, and children were crippled for life by polio on a regular basis.

      So accidental discharges in comparison to all that seem kind of irrelevant. I don’t know but do wonder what muzzle discipline was like, though. Today it seems like a wonder that they didn’t all accidentally shoot each other, but maybe they substituted good muzzle discipline for fastidious trigger discipline?

      • Brian Fulmer

        I can assure you my Dad had no idea who Jeff Cooper was in the 50’s and might not know today. Keeping your finger off the trigger until ready to shoot was part of his teaching me and my sister how to shoot from a very young age – and I’m old! I learned virtually nothing from my grandfather about “how to” shoot, since he would point shoot dove with a full choke 20 ga – totally unfair I didn’t get that wiring in my brain. On the other hand, he made it equally clear you don’t touch the trigger until you’re ready to shoot. Since he was born in 1912, that puts the whole “they all used to do that” in the dustbin of history.

        • You’re right; I should have said “popularized” instead of “invented”. I can think of counter-examples in my own life, but they tend to be exceptions. 🙂

          • Brian Fulmer

            Fair enough. I also had a “talking to” about the time my Dad shot my great Grandmother’s stove with his Grandad’s service Model 10 – calling Paul Harvey!

  • iksnilol

    Current owners/leaders of Winchester are probably facepalming so hard they gave themselves a concussion right now.

    • Aaron

      Lol

  • Fruitbat44

    One can never truly be certain of what might have been, but . . . the Winchester Hi-Power?

    • Cymond

      I can’t imagine how that would have turned out. The Hi Power went through several significant design changes, many of which happened after Browning’s death. Thank Dieudonne Saive for the Hi Power as it exists today.

  • C.

    Aren’t both Winchester and Browning owned by FN Herstal today?

    • ostiariusalpha

      Browning was always associated with FNH. It was used to retail their sporting purpose firearms.

      • Another example would be Weatherby, who shopped out most of their production to foreign firms.

  • Tyler

    Browning was a mechanical genius, however, lacked the necessary industrial engineering methods to bring his ideas into mass production. One of the hardest things is actually taking a prototype into mass production after implementing/standardizing the manufacturing procedures. There’s are several occurrences of him turning over prototypes, only for the engineering teams to take the projects over.

    • I can only think of one firearms designer who did not need production engineers to realize his design: John Garand.

      • ostiariusalpha

        Well, they did replace his gas trap with a gas port fed, long stroke piston. Garand was pretty amazing though. I don’t know how many engineers worked with Pedersen either

        • Don’t Drone Me Bro

          You mean Garand redesigned it. Keep in mind he also designed all the fixtures and tooling to build the M1. There’s a reason after he retired from Springfield Armory, he was brought back by Matheson Tool as a consultant on their work for the T44 series.

        • Garand was still working for Springfield Armory at that point, so I would reckon he was in on the gas port modification himself.

        • Credit to Daniel Watters for digging this up:

          https://patentimages.storage.googleapis.com/pages/US2287032-0.png

          • ostiariusalpha

            It is a bit humorous to me, at least, that he still didn’t extend the rifling all the way to the muzzle of the barrel in the patent diagram. In the description, he mentions that either full rifling or this smooth bore are options. It seems like a dim remnant of his gas trap system, I’m curious if any practical test barrels were ever produced and, if so, how reliable they were.

          • You pretty much nailed it. I think this strengthens the argument that they switched from the gas trap system primarily because it wasn’t durable enough for bayonet training/fighting.

      • Tyler

        Ronnie Barrett, Gordon Ingram, Melvin Johnson, and the late Ulrich Zedrosser are a few that come to mind that have industrialized a good percentage of their projects..

    • MPWS

      There is a clear divide between functions of designer/ inventor and industrial/ manufacturing engineer. While former formulates new idea, the latter interprets it and brings it into fruition. A person can be one or the other. Both are equally important and irreplaceable. Under normal circumstances there must be mutual respect – or else.

  • Yeah, probably. Our filter is a little neurotic, sorry.

  • I saw it and ok’d the post. I have no idea why it blocked it?

    • Nashvone

      Even the bots know he’s a sketchy fellow.

  • BryanS

    I can think of Ruger and 10rd magazines.

  • AD_Rtr_OS

    And now the Winchester name is owned by ….. FN!

    • Just Sayin’

      Ba-dum-dum!

  • Comrade Misfit

    Colt All-American 2000, followed by their near abandonment of the civilian market. They don’t now make a handgun that isn’t a direct descendant of a design by either John Browning or Sam Colt.

    • From what I can tell, the AA2000 is a good example of a decent design with atrocious execution, but I’m no expert on handguns.

      • Comrade Misfit

        “a decent design with atrocious execution”

        So what? For example, I give you the Remington R51. The spiffiest design is worthless if it isn’t competently manufactured.

        By all accounts, Colt went out of the DA revolver business because they wore out the tooling and never invested in replacing it. As a result, when the concealed-carry market mushroomed, Colt was not in a position to take advantage of it. They had an almost ideal revolver for CCW, the Detective Special, and they had none to sell.

        Yes, Colt’s revolver lockwork was complicated and damn near ancient. Colt made no real effort to redesign that, either.

        • DaveP.

          Colt tried to bring out an “updated” DS in the ’90s, called the “SF-VI”. I handled one back then, and it was horrid: heavy, bad fit and finish, and ugly to boot. More good-idea-lousy-execution from the Pony People.

        • So… I think it’s a decent design with bad execution? Do I need to justify it beyond that?

      • roguetechie

        Personally the one I can’t forgive is Colt being the primary reason I will probably never get to own the one revolver I have ever wanted…
        the funny thing is I’d have gladly paid the colt markup and bought one of their survivor 2000 models in addition to at least one actual P&R Medusa…
        Not only did their waffling basically doom Phillips and Rodgers, but the effect it had on Phillips himself pretty much doomed the chances of a competent, honest, and serious company to ever get Phillips and his Medusa back in the game.
        he actually participated in a very in depth thread on THR making his feelings very clearly known.

    • DaveP.

      You could write a book (and it wouldn’t be a thin one) about Colt’s bad ideas: Yes the All American (and that alone is huge: look at all the civilian and police sales Glock has made since the ’90s, and imagine what kind of profit Colt could have been raking in right from the start if they had produced something that even came close to matching the Glock 17 for reliability and cost) but also the death of the Detective Special just in time for the CCW boom to hit, the Double Eagle, that .22 thing they came out with in the ’90s to compete with the Ruger Mark 2, the “Good Corporate Citizen” Colt AR-15’s…

  • Just Sayin’

    I highly recommend the book John M Browning: American Gunmaker ($28 on Amazon, or your local library might have a copy). His Father was a pretty good inventor/gunsmith himself. You can visit his restored gunshop in Nauvoo, IL. Pretty neat how he rifled his barrels in the 1840s.

    • Another big pilgrimage spot is the J. M. Browning Museum in Odgen, UT. Great place, and full of awesome prototypes.

      • Tassiebush

        I know this would be a subjective question but what are some of the must see gun pilgrimage sites in the US?

        • National Firearms Museum in Virginia, Aberdeen Proving Grounds in Maryland, Springfield Armory NHS in Massachusetts, Buffalo Bill Cody Museum in Wyoming, to name just a few.

          • I’d also recommend visiting the museum at Rock Island Arsenal.

            The US Army Ordnance Museum collection has been in the process of moving from Aberdeen to Fort Lee for several years, due to the relocation of the Ordnance School. Unfortunately, I worry that the collection as a whole may never be publicly accessible again due to budget issues.

          • Tassiebush

            Cheers for that! 🙂

          • Tassiebush

            Thanks for that! 🙂

    • Tassiebush

      How’d he rifle them? Was it the old style rifling bench with the helically grooved wooden bar/rod as rifling guide?

      • Just say’n

        Doh! You gave it away. You can see the device on the bench in this picture:

        • Tassiebush

          Hehe yeah I just reckon those rifling benches are awesome. I love the idea of guns made in a cottage industry context.

  • Oldtrader3

    To say nothing about the A5 shotgun. Winchester was colossally stupid, corporate blindness and hubris at its best?

  • jimmyjet

    Does Winchester actually exist anymore. No, really.

    • Marcus D.

      The name, and the rights to the name do. The original Winchester failed after WWI and was purchased by Olin Corp. Olin Corp ultimately sold the company to its employees in 1980, who formed US Repeating Arms Co, but that company failed to prosper and went into bankruptcy in 2006. Olin Corp still owned the trademarks, and licensed them to FN. Its lever guns are produced in Japan by a sister company under the FN umbrella, Miroku, the others I don’t know but I thnk they are produced by Browning, again under license. Ammo had been a separate company for some time, which I believe is owned by Olin..

      • FN bought USRAC in 1989. The USRAC facility in New Haven, CT was closed in 2006. FN had started moving production to the FN Manufacturing facility in Columbia, SC years earlier.

      • MPWS

        FN tried hard to keep USRAC going, but to no avail. They hired an experienced management consultant with extensive communication capability. They even placed label over the employee entrance stating: “Thru this door are walking some of the best craftsmen in the world!” which apparently eluded to failing relationship between new management and employees. And even that did not help; at the end they lost all.

        • And the greatest irony was that the original USRAC was employee-owned. It was the collapse of the company under the employee owners that allowed FN Herstal to buy them up back in 1989.

  • mosinman

    that would be the football equivalent of releasing Joe Montana or John Elway in their prime… all because they wanted a big payday

    • mosinman

      and then having them sign with the Rams and Raiders respectively

      • Or like the Sox trading Babe Ruth… Oh wait that did happen, and the results were disastrous.

  • Kivaari

    Yep! I sure wouldn’t disagree with you on that one. Another blunder was the Colt M2000 American pistol.

  • cahillm2

    This sums it up

  • MPWS

    Priority of any Western based enterprise is profit. As that became a norm, hardly anybody in charge looked any further and was ready to scuttle any existing or prospective relationship, no matter how talented or capable the person they related to was. (This is part of my personal experience, btw.)
    Therefor, as Repeating Arms objective dwelled largely in this way of thinking (and due to nature of system you cannot expect anything else), and because Mr. Browning was intent on a NEW and more equitable way of dealing with them, the prospect of future cooperation collapsed.
    To find answer to mystery is very easy – private enterprise gives ALWAYS way to short term profit over long terms gain. It is covered by mysterious term of “staying viable”. So be it – it is history! There is nobody who will learn from it today, neither is keen of; again – part of my own experience.

  • Zebra Dun

    My only Browning is an Auto Five Light Twelve no vent rib with skeet choke 28 inch barrel.
    Made in 1955 in Belgium.
    I purchased in 1975 it from my brother-in-law whose wife got it as an inheritance from her father which he apparently ordered specially to hunt with. It was kept by the Brother-in-law in a closet and had a fine light dusting of surface rust on it.
    The Brother-in-law needed money and I got it for $125.00 cash.
    I have always been impressed with it’s ability to do it’s job no matter what the target or game, rabbits, squirrels, Deer and birds it can take them all if I do my part.
    As the choice of one gun to have to do all the things a gun would need to do, hunting, guard or self defense this is the one I would choose.
    The Man who invented and brought his design to reality was the finest arms designers in all of history in my opinion. The magazine cut off, the auto chambering of the first round in the mag is genius.
    The Browning kicks like a mule and is dated in it’s looks and handling but it’s clean lines and aim and point-ability are still superb.
    This is the one firearm I would not part with for any price, it will go to my son once I no longer am able to shoot it or need it.
    John Browning was a genius.

    • If your Auto-5 is kicking too hard, there is a friction ring system inside that wears out/gets old and stops working, that you can replace:

      I would ask an actual Auto-5 expert, first, though.

      • Zebra Dun

        Well I’ve been using my Browning Auto five for the last 40 years kinda makes me at least an amateur on an A-5 doncha think? ;^)
        Yes I know about the friction rings and their various placements for different loads and shot. The beveled end vs the straight end.
        I know that after a set number of shots and years the springs get loose.
        I also know that when a 28 inch barrel recoil operated chunk of steel comes back for the ejection phase it “kicks like a mule” but I do appreciate the information and technical support you have provided Nataniel!
        The slug loads have the greatest recoil while the birdshot is barely noticeable.
        Overall the recoil reminds me a bit like the recoil of the M-14.
        Thanks for the video and the assist!

  • Ted Unlis

    Winchester telling John Browning to hit the road is unquestionably the all time number one blunder in the history of commercial firearms.

    But which American firearms manufacturer is deserving of the number two spot?

    It has to be Colt with a long list of self destructive blunders culminating in their recent bankruptcy. But which one?

    Introducing the Anaconda long after demand for a 44 magnum revolver had waned and nearly TWO DECADES after S&W began selling their Model 29 by the train load?

    • I agree that Colt’s collectively has the number 2 spot, but their descent was a slow burn; I don’t know that I can point to any single monumental decision that marked a turning point.

      • Ted Unlis

        The downward spiral of Colt over the past 4 decades has been more of a death by a thousand cuts through complacency, lack of innovation, lack of flexibility, and refusal to adapt or evolve. You’re right, there wasn’t a single monumental decision, but there dozens if not hundreds of decisions or non decisions by Colt of the firearms they opted to produce or not produce that had monumental historical consequences. Hindsight is always 20/20, so it’s simple to gaze back and point out missed opportunities. I remember wondering back in the 70’s “Why doesn’t Colt come out with 44 mag or 45LC double action revolver to compete with S&W?”, that’s just one example that defied logic then and now.

  • Not the same category, but Winchester dropping Browning is like Edison refusing to move to AC from DC.

  • Rock or Something

    Bad decision for Winchester, but good decision for the firearm community as a whole. For all we know, if Browning had remained under Winchester’s employ, he might not have had the opportunity to create those iconic firearms.

  • zeprin

    I’ve always understood that JMB was an ‘Independant Contractor’ with Winchester having the ‘Right of ‘First Refusal’. When NEW managment took over at WRA the new Boss tried to treat JMB as an employee. And when JMB declined tried the old ‘You’ll never work in this inustry again!’ threat. Wherein JMB rolled up his plans walked out of WRA and went down the road to first Remington and then Savage where he GAVE to both the patent rights to a new shotgun design (Rem Auto5 &Sav 720) with which to beat WRA. And then got on the boat to Belgium to start Browning FN.

  • I’ve read John Browning’s biography two times Al; and it never ceases to amaze me. He truly was the best of the best.

  • maodeedee

    “Browning was a mechanical genius, however, lacked the necessary industrial engineering methods to bring his ideas into mass production”

    In other words he didn’t have enough formal training. And yet his ideas WERE rendered into mass production without much difficulty or the necessity to significantly re-work the original design. And what he lacked in formal training he more than made up for it with sheer intuition.

    Not long a go an engineering design team with the aid of some sophisticated computer modeling, went to work designing the perfect ergonomic grip angle for an auto-pistol that would be comfortable to the broadest possible range of hand sizes and would line up the hand with the arm so as to point naturally with the hand and arm held so that the sights line up, in the words it would posses excellent “pointability”.

    What they came up with was a grip identical to the 1911. If You’ve never held a browning Hi-power in your hands. or shot one, You need to. AThe basic lines an proportions of the gun which Browning designed are perfect. He was not able to work out all the small detains of the overall design betore he died but the basic proportions were all of his own inspiration.

    This is a double-stack gun where ONLY the grip is wide enough to house the double column magazine and the rest of the gun is smaller and there is no excess bulk and even the front of the slide is narrower than the part of the slide which travels on the frame rails and the frame itself is narrower at the top than the grip area.

    The FN browning SA-22 is another example of making a firearm as compact as it can possibly be with no unnecessary bulk. IMO, the hi-power and the SA-22 are magnificent works of mechanical art and are to mechanical design what Michelangelo’s David is to fine art

  • Jamie Clemons

    You win some you lose some.

    • maodeedee

      Browning was known to be very winsome. Winchester, on the other hand…..