One of the early automatic rifles that has caught my interest for several years going now is the Winchester Machine Rifle, also known as the Burton Machine Rifle or the Light Machine Rifle. The Burton – as I’ll call it for the purposes of today’s post – is interesting primarily because it qualifies retroactively as an “assault rifle”, sharing all the normally ennumered characteristics of that class of firearms, 26 years before the MP. 43 would erupt onto the world’s stage.
Winchester designer Frank F. Burton took to the drawing board to develop an automatic weapon that would have the projectile volume and capacity to take down the zeppelin menace, and in doing so he created what could be considered one of the first assault rifles. However, that’s not the full extent of Burton’s genius, as his Machine Rifle in detail was ahead of its time in many respects. The Burton apparently used two different slamfire safeties, one being a safety that in the “on” position prevents the bolt from dropping, the other being a mechanism that prevents the firing pin from moving forward to strike the primer unless the bolt has completed its rearward travel and engaged the sear. These are safety features of the kind tha would not be seen commonly on submachine guns until the 1950s! Further, the Burton was vanguard to the modular rifle concept decades ahead, featuring both an interchangeable barrel mechanism as well as a modular trigger pack system.