More on the Winchester-Burton Machine Rifle, from Forgotten Weapons

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.

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


  • Here’s a photo of Frank F. Burton with John M. Browning. Burton worked with quite a few of Winchester’s designers during his career, including William Mason and T.C. Johnson. He eventually became leader of the design section within Winchester’s Research & Development department.

    • Here’s a later photo of Frank Burton with the Model 21 shotgun, which he helped design.

    • Giolli Joker

      Did J.M. Browning have a signature photo pose?

      • Nashvone

        If his right hand is on the gun, his finger is on the trigger.

  • Tassiebush

    So much of a “what might have been” factor with this gun.

    • tts

      Its too bad neither .351 Winchester Self-Loading or .345 Winchester Self-Loading took off. They both seem to be similar to or better than .30 Carbine performance to have done the job of a assault weapon well enough while still using a simple blow back action and still being relatively small and light compared to .308.

      Kind’ve impressive for the power they had. Especially for the early 1900’s/WWI era cartridges.

      • Tassiebush

        Absolutely agree!

  • noob

    why don’t we see dual magazine systems more often? could an AR Upper be made to feed from two inverted 30 rd mags, with a selector that automatically goes from left to right when one is exhausted? ejection could be through the AR magwell.

    • tts

      I believe its because they tend to add quite a bit of weight, cost, and complexity to the weapon and the advantage they offer is too small to make it all worthwhile.

      Top loading mag fed weapons tend to be a bit awkward with just 1 mag too but with 2 its probably much worse.

  • gunsandrockets

    Okay, in detail that firearm is much cooler than I thought it was based on just a thumbnail description.