John M. Browning's Early Years
The next outstanding step in automatic weapon design was made by a young western gunsmith, John Moses Browning. It would be impossible to produce a greater contrast in men than that existing between the two great masters of automatic weapons, Maxim and Browning. Hiram Maxim, a brilliant opportunist, needed only the incentive of promised wealth to turn from electricity at the age of 44; and, on his first attempt at producing an automatic machine gun, he succeeded where countless hundreds before him had failed. John M. Browning, on the other hand, was destined by inheritance to be a gun maker.
His father, Jonathan Browning, an outstanding rificsmith, produced weapons that were as advanced as was possible considering the ammunition of the day, which consisted of loose powder, ball and percussion cap. Born in Sumner County, Tenn., in October 1805. he went lo Nashville for his apprenticeship in gunsmithing. When he was about 21 years old, he moved to Davidson County, Tenn., where he set up his own gunsmithing business. He subsequently moved in 1834 to Adams County, 111., where he invested largely in land and carried on agricultural pursuits in connection with his gun and blacksmith trade. From 1842 to 1846 lie conducted his business in Nauvoo, 111., followed by a move to Kanesville now known as Council BluiTs, Iowa.
Here he engaged in manufacturing guns, wagons, and other equipment. He also continued his fanning and discharged the duties of magistrate, an office he had held in his other places of residence. The merits of his various repeating guns are described in the following advertisement in the Kanesville Frontier Guardian of 19 September 1849:
"The subscriber is prepared to manufacture, to order, improved Fire-arms, viz: revolving rifles and pistols; also slide guns, from 5 to 25 shooters. All on an improved plan, and he thinks not equalled this far east. (Farther west they might be.) The emigrating and sporting community are invited to call and examine Browning's improved fire-arms before purchasing elsewhere. Shop eight miles south of Kanesville on Musquito Creek, half a mile south of Trading Point. '
During his stay in Kanesville, Jonathan Browning produced two different styles of repeating rifles. One was a slide-action weapon that had a rather ingenious arrangement whereby the five-shot magazine alined each chamber concentric with the bore. The magazine was a rectangular piece of bar iron, chambered to accommodate powder and ball. The magazine, or bar. slid through an opening in the breech from left to right, being manipulated by finger pressure on a small lever on the side. At the same time it jacked the action forward, forming a gastight seal between chamber and barrel. This weapon was hailed as a great achievement by the gun trade, as it allowed the user not only to have several quick shots ready in the gun, but also to carry a number of loaded magazines.
Success encouraged Jonathan to make another repeater of different design. This time the breech mechanism housed a cylinder having six chambers operating somewhat on the order of the single-action revolver. Neither of these weapons, which added to the fame of Jonathan Browning throughout the frontier, was ever patented. It. is indeed probable that he did not even consider the idea.
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