Entertainment

‘Guns of John Moses Browning’ Explores Life and Legacy of Legendary Gunmaker

June 12, 2021J. Ford Huffman
john moses browning

Nathan Gorenstein’s second book, “The Guns of John Moses Browning: The Remarkable Story of the Inventor Whose Firearms Changed the World,” hit shelves May 25.

Author Nathan Gorenstein reverently respects the subject of his second book, The Guns of John Moses Browning: The Remarkable Story of the Inventor Whose Firearms Changed the World.


Browning’s pioneering designs and development of modern automatic and semi-automatic firearms made him one of the most successful firearms designers of the 19th and 20th centuries. Gorenstein’s exploration of the man’s life and legacy is a meticulous, if not always a mesmerizing, documentation of shooting devices and the man who conceived of their development.


“His genius lay in imagining new machines — which is what a firearm is,” Gorenstein writes. “As Henry Ford was to automobiles and Thomas Edison was to electricity, Browning was to firearms, and his inventions had similar world-shaking influence.”


Unlike Ford and Edison, Browning “sought no publicity,” and his reticence presents a challenge to the book’s author and reader a century after Browning’s death. The man who changed the way guns worked barely ever changed his expression. Gorenstein’s work is a biography of a man without a personal life loaded with ammunition for action-packed storytelling. In Gorenstein’s presentation, Browning was preoccupied with “the mechanical ingenuity of his inventions.”


browning
John Moses Browning poses seated on the ground behind an M1917 Browning heavy machine gun. Photo courtesy of Connecticut State Library Flickr.

Born in 1855 as one of 22 children of a Mormon man with three wives, Browning makes his first gun at age 10. “You’re going on 11,” his father says. “You can’t make a better gun than that?” At 15, Browning drops out of school in Ogden, Utah, after one teacher “is said to have told John he’d exhausted his instructors’ store of knowledge.”


Without further formal study, Browning creates ideas that later fill gunmakers’ plants and merchants’ shelves with design after design of better and better rifles, pistols, shotguns, and machine guns produced by brands such as Winchester, Colt, Remington, and Savage — and Fabrique Nationale (FN) in Europe.


Browning is not widely known in the US, but Europe recognizes his arms. His 22-ounce pistol is “le browning” in France and the “browning” in England and Germany, and sales peak at 724,000 in 1914. Browning spends months at a time at the Colt and Winchester factories in Connecticut, and he also visits partner Fabrique Nationale’s factory in Liège, Belgium, often.


“What he proposed, FN was likely to build,” Gorenstein writes.


The inventor who, with his brother and business partner Matt Browning, learns how to speak “proper” English for his meetings in New England also teaches himself how to speak and read French. Belgian workers call him le maître (“the master”), and an FN company publication notes the 6-foot, 2-inch Browning’s affinity for wrapping himself “in a cape and wearing a wide-brimmed hat.”


With half-brother Ed Browning at his side in the Ogden workshop, Browning develops “machines that went on to arm the American Army in the greatest war of the century.” Among them are the .30-caliber machine gun and the Browning Automatic Rifle (“created off the shelf in Ogden”).


Gorenstein says 510,000 of Browning’s 1911 pistols saw “wide service” in World War I and that T.E. Lawrence, “the one from Arabia,” owned two Colt 1911 pistols.


Cpl. Jeremy Chow, a Marine Corps Air Station Miramar Special Reactions Team member, fires the M1911 Service Pistol during training at MCAS Miramar, Calif., May 15, 2019. US Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Jake McClung.

“But it was Corporal Alvin C. York whose combat record led the gun to popular fame” after York’s actions in France in 1918 brought death to German soldiers and a Medal of Honor to the 30-year-old from Tennessee.


After noting Browning’s 1926 death, the book continues with 40 pages of examples of his impact on firearms and warfighting. The author describes the courage of Medal of Honor recipient and eventual movie star Audie Murphy and his success with a Browning M2 .50-caliber machine gun — known affectionately among military members as the Ma Deuce — in World War II.


“Smashed by artillery fire and riddled by Murphy’s machine gun, the German advance faltered and collapsed” in Alsace province, France, in 1945.


Ma Deuce old weapon systems
Army Reserve drill sergeants teach a group of Clemson University Reserve Officer Training Corps cadets how to pull apart a Browning M2 .50-caliber machine gun as part of a leadership training exercise, Oct. 24, 2015. US Army photo by Sgt. Ken Scar.

“Every American fighter plane and bomber — numbering nearly 300,000 by war’s end — was armed with Browning machine guns,” and “on the ground, four of America’s seven major infantry weapons were Browning inventions.”


Browning’s creations continue to trigger sales and respect for the inventive mind that always “figured out a simple, elegant way to accomplish a complex task.”


Today, Gorenstein writes, “about 50,000 Browning M2 machine guns remain in use by the American military,” and nearly 2 million were made in World War II alone. “Total worldwide production is now estimated to be 3 million, and it is used by some 100 nations.”




The Guns of John Moses Browning: The Remarkable Story of the Inventor Whose Firearms Changed the World by Nathan Gorenstein, Scribner, 336 pages, $28


Read Next: 5 of the Most Hilarious Shootout Scenes in Movie History



J. Ford Huffman
J. Ford Huffman

J. Ford Huffman has reviewed 400-plus books published during the Iraq and Afghanistan war era, mainly for Military Times, and he received the Military Reporters and Editors (MRE) 2018 award for commentary. He co-edited Marine Corps University Press’ The End of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (2012). When he is not reading a book or editing words or art, he is usually running, albeit slowly. So far: 48 marathons, including 15 Marine Corps races. Not that he keeps count. Huffman serves on the board of Student Veterans of America and the artist council of Armed Services Arts Partnership and has co-edited two ASAP anthologies. As a content and visual editor, he has advised newsrooms from Defense News to Dubai to Delhi and back.

More from Coffee or Die Magazine
Intel
US Speeds Up Abrams Tank Delivery to Ukraine War Zone

The original plan was to send Ukraine 31 of the newer M1A2 Abrams, which could have taken a year or ...

March 21, 2023Associated Press
Coffee Or Die Photo
Intel
US: War Crimes on All Sides in Ethiopia's Tigray Conflict

The Biden administration announced Monday that it has determined all sides in the brutal conflict in Ethiopia’s northern Tigray region committed war crimes and crimes against humanity.

March 20, 2023Associated Press
military pilots cancer rates
Military
Higher Cancer Rates Found in Military Pilots, Ground Crews

In its yearlong study of almost 900,000 service members who flew on or worked on military aircraft b...

March 20, 2023Associated Press
whiskey pour
Military
Veterans Lead the Way Among America’s Growing Craft Distilleries

American veterans are taking the lessons they learned in the military and changing the craft distilling industry.

March 20, 2023Mac Caltrider
military suicide veteran suicide
Military
Military Moves To Cut Suicides, But Defers Action on Guns

In a memo released Thursday, Austin called for the establishment of a suicide prevention working gro...

March 17, 2023Associated Press
us military drills japan-south korea
Intel
US, Partners Stage Military Drills Amid Japan-South Korea Talks

The Sea Dragon 23 exercises that started on Wednesday will culminate in more than 270 hours of in-fl...

March 17, 2023Associated Press
leo jenkins a word like god
Entertainment
‘A Word Like God’: New Book From Army Ranger Leo Jenkins

In his latest poetry collection, Ranger-turned-writer Leo Jenkins turns away from war to explore cosmic themes of faith, fatherhood, and art.

March 16, 2023Mac Caltrider
us drone
Intel
Pentagon Video Shows Russian Jet Dumping Fuel on US Drone

The Pentagon on Thursday released video of what it said was a Russian fighter jet dumping fuel on a ...

March 16, 2023Associated Press
  • About Us
  • Privacy Policy
  • Careers
Contact Us
  • Request a Correction
  • Write for Us
  • General Inquiries
© 2023 Coffee or Die Magazine. All Rights Reserved