Updated:
Original:
Year
1855
Month Day
January 21

Gun designer John Browning is born

John Moses Browning, sometimes referred to as the “father of modern firearms,” is born in Ogden, Utah. Many of the guns manufactured by companies whose names evoke the history of the American West-Winchester, Colt, Remington, and Savage-were actually based on John Browning’s designs.

The son of a talented gunsmith, John Browning began experimenting with his own gun designs as a young man. When he was 24 years old, he received his first patent, for a rifle that Winchester manufactured as its Single Shot Model 1885. Impressed by the young man’s inventiveness, Winchester asked Browning if he could design a lever-action-repeating shotgun. Browning could and did, but his efforts convinced him that a pump-action mechanism would work better, and he patented his first pump model shotgun in 1888.

Fundamentally, all of Browning’s manually-operated repeating rifle and shotgun designs were aimed at improving one thing: the speed and reliability with which gun users could fire multiple rounds-whether shooting at game birds or other people. Lever and pump actions allowed the operator to fire a round, operate the lever or pump to quickly eject the spent shell, insert a new cartridge, and then fire again in seconds.

By the late 1880s, Browning had perfected the manual repeating weapon; to make guns that fired any faster, he would somehow have to eliminate the need for slow human beings to actually work the mechanisms. But what force could replace that of the operator moving a lever or pump? Browning discovered the answer during a local shooting competition when he noticed that reeds between a man firing and his target were violently blown aside by gases escaping from the gun muzzle. He decided to try using the force of that escaping gas to automatically work the repeating mechanism.

Browning began experimenting with his idea in 1889. Three years later, he received a patent for the first crude fully automatic weapon that captured the gases at the muzzle and used them to power a mechanism that automatically reloaded the next bullet. In subsequent years, Browning refined his automatic weapon design. When U.S. soldiers went to Europe during WWI, many of them carried Browning Automatic Rifles, as well as Browning’s deadly machine guns.

During a career spanning more than five decades, Browning’s guns went from being the classic weapons of the American West to deadly tools of world war carnage. Amazingly, since Browning’s death in 1926, there have been no further fundamental changes in the modern firearm industry.

FACT CHECK: We strive for accuracy and fairness. But if you see something that doesn't look right, click here to contact us!

ALSO ON THIS DAY

Women’s March

On the first full day of Donald Trump’s presidency, hundreds of thousands of people crowd into the U.S. capital for the Women’s March on Washington, a massive protest in the nation’s capital aimed largely at the Trump administration and the perceived threat it represented to ...read more

Vladimir Lenin dies

Vladimir Lenin, the architect of the Bolshevik Revolution and the first leader of the Soviet Union, dies of a brain hemorrhage at the age of 54. In the early 1890s, Lenin abandoned his law career to devote himself to Marxist study and the provocation of revolutionary activity ...read more

King Louis XVI executed

One day after being convicted of conspiracy with foreign powers and sentenced to death by the French National Convention, King Louis XVI is executed by guillotine in the Place de la Revolution in Paris. Louis ascended to the French throne in 1774 and from the start was unsuited ...read more

Concorde takes off

From London’s Heathrow Airport and Orly Airport outside Paris, the first Concordes with commercial passengers simultaneously take flight on January 21, 1976. The London flight was headed to Bahrain in the Persian Gulf, and the Paris to Rio de Janeiro via Senegal in West Africa. ...read more

President Carter pardons draft dodgers

On this day in 1977, U.S. President Jimmy Carter grants an unconditional pardon to hundreds of thousands of men who evaded the draft during the Vietnam War. In total, some 100,000 young Americans went abroad in the late 1960s and early 70s to avoid serving in the war. Ninety ...read more

Battle for Khe Sanh begins

One of the most publicized and controversial battles of the Vietnam War begins at Khe Sanh, 14 miles below the DMZ and six miles from the Laotian border. Seized and activated by the U.S. Marines a year earlier, the base, which had been an old French outpost, was used as a staging ...read more

Switzer of Our Gang murdered

Carl Dean Switzer, the actor who as a child played “Alfalfa” in the Our Gang comedy film series, dies at age 31 in a fight, allegedly about money, in a Mission Hills, California, home. Alfalfa, the freckle-faced boy with a warbling singing voice and a cowlick protruding from the ...read more

Alger Hiss convicted of perjury

In the conclusion to one of the most spectacular trials in U.S. history, former State Department official Alger Hiss is convicted of perjury. He was convicted of having perjured himself in regards to testimony about his alleged involvement in a Soviet spy ring before and during ...read more

Ethan Allen is born

On this day 1738, Ethan Allen, future Revolutionary War hero and key founder of the Republic of Vermont, is born in Litchfield, Connecticut. Allen’s father, Joseph, intended Ethan to attend Yale University, but his death in 1755 precluded that option. Instead, Ethan, the oldest ...read more