John Moses Browning
was born on 23 January 1855, in Ogden, 35 miles north of Salt Lake City (Utah, USA), between the Great Salt Lake and the Wasatch-Cache National Forest.
Gun-making ran in the family of the young John Moses, as his father was a gunsmith who had already been responsible for a number of innovations in the field. As a young boy, he spent time in his father's workshop, and knew the name of every part of a gun before he could read.
From the age of 6, he made fishing accessories from scraps of metal which he hammered into shape on a child-sized work bench made from a wooden crate. His 19th-Century American boyhood abounds with anecdotes, all of which point towards him becoming an internationally renowned inventor of genius.
It didn't take long for those who had observed his creative traits to make up their minds: at the age of just 23, Johna Moses lodged his first patent, for the "J.M. Browning Single Shot Rifle". This invention simplified the percussion mechanism, making it more durable and reliable.
Shortly before his death, his father handed over his business to John Moses. With his brother Matt, even with less than one thousand dollars in the bank and no experience of machine-tool operation, young Browning transformed the humble store into a small gun making workshop with seven employees.
The remoteness of their store, the low number of ready customers, and the lack of capital meant that the business struggled to survive until luck intervened to make the inventor's talents known to a connoisseur: a representative from Winchester.
In another state in the US, this representative had come across a gun made by the Browning brothers. Firmly convinced of the interest of their conception, he bought it from its owner and sent it to his superiors in the company's head office. So impressed were they that the managing director of Winchester himself set out straight away on a six-day journey to what, at that time, was still the Wild West - the real Wild West, to meet the Browning brothers.
Despite his astonishment at finding two young men in their twenties in a rustic workshop, the man was perceptive enough not to be fooled by appearances and signed commercial deals with them as soon as he could. The decision was a wise one: these agreements would last for several decades.
Browning had a future. Over the years, Browning granted licenses to several manufacturers for dozens of inventions and firearms. He invented almost everything in the field of firearms. The creativity and level of perfection of his inventions were so significant that the vast majority of his technological innovations could not be improved upon or replaced for several years.
The world of firearms is like the art world: the success of creators depends on the interest of well-informed amateurs. In 1897, it was one of the directors of the Fabrique Nationale (National Weapons Factory) at Herstal in Belgium, who noticed a 7.65 Browning pistol incorporating a new locking mechanism. He saw the appeal straight away and the NWF obtained the manufacturing license.
Thus began an uninterrupted period of collaboration between the inventor from the Great Salt Lake and the factory on the banks of the Meuse River.
Browning reached the pinnacle of its craft with the Auto-5 semi-automatic shotgun, which was a tremendous commercial success and prompted John Moses' first visit to the Herstal workshops.
But his world-wide acclaim is without doubt due to the 9 mm Hi-Power semi-automatic pistol. More than 10 million of these legendary pistols have been sold. Starting in 1907, it was adopted by most police and armed forces across the world. The fact that the generic name for this type of gun is "Browning" demonstrates the universal acclaim and recognition it has received.
Browning's success is not at all the result of chance. Like all American pioneers of that time, he turned luck to his advantage only through an enormous amount of hard work. His strength of character and the steadfastness of his principles were out of the ordinary.
Thus it was that, towards the end of his life, when offered an honorary title by a university, he refused it for the simple reason that "he had made it a rule never to accept anything that he had not earned as a result of his own work."
In 1925, John Moses Browning put the finishing touches on the prototype of an Over-and-Under which would change the history of the hunting shotgun. He called it simply B25, for "Browning 1925".
He died of a heart attack while working in his office in Herstal on 26 November 1926. It was his 61st visit to Belgium.
His body was repatriated to the United States, where he was buried with full military honours. His son Val continued his collaboration with the Belgian factory without interruption.
That collaboration continues to this very day.