John Browning is often referred to as the father of modern firearms, and most people versed in Western movies would recognize his iconic work instantly. Names like Winchester, Colt and Remington can all trace themselves back to designs of John Browning.
Browning was 24 when he acquired his first patent for a gun, the Winchester model 1885. It was a single shot gun made sturdy and dependable. Winchester wanted to push boundaries further, and he challenged Browning to create a lever-action repeating shotgun. While Browning did make the gun he’d set out to create, he was convinced that a pump would be more efficient.
Browning had a particular approach to design that fueled the decisions he made. He wanted people who used guns to be able to fire multiple rounds quickly and reliably. Others had demonstrated speed wasn’t the problem, but guns jammed easily and could become a liability.
Browning is said to have stumbled across the formula for his gas-powered automatic while watching a shooting competition. He noticed that reeds moved and swayed as the gun was fired, indicating gas was escaping. He created a mechanism that used that excess gas to power a reloading mechanism.
His designs were extremely effective. Soldiers during World War I carried Browning automatic rifles and machine guns into battle, and his weapons became the symbols of Hollywood Old West. He died in 1926, and his automatic firing mechanism was one of the last fundamental changes to come to firearms since.