The Shrine of Gun Design

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posted on August 29, 2011
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I recently returned from a trip to Odgen, Utah, that included an afternoon touring a veritable shrine for anyone interested in gun design. As museums go, the John M. Browning Firearms Museum is fairly small, the lighting is stark and the presentation rather plain. But none of that matters given the importance of what’s on display, which amounts to a family-album-intimate retrospective on Browning’s prolific and hugely influential career.

Offered up are the original or very early examples of such masterworks as:
*Various Winchester lever rifles, including the Models 1882, 1886, 1894 and 1895
*Experimental, gas-operated, self-loading rifle from 1889 plus the famed BAR, which served with U.S. forces in four major wars
*The Colt M1911 pistol
*Shotguns including the Winchester 1897 pump, Auto-5 recoil-operated semi-auto and Superposed over/under.

All (and more landmark Brownings on exhibit) went on to become best-sellers, and, more importantly, set design and performance standards that remain in force in most of the categories that have dominated the market for more than a century. Seeing how the features that made these guns great have been so widely imitated that you cannot go to a gun shop or gun show today and without encountering numerous derivative models, a museum visitor can only wonder what the firearm landscape would look like today if not for the genius of John Browning.

All this is put in context by the museum’s graphic review of Browning family history that includes rifles produced by clan patriarch Jonathan Browning. Later generations are also represented in the designs of Val S. Browning (son) and Bruce W. Browning (grandson). A recreation of John Browning’s Ogden workshop—equipped only with hand tools and a few rudimentary machines—underscores the great gun designer’s uncanny achievements.

I really traveled to Ogden to attend the Professional Outdoor Media Association annual conference, and while that event was a great success and well worth the trip in itself, the afternoon I spent in the museum really made my time there meaningful. By all means you should go too. For more info, go to theunionstation.org or call 801-393-9882.

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