John Moses Browning and the Winchester Connection

John Moses Browning as a young man
John Moses Browning as a young man.

Three years after Oliver Win­chester was laid to rest in 1880, company Vice-President Thomas Bennet took a train to Utah to meet a man who was building an in­novative single-shot rifle.

That man was John Moses Brown­ing, and the rifle was his first patented design. In 1883 Bennet secured the rights to that patent and two years later Winchester unveiled the Winchester Model 1885. Extremely strong and accurate, this falling block sin­gle-shot became a favorite big game hunting and target rifle.

Shown are an original 1885 Single Shot and one of today's  Winchester 1885 rifles.

BAR AM Rifleman John Browning

It was eventually chambered for a greater variety of cartridg­es than any other Winchester had to that point. Ned Roberts, creator of the .257 Roberts car­tridge, claimed the M1885 was “the most reliable, strongest and altogether best single-shot rifle ever produced.” It’s still being manufactured and is capable of handling even the most power­ful modern cartridges.

With a famous, high-volume manufacturer available to build his firearms, Browning unleashed his inventive genius. He began showering Winchester with model after model, making the famous Winchester lever-actions stronger and more durable than ever. The M1886 featured twin vertical locking lugs to seal the breech bolt against the chamber. This permitted the use of longer cartridges like the .45-70 Govt. His lighter version of this rifle, the M1892, was chambered for smaller cartridges like the .44- 40 and .25-20. Browning and Winchester’s crowning glory came out two years later—the M94. Here was the perfection of the tubular magazine, lever-action rifle. Designed for the .38-55 cartridge, it proved more than strong enough to handle the new, smokeless powder .30 WCF (.30-30) introduced the very next year. This was the first commercial sporting cartridge to burn smokeless powder, and it included the industry’s first gilding-metal jacketed bullets. Light, trim, strong, rugged and reliable, the M94 has sold more copies than any other hunting rifle. I doubt Browning or Winchester had any idea the M94 and .30- 30 Winchester would become the most popular deer hunting combo in North America.


Single-Shot Rifle

  • The Single Shot, which became the Winchester 1885 low and high wall rifles

Bolt-Action Rifle:

  • Winchester 1900

Lever-Action Rifles:

  • Winchester 1886
  • Winchester 1892
  • Winchester 1894
  • Winchester 1895

Lever-Action Shotguns

  • Winchester Model 1887/1901

Slide-Action Rifles:

  • Winchester 1890

Slide-Action Shotguns:

  • Winchester 1897
John Browning at a trap shooting event
John Browning at a trap shooting event with the one of the finest shotguns he designed for Winchester: The Winchester Model 1897.
Model 1897 Close Up

Despite the success of the M94, neither Browning nor Winchester were resting on their laurels. Anticipating the move to more efficient, jacketed spire point bullets and higher intensity smokeless powder cartridges, Browning engineered and Winchester began building the first lever-action with a fixed-box magazine. They called it the M1895 and chambered it for the .30-40 Krag and eventually the .30-06 Springfield. Roosevelt took an M95 in .405 Winchester to Africa as his “lion medicine.” Western novelist Zane Grey hunted with an M95 in .30-06.

Nearly 300,000 M95s were chambered in 7.62 Russian and sold to that country for military use. During the Spanish-American War, the U.S. War Department ordered 10,000 Model 1895 rifles in .30-40 Krag, but due to the short duration of the war, none of them ever saw action. This was Browning’s last lever-action Winchester.

John Moses Browning posing with the Four Bs
Shown in this historic photo is John Moses Browning posing with the Four Bs. A noted, early trap shooting team in Ogden, Utah. Left to right, Gus Becker, John M. Browning, A.P. Bigelow, and Matthew S. Browning, all from Ogden, Utah. According to Browning's grandson, John Browning, Becker owned the Becker Brewing Company. Bigelow was a banker and builder of Ogden's Bigelow Hotel (later the Ben Lomond Hotel). John and Matt founded the Browning Arms Company. Two were shooting Winchester 1897s (John and Matt), one was shooting an 1887 Winchester and the other a side-by-side. Names were identified in Curt Gentry's 1964 biography, John M. Browning, American Gunmaker: An Illustrated Biography of the Man and His Guns.

This blog article, originally titled "Celebrating 150 Years of Winchester: The Legacy of John Moses Browning," is used with permission of Winchester Ammunition. It appeared there during the 150th Winchester Anniversary celebrations. READ IT ON THE WINCHESTER AMMUNITION WEBSITE. 

Photos from Winchester Repeating Arms and courtesy the Browning company. Linked photos are used with approval.