John M. Browning and Matt S. Browning were sons of Jonathan Browning, inventor of slide-repeating and cylinder-repeating rifles. After his Mormon conversion, the Browning patriarch was chosen by Brigham Young to make guns and implements for the Mormon exodus from Nauvoo, Illinois, to Salt Lake City. Once Jonathan left, he became a community leader and never made guns again.
Jonathan followed the practice of polygamy, taking two more wives and fathering 22 children. John and Matthew Browning were sons of Jonathan’s second wife, Elizabeth Clark, who also gave birth to a girl who died in infancy. The 12 children of Jonathan’s first marriage were much older, so John became senior to his younger siblings. Even while very young, Matt devoted himself to John, and they enjoyed a close, enduring relationship.
John was 10 years old when he made his first gun out of old flintlock parts. He enlisted Matt to saw off the mangled muzzle of a barrel and make a stock before managing a method to attach the stock and barrel to a lock. Secretly, they decided to take it hunting, and John succeeded in using it to shoot three birds with one incredible shot.
John remained the inventor in the Browning family, but Matt took on the necessary role of a shrewd businessman. They learned the gun trade together and hunted for the rest of their lives. In time, Matt helped turn his brother’s creations into a successful business: Browning Brothers Arms Company in Ogden, Utah.
Browning Brothers Arms made and sold a few guns before Matt developed the business plan to license John’s inventions and let another company build and market them. Colt, Remington and Winchester all produced Browning’s firearm designs for the United States, while Fabrique Nationale (FN) in Belgium later entered agreements to produce several of John’s designs for the rest of the world.
Matt worked with John in developing firearms, also. Matt’s name appears on 24 Browning Brothers patents, eight of which were manufactured. And it was John and Matt who noticed that the blast from a gunshot pushed reeds apart on a hunt in 1890, which sparked the idea leading to the first gas-operated machine gun: the Colt-Browning Model 1895 Potato Digger.
While John continued to focus on firearms development, Matt expanded the company’s business opportunities, which even included a Browning Brothers Overland automobile dealership. As time allowed, John and Matt enjoyed taking hunting trips to evaluate their designs and consider improvements. In 1910, they harvested this elk in Montana using Browning’s Model 8 semiautomatic rifle, which had been manufactured by Remington since 1906.
Matt Browning died on June 29, 1923, of a heart attack. After 128 patents and influencing all categories of firearm and ammunition designs, John died in Liege, Belgium, while visiting FN on Nov. 26, 1927. A year prior, the legendary inventor shot 98 out of 100 birds at a trap range.