The high road for the high-wall: John Browning's first design for Winchester is lovingly recreated.

Author:Bodinson, Holt

Sometime in 1883, a Winchester salesman named Andrew McAusland bought a well-used single-shot rifle with the inscription, "Browning Brothers, Ogden, Utah" stamped on the barrel. The action intrigued him. It was simple, compact, strong and rather elegant. The breechblock functioned like a Sharps, but the firing pin worked in a straight line, and there was a centrally located hammer that was lowered and cocked with the movement of the under lever. Overall the rifle exhibited quality workmanship, yet he had never heard of the makers and patent holders, much less their place of business. Still, thinking the innovative design might be of interest to the Winchester management and engineering staff, McAusland shipped the rifle back to New Haven, Conn.

John Moses Browning's design certainly was of interest. One week after its arrival, Oliver Winchester's son-in-law, Thomas G. Bennett, Vice-President and General Manager of Winchester, boarded a train and headed to Utah to talk some business with those Browning boys.

The meeting between Browning and Bennett is one of those fortuitous events in the history of firearms that resulted in combining the design genius of John Browning with the production and marketing capability of Winchester. The combination made both sides famous and wealthy.

The negotiations lasted only one day and Browning asked $10,000 for the patent rights. He also enticed Bennett a bit with the hint that he was sitting on a repeating rifle design capable of handling the most powerful cartridges of the day (Winchester had only the relatively weak Model 1876, while rival Marlin had the 1881 chambered for the .40-60 Marlin and the .45-70).

Bennett countered with an offer of $8,000 and with a proviso that Winchester be given first right-of-refusal to Browning's repeating rifle design (later to become the popular 1886 Winchester). Browning accepted Bennett's offer. The deal concluded, Bennett scooped up all the finished rifles in the shop and returned to New Haven.

The Single Shot

Winchester did not catalog the new single shot until 1885. In the interim, its engineering staff modified and improved the basic Browning design for production purposes. Among the modifications, the Browning breechblock, operating at 90 degrees to the bore, was given a 6-degree cant so that the block cammed the head of the case into the chamber. Browning's spring-retracted firing pin was replaced with a cam-activated one and the tip diameter reduced. A safety gas vent was incorporated...

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