There are certain places on Earth where human ingenuity is preserved in awe-inspiring form. The NRA National Firearms Museum in Fairfax, Va., is one of those places.
Home to an extraordinary collection of firearms from U.S. presidents, generals and pivotal points in world history dating back to 1350, the treasure trove of arms at the museum illustrates history through the guns that made us who we are today.
The foremost examples of human ingenuity on display at the museum include the works of firearm mastermind John M. Browning. Many of Browning’s designs pioneered modern firearm technology and remain in military service to this day. In total, Browning received over 120 patents for more than 80 different firearms, and his designs are still produced by a variety of manufacturers.
As a celebration of his genius, we’re highlighting a selection of Browning’s famous guns on display at the NRA National Firearms Museum. Next time you’re in Virginia, make sure to check out the museum to fully experience the entire collection in person.
Information and images courtesy of the NRA National Firearms Museum.
Winchester Model 1873 Lever Action Rifle
Popular on both sides of the law, this particular Winchester Model 1873 rifle was made in 1897. SN 520772B
In Mexico, France had taken advantage of turbulance in a rebellion-torn United States. Napoleon III sought to take over Mexico, and poured 30,000 troops into Mexico City to support his puppet government. With Union victory, France’s dream of a new North American empire faded. The French began to withdraw from Mexico, particularly near the U.S. border, where Springfield-armed troops and Winchester-armed settlers wanted foreign forces out. The improved Winchester Model 1873 made this feasible.
Winchester Model 1885 Single Shot Falling Block Rifle
A “Low Wall” model, this single shot has the factory installed octagonal barrel and tang sight. The Model 1885, Winchester’s first single shot rifle, was manufactured c. 1885-1920 in both High Wall and Low Wall configuration. SN 92265
Winchester Model 1886 Lever Action Rifle
This Browning-designed lever-action rifle was capable of chambering big-game cartridges, including the .50-110 Express. SN 41390
The Model 1886 differed from previous Winchester designs. John M. and Matthew S. Browning designed it to chamber big-game calibers, much to the pleasure of American hunters. Included among its boosters were Theodore Roosevelt, who liked to hunt the big ones.
Winchester Model 1887 Lever Action Shotgun
The long popularity of their repeating rifle line gave the Winchester Repeatng Arms Company good reason to manufacture another of John M. Browning’s designs, a repeating shotgun that offered a six-shot capacity.
Winchester’s Model 1887 was offered in both 10 and 12 gauge chamberings and its broad receiver side proudly bore a WRA Co. monogram. This strong rolling block design, operated by the traditional Winchester lever action, was favored by express companies and law enforcement. The size and strength of its latest lever-action provided Winchester with a unique experimental platform. A limited number of Model 1887s were built with rifling near the muzzle, and were chambered for the massive .70-150 cartridge. Firing a 700 to 900 grain projectile, this repeater used a necked-down metallic shotshell.
Winchester Model 1894 Lever Action Rifle
The .30-30 was the Winchester Model 1894’s most popular caliber for more than a century; over 80% of those manufactured are in this chambering. This caliber is a world standard, and .30-30 ammunition is often available when other cartridges are not.
Winchester 94s in .30-30s are synonomous with the term “deer rifle” in the minds of many hunters. This 1913-dated example, originally priced at $26.50, features an octagonal barrel, crescent butt, half magazine, and tang sight.
Browning Auto-5 Semi-Automatic Shotgun
The Browning Auto-5, although revolutionary for its time, has become very popular with sportsmen.
In 1905 John M. Browning produced a revolutionary autoloading shotgun. Although Browning had been the principal designer for Winchester Arms for many years, this new shotgun caused a break between him and Winchester because the arm was not traditional.
Colt Model 1903 Hammerless 32 Pocket Auto Pistol
A slim, pocket-sized semi-automatic pistol, the Model 1903 Hammerless was offered by Colt in .32 ACP with blue or nickel finish. This model was manufactured by Colt from 1903 to 1946 with over a half million produced. SN 443425
Colt Model 1905 45 Automatic Pistol
Predecessor to the Model 1911, the Model 1905 45 Automatic Pistol was tested in 1907 by the US military. SN 5559
A number of changes were soon added to the pistol; these included an enlarged ejection port, occasional additions of a lanyard loop, and even attachable shoulder stocks.
The final product, which was adopted by the government as the Model 1911, looks markedly different from the original M1905 and, more importantly, has several functional differences. The major difference is that the M1911 barrel is connected to the receiver by only one swinging link at the breech end. During recoil, this link draws the breech end of the barrel down, unlocking it from the slide. The muzzle end of the barrel is supported by a sliding fit in a bushing at the forward end of the slide. Other differences include the addition of an external safety, a grip safety, a different slide stop, and a magazine release button.
Colt Vest Pocket Model 1908 Semi-Automatic Pistol
One of the smallest of Browning’s handgun designs, the vest pocket-sized Model 1908 had better sales success for Fabrique Nationale in Europe than for Colt in America. SN 173550
U.S. Colt Model 1911 Semi-Automatic Pistol
Developed by John Browning with the express concept that it would be the finest service pistol possible, the semi-automatic Model 1911 remained the standard U.S. issue sidearm for over seventy-five years.
A favorite of competitors and recreational shooters, the M1911 first established its reputation as a military arm, serving as the U.S. Army’s standard sidearm for nearly 75 years and seeing action in every American conflict from the Mexican Punitive Expedition of 1916 through Operation Desert Storm.
They have also served various law enforcement agencies and continue in that role today, having recently been selected for use by the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s elite Hostage Rescue Team. As famous and ubiquitous as they have since become, the M1911’s service life began modestly.
Winchester Model 1918 Browning Automatic Rifle (BAR)
The Browning Automatic Rifle, or BAR, was both a workhorse and favorite of U.S. Army and Marine Corps infantrymen for nearly fifty years. Produced by Colt, Winchester, and Marlin-Rockwell, this 16-pound rifle featured a massive machined steel receiver, walnut stocks with checkered fore-end, and a detachable 20-round magazine. Capable of either semi- or fully-automatic fire, the BAR fired in the automatic mode at a rate of 500 rounds-per-minute.
Later versions included a folding bipod, fiberglass buttstock, and substituted a “slow rate” of automatic fire for the semi-automatic.