John Browning’s 1895 Slide-Action Prototype

By 1895 Winchester had been considering a slide-action rifle for some time, in 1882 William Mason had begun work on one (US Patent #278987) to counter Colt’s slide-action Lightning only to drop it. Finally in 1890, Winchester introduced a slide-action .22 calibre rifle developed by John Browning. The Model 1890 became extremely popular.

Between 1887 and 1895 Browning patented four slide-action rifle designs. The first of these, US patent #367336, was granted in July 1887, this was followed in 1888 by US patent #385238. In September 1890, the Browning brothers were granted US patent #436965, which along with the previous 1888 patent protected what became the Model 1890. Three years later Winchester introduced the Model 1893 pump action shotgun, that would eventually evolve into the famous Winchester Model 1897.

Right-side close up of the rifle with its action open (Matthew Moss)

Finally, April 1895, Browning filed a patent for a design for a .30 calibre rifle which was granted in September 1895 (US patent #545672) This patent covers the rifle we’re examining here. The rifle itself is a slide or pump action in long barrelled configuration which Winchester described as a ‘Musket’.

The September 1895 slide-action design was purchased by Winchester but like so many other Browning designs, it never entered production and Winchester purchased the design purely to secure it and prevent other rival manufacturers picking it up. Winchester instead went with a lever-action design, patented in November 1895 (US #549345), which became the famous Winchester Model 1895.

A left-side view of the rifle’s receiver with Browning’s patent overlaid (Matthew Moss)

The September 1895 slide or pump-action rifle design had a laterally camming locking breechblock. As we can see, externally Browning’s toolroom prototype looks somewhat similar to the contemporary Winchester Model 1895, with a single-stack integrated box magazine but with a pump sleeve rather than a lever. 

An action-bar connects the slide/pump to the front of the breechblock/bolt carrieron the right-hand side of the rifle. The slide handle itself is made of a U-shaped piece of metal which wraps around the rifle’s forend. The slide has been roughly cross hatched to improve grip. There is a channel cut into the furniture for the action arm’s attachment point to travel. The slide is attached to the arm by a pair of screws.

A close up of the rifle’s slide/pump handle (Matthew Moss)

However, Browning developed this prototype to allow loading of the magazine from below rather than through the top of the receiver. He added a hinged floor plate, with a spring loaded follower, that allowed loose rounds to be dropped into the magazine and then closed.

As we open the magazine, hinging the cover plate down, we see the carrier flip down against the plate to allow loading. The rifle was designed to be loaded from below with the bolt forward.

Browning’s September 1895 patent (US Patent Office)

In the patent description Browning explained that his aim was to improve breech-loading box-magazine firearms by designing:  

“…a simple, compact, strong, highly effective, and safe gun, containing comparatively few parts and constructed with particular reference to provision for charging the box-magazine with cartridges from the bottom of the frame of the arm while the breech-bolt is in its closed position, so that the arm may be charged without operating its action mechanism or disturbing the cartridge in the gun-barrel, if one is there.”

Browning’s September 1895 patent (US Patent Office)

From the original patent drawings we can see the flat spring which acted on the carrier running below the barrel, ahead of the magazine. Inside the magazine are a pair of what Browning refers to as ‘spring fingers’ these act on the cartridges inside the magazine and keep them properly aligned, seen here in Fig.7 of the patent. In Fig.8 we can see what Browning calls a ‘box-like guideway’ which guide the rims of the cartridges, “preventing the cartridges from being displaced while being fed upwards.”

The rifle’s breechblock locked into a recess in the left side of the receiver, tilting at an angle with the rear of the breechblock canting to the left. When the pump handle was pulled rearwards the breechblock cammed laterally to unlock the action, extracted and ejected any spent casing and when the slide/pump was returned forward a new cartridge was picked up from the magazine, chambered the breechblock locked again ready to fire. The rifle’s hammer was cocked by the rearward movement of the breechblock.

A left-side view of the rifle with its action open, note the complex machining on the rear of the breech bolt (Matthew Moss)

Externally, the slide-action’s receiver looks similar to that of the production Model 1895 but internally they are very different. The action is certainly less open than the Model 1895’s but the lateral locking mechanism is less robust. Additionally, with no lever, as in the Model 1895, the slide-action rifle lacks the safety mechanism which prevents the action from opening accidentally.

A view inside the open magazine with the floorplate hinged open (Matthew Moss)

The model is in the white and while externally the machining and tool work is very neat, inside the action we can see where the cuts in the receiver wall have been more crudely made. In terms of design, the slide-action prototype was certainly simpler and had fewer working parts than the Model 1895 lever-action.

Winchester purchased the .30 calibre slide-action design but never produced it, it is believed that only Browning’s prototype was built to prove the concept. The prototype was part of Winchester’s collection and may now be found at the Cody Firearms Museum.

Check out our earlier videos on Browning’s lever-action box magazine-fed prototype and his en bloc clip-fed prototype.


If you enjoyed the video and this article please consider supporting our work here. We have some great perks available for Patreon Supporters. You can also support us via one-time donations here.


Bibliography:

‘Box Magazine Bolt Gun’ J.M. Browning, US Patent #545672, 3 Sept. 1895 (source)

‘Box Magazine Firearm’, J.M. Browning, US Patent #549345, 5 Nov. 1895 (source)

John M Browning: American Gunmaker, J. Browning & C. Gentry (1964)

Winchester Repeating Arms Company, H. Houze, (2004)

Fighting On Film: Theirs Is The Glory (1946)

Fighting On Film is a brand new podcast about classic and obscure war movies. Hosted by Matt and Robbie McGuire (of RM Military History). In this first episode we discus an absolutely fascinating war film – Theirs Is The Glory, a 1946 telling of the story of the Battle of Arnhem. What makes the film unique is that it was filmed entirely on location and with a cast made up of soldiers who had fought at the battle!

You can listen below or find the podcast here.

You can find all the available distribution points here!

Robbie and I discuss the unique production of the film, the weapons, kit and equipment seen on screen and some of our favourite scenes. We hope you enjoy our ramblings and we definitely encourage you to check Theirs Is The Glory out.

Some scenes from the film:

Find out more and follow us on twitter at @FightingOnFilm

Update!

This is just a quick update on TAB’s status as we haven’t been able to post a video in several weeks. This is for a number of reasons, Vic is currently editing quite in-depth videos on both the AR-10 and the G11 – two important subjects we want to cover in detail – and they are taking a little time to complete. In the meantime I (Matt) had planned to upload several shorter videos (on coastal artillery and the M45 .50 cal Quadmount) I filmed on recent travels. Sadly, however, my computer is in for repair and I won’t be able to edit or finish them until next week at the earliest.

TAB is a labour of love and we don’t always have the time to devote to it that we would like with our day to day work often having to come first. What we would like to achieve going forward though is weekly videos. We have plenty of footage and now that I am also, when I get my computer back at least, able to edit we should be able to increase the number of videos we post. We have further collections in mind to visit in the near future, time and funds permitting, and we hope to have even more interesting content filmed soon. 

As for the helpful feedback we’ve received in comments and in private we’re very receptive to this and as we stressed at the very beginning of the TAB project it’s a learning curve! We will be striving to improve our techniques and how we present during future filming trips. It’s still early days!

Thank you for your patience and your support so far. We’re really pleased with the reaction we have received with thousands of views and hundreds of subscribers over on YouTube. You can also stay up-to-date via the TAB Facebook page. We have lots planned and look forward to bringing it to you soon. 

Thanks again! 

Matt