MS Browning, the “forgotten” brother

Steve Lindquist and his ancestor, Matthew Sandefur Browning, face-off.

Ogden resident Steve Lindquist packed Union Station’s Dumke Conference room Tuesday with a talk about Matthew Sandefur Browning, and right now you are saying: “Who?”

Everyone on the planet, pretty much, knows Matthew’s brother. John Moses Browning is the guy who invented all the guns that bear the Browning name, or so most people believe.

What they don’t know, Steve makes clear, is that Matthew had a hand in some of the most significant patents that John received, and is responsible for much of the economic impact that Browning guns had on Ogden and the rest of the world.

Matthew’s much diminished profile in local and national history is a sore point for Steve Lindquist, who is one of the many descendants of Matthew S. in Ogden and Weber County. Those folks who crowded the room Tuesday were many of those relatives and descendants.

John Browning was born in 1855, and Matthew was born four years later. When Matthew was 20 years old, the two opened up Browning Brothers in Ogden, selling the guns they were making as well as a wide range of sporting goods. Early pictures of their shop shows it crowded with bicycles, for example.

Gun collectors and Browning family relatives crowd Union Station to hear about Matthew Sandefur Browning.

Matthew was the businessman while John was the inventor, but even so, Matthew’s name is on 26 of the 128 patents that bear the John Browning name. Some examples include the Winchester 1886 and 1892 lever action rifles, a repeating shotgun and several models of lever action shotguns.

The most significant patent to carry Matthew’s name was the “Flapper” rifle of 1892, the first working model of the gas-operated machine gun. The two developed it together, and every gas operated rifle since then — AK47 for example — uses the principles Matthew helped develop.

After 1895, Steve said, the patents only bore John’s name, “but I have to believe Matthew didn’t stay out of the shop.” He said “it’s hard to believe that a guy could sit at a desk all day when there was fun stuff going on in the shop,” and several family members in the audience confirmed that they heard talk, several times, of Matthew working in the shop on ideas.

Steve Lindquist shows one of the early rifles Matthew S. Browning helped develop.

The last gun that Browning Brothers made themselves was in 1892, when they sold the patent on the single shot rifle they had invented for $8,000. After that, they decided that there was more money easily made in selling ideas than guns, either selling the patents outright or selling rights and collecting royalties. Winchester in the US and Frabrique Nationale in Belgium ended up producing hundreds of thousands of Browning-design guns.

Which meant someone had to manage the family’s money. That was where Matthew shone. They invested in, or founded, automobile dealerships, urban railroads, banks, construction and much else. From 1900 to 1902 Matthew was even mayor of Ogden. He was even  spoken of as a candidate for Governor of Utah, but his wife refused to move to Salt Lake City.

Matthew died on June 29, 1923, while visiting his lawyer in the Eccles Building in Ogden (now a Hampton Inn hotel). His brother John died three years later.

While the world knows of John, Steve and other family members are doing what they can to keep Matthew’s name alive. He even has a web site — click HERE — with a lot more detailed history than I have space for here.

Steve Lindquist with some of his collection of guns and rifles developed by Matthew S. Browning.

His work is important. Everyone contributes to their town’s history, some in small ways, some in large, and all deserve to be remembered. Matthew’s huge contributions deserve a lot more attention than they get.