Recently the Standard-Examiner ran a story about a local historic home for sale that might be — the sellers weren’t sure — connected to the Browning family?
Sure enough: Carolyn Rich Rasmussen, a descendent of Matthew Sandefur Browning, wrote the paper, giving the entire lineage: Her uncle, John Franklin Ellis, who was married to Matthew’s daughter Telitha, built the house at 2529 Jackson Ave. Telitha’s sister, Blanche, and her husband, Dr. Junior Edward Rich, lived in it eight years. Carolyn, of course, is descended from Dr. Rich.
Sorry for the genealogical listing: Who was related to whom gets intricate fast, especially when you are discussing the Browning Family. Jonathon Browning, the patriarch of the family, had several wives, they all had children, and they’re all still, many of them, around the Ogden area.
There are a lot of Browning homes, Browning descendants and Browning relatives. That they show up in such odd places and times is a testament to how intricately woven into the fabric of Ogden’s history the whole family is.
No, I am not going to try to list them all here. We are looking, today, only at Matthew S.
And well we should. The Browning Arms Museum at Union Station very rightly celebrates John Moses Browning, who invented the guns that still bear the family name, but not as many remember the his kid brother who really, no kidding, made it all possible.
Inventors invent, and inventions are often innovative, but it takes a shrewd businessman to turn the invention into a steady income, let alone a business empire.
In that regard, Matthew S. Browning was very shrewd indeed.
Matthew was the man who built and managed the Browning Brothers Arms business, parlayed the family’s business success into an industrial giant, branched out and developed a bevy of new businesses in Ogden and around Utah, and even ran the city as mayor for two years.
Matthew was the second son of Jonathan and Elizabeth Browning, born in 1859 in Utah Territory. He was four years younger than John M., but the two were always close. They learned the gun trade together, went hunting and fishing together, and built their first guns together, although John was always the innovator.
Matthew took the business side in hand early on. According to a biography at a web site about Matthew, assembled by Ogden
resident Steven Lindquist, one of Matthew’s descendants, Matthew managed things while John served a Mission for the LDS Church and while John went back east and to Belgium to supervise setting up assembly lines and manufacturing of the various guns they had licensed to those companies.
Licensing was their secret. Matthew and John started out making and selling guns. They had their own sporting goods shop in Ogden, selling their own guns, other sporting goods and supplies, and even bicycles. They quickly learned that the real money was in inventing them and then letting someone else build and market them. Winchester and Colt in this country, and Fabrique Nationale in Belgium, all produced guns that John designed.
Matthew took his time in the shop too. Guns were the family business, after all, and Matthew was as interested in how they worked as his brother. Matthew’s name is on 24 Browning Brothers patents, eight of which were manufactured.
Matthew was with his brother, John on that fateful day in 1890 when they were hunting amid some reeds and bullrushes north of Ogden. John noticed the blast from the gun pushed the reeds apart and a lightbulb lit. Both brothers went back to the shop, and three days later a working model of the world’s first gas-operated machine gun emerged.
Marriner Browning, Matthew’s son, wrote of seeing his father and John working together on a prototype of the Auto 5 shotgun, experimenting together to make the mechanism work best.
While John concentrated on guns, Matthew invested the family money and branched out. He served on the boards of a number of a wide range of local businesses, including the Utah National bank of Ogden, the Utah-Idaho Central Railroad, the Lion Coal Company, KWFA radio station, the Ogden Transit Company, Utah Power and Light, Deseret National Bank and on and on. The Browning Brothers even set up the Browning Brothers Overland automobile company.
He wasn’t all business, though. Matthew was one of the four B’s, of Ogden — expert marksmen trap shooters (along with John Browning, Gus Becker and A.P. Bigelow).
In 1890 he teamed up with John and David Eccles and local businessman Joseph Clark to build the Grand Opera House in Ogden. This later became the Orpheum Theater in Ogden.
Matthew was heavily involved in civic matters.
He was a regular at the Weber Club, a meeting place on the top floor of the Eccles Building where the city’s power elite met and steered the city’s future. M.S. Browning hung out with with such luminaries as David C. Eccles, Thomas D. Dee, Albert Scowcroft, Abe Glasmann, Gus Becker and others.They formed committees to guard the city’s interest in the building of the Lucin Cutoff, encourage people to buy Liberty Bonds, and much more.
He was in the volunteer fire department at one time. In 1900 he was elected Mayor of Ogden, serving a single 2-year term. He
was president of the city school board, and in 1912 served on a committee to design and fund the Utah State Capitol building. He was even asked to run for governor, but declined because his wife didn’t want to move to Salt Lake City.
He traveled and enjoyed life. A 1916 article in the Ogden Evening Standard has him returning from a tour of the east, including New York City. On the night of the presidential election in 1916 he was in the New Astor Hotel in that city, along with GOP candidate Charles Evans Hughes.
Early in the evening, Browning later told the Standard, “the New York Times, a Democratic paper, conceded the election of Mr. Hughes. Pandemonium reigned in the streets.”
Pandemonium indeed. Hughes hadn’t expected to win, and he really hadn’t. Woodrow Wilson, the Democrat, had actually won.
Matthew went on to discuss the attitude of easterners to Utahns, which he said was not good. He said the New York “Globe,” a daily paper, “published a bitter diatribe against the people of Utah following the election,” which Browning called “a scandalous and outrageous attack.”
The vitriol was because Utah, apparently, was one of 30 states backing Wilson. Browning said “the people of the east know nothing of the unconquerable spirit of the progressive west, nor of the conditions west of the Rockies. The west is like a sealed and mysterious volume to them.”
Browning died June 29, 1923, of an apparent heart attack while visiting his attorney’s office in the Eccles Building, 24th and Washington. His funeral was attended by the current mayor of Ogden and six previous mayors, the current and former governor of Utah, and Heber J. Grant, president of the LDS Church. The list of pall bearers, and honorary pall bearers, was a list of the high and powerful of Ogden and Utah.
All those people turned out, of course, hoping that he wouldn’t be forgotten. Here in Union Station’s Archive we’re trying hard to keep that from happening too.
Our thanks to Steven Lindquist. His web site on Matthew Browning has a full list of his patents, pictures and much else. Check it out at http://www.matthewsbrowning.com.