Browning Machine Gun

Armed on tanks during the First World War to the dense jungles of Vietnam, American soldiers came armed with some form of the M1919 30-caliber machine gun. Asked by the United States military for the creation of a main armament for the American light tank, John M. Browning first designed and tested the M1919 Browning Machine Gun in September 1918. Over the next several decades, the weapon became configured into several variants with the most iconic as the M1919A4 variant issued throughout the Second World War. Capable of ranging in on targets at approximately 600 yards when equipped with a heavy eighteen-inch barrel and sending out about 600 bullets a minute before overheating. [1] However; instead of a complete removal of the previous barrel, John Browning changed the barrel to feature a air-cooled system, which cooled faster than its previous water-based system.

Water-cooling System vs. Air-cooling System

Lt. Val Browning Instructing US Soldiers, August 2011, photograph, Sadefense Journal , August 2011,

A water-cooled system required the operators to fill the case that surrounded the barrel with water as it would transfer heat that resulted in a cooling of the weapon. As a result, it made the weapon weigh approximately 35 pounds without water and nearly 40 pounds once the case became filled with water. [2] Also, with a tripod and cradle that weighed 52 pounds, the troops that used the weapon carried almost a hundred pounds onto the field as those figures do not include standard equipment.[3] The transition for air-cooled machine guns became necessary as it removed the heavy equipment and smaller components as the military moved towards faster and more mobile warfare. With Browning’s air-cooled design, which was done by eliminating the water jacket for a heavy construction that had six rows of twelve slots, allowed for weapon cooling and removed some of the heavier equipment from the weapon.[4] Unfortunately, the weapon did not enter service in time as factory production became ceased with the signing of the armistice on November 11, 1918, which left five-hundred produced for the tanks.[5] Despite the cancellation of the M1919 following the First World War, the machine gun would grow in usage during the interwar period as a tank gun became the first steps towards the standard M1919A4 used in the Second World War.


M1919A4 Variant


Contemplative Imaging . Browning .30 Cal Machine Gun. Photograph. Flickr. Union, Illinois, May 29, 2010. Illinois Railway Museum.

The M1919A4 was a variation of the M1919 as it displayed continued usage of the air-cooled design, which made the weapon more viable as a light machine gun. In addition to the 24 in the barrel, the change between the original M1919 that became equipped with a sight near the receiver to provide the operator with accurate fire. With the heavy barrel installed, it allowed the M1919A4 to have a rapid-fire rate of 60 rounds per a minute per a minute for 30 minutes; however, once the barrel was cool, it would be able to fire 150 rounds per a minute for 15 minutes before returning to the previous fire rate.[1]  Furthermore, weighing in at approximately 31 pounds allowed the operator to use the weapon without the need of a tripod becoming the first machine gun operated as a handheld weapon rather than remaining stationary. Despite some of the major additions to the machine gun, the sole reason that it became the majorly produced weapon was that it was the current viable choice for infantry usage. According to Rottman, out of six different civilian manufacturers and government arsenals that submitted guns against the M1919A4 which saw that none of those, “… guns met even minimum standards.”[2]  Despite not all the requirements being met, the M1919A4 entered mass production at Rock Island Arsenal, who produced approximately 397,000 flexible variants. [3] With the weapon in mind, it would become the most produced machine gun during the war period.
From the air-cooled barrel down to the minimal required parts that ran the weapon, the 1919 series machine guns maintained a reputation of being one of the few most reliable weapons in the United States arsenal. With its air-cooled barrel design, it allowed the weapon to be fired even in the coldest of conditions as machine gunner reported the M1919A4 being able to fire ice coated belts from its belt. Despite some of the positive traits of the M1919 series had been displayed it could be reduced that the weapon had its flaws as well. In comparison to other series and of countries’ light machine guns, the M1919 series had the least amount of fire rate and were much heavier. Despite these obvious flaws though, the M1919 has became the most ironic and used weapon throughout American history.

Other Resources

From the Vault: M1919A4 Browning Machine Gun

A web-series that spoke about the M1919A4 variant of the Browning Machine Gun that displays some of the history of the gun as well as how the gun functions.

Forgotten Weapons: 1919 Tank Machine Gun

Forgotten Weapon speaks about weapons that are not highly known, as this episode speaks about the history of the first M1919 variant Machine Gun.

[1] “With Our Soldier and Sailor Boys,” Cresco Plain Dealer, March 28, 1919, 2.

[2] Gordon L. Rottman, Browning .30-Caliber Machine Guns (Oxford: Osprey Publishing, 2014), 12.

[3] Ibid. 36.

[4] Gordon L. Rottman, Browning .30-Caliber Machine Guns, 25. “Colt Company’s Part in the Production of Machine Guns for the Great War,” Hartford Courant, July 27, 1919, 26.

[5] “Colt Company’s Part in the Production of Machine Guns for the Great War,” Hartford Courant, July 27, 1919, 26.

[6] Gordon L. Rottman, Browning .30-Caliber Machine Guns, 51.

[7] Ibid 16.

[8] Ibid.



  • Tammy R. Miller April 9, 2021 at 2:38 am Reply

    I have inherited a wooden top table and the bottom of the table is made of steel but has stamps on it: Patents March 28,1919, patents pending and also: Browning Coil Spreader, Mutual Foundry Mach & CO, Atlanta , GA. Is stamped on legs. I am trying to find any information on it. But the wooden top has a brass slot on each side on top of the table and two loop hooks underneath it, I thought it looked like an antique postal table that two people facing one another in the middle with a slot on each side of the persons. Please help me to find out anything about this industrial table with rolling tiny castors that you can lock in place so table won’t roll off. Thank you for assisting me with this. I plan to keep original and pass down for years to come.

    Tammy R. Miller

    • Cathy Moran Hajo April 13, 2021 at 3:49 pm Reply

      Hi Tammy, I don’t have any information about that table. You might try checking with a local museum or antiques dealer to get a sense of its history.

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