John Browning’s Gas-Toggle Pistol Was a Fascinating Design Dead End
Other types overtook this unique gun
by MATTHEW MOSS
On the April 20th, 1897, now-legendary firearms-designer John Browning received four patents for various pistol designs. These included two recoil-operated systems, a blowback design and — most interestingly — a pistol using a gas-operated toggle action.
Browning had developed the gas-operated design a few years earlier in 1894 and ’95. It was actually Browning’s first pistol design. Unfortunately, it also proved to be an evolutionary dead end.
Chambered in what would become known as .38 ACP, the prototype reflected Browning’s then-ongoing experimentation with gas-operation. It had a vent on top of the barrel that allowed venting gases to act on a “gas lever” connected to the breech-bolt by way of a toggle link.
Unlike Browning’s later recoil and blowback designs, the gas-toggle pistol did not feature a slide. To cock the weapon, the shooter pulled the gas lever, bringing the bolt to the rear.
When the pistol fired, the gas lever flipped back toward the operator. A connecting rod then pushed the breech-bolt to the rear, unlocking the breech, ejecting a spent case, cocking the hammer and stripping a new round from the magazine as it returned forward under spring-pressure.
The prototype was 21.6 centimeters long, weighed 964 grams and fed from a seven-round box magazine. It was this pistol that Browning first demonstrated to Colt representatives on the July 3, 1895. They were so impressed with the pistol and Browning’s other designs that they entered into a verbal agreement to purchase production rights to Browning’s pistols.
On the July 24, 1896, Colt bought the manufacturing and sales rights to all four of Browning’s pistol designs. While the blowback and recoil-operated designs would go on to spawn iconic pistols, the gas-operated design languished. Browning built only the single tool-room prototype.
While the gas-operated design may have been cumbersome when compared with the simplicity of the blowback design and the versatility of the recoil-operated designs, it was still lighter and less convoluted than many contemporary European pistols were.
The sole prototype is at the John M. Browning Firearms Museum in Ogden, Utah.