The wonderful FN Browning 1900, and its many imitators
John Moses Browning’s first semi-auto handgun was one of the best ever made and, regardless of whether you call it the Browning No.1, the FN Mle. 1900 or the M1900, it has a very interesting (some would say infamous) story to tell.
Why was it born?
When Mr. Browning began to market his low-wall M1885 rifle, firearms giant Winchester stood up and noticed then promptly sent a lawyer to the inventor’s Utah shop with a contract to put him on the payroll with an exclusive contract. Throughout the next decade and change, Browning came up with the idea for some of the best lever action rifles and shotguns that Winchester ever sold, but by 1897 made a break from the company.
This put the Thomas Edison of American small arms into play and he branched out into designing not only lever action and pump action long arms but also semiautomatics, machineguns, and handguns– but needed someone to make them.
Going first to Remington, things didn’t work out, so Browning packed a steamer trunk and headed to the Belgian manufacturing town of Herstal to speak to the good folks at Fabrique Nationale (FN). Formed from the best gun minds in nearby Liege, renowned for firearms manufacture, FN was churning out Mauser bolt-action rifles by the thousands under contract for the Royal Belgian Army but was looking to expand.
Browning brought them his first semi-auto shotgun, which became famous as the Browning Auto 5, and a compact semi-auto pistol, which became best known as the 1900.