Matthew S. Browning Biography

Matthew Sandefur Browning, financier, inventor, philanthropist and statesman, was born October 27, 1859, in Ogden, Utah Territory, the son of Elizabeth Caroline Wier Clark and Jonathan Browning.

Jonathan Browning descended from a long line of Brownings going back to Captain John Browning, who sailed to America from England in 1622 aboard the Abigail (1). Jonathan was a well-known gunsmith born in Brushy Fork, Tennessee, on October 22, 1805. He lived in Kentucky, Illinois, and Council Bluffs, Iowa, before moving to the Utah Territory as a convert to the Mormon Church in 1851 (2). Jonathan's career in the east included being a justice of the peace in the vicinity of Quincy, Kentucky, where he met a young lawyer named Abraham Lincoln and the two became fast friends. As a gunsmith he was known for making reliable, muzzle-loading, repeating rifles, which were very innovative for their time (1).

Matthew was Jonathan and Elizabeth's second son; their first son, John Moses, was 4 years older. A third child, a sister, died in infancy. These were the only children of Elizabeth Clark, Jonathan's second wife.

Jonathan, being a polygamist, had two other wives and families. His first wife, Elisabeth Stallcup, and their 10 children settled in Salt Lake City upon their arrival in Utah Territory. Jonathan's fourth wife, Sarah Ann Emmett, stayed in Ogden and had several children. Among Jonathan and Sarah's five children were Jonathan Edmund (Ed), Thomas Samuel (Sam), William W., Olive E. and George E.

Matt and his brother John M. were very close. According to , "young Matt…attached himself to John's heels as soon as he could walk (1). Both boys learned the gunsmith trade in their father's shop and in 1879 Jonathan sold the business to the two brothers. This marked the beginning of the Browning Brothers, a union that bound John and Matt in close intimacy all their lives."(1)(4)

In 1879 John M. invented and patented a single-shot rifle that proved to be superior to anything on the market, and demand was so great that they expanded the business. In 1880 the brothers hired their three half-brothers (by their father's fourth wife, Sarah Ann Emmett), George, Sam and Edmund, along with a fourth man, machinist Frank Rushton, to manufacture the rifle by hand in the shop.

When T.G. Bennett, the president of Winchester Arms, learned of the rifle from Andrew McAusland, a Winchester salesman, he recognized its value and traveled to Ogden to negotiate a purchase of the patent and inventory (3). Having purchased the patent to the single shot rifle, Winchester began manufacturing and selling the design as the Winchester Model 1885. This began a relationship with Winchester that would last through the turn of the 20th century. The brothers realized that creating and selling patents was much easier than manufacturing. The Browning brothers never again manufactured their own guns.

The success of the single shot and its sale to Winchester made it possible to broaden the business; Matthew initiated its expansion into sporting goods and other merchandise. In 1890 a second sporting goods store was opened in Salt Lake City with Sam Browning as manager.

Matthew and John patented their lever action rifle capable of firing the popular government high powered cartridge, the 45-70 and in October of 1884 traveled to New Haven Connecticut to demonstrate it to Mr Bennett of Winchester Arms Company. This design would be purchased and manufactured as the Winchester Model 1886 repeating rifle.

With John concentrating his time on invention, Matthew focused on organizing and directing several businesses: the Browning Brothers Company, the J.M. & M.S. Browning Company, and the Browning Arms Co. (2). Matthew's business management was especially necessary as John spent considerable time away from Ogden first in 1887-88 as a Mormon missionary in Georgia then in the east at the Winchester factory and later in Belgium overseeing gun production and redesign. Still, Matthew contributed design input on several firearms and appears as co-patentee on 24 patents. Eight of Matthew's patents were manufactured, including the Winchester model 1886 lever action rifle, the Winchester Models 1887 & 1901 lever action shotguns, the models 1893 & 1897 pump action shotguns, the Winchester Model 1890 pump action .22 rifle, thee Winchester Model 1892 lever action rifle, and the Colt 1895 machine gun. Although their separate roles as designer and manager were designated, the brothers clearly worked as a team in both areas. Marriner Browning, Matt's son, would later recall that he saw the two brothers working on the prototype of the Auto 5 shotgun "experimenting with the amount of oil required to make the action work smoothly" (5).

Matthew not only ran the Browning brothers' businesses; he also oversaw considerable holdings and served on the boards of several companies: the Bar B Ranch, the Utah National Bank of Ogden, the Utah - Idaho Central Railroad (as an incorporator and vice president), the Lion Coal Co., the radio station KWFA, Ogden Transit Co., Logan Rapid Transit Co., and the Amalgamated Sugar Co. Matthew was a director of the Home Fire Insurance Company of Utah, Utah Construction Company, Utah Power and Light, Deseret National Bank, Oregon Lumber Company, Sumpter Valley Railroad, Utah Rapid Transit, The Utah Loan and Trust Company, The C.E. Mayne Company, and the Browning Bros. Overland automobile dealership. Matthew Browning "became one of the leading financiers of the West." (2)

In 1890 Matthew and John teamed with John and David Eccles, the latter a prominent lumber baron and financier, and Joseph Clark, a local businessman, to build the Grand Opera House in Ogden. This venture would bring many national traveling theatrical productions from 1890 to 1909. (7)

In 1884 Matthew married Mary Ann Adams (b. August 30, 1864; d. July 12, 1926; sometimes called May). Matt and Mary started their family in 1886 with the birth of a daughter, Telitha, followed by a son, Matthew Henry, who died at age 3 months and 14 days; a son, Marriner Adams; and daughters Dorothea, Gene, and Blanche.

Matthew's political and civic involvements included two years as mayor of Ogden in 1900 and 1901; he served as president of the Weber Club, a member of the Ogden Chamber of Commerce, and president of the city school board. In 1912, Matthew served at the request of the governor on a committee to design and fund the Utah State Capital building. He was also asked to run for governor of Utah but declined because Mary Ann didn't want to move to Salt Lake City. (5)

Matt was an avid spot live bird and clay pigeon shooter as a member of the local Amateur Shooting Club. He was one of the "Four Bs" shooting team, which included his brother John, G.L. Becker, and A.P. Bigelow. The "Four Bs" was a nationally recognized sport shooting team. Matthew was also an active sportsman and excelled in hunting and fishing.

Matt died of heart failure on June 29, 1923. His funeral was held at the Ogden tabernacle of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (L.D.S. or Mormon), of which Matthew was a member. The attendees included seven former and current mayors of Ogden; Heber J. Grant, president of the L.D.S. church; Governor Charles R. Mabey; and former Governor Simon Bamberger. (6) During the funeral procession, business in downtown Ogden was suspended and people lined the streets to pay their respects.

  1. John M. Browning, American Gunmaker. Mormon genealogy records reveal that the first Browning to cross the Atlantic was William Browning, born 1615 in London, England. John Browning II, his son, was born 1646 in Jamestown, VA.
  2. A history of Browning Guns from 1831. Published by the J.M. & M.S. Browning Co. 1942
  3. The Browning Connection, Buffalo Bill Historical Center, Cody, Wyoming
  4. "Indenter" executed by Jonathan Browning, January 7th 1879.
  5. Interview with Hague Ellis, February 9, 2011. Hague is the son of Gene Browning Ellis, Matthew's daughter, and Wallace Ellis.
  6. Obituary posted in unknown newspaper.
  7. Ogden Standard Examiner, unknown date.