Christian Friedrich Schonbein (Oct. 18 1799 - Aug 29 1868) was a German/Swiss chemist who is well known for inventing the fuel cell in 1837, but it is another of his discoveries, done by accident, that impacted firearm design and led, in part, to the invention and production of a seemingly simple little pistol that lives in the gun-safe at the Range.
Nitrocellulose was perceived as a possible "smokeless powder" and a propellant for artillery shells, and apparently, the name "guncotton" stuck.
Schonbein patented his process, giving the manufacturing rights to John Hall & Sons in Faversham. Unfortunately, guncotton was inherently chemically unstable, burned readily and exploded easily (much like today's modern redhead) so attempts to manufacture it for military use resulted in a number of factory explosions, dozens of deaths. and general mayhem.
(Note: in 1891, James Dewar and Frederick Augustus Abel also were able to transform gelatinized guncutton into a relatively safe mixture, called cordite. The name came about as it could be extruded into long thing cords before being dried.)
How does this little history lesson tie into the Browning 1900?
With smokeless powder - that changed and a number of people became working on designs for self-loading firearms, including Mannlicher, Bergmann and Mauser. The early models had limited sales and were mostly intended for military use.
Along comes John Moses Browning - a man who learned to repair guns in his father's shop before he learned to read and write. He filed his first firearm patent at an age where most of us were still in college, and through the next decade followed it with another dozen or so patents on various self-loading weapons, both recoil and gas operated. In 1896 he signed a contract giving Colt's the right to manufacture several of his automatic pistol designs for distribution in the US and Canada. At the time, it was widely believed that Colt was simply acquiring the right to protect sales of their revolvers, for the established market for self load pistols was not yet established in the United States.
One of Browning's patents was U.S. patent 621,747, covering the final design for what would be the single action1899/1900 FN Browning. I believe it is the first production handgun to use a slide.
The design was said to have been presented to arms manufacturer FN Herstal (Fabrique Nationale de Herstal) in 1898 with production in their Belgium facility shortly following under the designation Modele 1899. The FN engineers who produced this firearm based on Browning's design were astounded by the reliability of the piece when it fired round after hundreds of rounds without a single failure to feed or eject, remarkable in the day. The contract Browning signed with them was said to forbid the sale of the firearm in North America, where Colt already had the right to sell Browning's design. It is perhaps for this reason that there are not all that many of these guns in the US today as in other parts of the world.
Its owners included President Theodore Roosevelt, who is said to have kept a pearl-handled 1900 in the drawer next to his bed. It quickly earned a reputation for ruggedness and reliability and was soon adopted by Belgium as its service sidearm. The Belgium Military had requested that their gun have a frame reinforced more than the model 1899. Therefore, the reinforced portion of the 1900 frame above the trigger guard extends ALL the way around to the rear of the trigger guard, and all the way to the ejection port on the right side, this area being made several thousands of an inch thicker than the 1899. If you compare it closely to the 1899 it also has slightly larger, thicker grip plates.
Over the years it saw employment by the military of a number of countries, including Austria-Hungary, Greece, Russia, France and Germany.
In appearance, it lacks the streamlined shape of its follow up, the Model 1910 but it has a number of features that contributed to its popularity. Reliability was one of them. The recoil spring is enclose in a channel above the barrel and also functions as the firing pin spring. This design will set off even the most stubborn primer.
arkings in German and English by special order for sale in other countries.
Holding 7 rounds of 7.65 mm (.32 ACP) the magazine is secured by a fairly small heel-type catch. Grips are checkered hard rubber and depending on where the gun was manufactured, may display the initials "FN" below a engraved image of the gun itself or imply "FN". On the Range firearm, the markings on the barrel and frame are FN inspection and Belgian government Liege proof house marks, required by law on all firearms produced in Belgium.
It's surprisingly easy to field strip and clean, having a minimum of parts.
Drawing from concealed is aided with round contours that make it easy to draw from pocket or holster without it catching on anything. It didn't achieve great popularity in the States, perhaps due to the popularity of the 1903 Colt, but it was well regarded elsewhere, with copies even made in the Middle East and China, where the pistol was held in particularly high esteem.
So, the Range Browning 1900 is neither complex, nor rare, but I'm glad it is part of the collection. It's not going to win me any awards with one inch groupings but it's a reliable and well built little piece of history to hold on to and to pass on to the next generation.