Browning’s Original Hi-Power Design


John Browning and the Hi-Power came up in the comments the other day and we got to talking about how some lesser people consider the H-ipower, JMB’s improved or perfected version of the M1911. Few people know that the Hi-power as we know it isn’t really what JMB had in mind before he died and another gun designer took over. Not being the world class genius Browning was, he changed it to something a bit less revolutionary.

“his prototype 9mm pistol was quite different in many regards. First of all, it was to hold 17 rounds. Yes that’s right. a 17 round 9mm pistol in the early 1920s. Also, the slide was designed with a breechblock very much like that of the Savage pistols of the time: it used interrupted threads. You could remove the breeechblock with half a turn. The slide on the prototype was even more racy than that of the current P-35, and was made for a tangent rear sight.

…the Savage breechblock is a self contained unit that holds the striker, the hammer that is linked to the striker, and the sear. The trigger mechanism links to the breechblock when the slide is closed. When the slide cycles, the breechblock is removed from the trigger linkage, and the act of cycling works as the disconnector does on the 1911. To disassemble the browning prototype you unload, lock the slide back and removed the magazine. Then pinch the hammer/striker back to relieve the spring tension, and then give the assembly a half turn. You then pull it out the back of the slide. Then you use the slide stop to ease the slide forward and off the frame.

When Browning died the design went unfinished. Another famous designer, Deiudonne Saive took over the project and ditched the removable breechblock. He used used levers for the linkage for the trigger and changed the frame and magazine size to make the gun more compact bringing the capacity down to 13 rounds.

“In making the pistol as light as possible he made the frame as compact as he could get away with. The original design appears to be much more robust and Saive’s changes, while pleasing to those who want to save a few ounces, shortened the service life of the P-35.”

Improvement over the 1911 by Browning? I don’t think so. The original prototype? Maybe, but we will never know. The P-35 is a wonderful classic but it’s no M1911 in my opinion.

Quotes from -The 1911 The First 100 Years


  1. Now, why can’t someone do what Remington did with the R51, and revive this vision after perfecting the design? Surely, it can’t still be under patent protection?

    • I doubt the juice would be worth the squeeze. The general demand is for plastic frame glock derivatives. It would probably end up being expensive and only interesting to us gun nerds. And that’s assuming whoever brought it back didn’t cluster it like the R51. If I ever win the lotto I’ll set up a fab shop and we can go nuts making copies for ourselves.

      Side note I always found the trigger on the hi power odd for a single action. It just looks like it’s supposed to be double action.

  2. Anybody who ever thought they could improve on a Browning design really needed recalibration.

    I have a 1911 and one of his lever guns…a cowboy assault rifle for those of us who can’t get the real thing any more here in Australia. True works of genius and after many years I still marvel at them each time I pick them up.

    • Browning was Herculean, but he was no god. Many of the Browning designs you handle were already improved by the production engineers.

      And many of the features on the 1911 that were awesome at the time have been clearly eclipsed. No one would design a semiauto today with 1911-style lockup, nor with a swinging-link barrel.

      I’m confident that if JMB saw barrel hood lockup and machined cams that he’d say, “Yeah, that’s better than what I thought of.” I know the High Power went to production with a machined cam instead of a swinging link, but I don’t know if that was JMB’s improvement or Saive’s.

      And agreed on the lever guns—those things are awesome. I wish mine were in .357.

      • Indeed. the 1911 if a good and maybe only example of the Army wanting something added to the original design that improverd it. The grip safety and thumb safety being examples.

        A lot of his stuff was handed over as working prototypes and left Colt or Winchester engineers to iron out the fine details. That doesn’t change the fact that those designs wouldn’t have happened without Browning though. Period.

        • Oh, no question that he was a giant. I mean, auto pistol design clearly bifurcates into “oddities invented before Browning’s patent on the slide expired” and “yeah, that’s pretty much a semiauto pistol.”

        • “… Army wanting something added to the original design that improved it. The grip safety and thumb safety being examples.”

          Not exactly correct history. If you look at the Army Test guns, the grip safety was what JMB put on the guns. After selecting the gun as the winner, the Army asked for a thumb safety. Not long after putting it into service, they mandated the gun be carried empty chamber, hammer down, thus eliminating the usefulness of the thumb safety.

          They also complained about the difficulty of racking the slide with the hammer down, so the square corner of the firing pin stop plate was radiused to help cam the hammer back with the slide. That removed part of the recoil management of JMB’s design (using the hammer spring with minimal leverage), so a heavier recoil spring was needed to make up for it. This all changed the dynamics of the recoil of the gun. (This really gets obvious with the shorter barrel models.)

          BTW, Browning kept one of the Test guns for his personal use. He didn’t care for the thumb safety, and normally didn’t add them to his designs, but many of his designs have grip safeties. This may have been due to being left-handed. (Check out photos of him with guns. Casual photos show him holding them left-handed, but official or otherwise staged photos show him doing it right-handed for marketing purposes)

  3. Lust.
    Last year a shoulder stocked 1905 in 98% condition came on the market and I had the same reaction.
    And yes, I would shoot it, no more than a magazine or two, but how could you resist?

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