ABOUT MATTHEW S. BROWNING
Matthew Sandefur Browning, financier, inventor, philanthropist and statesman, was a quiet but central figure among a group of powerful men and women who built Ogden, Utah, into a thriving industrial city and transportation hub in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
He was born October 27, 1859, in Ogden, Utah Territory, to Elizabeth Wier Clark, the second of Jonathan Browning’s three plural wives. Both Matthew and his older full brother, John Moses, learned the gunsmith trade in their father's shop. In 1879, Jonathan sold the business to the two brothers, marking the origin of the Browning Brothers and a union, formed in boyhood, that bound John and Matt in close friendship all their lives.
Although primarily a designer of businesses, Matt used his knowledge of firearms to create complex gun mechanisms. He signed as co-patentee with John on 35 designs, resulting in at least seven being produced and successfully sold, though John was clearly the principal gun designer. The brothers sold many more co-signed patents to Winchester, which chose not to produce them in order to control the market.
BUSINESS / ENTREPRENEURSHIP
From 1879 until his death, Matthew created, managed and directed the Browning Brothers Co., the J.M. and M.S. Browning Co., and Browning Arms Co., expanding sales internationally and broadening merchandise into sporting goods. In 1917 he worked with brothers John and Ed in the east to oversee, by request of the U. S. war department for use in air and infantry, the manufacture of arms designed by John: two Browning machine guns, the 1911 Colt pistol and the Browning Automatic Rifle. Several other guns co-patented by John and Matt, but sold and manufactured by Winchester and Colt, were also used in World War I. The brothers turned down a fortune in royalties of $12,300,000 the U.S. offered them in exchange for the flat fee of $750,000 — for the sake of the country.
The Brownings and other Ogden entrepreneurs of the time invested in each others’ businesses. Matt focused his enterprising skills on building key aspects of the young city that would draw and transport new residents as well as create jobs within. In addition to the Browning companies, he founded and oversaw the Bar B Ranch for the production of cattle. He was president of the Utah Bankers’ Association and the National Bank of Ogden, which later merged, through his friendship with David Eccles, with First Security Bank. He was also president of the Utah-Idaho Central Railroad, the Lion Coal Co., Ogden Transit Co., the Browning Brothers Overland Automobile Dealership, and the Amalgamated Sugar Co, among others. He was a director, along with Thomas D. Dee, of Utah Construction Co., owned then by his friend E.O. Wattis; of Utah Power and Light; Deseret National Bank; Sumpter Valley Railroad; Utah Rapid Transit and The Utah Loan and Trust Co. He was instrumental in getting the transcontinental Lincoln Highway to build a spur into Ogden. In Matt's obituary, the Ogden newspaper noted he “spent his money for Ogden, built factories, supported financially weak institutions, gave to the afflicted and had charity in thought and word."
DEVELOPMENT IN OGDEN
Intent on making Ogden into a cultural as well as commercial center, Matthew and John teamed with John and David Eccles and Joseph Clark to finance the Grand Opera House for the city, which brought traveling theatrical productions to Ogden from 1890 to 1909, when it was destroyed by fire.
Having received only a few years of education himself, Matthew well understood how essential educational opportunities were to the well-being of the city and its individual citizens; he served as president of the Ogden City School Board and supported the Carnegie Public Library.
Matthew was a statesman who esteemed honesty, efficiency and imagination. He served as mayor of Ogden in the early 1900s; as president of the Weber Club, then a gathering place for business heads; and as an officer in the Chamber of Commerce. Along with Warren L. Wattis, he welcomed to Ogden King Albert, Queen Elizabeth and Prince Leopold of Belgium, the country in which John had arranged for the manufacture of Browning arms. He provided former President Teddy Roosevelt a tour of Ogden and its area canyons and countryside. In 1912, the governor asked him to participate on a committee to design and raise funds to build the Utah State Capitol building, where his portrait resides alongside his colleagues. Family lore says that he was asked to run for governor, but he declined because his wife didn’t want to move to Salt Lake City. He did opt, however, to serve as a volunteer fireman in Ogden.
An excellent fisherman, hunter and sportsman, Matt was particularly an avid clay pigeon shooter. He was one of the "Big Four Bs," a nationally recognized shooting team that was said to have “shot Ogden on the map.” All four marksmen were prominent residents: They were Matt’s brother John; G.L. Becker (Gustav “Gus” Lorenz), who started and managed a major brewery in Utah, the Becker Brewing and Malting Company; and A.P. Bigelow, who, with M.S. Eccles, reconstructed a small hotel on 25th Street into one of Utah’s three grand hotels, The Bigelow Hotel, in 1927.
FAMILY/ LATER LIFE
In 1884, Matthew married Mary Ann (called May) Adams. She eventually became president of the Martha Society, which created a home for orphaned children. Their surviving children were Telitha (married to John Franklin Ellis), Marriner (Dorothea Bigelow), Dorothea (Adam Patterson), Gene (Wallace H. Ellis), and Blanche (Junior Rich). Many of Matthew and Mary Ann’s progeny, including Telitha Ellis Lindquist, for whom the Lindquist College of Arts & Humanities is named, have contributed generously to Ogden’s cultural richness and Weber State University’s building growth and academic advancement.
Matt died unexpectedly of a heart attack on June 29, 1923. Heber. J. Grant, president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, spoke at his funeral. On the stand with him were Governor Charles Mabey and former governor Simon Bamberger. A crowd filled the Tabernacle and “overflowed into the street.” Ogden suspended business downtown for the funeral and led the cortege with fire department equipment for spectators lining the street.
Photographs and prototypes courtesy of the Browning Family