POTD: It Is Still Cool – The Browning Potato Digger
Welcome to today’s Photo of the Day! We are back! Why? Because it is really cool. This is the Colt/Browning Potato Digger machine gun. I had covered this when we initially kicked off the Photo of the Day series. The reason it is so neat, despite its mechanical oddness, is the story of how it came to be. As the story goes John Moses Browning was hunting in a field with his brother and when one of them shot he noticed how the tall grass moved from the air being pushed by the bullet. John Moses Browning was a genius who realized this was wasted energy.
What did he do? He rigged up a Winchester lever-action with a small cup with a hole in it at the muzzle that was attached to a wire that connected it to the lever. Every time a shot was fired the excess gas would move the cup on a hinge and work the lever. The spring tension would make the lever return and the hammer would drop if the shooter continued to hold it down. The Potato Digger is the combination of these ideas and it was given its name due to the lever at the front of the gun flapping while firing. If it was too close to the ground it would dig a hole and thus it was named the Potato Digger.
Originally developed as the Model 1895 by John M. Browning, the “Potato Digger” was an early development in gas-operated firearms, using a gas port near the muzzle of the barrel to power a spring loaded lever arm to cycle the action. This arm, which projects down and out from the weapon with significant force during the firing cycle, is the source of the weapon’s nickname, “potato digger”. Originally manufactured by Colt, the production of the arm was taken over by Marlin Rockwell, at the time of WWI, who received the rights, the tooling, and the standing military contracts to the Russian and Italian governments. Primarily used as a training weapon by American forces, the Marlin found additional use as aircraft and tank armament in addition to being issued to National Guard units and the North Russia and Siberia Expedition Forces sent to intervene in the Russian Civil War. Measuring 42 inches in overall length, the Marlin is fitted with a blade front and a flip-up elevation adjustable rear sight, and a heavily ribbed barrel and a wooden pistol grip. The barrel and receiver are both marked with the standard two-line “MARLIN ARMS CORPORATION/NEW HAVEN CONNECTICUT” over “CAL .30/U.S.A.” to distinguish it from the earlier 30-40 and 30-03 rounds. The note with the weapon states that the barrel was burned away in the area of the extractor cut and it is currently listed as an unserviceable firearm on the ATF form.
Lot 1578: Marlin Arms Corp. – 1917. (n.d.). Rock Island Auction Company. photograph. Retrieved June 6, 2022, from https://www.rockislandauction.com/detail/69/1578/marlin-arms-corp-1917.