Museum Minute: A Rifle Ahead Of Its Time

Sep 3, 2019

The Burton Machine Rifle
Credit Cody Firearms Museum

The Cody Firearms Museum has a machine rifle gun from the early part of the last century that was ahead of its time in looks and functionality. 

The Burton Machine Rifle was made by Frank Burton, a Winchester engineer, in 1916 or 17. Otherwise, there is no other documentation of the gun. Danny Michael, the assistant curator of the museum, said it was never patented, Winchester never recorded why they made it, or whether they ever tested it.

“The really unique thing about it is the combination of features it has are what a lot of people use to define the assault rifle concept that didn't come out till World War II, so the gun is almost 30 or 40 years ahead of its time,” said Michael. 

It uses a cartridge called 345 self-loading or 345 Burton which is an intermediate cartridge, a concept that only caught on after World War II when a lot of countries were reevaluating how to arm their individual soldiers. 

“Everyone still thought they wanted their infantry soldiers to engage targets at long ranges, and so to do that they needed full-size rifle cartridges,” said Micheal. “A couple studies at the end of World War II showed that rarely, if ever, happened. It showed that they realized they didn't need all that extra energy from the firearms and could shrink down the size of cartridges.”

Michael said besides the cartridge, the rifle itself looks kind of funky and futuristic looking because of the magazines mounted in a V shape on top of the gun and the fins on the barrel.