In 1919 America was gripped by a Communist scare and Boston was no different. Coupled with the rampant paranoia of a vast infiltration of the United States by Red agents, the City of Boston was facing a peril from within, a strike of its entire police force.
Boston raised the United States' first professional police department in 1838. And now, in the fall of 1919 the Hub watched as catastrophe loomed as patrolmen prepared to turn in their police box keys and step off the beat. Would there be riots, insurrection and civil unrest that would bring Boston down to its foundations like the fire of 1872? If things turned ugly, force would be brought to bear.
What weapons did the few policeman left on duty, State Militia and deputized civilians have at their disposal? John Moses Browning's M1895 machine gun, also known as the "potato digger."
The M1895 would go to war with the United States Marines, it would pepper adversaries in China and Cuba. Would the invention of a Utah man be used against U.S. citizens? It had before. Six years earlier striking Colorado miners were scattered by the M1895, killing one and injuring two children. Private security hired to quell the strike nicknamed the Browning machine gun, the "Death Special" as it tore through the strikers tent city.
Browning's machine gun was unusual in operation compared to its peer, the automatic weapon designed by Hiram Maxim. Browning's M1895 essentially took the iconic lever action of Western rifles and married it to tapping gas from the barrel.
The M1895 earned the nickname "potato digger" because of the action. Near the muzzle, a port ejected propellant gas down into a mechanical lever. As the action flipped down, it would operate a lever inside the receiver that cycled the bolt, ejecting a round and chambering a new round on the return stroke.
So, reciprocating with each shot, the M1895 looked like a piece of farm machinery kicking up dirt. The M1895 was designed only to fire from a tripod. At 450 rounds per minute, the M1895 laid down a steady stream of rounds, from the 6mm Lee Navy to the later .30-06. Not a world beater when compared to the Maxim, but the M1895 made its mark.
It would also see service with Russian forces, chambering the machine gun in 7.62 x 54mm rimmed, and with the British in .303.
The Browning machine gun would enter the armory of the Boston Police Department sometime in early 1919. A pair were prepared for mounting in the department's opened topped cars ahead of expected violent May Day celebrations of that same year.
It's unclear if the M1895 was ever brought into the streets during the Boston Police strike of 1919, but it did show that even domestic police forces were warming to more aggressive forms of tools to keep the peace.