Published September 24, 2007
Frank Milton Browning
Few individuals have had as much impact on the culture and economy of Northern Utah as Frank Milton Browning (1897-1969). Besides serving for three decades in the military, Browning became a successful and influential businessman, legislator, and philanthropist. He contributed significantly to the improvement of the lives of countless Utahns, primarily through the instrumental role he played in the establishment of Hill Air Force Base.
Browning enlisted in the Aviation Section of the U.S. Army Signal Corps on August 3, 1917. He was assigned to the 102nd Aero Squadron and was stationed in Tours, France, where he was promoted to Sergeant in August 1918 and entered preliminary flight training. He soloed on October 7, 1918 and completed training the following month with a recommended rating as Reserve Military Aviator.
Some time later, Browning crashed near Saumer, France, when a wing came off the Caudron G-3 he was piloting. He was hospitalized with hip and spinal injuries until after the Armistice in 1919. He ended his service after flying Caudron, Bleriot, Sopwith, Nieuport, and SPAD aircraft. He was ultimately advanced to the brevet rank of Pilot Lieutenant.
Returning to civilian life in 1919, Frank Browning joined his brothers in the automobile industry. In 1928 he obtained his own automobile franchise and throughout the decade developed Chevrolet agencies in Utah and Idaho.
In the 1930s, Browning became Chairman of the Military Affairs Committee of the Ogden Chamber of Commerce. He was instrumental in acquiring land and options while convincing the Army to build Ogden Arsenal, Hill Field, and Utah General Depot. At that time the War Department was headed by former Utah Governor George H. Dern, who was pushing for a new air depot in the intermountain West.
The Army Air Base Bill of 1935 (known as the "Wilcox Act") provided for construction of several new airfields around the country. Site selection for these new bases would not start until 1938. The wording of the bill encouraged communities that they could improve their chances of selection by giving tracts of land to the War Department for base construction. I
n 1936 the Ogden Chamber of Commerce and Weber Club acquired and deeded land to the U.S. government. They also secured options on over 4,700 acres around the Ogden Arsenal and renewed them until the government could finalize acquisition in 1939. Records show the two organizations eventually deeded over 386 acres to the government. Browning and about 200 other dignitaries participated in the official groundbreaking for Hill Field in January 1940.
Frank Browning was recalled to active duty by the U.S. Army in 1940 as a Major. He was assigned to the Ordnance Corps and spent considerable time activating ordnance units throughout the United States. Later, he requested and was given overseas duties with the Persian Gulf Command. On the trip abroad, two other ships in the same convoy were torpedoed and sunk by German U-boats in the Mediterranean Sea.
In Iran, Browning commanded ordnance depot activities, conveying supplies to Russia. He rose to the rank of Colonel prior to leaving the Army. Throughout this period he remained active in the management of Browning Brothers Chevrolet agencies.
After leaving military service, Browning was elected to the Utah State Senate and served for twelve years. In 1952 he founded the Bank of Utah, the current Chairman of the Board of which is his son, Roderick Hanson Browning. Frank Browning and his wife, Eugenia, continued their many philanthropic activities until late in life. Among many donations were 250 acres adjacent to Camp Keisel on Causey Creek for the Boy Scouts of America, as well as the headquarters building for the Boy Scouts of America, Lake Bonneville Council.