The original Colt-Browning Model 1898 was developed by famed American gunsmith John Moses Browning and Matthew S. Browning over the period spanning 1889-1895. Affectionately named the "Potato Digger", it was one of the earliest forms of automatically-operated machine guns in circulation anywhere in the world and the first to be adopted by the United States military. The gun would go on to see extensive combat actions in many far-reaching and localized conflicts for its time, ranging from the Spanish-American War (1898) and World War 1 (1914-1918) to World War 2 (1939-1945). Some rare examples are still being encountered on the modern battlefield today.
The Model 1895/14 variant (also "Model 1914") was a progressive evolution of the line and appeared in 0.30-08 Springfield chambering while being manufactured by the Marlin Arms Corporation (Marlin Rockwell) of New Haven, Connecticut and Colt. Combined with Colt's contribution, some 25,000 units were eventual made and its widespread adoption made it a commercial success for its time. The gun was also given a low-profile tripod for prone firing with aided tactical flexibility lacking in competing, water-cooled designs of the period.
This new incarnation of the gun was available in time for the fighting of World War 1 and taken into service at various levels by the British, Canadian, French, and Russians in local cartridges. For the British this meant the .303 British rifle round and, for the Russian Empire, this was the 7.62x54mmR rifle round. The latter took delivery of some 14,800 total units before the end.
Internally, the gun operated from a gas-impingement system under full-automatic fire mode, releasing upwards of 400 rounds-per-minute at the target area. Because of Browning's expertise in manually-operated lever-action guns for the Winchester concern, the same principle was applied to the function of the machine gun to enact an automatic (hands-off), repeating internal function. Furthermore, the gun was air-cooled and made lighter in weight while being less complex, maximizing portability and simplicity when compared to contemporary water-cooled designs of the day. The primary side-effect of all this, however, was the relatively low rate-of-fire of 400 rpm.
Nevertheless, with the arrival of The Great War in the summer of 1914, greater attention was given to the gun as any and all weapons of war were sought by all sides of the conflict. At this point, Colt rejoined the production effort to meet demand and capitalized on the growing, years-long war ahead - though their involvement would end in 1916 to which point Marlin lines took on the bulk of demand. Canadian forces fielded the machine gun in .303 British and their use lasted until the more effective Vickers Machine Gun could be had in quantity - the remaining ex-Canadian stocks were redistributed to allied Belgian Army units for the remainder of the fighting. As for the American Army, which eventually found its way to European battlefields in 1917-1918, the Marlin Model 1914 was already considered obsolete and more modern forms were actively sought.
In time, the Marlin Model 1895/17 succeeded the Model 1914 design and brought with it such features as a detachable barrel assembly and improved accessibility. Different forms of this version then followed to satisfy vehicle- and aircraft-mounted requirements but the battlefield success of the competing water-cooled Browning M1917 (and subsequent air-cooled M1919) in .30 caliber soon rendered many of the in-service Marlin machine guns second-rate or obsolete as a frontline solution for the Americans. Despite this, some Marlin guns managed to reappear in service at the time of the Second World War with desperate forces looking to shore up demand for repeat-fire weapon systems.