A day late…

But still worth repeating. Thanks to Alex at Ammo.com for the info.

Oliver Winchester was born in Boston, on November 30, 1810. He started his career with a clothing company based out of New York City and New Haven, Connecticut. After successfully running this aspect of his business, Winchester began to look for new opportunities. Horace Smith and Daniel Wesson (yes, that “Smith & Wesson” who later formed the Smith & Wesson Revolver Company) acquired and improved a rifle design with the help of shop foreman, Benjamin Tyler Henry. Talk about a genius cluster! In 1855, they began to manufacture what would be known as the “Volcanic” lever-action rifle. The company would become incorporated as the Volcanic Repeating Arms Company; its largest stockholder was Oliver Winchester.

After limited success with this new rifle, Winchester seized the opportunity to take control over the failing company and renamed it the New Haven Arms Company. Although initial returns were slow, Benjamin Henry, the company’s leading engineer, improved the Volcanic repeating rifle’s design by enlarging the frame and magazine to accommodate the all-new brass cased .44 caliber cartridge. This ingenuity put the company on the map, and in 1860, the patent for the infamous Henry rifle was issued. The next  six years of production produced over 12,000 Henry, many of which were used in the Civil War. In the following months, Benjamin Henry, angered over what he believed was inadequate compensation, filed a lawsuit for ownership of the company. Oliver Winchester hastenly reorganized the company as the Winchester Repeating Arms Company to circumvent this issue. 

The Model 1866 soon rolled out as the first Winchester rifle. Based on the Henry rifle, it came with an improved magazine and a wooden forend. In the following years, larger caliber rifles such as the infamous Model 1873, “The Gun That Won The West”, brought more notoriety and foundation to the company. Although Mr. Winchester would miss the opportunity to see his company’s greatest achievements; he passed away in December of 1880. 

Winchester Repeating Arms Company’s collaboration with John Browning brought about much success with a host of shotguns, including the still produced Model 1885. The turn of the 20th century hosted a series of new arms developments, many from the top engineer at the time, T.C. Johnson. But it was the start of the First World War that set development and production requirements into full force. The company became a major producer of the .30-06 M1917 Enfield rifle for the United States military, and worked once more with Browning to develop the .50 caliber BMG.

During the war, the company borrowed heavily to finance the expansion. In an attempt to pay down its debt following the war’s end, they used their surplus production capacity to manufacture consumer goods such as kitchen knives, roller skates, and refrigerators. The strategy was a failure, and the Great Depression sent the company into bankruptcy. John M. Olin’s Western Cartridge Company purchased the Winchester Repeating Arms Company at auction in 1931, with plans to restore the brand to its former glory. The Second World War helped this cause tremendously as Winchester produced the U.S. M1 Carbine and the M1 Garand rifle during this time period. 

Over the following decades, the Olin Winchester-Western division struggled with rising labor costs and other companies’ cast-and-stamped production methods. By 1980, Olin decided to sell the company back to its employees, which re-incorporated as the U.S. Repeating Arms Company. Olin retained the Winchester ammunition business. U.S. Repeating Arms went bankrupt in 1989, and after a number of sellouts to forgien holdings companies, the New Haven plant closed its doors on January 16, 2006, after 140 years of producing rifles and shotguns. 

In August of 2006, Olin Corporation, owner of Winchester trademarks, entered a new license deal with Browning to make Winchester brand rifles and shotguns once again. The Model 1885, Model 1892, and Model 1886 are all produced by Miroku Corporation of Japan, then imported to the U.S. by Browning. Currently, Fabrique Nationale d’Herstal (FN) makes the remainder of Winchester’s rifle and shotgun lineup in various locations around Europe, having moved the lineup from Columbia, SC, where they were made until 2013 at the FN plant there.

Winchester-branded ammunition continues to be produced by the Olin Corporation. Some of the most successful cartridges ever invented have been under the Winchester name: the .44-40 WCF, the .30-30 WCF, the .32 Winchester Special, the .50 BMG, the .270 Winchester, the .308 Winchester (the commercial version of the 7.62x51mm NATO), the .243 Winchester, the .22 WMR (aka the .22 Magnum), and the .300 Winchester Magnum. In North America, the .30-30 and .308 Winchester are some of the best selling cartridges in firearm history. 

Through its history, the Winchester name has experienced great successes and significant failures; but it’s truly an important story to know in the realm of firearms. Here’s to the man that started it all, happy birthday to Mr. Oliver Winchester.

I have two Model 70s in the safe, one is a 1940 in 30-GOVT-06, the other is a Columbia, SC mfgr. 30-06 with the pre-62 design, but built on FN’s CNC machines. Both are well under 2 MOA, which is more than acceptable for stock rifles. I also have my 1962 Model 94 that was my 12th birthday present. It’s taken a few deer over the years too!


A day late… — 17 Comments

  1. There are lots of things I didn’t know in the article.

    I’m annoyed that the writer chose to use “infamous” when mentioning “the infamous Model 1873.”

    Maybe the writer thought that “famous” and “infamous” mean the same, much like “flammable” and “inflammable” mean the same.

    • I suspect “hastenly” is also a perfectly cromulent word. Sigh.

  2. I once handled an original Henry at a Cabela’s some years back. I did so very carefully because of the five digit price tag on it. Now I have fired reproductions of the various models of the Henry action(Henry, 1866, 1873,1876) and found them to be smooth operating and surprisingly quick. They’re most fun with black powder.

  3. Shame that Winchesters are all built overseas.

    Unlike Henry brand guns.

    Though when my dad was in Korea, he went to Japan and bought some really nice shotguns, one a trap or skeet over-under. Really nice, really sweet action.

    If I get some spare cash, I wouldn’t mind picking up some Henrys.

  4. Beans- True. But at least they are still being built and are quality pieces. FN does a good job, as does Miroku.

    Skip- You’re welcome.

  5. A Model 94 .30-.30 purchased by my father in 1950 put many years of venison on our table, and more than a few neighbors. My father was a serious subsistence hunter. The Game Wardens called him a poacher.

    The rifle was lost in a fire around 1975.

  6. Hi Jim, I had a model 94, pre 1962 but had to sell it to feed the four kids and a wife while still in Uncle Sam’s Canoe Club. Then this summer a lawyer of all people called me and said he’d heard I was a gun nut and wanted me to go look at a few he had for sale. First thing I discovered was he had NO interest in guns and didn’t realize what he had. So he being a Lawyer and me a nasty -assed sailor decide to take off his hands a five digit serial number, Model -94 with an nickel octagon barrel for the exorbitant price of$125!! I ran away as fast as I could after I paid him. It had a few dings in the stock and a small crack in the forearm. But other than being dirty it is in pristine condition as far as I can tell! No one close to me to appraise it, but I did immediately get a set of dies and the correct powder, primer and brass to have on hand about 500 rounds for when the festivities begin. Uncle SHALL NOT discover the numbers on it, and that is why I didn’t post them, but the first one is ‘2’!

  7. Hey Old NFO;

    It was a very educational article and it is one of my “bucket List” guns to get a Winchester 1873, even a “knockoff”

  8. Still have to get a lever gun, embarrassingly… but Cheap Ammo did send me a big box of bullets (5.56 & 45 acp) to shoot off with the kid when he’s back on leave at Christmas. Thanks, Alex.

  9. WSF- Understood. Food on the table is good, regardless of the season. 🙂

    Ev- That had me snorting coffee. Great story! and probably around 1940, since my Model 70 is a five digit starting with a 2 and is a 1940 model.

    Bob- I have an original, 1876 model in 44-40, it was great grandfathers.

    LSP- Get a 30-30 lever gun. Either a new Winchester 94 or a Marlin 336, you won’t regret it! Stay away from any ‘Winchester’ that isn’t new production or pre-64.

  10. Back in 1976 I had a 30-30 Winchester lever action ’94, bought it at a local Australian type Walmart store. At that time here in Australia all you had to do to get a firearm license was pass a very simple one page set of questions, have a driver’s license and a residential address and that was pretty much it,and of course, it was wise to speak with a bit of respect to the Copper (Police Officer) who was signing your application, and,as in my case, it didn’t hurt to be in the Military. Things are VASTLY, VASTLY different now. Anyway, I loved that bit of kit, suited my requirements down to the ground. A Mate two doors up from me, also Military took me feral pig shooting on a sheep station (ranch), in central New South Wales, the owner had a bit of a problem with the feral pigs, bloody nasty bastards. They’d wander through a mob (bunch/group) of sheep, slowly and quietly, and rip their guts/bellies, maybe take a nibble or two and keep on doing it until they got tired/full of it, that’s why me and Bugs, (Bugs Benson), were there at the owner’s invite. Middle of summer in the outback, 95-110F, everything dry as an old cork. We positioned ourselves, me in about 18 feet up in a dead tree, one round up the spout, cocked. Bugs was on the ground behind a log, his .303 same. The pigs came down to the waterhole where the sheep were gathered, we dared not make a sound, and no shit, after rolling in the dust, to smell like the sheep(?), the three leaders walked up and got ready to start gutting the sheep. At a pre-arranged signal, me and Bugs sighted the first two pigs in front, two boars, and fired. Both pigs went down instantly, mine shot through the heart, bug’s shot in the head. The pigs and sheep scattered, but we had got the two leaders. That night,around the campfire, the station owner ‘shouted’ us,(Aussie slang for buying the beers,he was smiling a lot. Turned out to be a very hot, sweaty and productive three days.

  11. Something like 2/3 of the initial production run of the Model 95 levergun were chambered in 7.62x54R and shipped to Russia for the Tsar’s Cossack units.

    The Cossacks liked them because they could be operated easily from either shoulder, unlike the right-hand-only bolt actions. Kind of handy when you’ve cavalry in a melee.

    Some of the European military experts were seriously down on leverguns, which they considered to be both wasteful of ammunition and an unfair advantage. Proper soldiers used the magazine cutoff and loaded single rounds unless instructed to fire from the magazine, don’cha know…

    After his last levergun, JMB designed an autoloader, which went into production in Belgium as the FN Model 1900, and later in the US in 1907, as the Remington Model 8. The Model 8 looks very much like a Winchester 95, except it doesn’t have a lever. Mine has generated some consternated looks at the range… 105 years old and still working just fine.