Home > Guns > Winchester


Oliver Winchester was not a gun designer. He was a clothing manufacturer who financed the design and production of Horace Smith and Daniel Wesson’s Volcanic lever-action pistol and rifle. The company was named Volcanic Repeating Arms and Winchester was one of the major stockholders. Smith and Wesson eventually left the company to put up their own gun manufacturing company (Smith & Wesson).

The Volcanic Rifle Company’s success was limited. The company was on the verge of bankruptcy in 1856 and Oliver Winchester bought the company’s assets and revamped it as the New Haven Arms Company in 1857. Benjamin Henry of the defunct Volcanic Rifle chose to continue to work for the New Haven Arms Company perfecting the self- contained metallic rimfire cartridge and the .44 Henry round.  He oversaw the design of a new rifle patterned after the Volcanic that will use the new ammunition. This firearm became the Henry Rifle of 1860.  Together with the Spencer rifle, the Henry rifle established the lever-action repeater in the gun market.

Winchester Repeating Arms Company

An altercation between Benjamin Henry and Olive Winchester ensued in 1866. Henry felt his compensation was not enough so he attempted to take over New Haven Arms. Winchester got hold of the situation and immediately reorganized New Haven Arms and acquired the name Winchester Repeating Arms Company. He modified and improved the Henry rifle and came up with the Winchester rifle Model 1866. This rifle uses .44 caliber rimfire cartridges and has wooden forearm and an improved magazine.

The Model 1873 was the first firearm to use the .44-40 Winchester Center Fire (WCF). The 1866 and 1873 belong to the rifle families that basically called the “Gun That Won the West.” A larger version Model 1876 was called the Centennial Model. This firearm uses the same toggle-link action and cartridge elevator patterned from the Henry.  The 1876 was chambered to take in powerful cartridges as the 45-75 WCF, 45-60 WCF and the 50-95 WCF.

Winchester in the First Half of the  20th Century

The competition between Winchester and Browning brought about the production of the first self-loading rifle was on. Winchester came up initially with the .22 rimfire Winchester Model 1903 and later with the Model 1905, 1907, and 1910 rifles. The Model 1911 was designed by Winchester to “outwit” Browning’s patent on the self-loading shotgun.  Next came the classic Winchester Model 1912, Model 54 and Model 52

During World War I Winchester produced the .30-06 M1917 Enfield for the United States and .303 Pattern 1914 Enfield for the UK.  It was also during this time that Browning worked on the final design of the Browning Automatic Rifle or BAR at the Winchester plant.  Close to 30,000 BARs were produced.The Great Depression brought about the decline and fall of Winchester Repeating Arms Company. The c company tried to produce and sell consumer goods such as kitchen appliances and more in order to recoup its losses. The strategy did not work that the Winchester Company went bankrupt. The Olin family of Western Cartridge Company bought Winchester to initially become the Winchester-Western Company (1935) and then to Winchester-Western Division of Olin Industries in 1944. This brought about design and production of Model 52 Sporter and the Model 21 double-barreled shotgun. For a time Winchester thrive.

During World War II, Winchester produced the M1 carbine. The gun company also produced the M! Garand Rifle and the M14 rifle which makes Winchester the first civilian manufacturer of the said rifle.

Decline and Fall of Winchester

By the 1960s, automation was the norm in the field of manufacturing. This process made a particular product cheaper to manufacturer which translates to cheaper product. The production of Winchester firearms took considerable hand-work that they cost more to make.  The flagship models 12 pump shotgun and 70 bolt-action rifle were machine-forged and therefore expensive. Winchester veered towards cast-and -stamped designs much like Remington guns. Unfortunately the result was catastrophic. The new line of guns was deemed cheap and sub-standard by experts and gun aficionados.  Winchester firearms made from 1964 up were considered less valuable than pre-1964 models then.

In 1980, the Winchester plant in New Haven was sold to its employees thus the US Repeating Arms Company was founded with a license to produce Winchester brand guns. The Olin family retained the rights to manufacture Winchester ammunition and ownership of the Winchester trademark. The firm eventually folded was acquired by Belgian Herstal Group which also owns the Browning Arms Company and  Fabrique Nationale d'Herstal (FN).

The New Haven plant of the US Repeating Arms was finally closed in 2006.  It was also announced that the Model 94 rifle and the Model 70 rifle and 1300 shotgun were to be discontinued.

Revival of Winchester Firearms

The Olin Corporation, before the close of year 2006, entered an agreement with Browning to manufacture Winchester brand shotguns and rifles. The Miroku Corporation of Japan produced the Model 1892, 1886 lever action and 1885 falling block action while Browning imported them back to the United States.

In 2008 Fabrique Nationale d'Herstal produced the Model 70 rifles in its plant in South Carolina. In 2010 FN revived the production of the Model 1894. The Winchester 1300 also evolved into the new Winchester SXP.

To date, Winchester brand rifles are the Model 70, Model 94, Model 1895, Model 1886, Model 71 and Model 1892. Under shotguns are the Super X3, Super X2, Model 101 and the SXP.

View more