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Winchester History: How One of the Biggest Firearms Brands Came to Be

Image: Winchester History: How One of the Biggest Firearms Brands Came to Be
1860 Civil War Henry Rifle No. 4771. (wikimedia/commons)

By    |   Thursday, 30 Apr 2015 02:24 PM

The first rifle bearing the official Winchester brand debuted in 1866, a sleek lever-action weapon that marked a giant technical leap in the history of firearms.

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But the origins of that game-changing Western shooter could be found some 11 years earlier when wealthy manufacturer Oliver Fisher Winchester of New York wisely invested in the work of three other legendary names in gun history: Horace Smith, Daniel B. Wesson and B. Tyler Henry, according to WinchesterCollector.org.

Smith and Wesson formed their original firearms company Volcanic Repeating Arms in 1855, which created early drafts of a repeating lever-action firearm. Winchester, a firearm aficionado, invested enthusiastically in the mid-19th century style start-up, according to the National Rifle Association's online history.

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During the next decade, Smith and Wesson moved on and Winchester bought the company, later changing the name to the Winchester Repeating Arms Company. Henry – the talented designer of the lever-action repeating mechanism – improved the weapon’s firing capability which led to the Henry Rifle marketed in 1860, the prototype of the first Winchester.

By 1866, the NRA article recounts, Winchester and Henry parted ways. Winchester designers dramatically improved the loading and heft of the Henry Rifle, creating a faster, more accurate and larger capacity firearm: the Model 66. This improved version, known as the “Yellow Boy” for its brass frame, launched the Winchester brand.

The rifle’s accuracy and 15-round capacity made it the must-have firearm on the western frontier, popular with homesteaders, ranchers, and lawmen, according to MilitaryFactory.com.

But it was Winchester’s next version – the Model 73 – that would earn the moniker “The Gun That Won the West.” The company manufactured 720,000 of these rifles between 1873 and 1919, a number that greatly expanded Winchester’s market of civilians, according to Phil Schreier, senior curator of the NRA museum.

During that nearly 50-year era, an early form of celebrity endorsement helped sell the Winchester brand. As mentioned on the Winchester company website, famous entertainers of the day like Buffalo Bill and Annie Oakley used Winchester rifles in their traveling Wild West Show. President Teddy Roosevelt, a hero of the Spanish-American War and big game hunter, also touted the large-caliber Winchester as his firearm of choice.

With the launch of the history-making Model 73, Winchester also expanded his company to include ammunition. Production began with 250,000 cartridges a day. By 1875, that daily number grew to 1 million per day.

The move to ammunition was “one of the major policy changes in the history of Winchester,” according to the company’s website. Today, the modern incarnation of the Winchester Company is one of the largest producers of sporting and defense ammunition.

Winchester died in 1880, but the company continued his shrewd investment in talent. In 1883, Winchester Repeating Arms Company hired John M. Browning and bought his design of the Model 1885 Single Shot Rifle. Browning, hailed as the most influential gun smith in history, would go on to develop signature Winchester rifles that earned the company’s reputation for quality.

This article does not constitute legal advice. Check the current gun laws before purchasing or traveling with a firearm.

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The first rifle bearing the official Winchester brand debuted in 1866, a sleek lever-action weapon that marked a giant technical leap in the history of firearms.
guns, winchester, firearms, gun history
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2015-24-30
Thursday, 30 Apr 2015 02:24 PM
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