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The Legacy and History of Winchester Repeating Arms Company

They say that a smart man recognizes an opportunity when he sees one. And that’s exactly what Oliver Winchester did. And the history of American shotguns and rifles wouldn’t be complete without him and Winchester Repeating Arms Company. While being a smart clothing manufacturer, he saw the potential behind the Volcanic rifle created by Smith & Wesson and knew he had to have it. He didn’t waste any time and formed in 1850 the Volcanic Repeating Arms Company.

Still, there were many things to be improved regarding the Volcanic cartridge in order to defeat the already existing competition on the market. Having all that in mind, he moved his company to New Haven and gave it the name of New Haven Arms Company. He then hired a man of surpassing excellence as his engineer and with his help he made the Volcanic repeating rifle one of the best on the market. That man was Benjamin Tyler Henry and he put all his effort and ingenuity towards improving the flaws of the Volcanic rifle. He redesigned both the rifle and the 44 caliber Rimfire cartridges, obtaining the patent under his name somewhere around 1860s. History was going to remember the famous Henry repeating rifle, especially when it was so widely used during the U.S Civil War. In just a few years, the rifle gained immense popularity and it became even more popular after it was improved by one of the company’s employees, Nelson King. At the same time, the company received a new name, the Winchester Repeating Arms Company and it produced the very first Winchester rifle in 1866, nicknamed the Yellow Boy.

From what we have seen so far about Winchester and his company, we could say that he was an extraordinary man and that he managed to leave an incredible legacy for the American gun making industry. The 1866 model used the same cartridges as the Henry repeating rifle did, with a 44 caliber but had other major improvements for the magazine and came with a forearm consisting of wood. It was more than improved, it was made up to perfection and it was a strong proof that the name of Winchester was going to last.

The year of 1873 brought the first Winchester center fire cartridge and everyone turned their attention on the Winchester Repeating Arms Company. The centennial model of 1876 was received even better, even if it used the same action mechanism and brass cartridge as the Henry Rifle. This time, the improvements were made so as the firearm could accommodate longer and certainly more powerful cartridges such as the 45-60 or the 45-75 WCF (Winchester Central Fire).

The gun making business was and still is the kind of business where have to keep up producing new and improved products. And as it was more than obvious that Winchester was planning on making a name in the business or firearms, he teamed up with the famous gun designer and inventor John Browning. The history between those two is long and filled with exciting facts. Even though Browning designed various rifles and shotguns for Winchester Repeating Arms Company, he managed to increase the competition on the market providing designs for other arms to rival companies. John Browning’s designs helped to the production of the famous 1885 Single Shot Model, the 1886 Lever Action Model and also the more powerful 1895 rifles. However that may be, the start of the 20th century found the two men competing for who made the best self-loading rifle.

As for the war production, Winchester relied also on John Browning’s designs to produce high-quality rifles and shotguns superior from other similar products on the market. The World War I brought significant demands for the Winchester rifles and so the 1917 Enfield military rifle model started to be heavily produced. Browning was a man that worked non-stop, developing cutting-edge designs and making sure that they are transformed into actual firearms. While still working for the Winchester Repeating Arms Company, he put the final touches on the designs for the automatic rifle that was going to bear his name. The rifle reached a number of almost 30.000 units in production, which was more than ok for those times. In his desire for perfection, Browning worked closely with the ballistic engineers at the company and came up with an ideal machine gun that was using a BMG caliber (12.7 x 99 mm).

The Second World War found Winchester Repeating Arms Company in full production.

They manufactured the M1 and the M14 rifle, being the only producers that were non-combatant, meaning civilians. The success after the World War II had lasted until 1963, when the company was incorporated into a larger corporation. The production for rifles and shotguns continued, under the civilian trademark, the name of Oliver Winchester always standing there to remind everyone of what they are all about. Always looking to implement modern designs and innovative techniques for gun manufacturing, this company came up with a whole new series of firearms in the late 1950s. And until 1981, they’ve created more firearms, rifles and shotguns than anyone could imagine. The period between 1981 and 2006 brought the production of Winchester guns under the name of US Repeating Arms Company. The sad part came when it was decided that the plant where Winchester arms had been produced for over 140 years was going to be closed. The year of 2006 may be a sad one but the decision to produce again Winchester rifles, this time under the Browning name, may represent a new future for the name of Winchester.

Oliver Winchester started out as a man with big aspirations and wound up accomplishing them all. He was an experienced gun manufacturer, while also active in politics for the city of New Haven. He was a man of many words and indeed of many talents; under his name, the Winchester Repeating Arms Company grew and developed into one of the largest firearm manufacturers. He provided guns for the war and he did his civic duty. And there are many rifles and shotguns that stand today as proof. And if you ever pass through New Haven, then be sure to take a stroll on the Winchester Avenue, named after this great man.

The inventions that stand under the name of Winchester have changes to lives of so many people throughout time, especially during the war. Many were killed with these rifles, but just as many and probably even more were saved with their help. The history of American guns and firearms would be incomplete, without the name and legacy left by Oliver Winchester. His philanthropic figure remained in history, besides other valuable men of the gun making industry, such as John Browning, Smith & Wesson and Samuel Colt. They have all had their very own contribution to the making of history and they deserve all the regard we can give. He had the talent of improving other men’s inventions, patenting them under his own name.

Winchester was incredibly intelligent and he was prepared to pursue his goals. Today, he is the one who developed the Winchester Rifle, a famous gun and ammunition manufacturer. And the year of 2007 seems to bring even more news for the Winchester name. It seems that a new model is being prepared under the category of sporting firearms. Officials have announced that it will retain some of the characteristics that have made Winchester so famous but it will also include forward-looking features, using advanced producing techniques. What would Oliver Winchester say if he saw that model today? Would he be proud of how much his company was able to grow along time or would he try and improve even more the new model? We can only guess the answers to those questions but one thing is sure: when it comes to firearm and ammunition production, we all know the name of Oliver Winchester and Winchester Repeating Arms Company. They are part of history just as other gun manufacturers, famous designers or inventors.