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Winchester Repeating Arms is possibly one of the most widely recognized names in the world of firearms. Throughout its history, Winchester has ridden a roller coaster of wild success and near misses. The company is famous for its lever action rifles, bolt action rifles, and shotguns, and is nearly synonymous with the Wild West. They made excellent firearms that saw action in both World Wars, but they struggled in the years between and after.

Winchester Ammo Sales

Winchester emerged from the failure of a lever action rifle called the Volition, an offering available from the partnership of Horace Smith and Daniel Wesson (yes, that Smith and Wesson), which resulted in an improved lever action rifle designed by Benjamin Tyler Henry (yes, that Henry). Smith and Wesson incorporated as the Volcanic Repeating Arms Company to sell their improved lever action rifle. The Volcanic rifle had limited success, so in 1860, they released an improved version known as the Henry rifle and reorganized the company under a new name – New Haven Arms.

The Henry rifle came to be regarded highly during the Civil War, and the rifle's popularity boosted the reputation of New Haven Arms. Benjamin Henry was upset about how little money he felt he had been paid for the rifle that bore his name, and the resulting spat with New Haven Arms was handled when the company’s chief stockholder, Oliver Winchester, intervened and reorganized as the Winchester Repeating Arms Company. During the American Civil War, the Confederate Army troops referred to the Henry rifle as "that damned Yankee rifle that they load on Sunday and shoot all week!"

Winchester Rounds and Winchester Rifles

Winchester modified and improved, yet again, the Henry rifle, and forever changed how the world viewed firearms. The lever-action Winchester rifle is almost synonymous with the Winchester name. It is widely known as “the gun that won the West.” In fact, the Winchester rifle is not a single rifle, but is no less than nine different models:
  • Model 1866: The original. This not only helped the federal war effort during the Civil War, but also helped the French war effort during the Franco-Prussian War and helped the Ottomans inflict heavy Russian casualties during the Siege of Plevna. It remained popular until its discontinuation in 1899.
  • Model 1873: This is the “gun that won the West.” The original 1873 were chambered for .44-40 rounds, which were themselves an innovation as the first centerfire cartridge. The 1873 is also the famed “Forgotten Winchester.” A popular 1950 Western film starring Jimmy Stewart was named after the weapon.
  • Model 1876: The 1876 was a celebration of America’s centennial. No less an American than Teddy Roosevelt swore by the ‘76. TR used the rifle during his early expeditions into the American West. The rifle was standard issue for Texas Rangers of the time.
  • Model 1886: Introduced in 1886, this was the first Winchester rifle to make it to the 20th Century. It was used during the early years of World War I by the Royal Flying Corps.
  • Model 1892: This rifle was introduced as a direct reaction to a similar Marlin product. Winchester was feeling pressure from competitors and needed to up its game. While developed after the winning of the West, this firearm is iconic in its own right as the rifle carried by the Duke in several of his pictures, including The Searchers. This is because Hollywood studios purchased this still-in-production rifle in bulk rather than expensive antique alternatives.
  • Model 1894: Believe it or not, this was produced from 1894 until 2006, and then reintroduced in 2011, due to its popularity. This is one of the most popular hunting rifles of all time.
  • Model 1895: TR was likewise a fan of this rifle, which he took on African safari with him. A number of national militaries, including the United States, the Russian Empire and even Nazi Germany (who issued the rifle to its Volkssturm national militia).
  • Model 88: Introduced in 1955, 60 years after the last Winchester repeating lever rifle, this is the third most popular lever-action rifle Winchester ever sold. It was discontinued in 1973.
  • Model 9422: While it didn’t lack for power or accuracy, the 9422 is a bit of a tamed beast. Introduced in 1972, it was primarily marketed toward parents of younger children as an introductory rifle.
Winchester was known for their lever-action rifles, but produced other famous firearms in the late 19th Century. The Model 1897 pump-action shotgun designed by John Moses Browning is a notable example. Browning worked with Winchester through WWI, during which he developed the Browning Automatic Rifle and the .50 Caliber Browning Machine Gun. While they had achieved impressive production capacity during WWI, the accompanying Depression forced the Winchester company into receivership. The .32 Winchester Special was the only bright spot during this time.

Winchester’s specialty was innovation. They won the race for the first self-loading rifle with the Winchester Model 1903. The company worked hard to navigate around self-loading shotgun patents by Browning, including having patent lawyers work closely on the design.

WWII saw Winchester utilizing their high-productive capacity once again. The company regained some of the ground they lost in the years between the wars with M1 Garand and M1 Carbine rifles. And the .308 Winchester, released in the 1950s, became the company's most influential cartridge to date. In 1964, Winchester formed a new design group in order to take advantage of new technology in manufacturing. This date created a line of demarcation, and firearms came to be called “pre” and “post” 1964 models. “Pre-64” models are perceived as higher-quality firearms, and are valued much higher by collectors of Winchester rifles and shotguns.

Though Winchester sold many popular firearms – among them the well-known Model 94 lever action rifle, the Model 70 rifle, and the Model 12 pump shotgun – they were unable to keep pace with increasing labor costs. The company was sold to its employees in 1980, and incorporated as U.S. Repeating Arms. Winchester’s parent company, Olin, retains the rights to and still manufactures ammo under the Winchester name.

The historic New Haven plant finally shut its doors in 2006, and the building is now home to lofts, as are many of the erstwhile manufacturing centers of New England mill towns. The Olin Corporation, current owner of Winchester’s intellectual property, licensed old rivals Browning to make Winchester firearms in 2006. FN Herstal owns the U.S. Repeating Arms Company today. Several gun cleaning kits, knives and other goods are manufactured and sold under the Winchester trademark.

Winchester as such remains a significant force in the market for ammunition, with products that fit in practically every niche of the firearms industry. Their newest cutting-edge ammo includes the AccuBond CT and the PDX1 Defender. For shooters who like their traditional ammunition, the Super-X line is a popular choice.

History of Winchester Ammo originally appeared in The Resistance Library at Ammo.com.
 
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