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The Winchester Repeating Arms Company was a prominent American maker of repeating firearms during the late nineteenth and early twentieth century.

Early historyEdit

PredecessorsEdit

The ancestor of the Winchester Repeating Arms Company was the Volcanic Repeating Arms Company, which manufactured the Volcanic lever action rifle of Horace Smith and Daniel Wesson. It was later reorganized into the New Haven Arms Company, its largest stockholder being Oliver Winchester. The Volcanic rifle used a form of "caseless" ammunition and had only limited success. Wesson had also designed an early form of rimfire cartridge which was subsequently perfected by Benjamin Tyler Henry. Henry also supervised the redesign of the rifle to use the new ammunition, retaining only the general form of the breech mechanism and the tubular magazine. This became the Henry rifle of 1860, which was manufactured by the New Haven Arms Company and was used in considerable numbers by certain Union army units in the civil war.

The "Winchester" RifleEdit

Main article: Winchester rifle
File:Winchester rifle grko474 rifle.jpg

After the war Oliver Winchester continued to exercise control of the company, renaming it the Winchester Repeating Arms Company, and had the basic design of the Henry rifle completely modified and improved to become the first Winchester rifle, the Model 1866, which fired the same .44 caliber rimfire cartridges as the Henry but had an improved magazine (with the addition of a loading gate on the right side of the receiver, invented by Winchester employee Nelson King) and, for the first time, a wooden forearm. The Henry and the 1866 Winchester shared a unique double firing pin which struck the head of the rimfire cartridge in two places when the weapon was fired, increasing the chances that the fulminate in the hollow rim would ignite the 28 or so grains of black powder inside the case.

Another extremely popular model was rolled out in 1873. The Model 1873 introduced the first Winchester center fire cartridge, the .44-40 WCF (Winchester Central Fire). These rifle families are commonly known as the "Gun That Won the West".

The Model 1873 was followed by the Model 1876 (or "Centennial Model"), a larger version of the '73, which utilized the same toggle-link action and brass cartridge elevator dating from the Henry. It was chambered for longer, more powerful cartridges such as .45-60 WCF, .45-75 WCF, and .50-95 WCF. The action was not strong enough to allow Winchester to achieve their goal of producing a repeating rifle capable of handling the .45-70 Government cartridge; this would not happen until they began manufacture of the Browning-designed Model 1886.

From 1883, John Browning worked in partnership with the Winchester Repeating Arms Company, and designed a series of repeating rifles and shotguns, most notably the Winchester Model 1885 Single Shot, Winchester Model 1887 lever action shotguns , Model 1897, and Model 1912 shotguns; and the lever-action Model 1886, Model 1892, Model 1894 and Model 1895 (with a box magazine) rifles. Several of these are still in production today through Winchester special order, though other companies such as Browning, Rossi, Navy Arms and others have revived several of the discontinued models.

20th Century DevelopmentsEdit

The Turn of the CenturyEdit

The early years of the twentieth century found the Winchester Repeating Arms Company competing with new John Browning designs, manufactured under license by other firearm companies. The race to produce the first commercial self-loading rifle brought forth the .22 rimfire Winchester Model 1903 and later centerfire Model 1905, Model 1907, and Model 1910 rifles. Winchester engineers, after ten years of work, designed the Model 1911 to circumvent Browning's self-loading shotgun patents, prepared by the company's very own patent lawyers. One of Winchester's premier engineers, T.C. Johnson, was instrumental in the development of these self-loading firearms and indeed went on to assist with the design of the Winchester Model 1912 and Model 54.

The World WarsEdit

The company later bought and manufactured several of John Browning's highly superior rifle and shotgun designs and was a major producer of M1917 Enfield military rifles during World War I. Working at the Winchester plant during that war, Browning developed the final design of the Browning Automatic Rifle (BAR), of which it produced some 27,000. Browning and the Winchester engineers also developed the Browning .50 BMG caliber (12.7 x 99 mm) machine gun during the war. The caliber .50 (12.7 x 99 mm) ammunition for it was designed by the Winchester ballistic engineers.

The commercial rights to these new Browning guns were owned by Colt. The U.S. M1 carbine (although not a carbine in the truest sense) was designed by Winchester engineers Clifford Warner and Ralph Clarkson (contrary to a widely published myth, not by convict D.M. "Carbine" Williams) and was then manufactured in large numbers by Winchester and other firms. During World War II, Winchester was the sole civilian producer of the M1 rifle and later was the first civilian manufacturer of the M14 rifle. In 1963 the Winchester firm was purchased by the Olin-Matheson Chemical Corporation and continued its production of civilian rifles and shotguns.

The Cold War and BeyondEdit

In the mid 1950's S. K. Janson formed a new Winchester design group to advance the use of modern engineering design methods and manufacturing principles in gun design. The result was a new line of guns which replaced most of the older products. Olin later sold off Winchester's firearms manufacturing business in 1981, retaining only the Winchester branded ammunition business. Olin still owns the rights to the Winchester trademarks and manufactures Winchester brand ammunition. From 1981 until 2006, Winchester guns were made by the U.S. Repeating Arms Company. The U.S. Repeating Arms Co. was initially an employee buyout of Winchester's arms making division. When it went bankrupt it was acquired by a French holding company, then sold to an arms making cartel sponsored by the Belgian province of Herstal, which also owns famous gun maker Fabrique National (FN)

The End of an EraEdit

On January 16, 2006 U.S. Repeating Arms announced it was closing the New Haven, Connecticut plant where Winchester rifles and shotguns were produced for 140 years.[1]

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Along with the closing of the plant, the Model 94 rifle (the descendant of the original Winchester rifle), Model 70 rifle and Model 1300 shotgun would be discontinued.

A New EraEdit

On August 15, 2006, Olin Corporation, owner of the Winchester trademarks, announced that it had entered into a new license agreement with Browning to make Winchester brand rifles and shotguns, though not at the closed Winchester plant in New Haven. Browning, based in Morgan, Utah, and the former licensee, U.S. Repeating Arms Company, are both subsidiaries of FN Herstal.

PresidentsEdit

  • Oliver Winchester (1857-1880)
  • William Wirt Winchester (1880-1881), son of Oliver Winchester.
  • William Converse (1881-1890), husband of Mary A. Pardee.
  • Thomas Gray Bennett (1890-1910), husband of Hannah Jane Winchester.
  • George E. Hudson (1910-1915). He was a partner in the company with Oliver.
  • Winchester Bennett (1915-1918), son of Thomas Gray Bennett.
  • Thomas Gray Bennett (1918-1919)

ReferencesEdit

  1. ^ 
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Out With A Bang: The Loss of the Classic Winchester Is Loaded With Symbolism, Washington Post, January 21 2006

External linksEdit


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