Winchester rifle

Winchester rifle

Infobox Weapon
name=Winchester Model 1873 rifle

caption="The Gun that Won the West"
origin=United States
used_by= USA
manufacturer=Winchester Repeating Arms Company
variants=Full-stocked "Musket", Carbine, Sporting model
weight= 9.5lb (4.3kg)
length= 49.3in (125.2cm)
part_length=30in (76.2cm)
caliber=.44-40 Winchester, .32-20 Winchester, .22 rimfire
feed=15 round tube magazine
sights= Graduated rear sights, Fixed-post front sights
The name Winchester rifle is frequently used to describe any of the lever-action rifles manufactured in the U.S. by the Winchester Repeating Arms Company in the latter half of the 19th Century, although it is usually in reference to the Winchester Model 1873 or the Winchester Model 1894. Winchester rifles were among the earliest repeating rifles, and as such the Winchester name has become synonymous with lever-action firearms. The gun is colloquially known as "The Gun that Won the West" for its immense popularity at that time, as well as its use in fictional Westerns.


The idea of a repeating rifle had been the subject of many inventions since the use of firearms began, but few of them had proven to be practical, mainly because the modern brass cartridge, which made repeating arms practical, had not yet been developed.

One of the first practical repeating rifles was a design based on the highly successful Colt revolver, effectively being a version of the revolver with a rifle-length barrel and shoulder stock. Despite the success of the Colt revolver design in handguns, it was not a success as a rifle and was never widely adopted. The more successful Spencer rifles and carbines of the American Civil War were a notable step forward, but were not completely satisfactory in various respects. The ancestor of the Winchester rifles was the Volcanic rifle of Horace Smith and Daniel B. Wesson. It was originally manufactured by the Volcanic Repeating Arms Company, which 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.


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. It become the first Winchester rifle, the Winchester Model 1866. It retained the .44 Henry rimfire cartridge but had an improved magazine and, for the first time, a wooden forearm. In 1873 Winchester introduced the Model 1873, with a steel frame and the more potent .44-40 centerfire cartridge. In 1876, in a bid to compete with the powerful single shot rifles of the time, Winchester brought out the Model 1876 (Centennial Model). While it chambered cartridges with more power than the 1866 and 1873 models, the toggle link action was just not strong enough for the popular rounds used in Sharps or Remington rifles.

From 1883, John Browning worked in partnership with the Winchester, designing a series of rifles and shotguns, most notably the lever-action Winchester Model 1886, Winchester Model 1892, Winchester Model 1894, and Winchester Model 1895 rifles, along with the lever-action Winchester Model 1887 shotgun and the pump-action Winchester Model 1893 and Winchester Model 1897 shotguns. Reproductions of the 1887 and 1897 shotguns, and many of the lever-action rifles, are available today, although they are produced by other manufacturers and not from Winchester. The Model 1894 and limited editions of the Model 1895 rifles are still produced under the Winchester name, but no longer in the United States.

Winchester Repeating Rifles

Winchester Model 1866

The original Winchester rifle- the Winchester Model 1866- was famous for its rugged construction and lever-action mechanism that allowed the rifleman to fire a number of shots before having to reload: hence the term, "repeating rifle." Chambered only in the rimfire .44 Henry, the Model 1866 was nicknamed the "Yellowboy" because of its "brass" receiver. In reality the receiver was made of an bronze-alloy called "Gunmetal".

Winchester Model 1873

One of the most successful, and certainly one of the most famous Winchester rifles was the Winchester Model 1873, originally chambered for the 44-40 cartridge, although it was later produced in .38-40 and .32-20, all of which also became popular handgun cartridges of the day. Having a common centerfire cartridge in both revolvers and rifles allowed the owner to carry two firearms, but only one type of ammunition. Interestingly, the original Model 1873 was never offered in the military standard .45 Colt cartridge; although a number of modern reproductions of the rifle are chambered for the round. There was a limited number (approximately 19,000) of 1873 Winchesters manufactured in .22 rimfire caliber, which lacked the loading gate on the right side of the receiver. The Winchester Model 1873 was produced in such quantities that they became a common sight in the American West, leading to the rifle being nicknamed "The Gun that Won the West" on account of its prevalence and versatility.

Winchester Model 1876

The Winchester Model 1876 was a heavier-framed rifle than the Model 1866 or Model 1873, and was the first to be chambered for full-powered centerfire rifle cartridges, as opposed to rimfire cartridges or handgun-sized centerfire rounds. It was introduced to celebrate the American Centennial, and earned a reputation as a durable and powerful hunting rifle. The Canadian Mounties also used the '76 as a standard long arm for many years. Theodore Roosevelt used an engraved, pistol-gripped half-magazine '76 during his early hunting expeditions in the West and praised it.

Winchester Model 1886

The Browning-designed Model 1886 continued the trend towards chambering heavier rounds, and had an even stronger action than the toggle-link Model 1876. In many respects the Model 1886 was a true American express rifle, as it could be chambered in the more powerful black powder cartridges of the day, including the .45-70 Government. Chambering a rifle for the .45-70 had been a goal of Winchester for some time.

Winchester Model 1892

Winchester returned to its roots with the Model 1892, which, like the first lever-action guns, was primarily chambered for lower-pressure, smaller, handgun rounds. The Model 1892, however, incorporates a much stronger action than the earlier lever-action arms of the 1860s and 1870s. 1,004,675 Model 1892 rifles were made by Winchester, and although the company phased them out in the 1930s, they are still being made under the Puma label by the Brazilian arms maker, Rossi, and by Chiappa Firearms, an Italian factory. In its modern form, using updated materials and production techniques, the Model 1892's action is strong enough to chamber high pressure handgun rounds, such as .357 Magnum, .44 Magnum, and the high-powered .454 Casull round.

The 1892 was designed as a replacement for the 1873 by John Moses Browning, who had a long and profitable relationship with Winchester from the 1880s to the early 1900s. While earlier rifles and shotguns actually "won the West," the majority of lever action rifles seen in classic Hollywood Westerns are Winchester '92 carbines chambered in .44-40 and .38-40 (to utilize the "5-in-1" blank cartridge). John Wayne famously carried these rifles in dozens of films set between the 1830s and the 1880s.

Winchester Model 1894

The Winchester Model 1894 is perhaps the best known of the Winchester repeating rifles, chambered for the newly introduced smokeless .30-30 Winchester cartridge, and later, a variety of calibres such as .25-35 WCF, .32-40 WCF, .32 Winchester Special, and the .38-55. Winchester were the first company to manufacture a rifle chambered for the new smokeless cartridges (the Model 1894 was designed by John Browning), and although delays prevented the .30-30 cartridge from appearing on the shelves until 1895, it remained the first commercially available smokeless powder round for the North American consumer market. Though initially it was too expensive for most shooters, the Model 1894 went on to become one of the best-selling hunting rifles of all time- it has the distinction of being the first sporting/hunting rifle to sell over 1 million units- and US production was not discontinued until 2006.

Winchester Model 1895

The Winchester Model 1895 has the distinction of being the first Winchester repeating rifle to load from a box magazine instead of a tube under the barrel. This allowed the Model 1895 to be chambered for military cartridges with spitzer (pointed) projectiles, and the rifle was used by the militaries of a number of nations including the US, Great Britain, and Imperial Russia. Calibers included .30-40 Krag, .303 British, .30-03 (.30 US), .30-06 Springfield, and the mighty .405 Winchester. The Russian production models could also be loaded using charger clips, a feature not found on any other lever-action rifle.

Winchester Model 1885 Single Shot Rifle

In 1885 Winchester entered the Single-shot market with their Model 1885 rifle, which had been designed by John Moses Browning in 1878. The Winchester Single Shot, known to most shooters as either the "Low-wall" or "High-wall" (depending on model), but officially marketed by Winchester as the Single-shot Rifle, was produced to satisfy the demands of the growing sport of "Match Shooting", which opened at Creedmoor, New York, on June 21, 1872. Target/Match shooting was extremely popular in the US from about 1871 until about 1917, enjoying a status similar to golf today, and the Winchester company, which had built its reputation on repeating firearms, had in 1885, challenged the single shot giants of Sharps, Remington, Stevens, Maynard, Ballard et al , not only entering the competition, but excelling at it, with Major Ned H. Roberts (inventor of the .257 Roberts cartridge) describing the Model 1885 Single Shot as "...the most reliable, strongest, and altogether best single shot rifle ever produced." [ Major Roberts ] Winchester produced nearly 140,000 Single Shot rifles from 1885 to 1920, and it was found that the Model 1885 had been built with one of the "strongest falling block actions" known at that time. To satisfy the needs of the shooting and hunting public, the Model 1885 Single Shot was eventually produced in more calibers than any other Winchester rifle. In 2005, after a break of 85 years, the Winchester Company reproduced a "Limited Series" of their Winchester Single shot rifles, in both 19th and 20th century calibers. The 21st century Winchester Single Shot rifles are built with the latest technology and modern steels, enabling them to fire modern smokeless cartridges.

Bolt Action rifles

Winchester rifles remained the most popular in the US through WWI and the interwar period. However, European advances in the development of bolt action rifles threw a long shadow. These new rifles could chamber pointed "Spitzer" bullets, which no lever action with a tube magazine could. They could also cope with more pressure, and consequently chamber more potent rounds and shoot flatter than a lever rifle. On top of this, bolt actions as developed by Mauser and other European manufacturers had front locking lugs which stabilized the cartridge head very well, and allowed for unprecedented accuracy.

In response to the increasing competition from these bolt-action rifles, Winchester introduced the Model 70 in 1936. This was not Winchester's first bolt rifle (that distinction belonged to the Winchester-Hotchkiss rifle of 1878), but it was by far their most successful. It was based on the Mauser Gewehr 98 design, but with modifications and popular North American chamberings which made it more appealing to American hunters than were the European imports or sporterised military rifles.


Winchester Model 1887/1901

The Winchester Model 1887 was the first successful repeating shotgun design, developed by John Browning and produced by Winchester from 1887-1920. Browning felt that a pump-action would be much more appropriate for a repeating shotgun, but as Winchester was primarily a lever-action firearms company they felt that their new shotgun must also be a lever-action for reasons of brand recognition. The M1887 was chambered for 12ga black powder shotshells, and after the switch to smokeless powder at the end of the 19th Century, the M1901 was introduced, being chambered for 10ga smokeless shells. Although a technically sound gun design, the market for lever-action shotguns waned considerably after the introduction of the Winchester 1897 and other contemporary pump-action shotguns; modern reproductions of the gun have been manufactured by Norinco in China, ADI Ltd. in Australia and Chiappa Firearms in Italy.

Winchester Model 1893/1897

Another Browning design, the Winchester Model 1893 (and later Model 1897) was one of the first successful pump-action shotgun designs, being introduced in 1893 and remaining in production until the mid 1950s. Unusually for a repeating shotgun, the Model 1897 could be taken apart for easier carriage/storage, and was available in a variety of barrel lengths from 20in to 36in.

1964 Changes

After the company was bought out by the Olin-Matheson Chemical Corporation in 1963, Winchester saw a management change which led to an extensive and extremely controversial redesign of their firearms in 1964. This is regarded by many as the year the "real" Winchester ceased to be, and consequently "pre-'64" rifles command higher prices than those made afterwards. Winchester itself went on to have a troubled future as competition from both the US and abroad began to decrease its sales. In the 1970s, the company was split into parts and sold off. The name "Winchester" remained with the ammunition making side of the company, and this branch at least continues to be profitable. The arms making side and New Haven facilities went to U.S. Repeating Arms, which struggled to keep the company going under a variety of owners and management teams. It finally announced plans to close the New Haven facility, the producers of the Model 1894, in 2006.

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.

ee also

* Winchester Repeating Arms Company
* John Browning
* Benjamin Tyler Henry
* Henry rifle
* List of rifle cartridges
* Mare's Leg
* Single-shot
* Oliver Winchester
* Winchester Model 70
* Antique guns


# [ Out With A Bang: The Loss of the Classic Winchester Is Loaded With Symbolism] , "Washington Post", January 21 2006
# [ Winchester Rifles to Be Discontinued] , "Washington Post", January 18 2006
# [ Know the enemy: "Have gun will", May 19 2003
# [ Labor history] , "November 17 2006
# [ End of an era as Winchester rifle plant prepares to close] , "Pittsburgh Tibune-Review", January 18 2006
# [ End of an era as Winchester rifle plant prepares to close] , "NC" January 17 2006
# Kelver, Gerald O. Major Ned H. Roberts and the Schuetzen Rifle. 1998. Pioneer Press
# Campbell, John. The Winchester Single Shot. 1998. ISBN 0-91721-868X
# Henrotin, Gerard Winchester Model 94 Explained - H&L Publishing / 2008 (E-book)

External links

* [ Official website]
* [ Winchester Firearms question and answer forum]
* [ The Winchester Arms Collectors Association, Inc. (WACA) is a non-profit corporation dedicated to the preservation of all Winchester produced and related items]
* [ Winchester 1860 Henry Rifle]
* [ Winchester 1873 Sporting rifle]

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  • Winchester rifle — a type of magazine rifle, first made in about 1866. [1870 75; named after D. F. Winchester (1810 80), American manufacturer] …   Useful english dictionary

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