The Winchester Repeating Arms Company is possibly one of the most well recognized names in the firearms world. Known for its lever and bolt action rifles, as well as shotguns, Winchester will be one of the names that will always be associated with the Wild West, World Wars and excellent firearms. Even though the company has had an interesting rollercoaster ride through its history.
Winchester was born out of the failure of the Volition lever action rifle which was being offered through a partnership of Horace Smith and Daniel Wesson (Yes, that Smith and Wesson), which led to and improved lever action rifle designed by Benjamin Tyler Henry (Yes, that Henry). The partnership wanted to sell their improved lever action rifle, so they incorporated under the name of the Volcanic Repeating Arms Company. The Volcanic rifle was having limited success and in 1860 an improved version of the Volcanic rifle, the Henry rifle, was introduced.
The Henry rifle was highly regarded during the civil war and gave the company, (reorganized with a new name: New Haven Arms) a large measure of popularity and recognition. Unfortunately, after a disagreement with led to reorganization by the company’s chief stockholder, Oliver Winchester. With a modified and improved version of the Henry rifle, Winchester Repeating Arms Company set out to forever change the way the world viewed firearms.
Known for lever action rifles, Winchester also introduced other very popular firearms in the late 1800’s. Most notably, the John Browning designed Model 1897 pump action shotgun. Browning continued to work with Winchester through the First World War where he designed the Browning Automatic Rifle and the .50 Caliber Browning Machine Gun.
The interwar years were tough for Winchester. In an effort to use the production capacity that they had achieved in the war, Winchester began to sell a variety of household and recreational gods through its “Winchester Stores”. This idea flopped and accompanied with the depression, forced Winchester into receivership.
World War II brought a high level of production back to Winchester. The M1 Garand and M1 carbine helped the company to recover some of the ground they had lost during the interwar years. This recovery was mild at best and because of rising labor costs and decreasing profit margins. In the 1960's the company formed a new design group to take advantage of the newer manufacturing technology. This resulted in what are known as “pre” and “post” 1964 models. The “post-64” models were seen as being a lower quality product and are much less desired among Winchester collectors.
Even with the popularity of the Winchester Model 70 rifle, Model 94 lever action rifle and Model 12 pump shotgun, Winchester couldn’t keep pace with the increase in labor cost and in 1980, the company was sold to its employees and incorporated as U.S. Repeating Arms. Olin, Winchester’s parent company, retained the rights to the name and continues to manufacture ammunition using the Winchester name.
Winchester continues to be a major force in the ammunition market. They offer products that touch virtually every niche of the ammunition market. From the AccuBond CT to the PDX1 Defender, the technology in Winchester’s newest ammunition is cutting edge. For those who want to keep their traditional ammo, the Super-X line continues to be a popular choice among shooters.
The Winchester company has been through many changes and ups and downs in its history. It is impossible to tell where the company will go, but it seems to be that Winchester will remain in the top manufacturers of ammo for a long time to come.
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