“Oliver Fisher Winchester was born on November 30, 1810 in Boston, Massachusetts. Although raised on a farm, Winchester eventually became a carpenter, and by 1830, he was a construction supervisor in Baltimore, Maryland. While in Baltimore, he entered the dry goods business, and after several years, Winchester became a manufacturer of men’s shirts in New Haven, Connecticut. This venture proved to be sufficiently profitable that he began to extend his business interests.
“In 1855, Winchester became a stockholder and director of the Volcanic Repeating Arms Company, a firearms manufacturing firm that brought together the talents of Winchester with those of Horace Smith, Daniel B. Wesson, and B. Tyler Henry. Volcanic produced lever-action repeating pistols and carbines based on the patents of Smith & Wesson.”
“In 1857, financial problems forced Volcanic into insolvency. The company’s assets were purchased by Oliver Winchester, who by this time had become Volcanic’s president. Winchester reorganized the firm and resumed operations under the name of New Haven Arms Company… Among those hired by Oliver Winchester was B. Tyler Henry..” Henry designed and patented the lever-action repeating rifles that bear his name.
Winchester Arms built many of the weapons the “won the west.” Several different weapons, both rifles and handguns, have been dubbed “the gun that won the west.” Like the Colt 1873 Peacemaker, a .45 caliber six-shot revolver; the Winchester Model 1866 “Yellow Boy” lever-action repeating rifle, so named for its shiny brass frame, and the Winchester Model 1873 lever-action repeating rifle.
Some believe the model 1873 Winchester is widely know as “the gun that won the west” purely because there were so many made. The production run of more than 720,000 meant the 1873 was obtainable by pretty much anyone who wanted one. And that meant a lot of them went west with those brave enough to pack up and head off into parts unknown.
“Most Texas Rangers and every old West cowboy worth his salt carried 1873 rifles. Chappo, the son of Apache war chief Geronimo, packed an 1873. And Buffalo Bill carried an 1873 lever-action rifle along with a pair of .44-40 Colts in 1876 when he worked as an Army scout.” (http://www.uberti.com/firearms/1873_rifle_and_carbine.php)
If you’d like to see a reproduction in action, check out this video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_RUsZ5U9xYw
Pay attention to the difference in the amount of smoke produced between the first cartridges, which use modern smokeless powder, and the second set, which are loaded with a black powder substitute that is more like the black powder used in the 1800s. The smoke was always a factor with the weapons of the period. Every shot left a cloud that gave away the position of the shooter.
Beginning next month, we’ll explore some of the amazing weapons that came out of Winchester Arms / New Haven Arms. See you then!