Oliver Winchester—The Man and the Guns

oliverwinchester“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!


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14 thoughts on “Oliver Winchester—The Man and the Guns”

  1. Excellent info, Tracy. And wow, what a difference in the smoke given off in the 1873 rifle by the cartridges used. Thanks for sharing the facts and video link.

    • Thanks Linda! I just got home from a weekend shoot. The weather was damp and the smoke from the black powder guns hung in the air. Thank heavens for the breeze. lol

  2. Wow! This is amazing information, Tracy. I’m filing it away for future reference. I use Winchester rifles in my stories but don’t give the model. Maybe I should. You know so much about weapons. I know you’re loving being in the shooting club. Your passion is contagious.

    • I’m glad it’s helpful, Linda. I started writing about a particular shotgun and had so much information to share I had to break it into multiple blogs. And I do enjoy being a Cowboy Action Shooter!

  3. i learn something every time i come here,,very interesting post,,love reading it,thanks

  4. PS – I need to show this one to my son, who cannot land on a job he is really enthused about. Just goes to show– keep looking and don’t give up. He’ll land on one – like Winchester– that is right for him.

    • My pleasure, Kathryn. And tell your son to keep looking. The job that holds his passion is out there somewhere. It took me more than twenty years and two college degrees to finally find writing. 🙂

  5. Thank you for some history, love all aspects of American history. Your jnowledge is great to know. Thank you. Agatha P. Townsend

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