The Winchester Repeating Arms Company is a prominent American maker of repeating firearms, located in New Haven, Connecticut. The Winchester brand is today used under license by two subsidiaries of the Herstal Group, Fabrique Nationale de Herstal of Belgium and the Browning Arms Company of Morgan, Utah.
The predecessors of the Winchester Repeating Arms Company include the New Haven Arms Company and before that, the Volcanic Repeating Arms Company. The Volcanic Repeating Arms Company, founded by Horace Smith and Daniel Wesson, manufactured their repeating weapon to some success, but ended up having to declare insolvency after about a year; a man named Oliver Winchester purchased the company and its assets in 1857, renaming it the New Haven Arms Company. An employee which Smith & Wesson had hired named Benjamin Henry continued to perfect the Volcanic design and the rimfire cartridge, leading to the Henry rifle of 1860 and the .44 Henry cartridge.
The Henry rifle turned out to be a commercial success; however, Henry wanted more. Come 1866, Henry was unhappy as he thought he received insufficient compensation from his employers, and wanted ownership of the company to be transferred to him by Connecticut legislature. Winchester, hearing of this, quickly rushed back to the United States from Europe and quickly intervened; he reorganized the New Haven Arms Company himself, renaming it the Winchester Repeating Arms Company. Henry left the company shortly after and began working on his own.
Winchester had the basic action of the Henry rifle modified and added a new and improved magazine designed by employee Nelson King; this became the Winchester Model 1866, which was hugely commercially successful. More success followed with the Model 1873 and 1876, although the action of the latter rifle was not long or strong enough to accommodate the .45-70 Government cartridge. During this time however, a young gunsmith named John Browning was employed; Browning would later go on to design some very successful products for Winchester, including the Models 1885, 1886, 1892 and 1894.
In 1880, Winchester died; his son, William, was then appointed to succeed him as the company treasurer. However, he would die four months after his father died, with his widow taking his inheritance and using it to build the Winchester Mystery House. In 1885, long-standing employee T.C. Johnson was employed by the company. At the close of the 19th century, Winchester began to branch out to other divisions of the firearms market, attempting to gain shares in any way they could.
Browning left the company in 1899 and moved to Belgium to work with FN over disagreements between him and Winchester's treasurer at the time, Thomas Grey Bennett, over production of a semi-automatic shotgun. Johnson was then tasked to design a semi-automatic shotgun which could compete with Browning's successful design; while promising, the weapon was a commercial failure and recalled after a year. Johnson would continue working on various other successful designs for Winchester, most of them being refinements of Browning designs until his death in 1934.
By the 1920s, Winchester was failing financially, having borrowed heavily in an attempt to finance the company's massive expansion during World War I. The Great Depression was no better; by 1931, the company went into receivership. The company was saved by the Western Cartridge Company at a bankruptcy auction in 1931, owned by the Olin family; the company was merged with the Western Cartridge Company and became known as Winchester-Western. John Olin, first vice-president of the Western Cartridge Company, began operations to restore the company to its former glory shortly after he took his position.
Come the 1960s, it became clear to Winchester that it was no longer viable for them to produce their "classic" designs due to the increasing costs of skilled labor. Then-employee Stefan Janson purportedly created a new design group in the company to design new products which would use then-modern techniques of gun production; this led to many of Winchester's "classic" designs such as the Model 12 to be discontinued. Winchester also attempted to diversify to other markets with little success.
A large-scale strike in Winchester in the late 1970s convinced Olin that firearms could no longer be produced profitably in New Haven. The company sold the New Haven plant to its employees in 1980, which incorporated itself as the U.S. Repeating Arms Company and given a license to produce Winchester arms.
The U.S. Repeating Arms Company went defunct in 1989, with the rights to the Winchester name first purchased by a French holding company and then by FN Herstal. The New Haven plant was closed on 31 March 2006 after 140 years of producing arms and has since been converted into a residential area. The rights to the Winchester name are currently held by both FN Herstal and the Browning Arms Company, with Winchester arms currently marketed now being produced by Miroku Corp. in Japan.
Rifles and Longarms
- Winchester Model 1866
- Winchester Model 1873
- Winchester Model 1885
- Winchester Model 1886
- Winchester Model 1890
- Winchester Model 1892
- Winchester Model 1894
- Winchester Model 1895
- Winchester Model 1887
- Winchester Model 1897
- Winchester Model 1911
- Winchester Model 1912
- Winchester Model 9410