Winchester Repeating Arms is possibly one of the most widely recognized names in the world of firearms. Throughout its history, Winchester has ridden a roller coaster of wild success and near misses. The company is famous for its lever action rifles, bolt action rifles, and shotguns, and is nearly synonymous with the Wild West. They made excellent firearms that saw action in both World Wars, but they struggled in the years between and after.
Winchester emerged from the failure of a lever action rifle called the Volition, an offering available from the partnership of Horace Smith and Daniel Wesson (yes, that Smith and Wesson), which resulted in an improved lever action rifle designed by Benjamin Tyler Henry (yes, that Henry). Smith and Wesson incorporated as the Volcanic Repeating Arms Company to sell their improved lever action rifle. The Volcanic rifle had limited success, so in 1860, they released an improved version known as the Henry rifle and reorganized the company under a new name – New Haven Arms.
The Henry rifle came to be regarded highly during the Civil War, and the rifle's popularity boosted the reputation of New Haven Arms. Benjamin Henry was upset about how little money he felt he had been paid for the rifle that bore his name, and the resulting spat with New Haven Arms was handled when the company’s chief stockholder, Oliver Winchester, intervened and reorganized as the Winchester Repeating Arms Company. Winchester modified and improved, yet again, the Henry rifle, and forever changed how the world viewed firearms.
Winchester was known for their lever action rifles, but produced other famous firearms in the late 19th Century. The Model 1897 pump action shotgun designed by John Moses Browning is a notable example. Browning worked with Winchester through WWI, during which he developed the Browning Automatic Rifle and the .50 Caliber Browning Machine Gun. While they had acheived impressive production capacity during WWI, the accompanying Depression forced the Winchester company into receivership. The .32 Winchester Special was the only bright spot during this time.
WWII saw Winchester utilizing their high productive capacity once again. The company regained some of the ground they lost in the years between the wars with M1 Garand and M1 Carbine rifles. And the .308 Winchester, released in the 1950s, became the company's most influential cartridge to date. In 1964, Winchester formed a new design group in order to take advantage of new technology in manufacturing. This date created a line of demarcation, and firearms came to be called “pre” and “post” 1964 models. “Pre-64” models are perceived as higher-quality firearms, and are valued mich higher by collectors of Winchester rifles and shotguns.
Though Winchester sold many popular firearms – among them the well-known Model 94 lever action rifle, the Model 70 rifle, and the Model 12 pump shotgun – they were unable to keep pace with increasing labor costs. The company was sold to its employees in 1980, and incorporated as U.S. Repeating Arms. Winchester’s parent company, Olin, retains the rights to and still manufactures ammo under the Winchester name.
Winchester as such remains a significant force in the market for ammunition. They sell products that fit in practically every niche of the firearms industry. Their newest cutting-edge ammunition includes the AccuBond CT and the PDX1 Defender. For shooters who like their traditional ammunition, the Super-X line is a popular choice.
The history of the Winchester company has cycled up and down many times. It's impossible to predict how the company will fare in the future, but their resiliency seems to suggest that Winchester will find a way to be a top manufacturer of ammo for many years to come.