Sep 27, 2013

Oliver F. Winchester

Oliver Fisher Winchester was born on November 30th, 1810 and died December 11th, 1880. His surname became famous in the world of firearms when he manufactured and marketed the Winchester repeating rifle, a re-design from the Volcanic rifle that had not marketed so well years earlier.
Winchester began as a clothing manufacturer in New York City and New Haven, Connecticut and during that time he discovered that the Smith & Wesson firearms company was failing financially. A savvy businessman, Winchester put capital together and with other stockholders acquired the S&W division of the Volcanic Repeating Arms Company in 1850. Winchester was the principle stockholder and relocated the company to New Haven, changing its name to the New Haven Arms Company.
The Volcanic line of firearms was not doing well because of the Volcanic cartridge that was filled with black powder and sealed by a cork primer that did not work well. One of Winchester's employees was Benjamin Tyler Henry, an ingenious engineer who became an asset to Winchester's firearm endeavor. Henry improved the Volcanic repeating rifle by enlarging the frame and magazine in order to hold seventeen rounds of a newly-designed brass case .44 rimfire cartridge. The rifle would become the famous Henry rifle, still produced in the United States today.
After the success of the Henry rifle, the company changed its name to the Winchester Repeating Arms Company in 1866 when another employee Nelson King, improved the the Henry rifle by installing a loading gate on the side of the frame that integrated with a round sealed magazine covered by the forestock. This was the first Winchester called the Model 1866 Yellow Boy.
The Spencer repeating rifle introduced the cartridge repeating rifle in the Civil War, and after the war, Winchester's marketing skills proved an asset that created the 'rifle that won the West”.
Winchester was also active in politics, serving as a New Haven City Commissioner, Republican Presidential elector in 1864, and a Lt. Governor of Connecticut from 1866-1867.
Winchester died on December 11th, 1880, his business passed to his son, William Wirt Winchester, who died in 1881 of tuberculosis. The wife of William, Sarah, believed the family was cursed by spirits killed by the Winchester rifle and moved to San Jose, California where she built the famous mansion called the Winchester Mystery House, using the inheritance from the Winchester fortune. It was the Victorian age when the paranormal was beginning to be seen as a new science and spiritual mediums became prolific and the vogue of the era.
The Winchester Rifle, the gun that won the West, was made in several models: 1866, 1873, 1876, 1886, 1892, 1894, 1895 and the Model 88. Single shot and bolt-action rifle models were also produced as well as Winchester repeating shotguns.
Winchester was a businessman, not a gunsmith and owed success of his company to brilliant employees like Henry and John M. Browning, who in 1883 became a business partner with Winchester. After that point of time, Browning made Winchester rifles and shotguns that would become famous worldwide.

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