On March 31, 2006, with very little notice, an American Legend died and a big piece of Americana quietly faded into the dustbin of history. On that day, U.S. Repeating Arms Co., maker of Winchester Rifles closed their New Haven, Connecticut plant for good, ending the life of a product so closely intertwined in the growth and history of our country that the two are almost inseparable. This involvement began in 1857 when Oliver Winchester acquired and restructured the failing Volcanic Repeating Firearms Co., subsequently changing the name to Winchester. During a large part of their 149 year existence, the name Winchester was synonymous with rifles, especially the lever action rifle, which began with the Henry Rifle, a lever action rifle that fired a metallic cased cartridge and held 16 rounds. It began appearing in the hands of Union Soldiers in 1862 and was quickly cursed by Confederate Troops as “that damn Yankee rifle they load on Sunday and shoot all week.”
Next came the 1866 model, dubbed “Yellow Boy” by the Indians because of its bright brass frame, protected the pioneers on their trek during the Westward Migration after the Civil War. The Yellow Boy was followed by the Model 1873 known as “The Gun That Won The West” and was found over the fireplaces of settlers cabins and in the teepees of some Indians. It rode in the saddle scabbards of cowboys and armed lawmen and outlaws alike.
The culmination of all of this was the introduction of the model 1894, destined to be one of the few firearms to be in continuous production for over 100 years and the best selling center fire rifle Winchester ever made. More deer have been taken with the Winchester 1894 Rifle than any other rifle made.
In addition, Winchester made the Model 70 bolt-action rifle that became known as “the Rifleman’s Rifle”. Found in hunting camps the world over, it has taken every species of game animal on the planet. Winchester also worked 24/7 producing rifles for our Doughboys in World War I and for their sons, the GI’s of World War II.
Please pardon my nostalgia, but it saddens me to think my grandsons and other boys will never know the thrill of opening a long narrow box and finding their first rifle therein with Winchester stamped on the barrel, as this writer did on his 15th birthday.
Thanks Winchester, not only for the memories, but also for playing such an important and integral part in this Nation’s history. You will be sadly missed.