Winchester, an American Legend

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

This volume is an extraordinarily handsome celebration of the 125th anniversary of the Winchester rifle, Model 1866, which inaugurated the fabulous series of longarms that changed the course of American history. The Winchester 73 was immortal long before it was the hero of the famous movie (released in 1950) starring Jimmy Stewart. The repeating mechanisms that were developed from 1873 to 1876 established the Winchester family as the most prestigious gunmakers of the last quarter of the nineteenth century.

Wilson not only traces the history of the famous Winchester series of longarms; he also provides the background of a great range of shotguns and firearms and supplies important details on the design creations of John Browning. There is a useful chapter on “Collecting the Winchester Heritage” and an unusual appendix that lists serial numbers and years for all models.

The founder of the Winchester firm, Oliver Fisher Winchester, was born in 1810 on a remote New England farm. This world-renowned industrialist and entrepreneur was a generous patron of Yale University. His son, William Wirt, invented a reloading tool in 1874 which greatly boosted the usefulness of the already popular 1873 rifle. The tool removed the exploded primer, inserted the new primer, and fastened the ball in the shell—at the same time swaging the entire cartridge to the exact form, and with absolute safety.

Oliver’s son-in-law, Thomas Fray Bennett, a Winchester vice-president, realized that the genius of the great Mormon gunmaker, John Moses Browning, represented the greatest threat to the ascendancy of the Winchester firm in the world of gun production. Bennett forged an association with Browning that brought all his inventions and ideas to the firm. Browning, who eventually sold forty guns designs to Winchester, invented the automatic pistol, rifle, and shotgun; he was also a pioneer in the development of machine guns and automatic cannon.

Highly finished arms, engraved with intricate designs, became both a source of revenue and a means of advertising. The name Winchester was soon associated with prestigious collecting at the same time that the reputation of the firm’s weapons for state-of-the-art firepower was attracting an increasing range of military contracts.

The countless photographs in splendid color of all the important longarms from the earliest days to the most recent collector’s treasure make this volume a rare treat for all lovers of beautiful guns.