April 25: Winchester Arms Company Founded in New Haven


Oliver Fisher Winchester (1810 – 1880)

In early 1857, businessman Oliver Winchester bought a controlling interest in a struggling Connecticut firearms company from two inventors by the name of Horace Smith and Daniel Wesson (who would soon move to Massachusetts to found a second and much more successful firearms venture of their own).  With access to a number of patents, Winchester reorganized his assets to form the New Haven Arms Company on April 25, 1857. He soon rechristened the company “The Henry Repeating Arms Company” to capitalize on what was then his most popular seller: The Henry repeating rifle.

Repeating rifles could fire several rounds following a single ammunition reload — a huge improvement over single-shot muzzle-loading and breech-loading rifles.  During the Civil War, Confederates called the Model 1860 Henry Repeating Rifle “that damned Yankee rifle that they load on Sunday and shoot all week.”

Winchester Repeating Rifles became a staple of American western and popular culture, especially the Model 1873.

After the Civil War, the company was renamed yet again, this time to the “Winchester Repeating Arms Company,” still in use today.  Winchester’s lever-action repeating rifles became internationally famous for their speed, ease of use, accuracy, and affordability, the latter of which was aided by the company’s proprietary use of mass-manufactured, interchangeable parts.  Winchester’s most iconic rifle was the Model 1873, popularly known as “The Gun that Won the West.”  Teddy Roosevelt was a famous Winchester rifle enthusiast, and later in the 10th century, Winchester developed a light military carbine — the M1 — that became the staple firearm for Allied forces during World War II.

For over a hundred years, the Winchester Repeating Arms Company operated factories in both New Haven and Bridgeport, Connecticut.  While the company has since moved its manufacturing operations out-of-state, its headquarters still remain in New Haven.

Further Reading

Pamela Haag, “How Connecticut-Made Guns Won the West,Connecticut Explored

The Complete History of Winchester Repeating Arms,” Winchester Repeating Arms company website