1866-2016. 150 Years of Winchester.

1866-2016. 150 Years of Winchester.


Oliver Fisher Winchester was an innovative and driven man who saw the future of firearms and built an industrial empire around the lever-action rifle. 

Born in Boston in 1810, Winchester’s initial foray into business was as a maker of men’s shirts. Seeing the economic potential of the fast-growing firearms industry, Winchester began to assemble investors and secure venture capital, and in 1857 bought a controlling interest in the Volcanic Repeating Arms Company from two inventive gentlemen named Horace Smith and Daniel B. Wesson.

Winchester continued to refine firearm designs with inventors Benjamin Tyler Henry and Nelson King, and on May 22,1866 the Winchester Repeating Arms Company was born. For the next 14 years Winchester aggressively sought new markets, created new products and explored new opportunities for his lever-action rifles. With the opening of the American West to settlement and the ongoing military conflicts in Europe and the Near East, the demand for Winchester firearms and ammunition remained strong.

Active in the political life of his community, Oliver Winchester served as New Haven City Commissioner, as a Republican Presidential Elector in 1864 and as the Lt. Governor of Connecticut from 1866 to 1867. In ill health for some time, Oliver F. Winchester died December 11, 1880 at age 70 in New Haven, Connecticut. He had groomed his son, William Wirt Winchester as his successor, but the younger Winchester died of tuberculosis in March of the following year before he could assume control of Winchester Repeating Arms.

Oliver Winchester

Oliver Winchester


The Model 1876 Centennial Model became the favorite hunting rifle of Theodore Roosevelt when he was a young cattle rancher in the Dakota Territory. In 1885 Roosevelt wrote, “The Winchester…is by all odds the best weapon I ever had, and now I use it almost exclusively...”

In 1887 Roosevelt helped found the Boone and Crockett Club to encourage wildlife conservation and fair-chase hunting practices. Throughout his life Roosevelt worked tirelessly to champion civilian and military marksmanship, wildlife preservation and natural resource conservation.

Roosevelt quickly rose to national prominence during the 1898 Spanish American War. He was elected Vice President in 1900, assumed the presidency upon the assassination of President William McKinley in 1901 and was re-elected in 1904. Roosevelt’s first project upon leaving the White House in 1909 was to embark with his son Kermit on a year-long safari to Africa. Among their personal baggage were 15 crates of brand new Winchester rifles and Winchester ammunition.

Sponsored by the Smithsonian Institution, the safari would collect more than 1,000 animals of all descriptions for later scientific study and public display. In 2009 Winchester commemorated the 100th anniversary of Roosevelt’s famous safari with a unique Model 1895 and specially packaged ammunition. Highly embellished with Roosevelt’s signature and engravings of African game animals, the rifle was chambered in his favorite lion cartridge, the 405 Winchester.

Theodore Roosevelt shown in his early years
Theodore Roosevelt shown in his early years. Due to the limitations of photography, it was common to stage photographs. Although somewhat strange today, this photo likely portrays Roosevelt as he really was -- a frontiersman and adventurer.