Winchester Helps Build the Tools to Fight the Great War.

April 6, 1917 - America's Entry Into WWI.

It was 100 years ago on April 6, that the United States entered World War I. In its time, it was called the Great War. The War to End All Wars. And ultimately, history came to call it World War I. And it was 100 years ago this week that the U.S. Congress formally declared that a state of war existed between the United States and the German Empire and her allies which formed the Central Powers.

The hostilities began in Europe in the summer of 1914 following the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the presumptive heir to the throne of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, in the city of Sarajevo. In short order, due to an extensive network of mutual defense treaties virtually every European nation, kingdom and empire was in armed conflict. In turn, as many of these European political entities had colonial holdings in Africa, Asia and the Pacific, the war took on a global character.

The loss of life in these early battles was beyond the human comprehension of the time. Modern technology had evolved faster than battlefield tactics. This was the first conflict to see extensive use of the airplane, the submarine, the tank, poison gas, radio communications and other technical innovations.


WWI airplane
WWI saw the first use of airplanes in combat, most of them similar to these Curtis “Jennys.”
US Army Recruiting Station
The most famous image of WWI was this American recruiting poster by illustrator James Montgomery Flagg, who also served as the model for the painting. Photo by Wikipedia.

New York Times headline from April 6, 1917
The front page of the New York Times from April 6, 1917 reports on the American declaration of war. NYT photo.
President Woodrow Wilson

President Woodrow Wilson

Photo by

America steadfastly attempted to steer clear of the conflict while trying to maintain its lucrative commercial trade with many of the belligerent nations. President Woodrow Wilson, our 28th president, was first elected in 1912, and while an ardent internationalist, he kept to a policy of fairness and neutrality.

However, as the battles raged on in Europe and on the high seas it was inevitable that American lives would be placed at risk. A number of US lives were lost on civilian passenger ships sunk by German U-boats, including the 1915 attack on the RMS Lusitania in which 128 American passengers were killed, which in turn soured domestic public opinion toward the entire conflict.

Wilson, running on a platform of keeping the US out of war, was re-elected in 1916. However, Wilson made an abrupt about face when Germany announced the resumption of unrestricted submarine warfare in the Atlantic. On April 2, 1917, Wilson asked the US Congress to declare war on Germany on order to “…make the world safe for democracy.” After four days of heated debate, Congress issued their declaration. American joined the battle on the side of Britain and her allies.

Winchester helps prepare the U.S. for entry into the war.

It was during this period that American industry in general, and her arms makers like Winchester Repeating Arms in particular, would make huge contributions to the war effort. Even before the US entry into the conflict, Winchester produced nearly a quarter-million Enfield Pattern Number 14 bolt-action rifles to equip the British Army in Europe. 

Winchester later modified this Enfield Number 14 Pattern rifle to handle the U.S.-standard 30-06 Springfield cartridge, and ultimately built more than a half-million U.S. Model 1917 Enfields. It became the most widely used rifle by American troops during WWI. US soldiers and marines also carried tens of thousands of Winchester-made Browning Automatic Rifles and short barreled Model 1897 pump shotguns into action.

According to Herb Houze in his book Winchester Repeating Arms Company, "by April 6, 1017, the Winchester Repeating Arms Company had manufactured an immense amount of arms and ammuntion for the Allied Powers. Under the seven major contracts, a total of 535,517 rifles, 273,483,500 rounds of ammunition and 1,965,000 British 18 Pounder shell casings plus 7,604,600 primers for the same size shell cases." 

Winchester Repeating Arms BAR
During WWI Winchester Repeating Arms built tens of thousands of BARs in New Haven, CT. Winchester archives photo.
Short barreled version of the Winchester 1897
A short barreled version of the Winchester 1897 was used extensively in the trench warfare of France.
Winchester Model 1917 and 1918 rifle
Top: Winchester Model 1917 U.S. rifle in 30-06 caliber - Olin Corporation photograph. Bottom: Winchester Model 1918 Browning automatic rifle in 30-06 caliber - Olin Corporation photograph.

In addition to producing over a half-million 1917 Enfields for the war effort, Winchester continued a process of improvement, research, and development.

As researched by Danny Michael, the Assistant Curator of the Cody Firearms Museum, the P14 Enfield and the M1917 along with the 1903 Springfield "became the basis for a series of experimental rifles at the Winchester factory. Thomas C. Johnson worked at the center of the project beginning in the summer of 1914. By the end of the war, Johnson built a full range of experimental rifles that led to his post-war designs."


T.C. Johnsons bolt action experiments at Winchester
Image courtesy Cody Firearms Museum.

We hope you’ll continue to visit to learn how Winchester built the tools that helped America and her allies make the world safe for democracy.

Winchester Repeating Arms factory in New Haven, CT
At the peak of WWI in 1918, Winchester Repeating Arms employed more that 18,000 workers at their factory in New Haven, CT. Winchester archives photo (date obscure).

Copyright Winchester Repeating Arms, 2017. Written by WRA staff writer Scott Engen. Photos copyright by Winchester Repeating Arms or Olin company archives (used with permission) in the public domain or as indicated in the caption.

Another installment in The Winchester History Series.