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Oliver Winchester

The Life and Legacy of America's Famous Rifle Manufacturer

by Charles River Editors Author · Scott Clem Narrator


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By the time weapons industrialist Oliver Winchester was born, the Lewis and Clark Expedition sent to the Pacific by Thomas Jefferson had only recently returned with their report on the first overland continental journey. Outside of a small group of mountain men trapping and trading fur for European fashion magnates, few white settlers had found their way across the Great Plains. The firearms of the Revolution demonstrated little difference between a soldier's flintlock musket and a hunting weapon taken from the mantle.

Gunsmiths in early 19th century America were helped along by noted artisans from Germany, Switzerland, and other European powers, but despite advances made in the European and American musket, the requirement of an exterior spark and percussion to ignite powder for a single-shot discharge remained the paradigm. Similarly, the era was unable to move past the cumbersome weapon that required at least half a minute to reload. The military compensation for such an ungainly and vulnerable process was the alternation of troop lines, in which one fired while the other reloaded from behind. Effective as that was in laying down constant fire and simultaneous reloading, the force as a whole was disabled by a large fraction, and the reloading soldiers were vulnerable to saber attacks on horseback as well.

In the manner that Samuel Colt broke open the single-shot tradition in hand weapons, Oliver Fisher Winchester and his celebrated rifle shared the title of "the gun that won the West." In the arena of portable arms, these two men dominated much of the technological and promotive aspects of 19th century weaponry, alternating between resisting and collaborating with rivals. While Colt created the first effective revolver mechanism for the handgun based on the technology of the ship's wheel, it was Oliver Winchester who instituted 140 years of branding dominance by virtue of the first reliable repeating rifle.

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Charles River Editors
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Oliver Winchester
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