In one of our previous articles, we addressed the iconic Winchester Model 1866. Now it is time to take a look at what happened to the gun through time. On this page, we will share some interesting stories and go into some detail about each different model, so you get an idea of how the unique Winchester 1866 evolved to be one of Teddy Roosevelt’s favorites and became a preferred gun for many others across the globe.
About the Gun that Theodore Roosevelt Praised
After nearly a decade of producing the iconic Yellow Boy, the Winchester factory released a new model — the 1873 Lever Action Rifle. Just like the Yellow Boy, the response from the American military was cool, while many foreign governments found the rapid-fire capability of Winchester firearms very attractive.
The model from 1873 was known as the “Gun That Won The West” and over 700,000 were produced. Made in Connecticut, the upgraded version of the Yellow Boy made it possible for marksmen to reload a bullet just by cocking a lever.
But what distinguishes this model from its predecessor? This is the first Winchester firearm that used a centerfire cartridge instead of rimfire and had a standard iron frame with a removable side plate. Available in various configurations, the gun quickly became very popular. Plenty of iconic historical figures owned Model 1873. Billy the Kid posed with it for his only known photograph, and Buffalo Bill had a gold-plated one engraved.
The American public was stunned in July of 1876 by the defeat of the US Army officer Geoge Armstrong Custer at the Little Big Horn River, Montana. Almost 270 troops were lost in the battle, and many scholars agree that is all due to the lack of adequate firepower. The Indian’s Winchester firearms over the soldier’s antiquated single-shot rifles were a decisive factor.
In 1876, the Winchester purchased a patented rifle design from Benjamin B. Hotchkiss and produced a number of rifles. This particular model did not see extensive service in the US military, but many famous figures, including Theodore Roosevelt, the future president himself, loved that gun. He praised this model, calling it’s the best weapon I ever had, and now I use it almost exclusively” He made a custom order in 1881, and it was for a pair of 1876.
Three years later, he ordered another one – a .44-75 caliber rifle. He liked having his photograph taken with this gun. You can also see the model in the movie “Tom Horn” starring Steve McQueen.
But what distinguishes this new model from the one produced 3-years earlier? It is essentially a bigger version of Model 1873, and it has a larger and stronger receiver to fire rifle cartridges, making it incompatible with the ammo used for revolvers. It was a small sacrifice to make in order to gain the significantly larger punch than that offered by rifle caliber cartridges.
After 1876, the 1882/83 models received a number of contracts from counties around the world, and more than 80,000 models were produced. The rifle never saw extensive service with the military. In the following decade, John Moses Browning made an attempt to create a high-powered lever-action rifle. He came up with the design of Model 1886. It had distinctive vertical locking bars and was made to take the caliber advantage of the 1876 one step further. These guns were capable of firing even more powerful cartridges, which made them suitable for a big game.
However, the cost of manufacturing the gun was very high, and during The Great Depression, this model was pulled out of production.
However, as with the other older models, this rifle was also praised by some renowned historical figures. Captain Henry W. Lawton, a recipient of the Medal of Honor, for his involvement in capturing the legendary Apache leader Geronimo, owned one. The story around this capture is amazing, you should definitely check out some of our other posts to find out more details.
The design returned to its roots with the Model 1892, which, like the first lever-action guns, was primarily chambered for lower-pressure, smaller, handgun rounds. However, the design incorporates a much stronger action than the models from the 60s and 70s. Browning went on to dominate the design team during the 80s through to the early 90s when smokeless powder forced all gunsmiths to rethink every aspect of their firearms. Thanks to Winchester’s genius, the company was the first to develop a rifle and cartridge for the new powder – the model from 1894.
Although the model was quite expensive for most shooters, it went on to become the most popular of the Winchester firearms. It was the first American small-bore smokeless cartridge, and it became very popular with the hunters as well. Because of its popularity, the model has the distinction of being the first commercial sporting rifle to sell more than 7 million units and is the highest selling commercial centerfire rifle to this day. In 1927, the Model 1894 underwent a name change. The name was shortened to Model 94.
This was the first Winchester lever-action rifle that used an internal box magazine. It enabled the use of modern sharp-pointed ammo and was designed for military applications. The gun was used during the Spanish American War in 1898 and during World War I in 1914. The British Army fought with it in the muddy trenches of France. Czar Nikolas II of Russia also purchased this model for his army. Actually, some of the guns were later sold by Marshal Joseph Stalin to factions fighting in the Spanish Civil War.
This model was also a favorite of Theodore Roosevelt. He used two of them while on safari in Africa in 1909-1910. After the trip, he reported that “at least for me personally [the gun is] the medicine gun for lions.”
There are many variations in barrel length, shape, caliber, wood grades, metal finish, and other features that could possibly be covered in this article. Despite the many differences between the models, there is one feature that separates them into two major groups: carbines and muskets have barrel bands while rifles have fore end caps (with the exception of the Model 1895). We hope you found this article interesting. Stay here for more collector’s items reviews.