The term Winchester Rifle is frequently used to describe any of the lever-action rifles manufactured in the United States by the Winchester Repeating Arms Company, although the name is usually more specifically used in reference to the Winchester Model 1873 or the Winchester Model 1894 rifles.
Winchester rifles were among the earliest repeating rifles, and as such the Winchester name has become synonymous with lever-action firearms. The gun is colloquially known as „The Gun that Won the West”, though public perception of its role in the Western Expansion is exaggerated due to the Winchester’s prominence in 20th Century fictionalized accounts of that period.
The ancestor of the Winchester rifles was the Volcanic rifle and pistol of Horace Smith and Daniel B. Wesson.
It was originally manufactured by the Volcanic Repeating Arms Company, which was later reorganized into the New Haven Arms Company, its largest stockholder being Oliver Winchester. The Volcanic rifle used a form of caseless ammunition and had only limited success. Wesson had also designed an early form of rimfire cartridge which was subsequently perfected by Benjamin Tyler Henry.
Henry also supervised the redesign of the rifle to use this new rimfire ammunition, retaining only the general form of the breech mechanism and the tubular magazine of the Volcanic. This became the Henry rifle of 1860, which was manufactured by the New Haven Arms Company and was used in considerable numbers by certain Union Army units in the American Civil War.