Captain Jack (Updated: 6/27/2014):
Background and Development
History actually place Winchester roots as an offspring of Smith & Wesson. Horace Smith, Daniel B. Wesson and C.C. Palmer founded the Volcanic Repeating Arms Company in 1855 with Oliver F. Winchester - a New England clothing manufacturer - as a shareholder of the firm. Volcanic produced the "Volcanic rifle" which found some commercial success but was dogged by poor performance from its cartridge. Wesson set about in designing a new .44 cartridge that would become known as "rimfire". Two years later, Winchester had become the primary shareholder in the company and changed its name to the New Haven Arms Company. An talented engineer at the company, Benjamin Tyler Henry, secured a patent on October 16th, 1860, for a lever-action repeating rifle aptly titled the "Henry rifle". The gun was to use a new improved form of the .44 caliber rimfire ammunition and was only slightly based on the preceding Volcanic design. The Henry rifle was produced under the New Haven Arms Company brand and went on to see some limited use by Union Army soldiers in the American Civil War culminating in a six-year production run and 12,000 units. However, it was the new .44 caliber rimfire cartridge that would place Winchester into the recognizable realm of American firearms providers. After the war in 1866, Oliver Winchester had the company name changed once again, this time to the "Winchester Repeating Arms Company", to which the bureau released their first product - a lever-action repeating rifle known as the Winchester Model 1866 "Yellow Boy" - essentially a redesigned and improved Henry rifle. In 1873, the company would unveil its new-and-improved form, the Winchester Model 1973. While the Henry Rifle and similar Model 1866 used a double firing pin for their rimfire cartridges, the Model 1873 introduced the .44-40 WCF ("Winchester Center Fire") cartridge.
The Winchester Model 1873
The Winchester Model 1873 was made in three distinct forms - a rifle, carbine and musket (the musket form represented a small portion of the Model 1873 total, approximately 5 percent based on sources). The rifle group varied between its own sub-variants whilst the carbine and musket forms stayed true to their base forms. That is, the 1873 rifle could feature differing wood furniture, special engravings, an octagon or rounded barrel, varying barrel lengths and so on. Typical 1873 rifles featured 24" inch barrel lengths while the carbines generally measured in at 20" and muskets at 30". Other shorter barrel lengths eventually appeared for both the rifle and carbine types. The rifle was noted for its crescent-shaped buttstock while the carbine and muskets both featured their own identical buttstocks sporting only a slight curvature. Each basic Winchester form could also be customized with a seemingly endless supply of barrel, butt, furniture and trigger options available. The Model 1973 became the first gun to feature the centerfire cartridge and also the first to utilize "ferrous" iron along the gun body. The first Model 1973 receivers were made of iron but this was later substituted for steel sometime in the 1880s. The Model 1873 was debuted in late 1873 with just 18 in circulation. Had the weapon been delayed a few weeks more, the gun model would be known to history as the "Model 1874".
The First Model 1873s and early production forms of the Second Model 1873s all featured a screw-in plug for their magazines. It was only later that a new plug-and-screw type assembly was introduced into production. All First Model 1873 guns were made to the .44-40 Winchester caliber specification. The .38-40 Winchester-compatible model came online in 1879 and the .32-20 Winchester followed in 1882. A .22 Shot and Long caliber rimfire version was revealed between 1883 and 1888 (sources vary) but less than 20,000 of these were ever produced. These rifle calibers were of note for many-a-pistol of the day made use of them. This meant that an individual need only stock a single type of ammunition to power his many different guns - be them pistols or rifles or a combination of the two. Certainly a benefit to any traveling frontiersman.