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Winchester Model 1866 Lever-Action Repeating Rifle (1866)

Authored By Captain Jack | Last Updated: 3/20/2015

The Winchester Model 1866 was THE original Winchester lever-action rifle, addressing the limitations of the preceding Henry Rifle.

While the lever-action repeating Henry Rifle of 1860 proved revolutionary in its own right, it still held some limitations within its overall design that the now-Winchester firm soon sought to overcome. The resulting product - the Model 1866 - became an excellent and robust performer along the Western Frontier, offering up reliability and ease of use with accuracy and a 15-round magazine hold. The Winchester Model 1866 was THE Winchester rifle that started it all, beginning the long and successful line of lever-action systems that would become synonymous with the Winchester brand name and the Wild West. Some 720,000 Winchester rifles would eventually be produced during the lever-action market boom, earning the brand a special place in history and in the hearts and minds of its everyday users.

As majority investor, clothing businessman Oliver Winchester purchased the bankrupt assets of the Volcanic Repeating Arms - a firm founded in part by gunsmith's Horace Smith and Daniel Wesson to produce their limited-success Volcanic lever-action pistols and rifles. With complete ownership, Winchester moved the production plant to New Haven, Connecticut, and changed the operating name to the New Haven Arms Company. The firm continued production of the Henry Model 1860 repeating rifle for a time - the rifle named after its shop foreman - Benjamin Tyler Henry. Smith & Wesson eventually left NHAC to begin their own revolver manufacturing company. The Henry Rifle saw some action in the latter years of the American Civil War as well as in the Indian Wars, being produced in approximately 14,000 examples and generally thought of as an excellent rifle for its time. Henry gave the Union soldier lucky enough to acquire it (it was not officially accepted into Union Army use) a hefty 15-round ammunition supply before reloading occurred.

The New Haven Arms Company became the Winchester Repeating Arms Company after the Civil War. One of the first orders was in revising and improving the Henry Rifle. Despite its revolutionary approach to repeating fire, the Henry Rifle was not without limitations. A new rifle was envisioned and, with a partnership Winchester developed with another famous American Gunsmith - John Moses Browning - the new lever-action repeating Winchester Model 1866 was developed as an improved form of the Henry Rifle. The Model 1866 introduced a wooden forestock over the magazine tube as well as a revised sealed magazine chamber and a more robust bronze gunmetal frame. The identifiable Winchester-style loading gate was fitted to the side right side of the frame, easing the process of reloading the weapon. In fact, it was this loading gate that favorably distinguished the Model 1866 over the Henry. The new frame, yellow in appearance, granted the Model 1866 the nickname of "Yellow Boy".


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Specifications for the
Winchester Model 1866
Lever-Action Repeating Rifle


Country of Origin: United States
Manufacturer: Winchester Repeating Arms Company - USA
Initial Year of Service: 1866


Overall Length: 1252 mm (49.29 in)
Barrel Length: 619.00 mm (24.37 in)
Weight (Empty): 9.48 lb (4.30 kg)


Caliber*: .44 Henry
Action: Lever-Action; Repeating
Feed: 15-round tubular magazine
Muzzle Velocity: 1,100 ft/sec (335 m/sec)
Rate-of-Fire: 28 rounds per minute
Range: 300 ft (91 m; 100 yds)
Sights: Graduated Rear; Fixed Front Post


* Listed caliber(s) for firearms may be model dependent if more than one model type/chambering was produced. Always consult official manufacturer's information or a licensed dealer.


Variants:
Model 1866 (Sporting Rifle) - Base rifle model; fitting 24.4-inch barrel; 28,000 examples produced; rounded or octagonal barrel as desired; .44 Henry rimfire cartridge.


Model 1866 (Carbine) - 20-inch barrel; also known as the Saddle Ring Carbine; 127,000 examples produced; rounded barrel.

Model 1866 (Musket) - Round Barrel; longest length of the three.


Operators:
United States