Winchester Expanded Into Domestic Products
By Wes Cowan
The manufacturer of the iconic Winchester repeating rifle began operations in
1849 and produced exclusively firearms and ammunition through the turn of the
century. But the company that is famous for "the gun that won the West" also
manufactured domestic products. It made lawnmowers, meat grinders and clothing
irons, and for recreational pursuits, fishing reels, ice skates and baseball
bats. For the well-groomed gentleman, Winchester made razor blades, hair
clippers and even cologne.
During World War I, Winchester was a major arms
supplier to the U.S. government and the war years were extremely profitable. But
the close of the war had a severe effect on the company's finances. It was
during this downturn that Winchester management decided to venture into areas
beyond firearms. The company targeted hardware supplies and sporting goods.
Winchester bought out manufacturers and partnered with companies to begin
branding its name on a variety of products. Acquired hardware stores were
renamed Winchester Stores.
The rapid expansion into various markets during
the 1920s led to the heyday of what was then known as the Winchester Firearms
Company. At its peak, the company boasted 6,500 stores. The 1926-1927 Winchester
Store catalog contained more than 7,000 items. Winchester President J.E.
Otterson was determined to dominate the hardware and sporting goods sectors.
One way that Winchester sought to attract new customers was through its
Winchester Junior Rifle Corps. The division was launched during World War I to
inspire patriotism and increase father and son bonding. It promoted shooting
competitions and focused on gun safety until its demise in 1924. Due to its
brief duration and unique mission, the Junior Rifle Corps is an extremely
popular area for collectors.
Winchester salesman's samples also are highly
popular as collectibles. By the end of 1920, 3,400 sales representatives were
part of a vast Winchester dealer network. Winchester supplied displays and
numerous brochures to salesmen who were expected to cultivate new buyers. The
brevity of the period that stores operated during 1920s accounts for the rarity
of these items.
The Great Depression dealt a major blow to Winchester. In
1931, the Western Cartridge Company acquired Winchester. The new company
continued to sell various household products, but the era of Winchester Stores
and product diversification came to an end. The primary focus once again became
Winchester Collecting Tips
Sporting and fishing collectibles are always a
good investment and highly desired by today's collectors.
Rifle Corps items are extremely rare and collectible due to the short duration
of the existence of the corps.
Consult your price guides. Cowan's recommends
The Standard Catalog of Winchester and The Most Comprehensive Price Guide Ever
Published (by David D. Kowalski).
Be careful purchasing reprints of old
Winchester catalogs and reproduction posters and calendars. The value is a
fraction of the originals.
Winchester salesman's samples and display stands
are extremely rare due to their smaller scale of
About the author: Kentucky native Wes Cowan is founder and owner of Cowan's
Auctions, Inc. in Cincinnati, Ohio. An internationally recognized expert in historic
Americana, Wes stars in the PBS television series History Detectives and is a featured
appraiser on Antiques Roadshow. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Article research by Joe Moran.