Winchester Rifles to Be Discontinued
The traditional Winchester rifles carried by pioneers, movie stars and Wild West lawmen will be discontinued in March, a Belgian manufacturer said Wednesday, confirming the end of an American icon that became known as “The Gun that Won the West.”
Once the U.S. Repeating Arms plant closes March 31, the only new rifles carrying the famous Winchester name will be the modern, high-end models produced in Belgium, Japan and Portugal. The older models, including the famous Winchester Model 94, will be scrapped. “The name will continue, but not with those traditional products,” said Robert Sauvage, a spokesman for the Herstal Group, the Belgian company that owns U.S. Repeating Arms and the right to the Winchester name. Herstal announced Tuesday that the U.S. Repeating Arms factory in New Haven would soon close, capping 140 years of Winchester manufacturing in the city. “Economically speaking, we cannot continue. We have lost a lot of money,” Sauvage said.
The Winchester model 1873 lever action rifle, popular among American frontiersmen at the end of the 19th century for its reliability, inspired the 1950 James Stewart film “Winchester ’73.” John Wayne made the Winchester a signature of his movies and Chuck Connors posed menacingly with his Winchester on advertisements for the television series “The Rifleman.” President Teddy Roosevelt was also a Winchester devotee, using the 1895 model on his famous 1909 African safari, which historians credited with boosting the sale of Winchester sporting rifles.
While collectors were drawn to Winchester’s many commemorative or special-edition rifles, sportsmen often still hunt with rifles that are generations old, a longevity that historian R.L. Wilson said became both the hallmark of the Winchester brand and part of its demise. “It’s not unusual in my work, I’ll talk to someone, they’ll say, ‘I’ve got my rifle that belonged to my grandfather. I’m still using it,'” Wilson said. “These things get recycled as long as you keep a gun clean and you look after it.”
[…]”It would be like Chevrolet going out of business or Chevrolet being made in Japan or China,” firearms historian Ned Schwing said. “Winchester is an American legend, whether you’re a gun person or not.”
It is, to use a cliche’, the end of an era. Still, the old ones will be in use for decades to come, as the fact that the rifles are no longer made will make the existing ones all the more treasured.