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Winchester's evolution to dominance
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May 14, 2023 - 3:08 pm
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The discussion on the Winchester M1886 vs. the Marlin M1895 got me to thinking about many of the forces that brought Winchester to its highest point.  Many books have been devoted to this topic and there were many important people involved and milestones along the way.

Oliver Winchester was a driving force where his management and vision surely played a key role.  For me, a huge milestone was the development of the Model 1873 rifle and the .44 WCF cartridge.  I think it was the ’73 and the .44-40 that really broke things open for Winchester.  It was truly a fine weapon and in a more powerful cartridge (for a repeater).  “The Gun that Won the West” with over 720,000 made.  

So far I am stating the obvious.  This weekend, I was doing some reading to understand the management decision-making that played a role in how the ’73 and .44 WCF came about.  I have worked in management for 38 years (and counting) and enjoy analyzing the impact of decisions management makes.  As we know with Winchester, in the history of the company, there were management decisions made that did not benefit the company.  

In researching this, much light was shed by David Butler’s book, Winchester ’73 and ’76.  It was in development of the M1873 that Winchester management tapped an Ivy League school graduate in a effort to try a new approach to product research and development.  I found this quite thought-provoking and illustrative of management thinking that persists to present times.  

First, this is what David Butler has to say on the topic (p. 32-33):

     The Model 1873 rifle and .44-40 centerfire ammunition posted many difficult research and development problems.  Oliver Winchester was sensitive to the complex problems involved, and was painfully aware that much of his personal fortune had been required during the period from 1857 to 1862 to keep the business alive while the .44 Henry rimfire cartridge was developed.  Winchester was not a technical man, but he knew the necessity for emphasizing research and development in order to provide technically advanced new products.  He solved this problem by the assignment of new product research responsibility to the most highly paid and highly qualified technical main in the organization.  Thus, B. Tyler Henry, shop superintendent of the New Haven Arms Company, was the man who developed the improved .44 caliber ammunition that made the Model 1860 Henry and 1866 Winchester rifles successful. Patents on the ammunition were granted to Henry, who truly did have a leadership role in the new product research and development.  Henry’s assistance were highly skilled craftsman with a great deal of experience but little or no theoretical training.  They developed a new product by machining experimental components and fitting them together by an almost endless “cut and try” procedure.  The new mechanism would be given a trial, and when parts failed, new parts were machined to strengthen the weak components.

    In 1870, Winchester management tried a new approach to product research and development.  Thomas G. Bennett was hired after he was graduated from Yale.  A project team was established which utilized the great reservoir of practical experience of Winchester’s shop foremen and senior toolmakers and the more theoretical orientation of Bennett.  The team worked for four years on the development of the Model 1873 rifle and its radically improved centerfire ammunition.  The project team would talk over new ideas and then toolmakers and other senior machinists in the company would fabricate new parts to test the ideas.  The guns were assembled, tested, and a continuous string of modifications and improvements was incorporated into the design.  

I find it admirable that Winchester had the foresight to depart from focusing just on “highly skilled craftsman with a great deal of experience” and opening up another avenue of input and perspective.  I wonder how welcoming the, “craftsmen” were to the recent Yale graduate (maybe they had a nickname for him behind his back)?  To have been a fly on the wall!

In today’s world, many businesses still struggle to make a move different from they are accustomed to.  When a company or team hires someone new, there is a typically an emphasis on hiring someone who will be, “a good fit.”  This often translates to someone with the same background, same perspective, same way of thinking as the rest of the team – which often results in stagnation.  

I have known for years that Bennett was a key figure at Winchester.  I very much enjoy seeing the larger picture of who he was, why he was hired and … “the rest is history.” Smile

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May 14, 2023 - 3:23 pm
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steve004 said   “The Gun that Won the West” with over 720,000 made.  
  

Here’s the “Gun that Won the West”:

https://auctions.morphyauctions.com/ItemImages/000478/20030837_1_lg.jpegImage Enlarger

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May 14, 2023 - 3:31 pm
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clarence said

steve004 said   “The Gun that Won the West” with over 720,000 made.  

  

Here’s the “Gun that Won the West”:

https://auctions.morphyauctions.com/ItemImages/000478/20030837_1_lg.jpegImage Enlarger

  

Yes, but not if you determined this through taking a poll.  Winchester was the clear publicity war winner.

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May 14, 2023 - 4:29 pm
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Steve,

If you have not yet read it, this book will give you a very good perspective on Winchester’s business plan and management from inception of the company until its collapse and eventual take over by the Western Cartridge Company.

“Winchester: The Gun That Won The West” by Harold  F. Williamson

Bert

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May 14, 2023 - 4:55 pm
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Bert H. said
Steve,

If you have not yet read it, this book will give you a very good perspective on Winchester’s business plan and management from inception of the company until its collapse and eventual take over by the Western Cartridge Company.

“Winchester: The Gun That Won The West” by Harold  F. Williamson

Bert

  

Bert –

That’s a great suggestion.  I’m familiar with the book and probably have it.  I’ll look around here.  I will confess that for much of my collecting career, it was the specific information about the guns that interested me much more than the history of the various business plans and evolution of the companies.  Now, I am finding that information of greater interest.  

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May 14, 2023 - 5:12 pm
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steve004 said

Bert H. said

Steve,

If you have not yet read it, this book will give you a very good perspective on Winchester’s business plan and management from inception of the company until its collapse and eventual take over by the Western Cartridge Company.

“Winchester: The Gun That Won The West” by Harold  F. Williamson

Bert  

Bert –

That’s a great suggestion.  I’m familiar with the book and probably have it.  I’ll look around here.  I will confess that for much of my collecting career, it was the specific information about the guns that interested me much more than the history of the various business plans and evolution of the companies.  Now, I am finding that information of greater interest.  

  

I have been interested in both the specific information and the history for quite some time, and Williamson’s book has a lot of very detailed information about the history of the company.  While some might find it a bit of a “dry” read, I found it very fascinating.

Bert

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May 14, 2023 - 6:16 pm
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clarence said

steve004 said   “The Gun that Won the West” with over 720,000 made.  

  

Here’s the “Gun that Won the West”:

https://auctions.morphyauctions.com/ItemImages/000478/20030837_1_lg.jpegImage Enlarger

  

 Clarence,

 I never thought of that. There was one on every Calvary Trooper’s horse starting at the Little Bighorn. Most Indians gave up their Trapdoor when they gained possession of a Winchester. Maybe you could say the Winchester helped Sitting Bull at the Little Bighorn? T/R

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May 14, 2023 - 6:23 pm
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Bert H. saidWhile some might find it a bit of a “dry” read, I found it very fascinating.
 

Anyone who finds it “dry” can’t be seriously interested in the history of the company.  Most fascinating to me is the sad history of the disastrous incursion into the hardware & appliance business, as if Winchester would be able to compete against Sears & Montgomery Ward.  Same fate has befallen other companies successful in their own field of business which came to believe they could translate their “name recognition” into success in completely unrelated businesses; it never works, at least in the long run.

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May 14, 2023 - 6:32 pm
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TR said Maybe you could say the Winchester helped Sitting Bull at the Little Bighorn? T/R 

 

Outnumbering Custer’s detachment 10 to 1 didn’t hurt, either.  Maybe retiring those reliable Civil War Spencer carbines wasn’t such a good idea?

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May 14, 2023 - 6:44 pm
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clarence said

steve004 said   “The Gun that Won the West” with over 720,000 made.  

  

Here’s the “Gun that Won the West”:

https://auctions.morphyauctions.com/ItemImages/000478/20030837_1_lg.jpegImage Enlarger

  

In the book “Empires of the Summer Moon” about the rise and fall of the Comanche Indian, the author takes a different look at what won the West. His claim is the Colt Patterson pistol as it gave the horse soldier ten shots instead of two.  Before the lever action rifle, the horse soldier and rangers of the 40’s through 70’s that were fighting, carried 2 percussion pistols in their belt and a short percussion rifle of which none could be reloaded on horseback. This allowed them more firepower and could stay in the fight against the excellent horsemanship of the Comanche indian. The author believes that the Comanche Indian was the dominating force of the West and by the time the 73 Winchester came out, the west was pretty well won.

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May 14, 2023 - 6:55 pm
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  Maybe it was the Buffalo hunters and their Sharps? T/R

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May 14, 2023 - 9:11 pm
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TR said
  Maybe it was the Buffalo hunters and their Sharps? T/R

  

Actually, they played a role almost as important as the Army, by eradicating the Plains Indian’s food supply–which was not merely an accidental “by product” of the hide trade, but a calculated policy of the US gov’t.  I’ve read that organized buffalo hunting parties shooting .45-70 could obtain free ammo at Army posts.  However, by the time hide trade was at its peak, the Indians had already been substantially pacified by the establishment of Army garrisons, otherwise they’d have run the hide hunters away.  Best description of the business of hide hunting I’ve read is Zane Grey’s Thundering Herd, written on the basis of his interviews with several professional hide hunters.

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May 15, 2023 - 1:05 am
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Bert H. said
Steve,

If you have not yet read it, this book will give you a very good perspective on Winchester’s business plan and management from inception of the company until its collapse and eventual take over by the Western Cartridge Company.

“Winchester: The Gun That Won The West” by Harold  F. Williamson

Bert

  

I have seen the book and perused it in the past but I don’t believe I own a copy.  I did order one this evening Smile

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May 15, 2023 - 2:11 am
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steve004 said I have seen the book and perused it in the past but I don’t believe I own a copy.  I did order one this evening Smile

Order Americans & Their Guns, too.  I’ll loan you the $5 if you think that’s too much.

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May 15, 2023 - 8:04 pm
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clarence said

steve004 said I have seen the book and perused it in the past but I don’t believe I own a copy.  I did order one this evening Smile

Order Americans & Their Guns, too.  I’ll loan you the $5 if you think that’s too much.

  

And just when my neck was getting adjusted to holding my head in shame… Laugh

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May 17, 2023 - 2:11 am
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Steve-

Don’t forget that in addition to his business acumen Bennett had the foresight to marry well.

 

 

Mike

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May 20, 2023 - 4:07 pm
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I wonder if Harold Williamson had a sense of how accurate his predictive powers were?  

As Bert suggests, this is an excellent book. Now that I have it in my hands, I recall I haven’t owned it but have read parts of it.  I believe I checked it out of a school library a great many years ago.  I know I had skipped over the history stuff as I found it uninteresting.  Funny how things change.

In his preface, Williamson states:

“But the story of Winchester has significance beyond the fact that it was a gun and ammunition manufacturer.  Back of the development of these products was a business organization managed by individuals who had to decide all matters necessary to operate a going business concern.  The years from the start of the organization in the 1850’s until it came under control of the present owners in 1931 cover a period of time when American industry in general grew from the modest beginnings of the early nineteenth century into the giant that has contributed so much to America’s material well-being in peacetime and performed so remarkably during two world wars.

Understanding of this period of American history is still incomplete.  The favorable combination of abundant natural resources, technology, and expanding frontier, and a growing population has been recognized; but the part played by individual business men or entrepreneurs in shaping the industrial and commercial segments of our society needs further examination.  It is clear their role was especially important in an economy marked by a minimum amount of governmental supervision and control, but more studies must be made; studies that may be of particular relevance at a time when social control through governmental agencies seems to be increasing.”

Harold Williamson wrote this in 1952!

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May 20, 2023 - 5:25 pm
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Steve,

Harold Williamson was a very astute and erudite scholar. When I first read his book, I too skipped over what I mistakenly perceived to be “mundane” details. When I reread it again about 15-years ago, I came away with a much deeper respect for what he had accomplished and documented in his analysis of the Winchester Repeating Arms Company and its immense impact on our American history.

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May 20, 2023 - 9:05 pm
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Bert H. said
Steve,

Harold Williamson was a very astute and erudite scholar. When I first read his book, I too skipped over what I mistakenly perceived to be “mundane” details. When I reread it again about 15-years ago, I came away with a much deeper respect for what he had accomplished and documented in his analysis of the Winchester Repeating Arms Company and its immense impact on our American history.

Bert

  

Bert – 

I agree completely.  That’s why, this time, I’ve started with the preface and proceeding in a completely linear fashion Laugh

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May 21, 2023 - 4:38 pm
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Bert sent me home with a copy of Williamson’s book awhile back and as a continuing student of business I found it tedious but not boring. Many of the classic principles of business are illustrated in this book and I enjoyed the historical aspects as well. Williamson’s perspective was remarkable.

 

 

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