The operating system for the Winchester Hotchkiss was originally designed by B.B. Hotchkiss. Winchester bought his patents in early 1877, after viewing the designs at the Philadelphia Exposition of 1876. It was Winchester’s first attempt at producing a bolt action firearm. There were approximately 82,000 produced in three basic designs and two calibers–45-70 and .433 Spanish.
The first production of the Hotchkiss Rifle and Carbine, the Model of 1879, was for the U.S. Military; 1,474 Muskets for the Navy, 500 Muskets for the Army, and 500 Carbines for the Cavalry. This Model had a rotary switch on the right side of the receiver serving as a safety and a magazine cutoff as they were loaded from the receiver into the stock, holding five cartridges.
For several reasons they proved unsatisfactory and the Second Model or ‘Improved Model’ was introduced. It has a lever on each upper side of the receiver for the cutoff and safety. The Navy ordered a quantity of 1,000, and most of the First Model Carbines were rebuilt into Second Models. At least for the first 80, this was accomplished by Winchester sending Second Model receiver assemblies to the Springfield Armory. Springfield then reused most of the First Model parts and machined new stocks to produce the Second Model Carbine. Whether this arrangement was continued throughout the rebuild or if Winchester rebuilt the balance of First Models is unclear. The Army rifles were also returned and were converted by Winchester into Civilian Carbines. These conversions are easily identified by the Civilian Carbine having a three digit serial number. The Army did not order Second Model Muskets.
With reference to the First and Second Model U.S. Military orders, the production arrangement between Springfield Armory and Winchester had Winchester producing the entire receiver assembly, trigger guard, and butt plate, and also partially machined the stock. These items were then sent to Springfield to do the final assembly. However, at the beginning of production, it was discovered that Winchester and Springfield used different barrel threads causing barrels to be sent to Winchester to be threaded and assembled into the receivers. Again, whether this was continued throughout production of the First and Second Models is unclear.
In 1880, Winchester began selling First Model Carbines, Muskets, and Sporting Models to the general public. Second Models for the public were also available by special order. Curiously, Winchester continued to produce First Model Carbines for the general public and for overseas sales. During this time period, 1879-1884, there were also orders produced for Egypt, Mexico, and South America chambered in .433 Spanish. China purchased First Model rifles and carbines, and out of the 13,332 Second Model Muskets produced, 11,000 were sold to China.
The above firearms used a one piece stock which was subject to cracking. Winchester then started producing the Model 1883 Hotchkiss in a two-piece stock design. The safety and cutoff were located on each side of the receiver. The U.S. Army purchased 712 of this model in the Musket configuration, and most of 11000 that were exported went to China. In total 59,446 Third Models were produced; 56,504 Muskets, 1669 Carbines and 1,273 Sporting Rifles. Production ceased around 1900.
Original Winchester factory records are available for the Hotchkiss from the Cody Firearms Museum in Cody, Wyoming.
Many of the above production and sales figures are from Herb Houze’s excellent book Winchester Bolt Action Military & Sporting Rifles, 1877 to 1937.
For more information on the Hotchkiss model, contact Jim Curlovic at [email protected]