Did You Know that Winchester Made a Revolver?
Article by J. S. (Stan) Robinson
It is fairly well established that major United
States manufacturers of firearms built their
success on one major type of arm and sought to
guard their monopoly with vigour in the 19th
century. Colt is famous for its revolvers. Smith &
Wesson is also famous for its revolvers.
Winchester drew strength from its lever action
rifles, while Remington, the oldest of the
manufacturers, had a presence in most fields of
The name Hugo Borchardt is linked to the
development of the Luger pistol, but much of his
working life was spent in the U.S.A. While in the
employ of The Sharps Rifle Co. he was associated
with the Borchardt design of a single shot rifle
before transferring to the Winchester Company.
Prior to this, there is an unconfirmed report that
he also worked for Colt.
The capture of large Russian contracts for
revolvers by Smith & Wesson drew the attention
of the other major players to this lucrative
market. At Winchester, Hugo Borchardt was given
the task to design a double action revolver to
place before the Czar in 1876. He produced two
designs, the first with a fixed cylinder and
thumb extractor, while the second had a swing
out cylinder with pin extraction.
Only one fully finished thumb extractor is listed
and it survives in the Winchester museum as
exhibit No. 1783. Four swing out cylinder models
were completed, one for the perusal of the U.S.
Navy, one for Russian Ordnance, and two held in
reserve for other possible enquirers. These are
also held in the Winchester Museum as items 647 &
649. Some incomplete thumb extractor tool room
examples were reported with unusually long
cylinders, three being in •44 caliber and one in
38 caliber. There was the possibility that they
were intended as companions for the model 1876
rifle, and this contemplation cannot be dismissed.
While working at Winchester, Hugo Borchardt would
have become familiar with the toggle breech of the
rifles model 1873 & 1876. Development of this idea
later occurred in the toggle action of the
Borchardt self loading pistol and later in the
Luger pistol. The swing out cylinder revolvers
were all in 44/40 W. caliber, except for one in
what is accepted as an experimental caliber.
Production began on 2nd
March 1876. Of the six pieces, four remain in the
Winchester museum, one is in a private collection,
and the one sent to Russia is unaccounted for.
The piece supplied to the U.S. Navy had a 7 inch
barrel, solid frame and open sights, single action
mechanism, fluted cylinder in caliber
Colt. Though there is no documentation to
conclusively prove that the designs
are by Hugo Borchardt. Verbal confirmation of an
original notation was given by A.W. Earle,
Secretary /Treasurer (he joined Winchester in
1883) to author Watrose, and was confirmed by
T.E.Hall, curator of the Winchester Museum.
This is not the end of the story for another
designer. William Mason, an employee of Colt,
resigned his position to join the Winchester Co.
in 1882. Mason is well known for his designs in
converting Colt percussion revolvers to metallic
cartridge, and the model 1872 .His work at
Winchester produced a solid frame single action
revolver with a fixed cylinder, 7.5
inch barrel and integral ejector tube in 44/40
caliber. Only one tool room model was made and it
too resides in the Winchester Museum. On comparing
this pistol with the Colt single action Army
model, there are many points of similarity.
What was the purpose behind the manufacture of the
Mason model? Firstly, he was available for
employment, and secondly, there was a
perceived threat to their main product the model
1873/76 model lever action rifles.
Tradition has it that the Mason revolver was shown
to the board at Colt as an unspoken intention to
enter the revolver market in competition.
Production of the Burgess rifle at Colt ceased
after only one year in 1883. The authority for
this event was T.G. Bennett, son in law of Oliver
Winchester, who became president of the company.
Winchester may never have intended to make
revolvers, as neither the Borchardt nor Mason
designs were ever patented. This is one of the
interesting incidents in the history of firearms.
S. (Stan) Robinson