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 arms making.

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 45 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.


 J. S. (Stan) Robinson







Revolvers In, Winchester.
R.L.Wilson, NRA Collectors guide 1972
The History
of W
inchester Firearms 1866-1966,
George. R.Watrous 1943.