The Elm City will soon be losing another of its links to history. US Repeating Arms Company announced last Tuesday, 1/17, that it will be closing the Winchester firearms factory in New Haven on March 31st. More than 19,000 men once worked in the Winchester plant. Their numbers had dwindled recently to under 200, and only 80,000 guns were produced last year in a facility that still had a capacity of 300,000. Sales of hunting rifles have declined precipitously, along with America’s hunting traditions. What was once a Nation of Riflemen is today a nation of metrosexuals and Dilberts.
Mournful eulogies for the great Winchester firearms brand were published in the Washington Post and the (UK) Independent, but some hard-core gun enthusiasts think the end really came in 1964, when a new group of top-tier executives, imported from Robert McNamara’s Ford Motor Company, introduced dramatic changes designed to reduce production costs. The illustrious Model 12 shotgun was eliminated (just too much hand work went into those), and the detail and quality of finish, and even the mechanics, of the original Model 70 bolt action rifle were dramatically downgraded.
Certainly, a major rupture in Winchester tradition occurred, when (in the aftermath of the strike of 1979-1980) the Board of Directors of Olin Corporation chose to sell the Winchester Sporting Arms division to a group of company executives, having long since relocated Winchester ammunition production far away from over-taxed and highly unionized New Haven. In 1990, control was acquired by the Belgian Fabrique Nationale, owners of Browning, today called Herstal Group.
The emotional WaPo article by Stephen Hunter says that, when whatever reduced production continues is moved overseas, they are going to stop building the Model 1894 lever action and the renowned Model 70 altogether. If so, March 31st will be a sad day indeed.
Theodore Roosevelt, Dakota rancher, poses with Winchester and bowie knife.