The Winchester Lever-Action Rifle was one of the most important firearms of the Nineteenth Century, and was the first really commercially successful rapid fire rifle. I must admit I didn’t know much about this weapon before reading this book - I'm more familiar with later bolt operated rifles, and so didn't know how the mechanism worked, or even where the magazine was (for anyone with similar questions - the tube below the barrel was a cylindrical magazine, with bullets stored nose-to-base, and the handle behind the trigger pulled down to operate a level that pushed the next round into place).
Although the Winchester wasn't the first weapon of its type, having been preceded by a number of earlier designs and evolving from the Henry Rifle, it was the most successful, with some versions remaining in production at New Haven until 2006! One of the strengths of this book is that it doesn't dive straight in, but instead looks at the earlier guns and the impact they had on the Henry Rifle, and from there the Winchester.
The first half of the book looks at the development of the Winchester rifle and its variants, and the second half at its use. The Winchester had surprisingly little military use - the level mechanism was judged to be too fragile for heavy military use and the cylindrical magazine too prone to jamming, but it was used in vast numbers by hunters, settlers, native Americans, lawmen, criminals, gold miners and later in many Western Movies, where John Wayne made it famous.
The author makes excellent use of contemporary plans to illustrate the workings of these guns. These include diagrams from patents, but also surprisingly some from adverts that provided detailed plans of their product! The book is well illustrated, with many excellent modern pictures of the rifles, showing them in various stages of operation and some showing the internal workings.
Peglar also does a good job of illustrating how changing technology affected the Winchester, from the introduction of the self-contained bullet (an essential first step before rapid fire weapons could be developed), to the work needed to cope with bigger bullets and the increased power of smokeless powder over the older black powder.
This is a good study of Winchester's family of lever action rifles, explaining how they worked and why they were such a success.
Development - 'The ability to shoot repeatedly'
Use - North, South - and West
Impact - The Winchester's place in history
Author: Martin Pegler