THE STORY ~ Designed by John Browning, the Winchester Model 1894 repeating rifle is often said to be “the gun that won the West” though, when it debuted in 1894, the sun was already setting on westward expansion in the U.S. With its robust design, smooth lever action, and utilization of the newly-introduced smokeless .30-30 cartridge, this model became history’s most famously popular repeating rifle, and the first to be commerically available to consumers.
Distinguished as the first hunting/sporting rifle to sell over one million units, (ultimately over seven million were sold before U.S. production was discontinued in 2006), it is the best-selling high-powered rifle in U.S. history. The 30-30 has probably taken more deer in North America than any other. A throwback to the custom of naming black powder cartridges, it generally held a thirty-caliber 160 grain bullet powered by 30 grains of smokeless powder to about 1970 fps (feet per second). It is so popular in Latin America that in some places the “treinta-treinta” is the only high-power cartridge known. However, it wasn’t actually available until 1895, and the earliest Winchester 1894s were only available in other chamberings. When Winchester changed to a different steel composition for rifle manufacturing that could handle higher pressure rounds, the company offered the rifle in both .25-30 and, the .30-30 chambering now synonymous with the Model 1894. Its significance wasn’t so much the actual rifle—many other lever action repeaters had been produced since the 1860s—but the cartridge that it chambered the following year.
With over 128 gun patents, John Moses Browning can well be considered one of the most important figures in modern firearm innovation. For decades, from the late 1800s to the early 1900s, Browning designs and Winchester firearms were solidly linked. Browning’s Model 1894 is the rifle credited with the legendary name “Winchester” being used to refer to all rifles of this type.