Cutaway of the Day: Winchester Model 1873
The most famous lever-action rifle ever made, the Winchester 1873 evolved from the early Volcanic rifle of the 1850s designed by Walter Hunt. Benjamin Henry took the Volcanic Repeating Rifle and improved the design to fire rimfire brass cartridges instead of Hunt’s rocket ball ammunition. The Henry Repeating Rifle of 1860 was modified by Winchester and was improved upon. The second Winchester, the 1873 was the first to chamber the centrefire .44-40 cartridge. It had an improved steel frame and a larger tube magazine. In addition to the .44-40 the 1873 was also produced in .38-40 and .32-20 - all of which were popular pistol cartridge sizes, this meant that a rifleman use the same ammunition in both his pistol and his rifle.
In the above diagrams we can see just how the action works, the lever is pushed forward moving the toggle-link which retracted the firing pin and breech bolt allowing a round to feed into the breech from the tube magazine beneath the barrel. When the lever is returned ready to fire the breech block and firing pin push the round into the chamber and the rifle is cocked. Once the trigger is pulled the hammer strikes the firing pin igniting the cartridge. The lever is then pushed forward again and the extractor and ejector expel the spent cartridge and allow a new round to enter the chamber.
With nearly 3/4 of a million rifles made they became enormously popular and became known for their fast firing, reliability. Their fame was cemented when they became the rifle of choice for Westerns throughout the 1930s and well into the 1970s, while the 1886 Winchester was most often used on set, on camera it was commonly referred to as a 1873.
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