Many readers will be shocked to learn that Winchester Repeating Arms Company essentially died after the stock market crash of 1929.
Despite full-bore production during WW I, product demand crashed after the war and plummeted even more as America plunged into the Great Depression. In an attempt to survive, Winchester expanded its product base, entering the hardware business and making or branding such things as ice skates, knives, axes, fishing reels and refrigerators. Still, it wasn’t enough.
Fortunately, John Olin and the Western Cartridge Company came to the rescue. Olin was an avid hunter and shooter and set about to not just save Winchester from the bring of disaster, but raise its prestige even higher than it had been in the brand’s early days.
Despite the Depression and the manufacturing malaise it spawned across the country—in fact globally—Olin oversaw improvements in quality of all Winchester products. The company even introduced new ones like the M21 side-by-side shotgun, the M70, the M71 lever-action and the .348 Winchester cartridge. During this difficult era, he not only kept the doors open but introduced noncorrosive primers and smokeless Ball Powder. Olin oversaw production of the trim little .410 M42 pump-action shotgun and even the .357 Magnum cartridge in collaboration with Smith & Wesson. During the 1930s came the .22 Hornet, .218 Bee and .220 Swift, which remained the world’s fastest commercial sporting cartridge for decades to come.
Silvertip rifle bullets came to market in 1939 and Winchester began producing M1 Garand military rifles under exclusive contract to the U.S. government, a move that sent the company out of the depression and into full-blown WWII production in a position to thrive in the rebounding post-war economy.