The 1866 Rifle

Ryan Hodges | News Sep 08, 2017


Marking the first of our ‘Keeping the Legend Alive’ blog series is a truly legendary piece in the history of firearms development. The Winchester Repeating Arms Company originally out of New Haven, Connecticut is firmly rooted in the history of the American frontier, and it all began with the Winchester Model 1866 Rifle. The 1866 was a fast operating, reliable repeater rifle that earned the nickname “Yellowboy” from its bright brass receiver. This was the first of several models of successful repeating rifles under the Winchester name. The blueprint to this gun lies in a lever-action rifle that was the precursor to the Model 1866, the Henry Rifle.

The Henry Rifle, patented in October 1860, was an invention that was also derived from previous experimental models of repeating arms that led to its creation. One of the manufacturers in that endeavor had a shop foreman in their employ by the name of Benjamin Tyler Henry. Henry’s work became most successful in the form of a 16 shot, .44 rimfire caliber lever -action repeating rifle that was a revolution in the world of weaponry. The Henry Rifle was produced in limited quantities with little variation, and first saw some use in the American Civil War. However, it had some shortcomings in its design such as the exposed magazine tube and lack of a forend. This could lead to jamming if not maintained, and a hot barrel which could easily burn the shooters hand if not careful. This led it to be a less than ideal choice of the U.S. Ordnance Department, when compared to the Spencer Rifle.

The Henry Rifle became the template for the Winchester Model 1866, as improvements were made to make rifle more reliable and easier to use and maintain. Oliver Winchester had been in the picture of arms making for some time, initially as a stock holder of “Volcanic Repeating Arms Company” (which was a prior stepping stone in the development of repeating rifles) and later as chief executive officer of the “New Haven Arms Company” under which the Henry Rifle was manufactured. When Benjamin Henry and Oliver Winchester had a disagreement over what Henry believed to be unsatisfactory payment, Winchester left to create the “Winchester Repeating Arms Company”. Under this name, and with improvements in design, the Model 1866 was created.

Shop foreman, Nelson King, left with Winchester after the dispute, and with him were his designs for improvement for the Henry. A loading gate on the side of the rifle, a wood forend, and fully enclosed magazine tube transformed the Henry’s design into the famous 1866 “Yellowboy” that would begin the famed Winchester legacy. From 1866 to 1898 more than 170,000 Model 1866 Rifles would be manufactured. They were produced in carbine, rifle, and musket configurations, and were chambered in the same .44 rimfire caliber as the Henry was.

The first model of the 1866 bears the most similarity to its Henry roots. It features the ‘Henry Drop’ from the top of the receiver to the tang, and is nicknamed the ‘flatside’ as it does not feature the flared out frame that meets the forend, as future variations of the 1866 would have.

In the spirit of ‘Keeping the Legend Alive’, Taylor’s & Co. is offering a limited edition 150th anniversary edition of the Model 1866 Rifle in caliber .45 LC with a 20” round barrel. The rifle is fully engraved on the receiver and butt plate with an exclusive design hand chosen by Taylor’s. Only 100 pieces were made making this very exclusive design a coveted item for any collection.

Click Here to see the 150th Anniversary 1866 Rifle