Winchester Lever Action Development: Model 1894

Carbine
Rifle

The Winchester 1894 has become one of the most manufactured and most popular sporting rifles in American history, and it owes this success to a combination of factors. Mechanically, the 1894 was a continued improvement on John Browning’s already-excellent 1892 model. It was strong and simple to operate, offering both speed and power. The cartridge that cannot be separated form the history of the Winchester 94 is the .30-30 Winchester, aka the .30 WCF (Winchester Center Fire).

While the .30-30 shared a naming convention with the many black powder rounds that were in use (a .30 caliber bullet over 30 grains of powder), this new round was a smokeless powder cartridge. As such, it offered a very significant increase in velocity over everything else that was then available (just shy of 2000 fps). The cartridge was well suited for taking nearly any North American game, and the package of the 94 and the .30-30 made an outstanding general purpose weapon for a huge swath of the American market.

By 1927, one million had been manufactured (the millionth one was presented to President Coolidge), and by 2006 production had exceeded 7 million. This truly is the iconic American deer and ranch rifle – so ubiquitous that its remarkable quality has set a new standard for the entire industry.

17 Comments

  1. Ian, thank you so much for the whole series of video’s from the Henry to the 1894. I happen to own an 1894 that has a serial number in the mid 13 thousands. I believe that this indicates it was manufactured in 1894. It is in caliber 38-55 and has been in my family since my Great Grandfather purchased it. It is still able to shoot one inch groups at 100 yards. Back in the early 60’s I used to shoot it at 200 yards. As I recall, I posted one target, then stapled another one 24″ above the first. I can’t remember the size of the groupings but I seem to recall that they were under 3″. I have taken several whitetail deer with it and my Dad did also.
    Thanks again for the series, I hope that you do a video on the 1895 also. I have one of them also, another old family gun in 30:06.

  2. Really enjoyed the series on Winchester lever guns. Any chance you could do a video on some of Winchester’s competitors in the lever gun market of that time? I’m particularly interested in the Marlin guns.

  3. “.30-30 shared a naming convention with the many black powder rounds that were in use (a .30 caliber bullet over 30 grains of powder), this new round was a smokeless powder cartridge”
    Though, it was not first smokeless caliber-charge designated cartridge: there exist earlier .30-40 Krag cartridge introduced in 1892, however I don’t know which one (.30-40 or .30-30) was firstly dubbed in that manner.

    “cartridge that cannot be separated form the history of the Winchester 94 is the .30-30 Winchester, aka the .30 WCF (Winchester Center Fire)”
    Interestingly, it was NOT first cartridge for which production started – initial 1894 were for .38-55 Winchester or .32-40 Ballard cartridge.

    • Howdy. I was wondering if anyone knew the loading or ballistics of the .30-30 (.30WCF) ammunition that Winchester used to calibrate the ladder sights that were put on some model 94s such as the sight on the 94 in another forgotten weapons video on French military contract 94s. I recently purchased a NRA Centennial model 94 musket with these exact style of sights and really want to put this beautiful gun to good use at decent range.

    • They sure do look intentional. Looks like someone tried to secure a loose lock-up or perhaps thought it would make the rifle more accurate? I flinched when I saw that.

  4. The lever, trigger interlock was first seen on the Winchester Model 1873 where it provided the out-of-battery safety that is missing from the Henry and 1866 design. And, it was added to Browning’s Model 1894 design by the Winchester production engineers, as it is not in the Browning patent for the rifle. I get the feeling that Winchester production engineers were made a bit nervous by the angle of the locking block in this design, and issues of proper fitting of the firing pin blocking cam in the 1886/1892 lead them to provide this extra bit of safety mechanism.

  5. Once again, the spring-loaded, plunger ejector of the Winchester Model 1886 and Model 1892 does not serve to block the firing pin. If you think about this idea for a moment, it doesn’t make sense. With the rifle closed on a live round the case head is held against the bolt face by the extractor hook, compressing the plunger ejector. If you open the action to extract that live round and the ejector provided the firing pin block, the gun would be in an unsafe condition the moment the locking blocks cleared the cutouts in the bolt. In the actual design, a cam on the top of the lever holds the firing pin back during this transition between when the locking blocks are engaged sufficiently in the bolt to lock the action and when the hammer is below the bolt and can’t strike the firing pin. I should mention that this safety depends on the parts being properly fitted. This is not always the case, especially when amateur gunsmiths swap out parts without understanding how the mechanism should work.

  6. Darn it. The Model 1894 in production still costs over 11 hundred bucks! So much for thinking about getting a new one today…

    • Cherndog,
      That’s OK. Everyone I know who has bought one of these for casual plinking has sold it after just a couple range sessions. They’re no fun as a gun for casual target shooting. Now, if you’re looking for a handy carbine to slog through brush after whitetail every year, you’ll get along with it just fine. ^__^

      For cheap and enjoyable fun at the range with a lever gun, get yourself a Winchester 9422 or a Marlin Model 39.

      • “Marlin Model 39”
        BTW: Do you know why Marlin Model 56 and Model 57 were dropped from production from production after few years of production? Has it some technical flaws or other reasons decided?

        • Daweo,
          re. Marlin “levermatic”
          I’m just guessing, but it might have been simply that they didn’t sell consistently well. They were one of the first on the market with a .22 Magnum and those were very popular and a common sight for a while. The ones that come in for service tend to be very dirty and gummed up from lots of use and no detailed cleaning. The nice thing about the Model 39 is that it comes apart easily for cleaning. The “levermatic” guns are a daunting prospect to take apart for the average gun owner, so they tend to never get a good cleaning. The line of Marlin “levermatic” guns would make a good topic for a future “Forgotten Weapons” episode. ^__^

      • I own two vintage 1894 lever action rifles, a pre 64 carbine and a 1906 lightweight takedown rifle and I shoot both. If you’re shooting factory 150 grain or 170 grain softpoints, yes it it will get boring and expensive after a few range sessions, but if you reload with cast bullets and mild loads they can become the ultimate plinkers. One of my favorite loads is a cast 90 grain bullet intended for the 32S&W long sized to .311 and loaded with 3.6 grains of Alliant Bullseye. At 25 yards they out shoot most 22s and my .357 Marlin 1894. Loaded with 5 grains of Bullsye they are equally as accurate at 50 or 100 yards. With a 170 grain flatnose gas checked bullet the 1894s can rival any jacketed load. The 30-30 cartridge is versatile and can be loaded to match the ballistics of any cartridge as light as the .32 rimfire and up to factory 30-30 loads. Handloading will also give you hundred of cartridges costing little more than pennies a piece.

        • M Gordon,
          I agree! But, if Cherndog is balking at $1100 for the rifle, I didn’t figure he’d be interested in shelling out for a reloading setup. ^__^

          • Here in the Northeast U.S. older 1894s are very common. Pre 64 carbines still be found for under $500. Post 64 carbines and the newer angle eject rifles can be found for a lot less. Many of the newer and younger shooters don’t care at all about lever guns and the two 94s I bought basically went begging for buyers when offered for sale at my local gun club. I also agree that 22 lever guns are also fun and I own and shoot a Marlin 39a.

  7. The previous information about how much money Winchester paid to John Browning for his patents for the 1886 and 1892 rifles was interesting. Does anyone know how much Winchester paid JMB for the 94?

  8. I’ve just re read the patent for the 94.

    There are some very clever interactions with the front of the action floor acting both as a cartridge stop to block a second round from coming out of the magazine as soon as the action starts to open

    And to lift the front of the cartridge lifter, so that the underside of the bolt can catch the cartridge rim, and positively drag the cartridge head to the back of the lifter.

    The bolt positively dragging the case was an idea that appeared on the box magazine lever action of 1891, which didn’t make it into a commercial model.

    It’s a very clever little gun.

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