The Winchester Story

The Winchester® Smokeless Propellants handloaders know today can trace its origin back to 1892, when Franklin Olin and several other investors founded the Equitable Powder Company of East Alton, Illinois. In 1898, Olin then founded the Western Cartridge Company to sell ammunition, providing another outlet for his Equitable Powder Company’s powder. Three decades later in 1931, Western Cartridge bought the bankrupt Winchester Repeating Arms Company. With this acquisition, Western was renamed Winchester-Western.

In 1929, Western Cartridge Company hired Dr. Fredrich Olsen, who soon received U.S. Patent #2,027,114, issued to Western Cartridge as “Manufacture of Smokeless Powders.” Western Cartridge Company then commercially introduced BALL POWDER® smokeless propellant.

The first BALL POWDER manufacturing plant was established across the Wood River creek from the Winchester ammunition plant located in East Alton, site of the original Equitable Powder Company. The BALL POWDER process is unique in that its manufacture is done mostly under water. This made the process the safest way to manufacture gunpowder in the world. However, the submersible process also it made it susceptible to freezing – not ideal for cold winters in central Illinois.

Between encroachment from the growing East Alton community and cold Midwestern winters, Winchester decided to move the BALL POWDER manufacturing facility to a warmer climate and a remote location. A large tract of undeveloped swamp land was secured south of Tallahassee, Florida between the St. Marks river and the Gulf Coast and operations began there in 1969. This facility has developed into one of the largest, modern high-tech gunpowder plants in the world. Winchester Smokeless Propellants continue to be made in this facility today.

At near sea-level elevation, the St. Marks plant is home to numerous water holes containing alligators. One old twelve-foot-long monster lived in a swamp along-side the powder storage magazines. This alligator was recognizable because one eye was visibly damaged, probably the result of an ancient fight with another alligator. Plant employees made this alligator a local mascot, nick-naming him “Old George”. By the early 1980’s Old George had gotten a little too comfortable with the daily plant activities and decided to try a plant employee as lunch. The employee was able to run to safety, distracting Old George by throwing his hard hat on the ground. Old George quickly clamped his teeth over the hat. As a result of this incident, Old George was relocated to a nearby wildlife refuge, safely away from the plant while the employee’s hard hat, bent in half by Old George’s jaw, is now a relic of the company’s history.

In March 2006, Hodgdon® Powder Company and Winchester Ammunition announced Winchester-branded reloading powders would be licensed to Hodgdon. Today, Hodgdon Powder Company has Winchester Smokeless Propellants manufactured under license at the St. Marks plant on the Florida gulf coast. Winchester Smokeless Propellants, the choice of loading professionals, are available to the handloader to duplicate the factory performance of loads from handgun to rifle and shotgun.


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