The ancestor of the Winchester Repeating Arms Company was the Horace Smith and Daniel Wesson partnership of Norwich, Connecticut (not to be confused with the famous Smith & Wesson Revolver Company founded later by the same men). Smith and Wesson acquired Lewis Jennings' improved version of inventor Walter Hunt's 1848 "Volition Repeating Rifle" and its caseless "Rocket Ball" ammunition, which had been produced in small numbers by Robbins & Lawrence of Windsor, Vermont. Jennings' rifle was a commercial failure and Robbins & Lawrence ceased production in 1852.
Smith designed a much-improved rifle based on Jennings', and the partners also hired away Robbins & Lawrence shop foreman Benjamin Tyler Henry. In 1855, the Smith and Wesson partnership, in order to manufacture what they called the "Volcanic" lever-action rifle and pistol, sought investors and incorporated as the Volcanic Repeating Arms Company. Its largest stockholder was clothing manufacturer Oliver Winchester.
Oliver Winchester The Volcanic rifle had only limited success. The company moved to New Haven (without Smith or Wesson) in 1856, but by the end of that year became insolvent. Oliver Winchester and his partner John M. Davies purchased the bankrupt firm's assets from the remaining stockholders, and reorganized it as the New Haven Arms Company in April 1857.
After Smith's departure, Benjamin Henry continued to work with a Smith development project, the self-contained metallic rimfire cartridge, and perfected the much larger, more powerful .44 Henry round. Henry also supervised a new rifle design based loosely on the Volcanic to use the new ammunition, retaining only the general form of the breech mechanism and the tubular magazine.
This became the Henry rifle of 1860, which was manufactured by the New Haven Arms Company and used in considerable numbers by certain Union army units in the American Civil War. The Henry rifle ensured New Haven Arms' success, and together with the Spencer rifle, established the lever-action repeater in the firearms market.