Small arms, Ammunition
East Alton, Illinois, United States
The Western Cartridge Company manufactures small arms and ammunitions. Founded in 1898, it was the forerunner of the Olin Corporation, formed in 1944, of which Western is still a subsidiary, and is based in East Alton, Illinois, USA. Western Cartridge Company acquired the Winchester Repeating Arms Company after Winchester went into receivership in 1931.
Franklin W. Olin received an engineering degree from Cornell University in 1886. After working at gunpowder mills in the eastern United States, he was one of several investors establishing the Equitable Powder Company in 1892 at East Alton, Illinois. Production of blasting powder for southern Illinois coal mining began in 1893.
Olin formed Western Cartridge Company in 1898 to manufacture sporting rifle powder and shotgun shells for settlers of the Great Plains. The shotgun shells used primers manufactured by larger eastern ammunition firms. When the firms with primer manufacturing facilities raised primer prices in 1900 to reduce competition from independent shotgun shell assembly plants, Western Cartridge Company formed the Union Cap and Chemical Company (UCC) as a joint venture with Austin Cartridge Company of Ohio. UCC manufactured primers, blasting caps, and .22 and .32 caliber rimfire cartridges at East Alton. Similar manufacturing procedures for these products included fabrication of sheet metal cups and filling portions of those cups with primary explosive. Rimfire cartridges bore a UCC headstamp and product packaging included a Maltese cross trademark. Purchase of Alliance Cartridge Company in 1907 allowed UCC merger into Western Cartridge Company. The company trademark morphed into Super-X as the Maltese cross became associated with World War I Germany.
John Olin, the son of founder Franklin W. Olin, improved shotgun cartridge designs in the 1920s by using harder shot and progressive burning powder. Western produced 3 billion rounds of ammunition in World War II, and the Winchester subsidiary developed the U.S. M1 carbine and produced the carbine and the M1 rifle during the war. Western ranked 35th among United States corporations in the value of wartime production contracts. Cartridges made by Western are stamped WCC. Western Cartridge Company produced the now collectible "Western Xpert" brand of shotgun shells in both 12 and 16 gauge sizes.
The company faced union activity and strikes in 1941 and 1942, at a time when it held $8.5 million in defense contracts.
Civil rights activist Clarence M. Mitchell noted in 1944 that the company did not hire African-American workers. Franklin Roosevelt's Committee on Fair Employment Practice had held hearings and tried to have the company hire black workers in 1943, but the community, owners and white employees refused.