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Old August 1, 2012, 09:54 PM   #1
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1800's .44's

Not to get everyone wrapped up in another .45 Long (or otherwise) discussion- but does anyone know why the various .44 cartridges of the time were not deemed worhty of US Military affections? Seems to me the .44-40 had a good thing going.
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Old August 2, 2012, 12:26 PM   #2
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Not to get everyone wrapped up in another .45 Long (or otherwise) discussion- but does anyone know why the various .44 cartridges of the time were not deemed worthy of US Military affections? Seems to me the .44-40 had a good thing going.
There are quite a few reasons off the top of my head. One being that Colts were not commonly in that caliber and S&W also had their own cals as well - but a few S&Ws were made in 44 wcf aka 44-40. The ctg was good, but since the US did not wish to issue Winchester 1873s or 1892s or any other repeater in that cal (Colt-Burgess rifle or Whitney rifle, Marlin, etc), there was little advantage to selecting 44-40 over 45 colt. Many people did however have a lever action repeater and their favorite revolver both in the same cal for convenience purposes. For the 44 S&W, apparently the US preferred the 45 colt, and so S&W had to adapt to that, although IMO their Schofield design was better for its intended purpose with the Army esp the Calvary than the Colt SAA.

Partly as well you have the philosophy of bigger being better, and bigger meaning more power. In 1873, the standard rifle was the trapdoor 45-70 and before that, there were 50 government rifles. So a 45 colt was more powerful than the 44-40 which was viewed as of chief importance.
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Old August 2, 2012, 01:33 PM   #3
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The Army did go through several .44 caliber revovlers prior to adopting the .45 Colt. Following the Civil War the Army returned many cap-and-ball Remington and Colt revolvers to be converted to take metallic cartridges. These were in .44 Colt caliber and ammunition was produced at Frankford Arsenal using the Martin Folded head case. Also trial use of the Smith & Wesson No. 3 in .44 S&W American caliber. During this time the Army bought the Remington .50 caliber rollin block pistol. Apparently the Colt M1873 so overwhelmed the officers as to make it the primary choice.

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Old August 2, 2012, 02:23 PM   #4
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For the 44 S&W, apparently the US preferred the 45 colt, and so S&W had to adapt to that
Actually, the army bought enough Schofields that they decided to standardize on that round, since the Colt could chamber both. You'll find old boxes marked something like ".45 Government", and that's the Schofield round, not .45 Colt.
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Old August 2, 2012, 03:47 PM   #5
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In the 1800s, and even earlier, it was not at all uncommon for military organizations to adopt a common caliber for both handguns and long guns.

In Britain both the standard Tower flintlock pistol and the Brown Bess were .75 caliber, while the French and Americans both fielded .69 caliber long and hand guns.

While this made some sense in the age of the round ball, it didn't make as much sense once military forces started to go with conical rifle bullets, but in some militaries, the practice continued for a long time.

For a number of years the United States fielded the .50-70 rifle and a .50 caliber rolling block pistol before switching to the .45-70 and the .45 revolver.

Germany fielded 11mm Mauser rifles and handguns.

The French also fielded 11mm rifles and handguns. After the adoption smokeless powder the French adopted the 8mm Lebel rifle round and the 8mm Lebel revolver round.

Probably the longest practitioner of this was the Russian military, but they went it one better...

They adopted the 7.62 Nagant Revolver and the 7.62 Moisin-Nagant rifle. Then, in the 1920s they adopted the 7.62 Tokarev (a derivative of the 7.63 Mauser). All three were in regular service during the War.

Their one better? They increased the caliber by a factor of 10 and adopted numerous artillery pieces in 76.2mm, including the original gun on the T-37 tank, which was a derivative of the 76.2 divisional artillery piece.


As for the .44-40, Winchester introduced it in 1873, the same year that Colt and the US military introduced the Peacemaker and .45 Long Colt cartridge. It's pretty evident that Colt had been working with Frankford Arsenal for a number of years before that to develop both the revolver and the .45 revolver round, and it's likely that the decision to adopt the .45 as the caliber standard was done well before 1873 and independently of whatever Winchester was working on.

Supposedly Colt produced a number of Model 1872 Open Tops for military testing in .44 Colt (most were in .44 Henry rimfire), but the round was too heavy and there were problems with the frame.

Oh, and a lot of people don't remember that 1873 was also the year that the .45-70 was officially adopted.
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Old August 2, 2012, 07:57 PM   #6
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Oh, and a lot of people don't remember that 1873 was also the year that the .45-70 was officially adopted.
Mike,

I am not so well versed in long arms, handguns being my study of choice. But I recall from some now forgotten source that the .50-70 was the rifle cartirdge at the time, but that the .45-70 replaced it because the 500 gr. .45 caliber bullet was ballistically superior, especially at long range.

I remember my father telling me of seeing soldiers marching through Nashville heading off for the Spanish-American War. These would have been National Guard troops. They were armed with the .45-70 Springfield rifle as they marched.

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Old August 3, 2012, 03:11 AM   #7
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As for the .44-40, Winchester introduced it in 1873, the same year that Colt and the US military introduced the Peacemaker and .45 Long Colt cartridge.
I'm glad someone else brought that up.
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I remember my father telling me of seeing soldiers marching through Nashville heading off for the Spanish-American War. These would have been National Guard troops
Not to be pedantic, but the national Guard was formed in 1903, 5 years after the Spanish-American War. The troops your father says he saw would have been state militia units at that time.
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Old August 3, 2012, 07:41 AM   #8
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Bob,

The .50-70 was never really seen as anything more than a stop-gap cartridge while a newer, smaller caliber round was developed.

As originally adopted, the .45-70 had a 405-gr. bullet. It was ballistically superior to the 450-gr. bullet of the .50.

The .45-70 with the 500-gr. bullet wasn't adopted until 1879, when testing at the Sea Girt grange showed that it was a lot better at long range.

And, a little known tidbit about the Span-Am war...

Regular Army troops were issued the then standard Krag Jorgenson rifle.

Volunteer troops were all issued Trapdoors in .45-70.

Except for one unit.

Teddy Roosevelt apparently pulled some strings as former Ass't Secretary of the Navy and got the Rough Riders Krags.
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Old August 3, 2012, 11:10 AM   #9
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Not to be pedantic, but the national Guard was formed in 1903, 5 years after the Spanish-American War. The troops your father says he saw would have been state militia units at that time.
Dad would have been very young at the time, so as far as he knew they were soldiers in uniform, but he did remember their carrying the old .45-70s. He was born in 1891 so would have been about seven years old.

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Old August 3, 2012, 01:32 PM   #10
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Regular Army troops were issued the then standard Krag Jorgenson rifle.
The changeover to the Krag-Jorgensen was one of the worst in the history of the US military. It was generally peace-time, the Government was still paying for Civil War indebtedness and veterans compensation, and there was no urgency. By the time the Springfield 1903 was issued, the Army had not completely replaced all of the Trapdoors. The Navy had supposedly switched to the 1895 Lee Navy several years before, yet the US Marine Corps fought with Trapdoors as well as 1895 Lees.
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Volunteer troops were all issued Trapdoors in .45-70.
Except for one unit.
Teddy Roosevelt apparently pulled some strings as former Ass't Secretary of the Navy and got the Rough Riders Krags.
State militias were outfitted by the states, and there was not a lot of perceived need to upgrade the state militias. Militias were armed from the armories kept by the government of those states, and most states did not have the wherewithal to purchase arms. Some militias showed up in Florida unarmed, assuming that the US Army would outfit them.

Teddy Roosevelt was instrumental in getting private funding to arm and clothe his units. Even so, they did not have enough ammunition.
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Old August 3, 2012, 01:43 PM   #11
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"State militias were outfitted by the states"

Yep, and in 1892/93 or so the Federal Government had de-accessioned hundreds of thousands of Trapdoor Springfields, Colt (and apparently some S&W) revolvers, and millions of rounds of ammunition for distribution to the State Militas.

That had apparently been done in a fairly expedient manner.
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Old August 3, 2012, 04:47 PM   #12
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I don't know where the idea of a .45 caliber actually came from, but there is an interesting (and AFAIK true) story that might shed some light.

When it was decided to replace the "trapdoor" with a repeating rifle, Frankford Arsenal set out to develop ammunition which would give the characteristics the army wanted. (Ammunition was always developed first, the weapons submitted for test having to use the specified ammunition.)

They settled on a .30 cartridge, with a bore diameter of .300" and groove diameter of .308". After the Model 1892 (Krag) was adopted, someone reportedly asked the Frankford Arsenal officer who had been in charge of cartridge development, how he came to choose .30 caliber, expecting a long talk about ballistics, lethality, accuracy, etc. Instead the officer replied, "Well, it seemed like a nice round number."

And that was how the rifle caliber to be used by the United States for the next roughly 70 years came to be set.

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Old August 3, 2012, 04:53 PM   #13
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The 44 Russian was introduced by S&W in 1870 IIRC for a large contract for the Russian army.That's why you don't see very many S&W revolvers in the west.The cartridge was considered the most accurate handgun catridge of the time.It was replaced by the 44 special.
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Old August 4, 2012, 09:50 PM   #14
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I have never seen anything authoritative as to why the Army wanted to go to .45 caliber rather than to continue use of the .44. Mike's belief that it was just so the rifle and revolver would be the same caliber may be as good an idea as any, even if the ammunition was not interchangeable.

But the desire to go "one up" to .45 had ramifications. Since Colt wanted to use as much of the old percussion revolver tooling as possible, they tried to keep the .45 cylinder diameter as close to the .44 diameter as they could, which resulted in a cartridge case with a small rim. That made no difference in a revolver with an ejector rod, but gave trouble when attempts were made to use the .45 Colt in rifles and the later swing-cylinder revolvers.

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Old August 4, 2012, 10:46 PM   #15
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I don't have any proof, but I'm sure Colt lobbying had something to do with it. Wasn't the 1873 Colt cheaper to purchase than the Model 3?

Anyway, as pointed out already, Colt was selling a .45 model based in part on old cap and ball specs, even the early .44 colt used .45 bullets.

Either way, S&W revolvers were very popular in the old west, just not the ones you usually see in the movies. The double action .38 S&W and .32 models and safety hammerless models handily outsold .44 and .45 caliber revolvers of the period.

The .38 S&W double action went into production in 1880 and by 1884 had gone from serial number 1 to serial number 119K! By 1895 the .38 double action model had sold 322k units, that's not including the .32 models or the safety hammerless.

The single action army on the other hand was on serial number 192k in 1900.

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Old August 4, 2012, 10:51 PM   #16
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Hello, everyone. Very interesting posts & history lessons! One thing that amazes me, is the backwardness of our military powers at the eve of the United States becoming a world power. I often wonder what Germany and Britan thought of the young upstarts..still using obsolete single shot black powder rifles. The navy monitor type warship has always interested me, there is a web site on these vessels..most of the ones used in the Spanish-American war were old civil war..or commisioned withen a few years after. There is a photo of a navy gun crew drilling with a muzzle loading gun in 98'.
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Old August 5, 2012, 01:37 AM   #17
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Another interesting tidbit regarding the .45-70 Gov't cartridge loadings: The Model 1878 Gatling Gun had two sets of sights, one mounted on each side of the barrels. One set was calibrated for the 405-grain load, and one for the 500-grain load, so depending on which ammo was being used, the gunner would align the sights on the left or right side of the barrels!
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Old August 5, 2012, 11:57 AM   #18
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All military powers seem somewhat backward to civilians sometimes. They usually don't change everything every few years.

Another little detail about the .44-40 is that it was not available in the Colt Single Action Army until 1878, a few years after the army had adopted a different cartridge. About 20% of pre-war production was in that caliber, while nearly half were in .45 Colt. Available also were .44 rimfire and .44 Russian along with over two dozen other chamberings, some made only in very small numbers.
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Old August 5, 2012, 12:06 PM   #19
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Hi, Testuser,

In the real West, and in the country as a whole, it is a fair bet that inexpensive break top and solid frame revolvers outsold S&W's and Colts (of all models) many times over. In the period 1894-1896, Iver Johnson, a quality maker, produced over a million revolvers. H&R probably reached a similar total, and almost certainly the total of "suicide specials" made in those years was several times that.

The truth is that for sheer numbers, both Colt and S&W were very much outclassed.

As for Colt lobbying, Colt didn't need to lobby. They had and have a close relationship with Army ordnance that began in the 1840's and continues to this day, even though the service pistol (some special purchases notwithstanding) is no longer a Colt. The Army, having had a steady supply of rugged and reliable Colt revolvers in the Civil War, naturally turned first to Colt when considering a new service revolver. The S&W's had advantages, but they really were less rugged than the Colt SAA, and not easily maintained, even by armorers.

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Old August 5, 2012, 12:24 PM   #20
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Out produced maybe but not outclassed. However, you have a good point. Total production of the Colt SAA before WWII was only around 310,000.

Another point here is that both the Colt Model P, the Single Action Army, and the .45 Colt cartridge were both brand new in 1873. The Civil War had ended less than ten years earlier and immediately after a war is always a difficult time to think about changing anything, there being warehouses full of firearms that would soon be obsolete. Both the money to buy new things would dry up as well as recruiting. The post war army supposedly had more foreign born personnel than native born.

That period was also one of fast transition from mostly muzzleloaders to cartridge firearms. Military users then as now are always between having something that is either worn out, obsolete or "old-fashioned" and having the very latest, which might not be as great as what will appear next year. There was a Model 1872 Colt, which was open-topped and in .44 rimfire. In fact, there were three or four .44 rimfire cartridges and it isn't clear which the Colt was chambered in but they were apparently fairly popular for a while, the .44 Henry probably more then the others.

At one time both the 9mm and the .45 ACP were new, too.
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Old August 5, 2012, 12:47 PM   #21
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Several times here I've made the case for the most popular "cowboy" revolver being a cheap .32 or .38 break top or solid frame made by one of the many companies that were around at the time.

S&W made over half a million small-frame break tops and solid frames.

Many of those were made after the age of the cowboy had passed (same with many of the other manufacturers like H&R and Iver Johnson, but they were still in abundance.

My Greatgrandfather was a cowboy in the Dakotas at the tail end of the old west age, 1895 or so.

His cowboy revolver was an H&R .32 S&W hammer model break top.
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Old August 5, 2012, 01:03 PM   #22
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"There are quite a few reasons off the top of my head. One being that Colts were not commonly in that caliber"


Total production numbers of .44-40 v/s .45 Colt SAA's "thru 1910" anyone? 1910 picked as that was likely towards the end of use of these as a primary means of defense and utility, so a comparison of production numbers in that time period would be educational. Then a look within the subset of .45 Colts to see the percentage sold to civilians v/s the percentage sold to the military. My bet is that total sales to civilians favored the .44-40.

Experts?



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Old August 5, 2012, 02:41 PM   #23
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Well, I'm no expert but I have some information that may be of interest. My information here is through 1940 when it essentially went out of production for many years.

As I mentioned before, total production during that period was only about 310,000, not counting Bisley and target models, which was another 46,000 revolvers in round numbers.

Nearly half of the production was in .45 Colt. About 70,000 was in .44-40, 48,000 in .38-40 and 43,000 in .32-40. There were also another 20,000 in .41. All the rest were in two dozen other different calibers.

I would have to say the SAA retained a lot of popularity after 1910 and Elmer Keith would probably have had something to add to when he thought the end of that era was. However, you may be correct in guessing that the .44-40 was probably the most popular chambering for civilians, most likely because of the rifles that were also chambered for it.
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Old August 5, 2012, 03:04 PM   #24
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Thanks

So it looks like about half of them were chambered in dual revolver/rifle calibers and the other half in .45 Colt, a revolver only chambering. Be interesting to see how the .45 statistics are spread between civil and military purchasers. The operative question is "how many civilians actually bought a .45 Colt as opposed to a dual rifle/revolver cartridge".

As for civilian use of the .45, I am certain that many of the .45 Colt chamberings owned by civilians at the time were bring-back revolvers... soldiers being the same then then as in all history.

The numbers of .38-40 and .32-40 sold are interesting. Seems that about half of the civilian shooters thought that either a .38 or a .32 was perfectly adequate. Hard to imagine buying that large frame SAA in a .32, but practical is as practical does.

I put the 1910 date on the search as I think we can pretty certainly say that this represents the time period of dual military/civilian sales v/s later civilian only sales numbers, and I wanted to see how sales statistics looked when both civilians and military buyers were buying in roughly equal quantities.


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Old August 5, 2012, 03:24 PM   #25
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The Civil War had ended less than ten years earlier and immediately after a war is always a difficult time to think about changing anything, there being warehouses full of firearms that would soon be obsolete.
True. Which is where we came up with the Trapdoor Springfield. Originally called the Allen Conversion, it used stocks, barrels, and some parts from Springfield .58 Cal rifled muskets, with the barrels drilled out and relined, chambered for the .50-70 Gov't cartridge.

Quote:
43,000 in .32-40
I think you mean .32-20. The .32-40 was a long, tapered-cased rifle cartridge very popular with target shooters. I used to have some John Wayne Commemorative Winchesters chambered in .32-40, and still have some boxes of the commemorative ammo in my gun safe. It was about the same length as the .45-70 -- way too big to have ever been chambered in a Colt 1873.
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