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Old November 9, 2019, 01:23 PM   #1
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Vintage Smokeless Powder Development Progress...into the 44-40

Some of my powder samples and powder can collections

I really enjoy the history of powders and the early development of smokeless powders. Very interesting to follow along the history of how the powders were steadily improved over time.

A while back I was able to somewhat dig down into some basic information I ran across on the net. Looking through thousands of pages of Chief of Ordinance documentation I came up with the following for the development of smokeless powders.

The developing years 1892-1896 (Rifle Smokeless Powders Developed from Shotgun Smokeless Powders)

The US Military tested many smokeless powders between 1892 and 1896. Wetteren powder had been their "Standard" base of which other powders were compared. By mid 1894, nearly 200,000lbs of Peyton powder had been used or stored for use with the .30 cal. .308 cartridges. Mostly only designated by test numbers, formulas constantly changing, it really is not known what powder designated names were actually used. At one point Leonard N7/16 looks just like Sharpshooter granulars. By 1895 Peyton powders were the powders of choice and some 5,000lbs more ordered. Whistler & Aspinwall specifically named and a designation of W.-A. was used. By 1896 the military was still testing "Samples" from quite a few companies but had contracts (1896-1897) for three; Peyton, Dupont and W.-A. (Leonard) now controlled by Laflin & Land. Ruby was mentioned a few times but seems to have been tested in larger cannon type rifles and mortars.

1897 details more testing for the .30 and both .45 & .38 Colts. Several powders for the two later but Dupont No.1 named caught my attention. This could be the new (green can) No.1 that looks like sharpshooter and not the old No.1 (red powder keg) that is rock looking granulars. However, A few notes in 1899, I see Dupont is described as a cylindrical graphite black with dark green tinge. .053 in length and .041 in diameter. Laflin & Rand W.A. is noted with the dash removed. The .38 was using a few powders, Dupont No. 1, No. 2 as well as Laflin & Rand "Sporting Powder".

I think it would be safe to conclude that of the three powder companies under contract, the following would be used for the civilian market for the .30 caliber type cartridges.​

Peyton S.P. (Smokeless Rifle Powder)(unknown Granular)(Deemed Secret Ingredients)
Dupont S.P. (No. 1 Rifle Smokeless Powder)(cylindrical shape)(Deemed Secret Ingredients)...owes more research since my Dupont No. 1 samples are disc granulars
Laflin & Rand W.A.S.P (disc shape)(Deemed Secret Ingredients)(W.A. 30 to the public)(Deemed Secret Ingredients)

S.P. could stand for "Sporting Powder", as "Sporting Powder" is mention numerous times in the reports.

Most granular samples I have for the civilian market appear to be perforated disc powders which appear to have been popular as "Sharpshooter" smokeless powder from 1897 to 1948

Of course, the 30-30 was manufactured by Winchester in 1894 using a smokeless rifle powder of which I have little information and is another avenue I must travel soon.

Looking at some 30-30 "Short Range" factory loads, (obsolete by the 1920's) maybe from Winchester's 1896 catalog as, cal. 30-6-100 (.30 caliber - 6 grs. smokeless - 100 gr. bullet). Here is an insert from John Kort; Based on my ballistic testing using the powder taken from original cartridges,I found that they effectively duplicated the .32-20, an excellent small game cartridge. No doubt, that's what Winchester had in mind. John also dissected and studied those early cartridges. He found some early powders "to be translucent stick powders", of origin was not stated. Maybe some early "xxxxite" powders deriving from the "cordite" type powers. To continue, Some short range cartridges John dissected produced the following;

​100gr bullets - 4.4gr of Bulleseye/5.0gr of Walsrode/ or 9.0gr of Dupont No.2 "Bulk" (which would be of the off-white/beige rock texture)
117gr bullets - 6.0gr of Ballistie/6.0gr of Walsrode, 7.0gr of Shultz/ or 7.0gr of Marksman
​Ballistite was from the Cordite family..."spaghetti-like rods initially called "cord powder"... and is probably that brownish translucent powder John mentions

These three names seam to be the start of the smokeless powder saga; Peyton, Leanard and Laflin & Rand (WA30)

I then began to take this information and apply it to my interest, the 44-40. What would be the earliest powders I could find that were used in the 44-40. We all know the 30-30 was offered on the market in 1894 and used the new smokeless powder. Although smokeless was offered in 1894, the earliest I could find for the 44-40 was introduced in 1896, Laflin & Rand's "Sporting Rifle Smokeless Powder". Interestingly enough, the powder charge for handloading was on the back label.

17gr of this new smokeless powder was a case capacity load and the bullet sat firmly on top of the powder just as it did with black powder loads.

Normal life shows that the powder companies were always up and down, selling out to other companies. That in and of itself is a long story so I will refrain from going into detail.

To continue with the "in progress developing years", the early smokeless powders were quickly being improved. By 1900 Dupont and Hercules seemed to dominate the market. Smokeless powders were being developed in "Bulk for Bulk" loads meaning for the black powder firearms, the new smokeless was developed to be loaded in the same way as black powder....for now!

For the 44-40, the next powder I could find was Dupont's No. 2 bulk "RIFLE" powder. This was different that Dupont's RIFLE powder No.1 which were used in higher power rifles and large caliber rifles like the 45-70. The 44-40 was now considered a medium range rifle cartridge and so stated in books. Dupont No.2 was basically the same thing as No.1 but smaller powder granulars. To back up a tad, Dupont also offered bulk shotgun powder. This powder was actually the same as No.1 and No.2 but had the largest granular. One could almost categorize it like black powder, F, FF and FFF. The Shotgun powder was also used in large capacity cartridges like the 45-70.

Quickly moving along...the next popularly documented powder for the 44-40 was the rifle powder from Laflin & Rand, that eventually was owned by Dupont and Hercules, is "Sharpshooter". While not a bulk for bulk powder is was still a "bulky" powder.

This is where it gets very interesting for the 44-40. Sharpshooter listed the load data on the back label as well. Sharpe's 1937 handloading manual shows that the listed 19gr to 20gr loads produced 1,700fps with a 200gr JSP bullet @ 22,000 cup. Obviously for strong action rifles like the Winchester 92, Marlin 94 type rifles. Interestingly enough this powder is also listed for revolvers using 16.8gr at 905fps from a revolver @ 15,000 cup

Sharpshooter powder seamed to be the preferred powder for rifle loads and ironically mimicked Winchester's FACTORY "HIGH VELOCITY" loads that produced 22,000 cup.

Now before I go further, keep in mind that the following Unique and Bullseye powders are VINTAGE 1930's and should not be used as modern data.

Bullseye and Unique were the new pistol powders and were both developed by 1900, to be exact, Bullseye #1 and #2 were introduced in 1898 while Unique was introduced in 1900. Even though these were pistol powders and the load data was used in 44-40 revolvers, the chamber pressures were still higher than SAAMI suggests today. SAAMI suggest a max load of 13,000cup which is equivalent to 11,000psi using the peizo method.

Sharpe listed higher loads that produced 15,000cup in revolvers which were typically suggested by Dupont or Hatcher.
Continuing on, Bullseye offered a 250gr lead bullet charge for the 44-40...yes...250gr. 890fps @ 15, the 45 Colt a run for it's money!! Sharpe's 1937 also shows a load for a 250gr bullet for Unique for 965fps @ 15,000cup.

By now the popular RIFLE POWDERS for the 44-40 were SR80 (Sporting Rifle 80) and had powder with a similar color and texture as Dupont No.2. This powder too was used in both rifle and revolvers. For rifle a load produced 1,300 for lead and 1,600 for a JSP. For revolver, 918fps.

Dupont #1204 (IMR 1204) shows a nice 44-40 load on the back label the produced 1,830fps which would be in the 20,000 to 22,000cup ballpark. Also listed in Sharpe's 1937 handloading manual.

IMR's 4227 was a direct replacement of IMR's 1204. IMR-4227 is also IMR's "Magnum" powder like 2400 is now Alliants 2400. First Sharpe's 1937 Hercules 2400 loads produced 2,100fps @ 33,000cup while his 4227 loads produced 1,890fps as he claims was recommended by DuPont/Hercules!

Using a Pressuretrace II I tested some 4227 loads. I tested Lyman's max load of 18.5gr produced a lousy 1,097fps @ 9,205psi. I then stepped it up a notch or ten and loaded up a 19,000psi load for my Marlin 1894 (Group II Strong Action) with a 200gr hardcast Magma bullet. I was able get get consistent 4" hits, to include a golfball hit @ 265 yards.

My favorite powder is Reloder 7 of which I use in my Uberti Winchester 1873 and get 40 consecutive shots inside a 4" circle at 100 yards. I am using a bullet (43-214A) I had custom made by Tom over at Accurate Molds. This load using the 43-215C gave me mild 10,500psi pressures and retained original 1,300fps black powder ballistics.

The 44-40 is a "weak pistol caliber" Myth is invalid! The 44-40 is a 100% accurate mid-range killer when properly loaded in the proper firearm.

Back to the early Laflin & Rand powders, they were obviously developed for the .30 cal rifles. The .30-40 Krag was purposefully developed for the smokeless powder development and used to improve those smokeless powders. It would appear that Laflin & Rand's WA-30 took charge in the .30 cal. civilian market!!! I bet the .30-40 Krag guys could really explain this a lot better!!!!

Last edited by Savvy_Jack; November 9, 2019 at 01:37 PM.
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Old November 9, 2019, 06:27 PM   #2
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great read, thanks for typing it in. Pics are great too
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Old November 10, 2019, 06:45 AM   #3
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Agreed--nice thread--I enjoyed reading your thread of pressure measurement for same. : )
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Old November 10, 2019, 09:10 AM   #4
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Thanks for posting this, I have read the history of Lafflin and Rand, and the Phil Sharps books, I always thought it was interesting that the original smokeless powders that some today call semi-smokeless, were loaded the same way that the black powders were.
I've read that it smoked almost as bad as black powder but the smoke was white instead of dark blue.
At least you could see through it.
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Old November 13, 2019, 04:04 PM   #5
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Thanks fellas!!

I had to charnge the website URL and I can not edit my first post.

The new URL is
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Old November 13, 2019, 05:26 PM   #6
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That's a beautiful Model 1873, and love that Malcom scope!
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