The year was 1860. B. Tyler Henry, foreman of The New Haven Arms Company, had been working on a new, innovative rifle and rimfire cartridge. On October 16, Henry was granted a patent for the famous Henry Repeating Rifle. The cartridge used in this new rifle was appropriately named the .44 Henry in honor of it‘s inventor. It was of rimfire design and initially it was loaded with 26 grains of black powder and a 216 gr. lead bullet. Within a few years, the bullet weight was reduced to 200
grs. and a slightly heavier charge of 28 grs. of black powder was used.
In 1866, the plant was moved from New Haven to Bridgeport, Connecticut and its name changed to the Winchester Repeating Arms Company. The 1866 Winchester was introduced that year which featured a few improvements over the Henry rifle, one of which was the Kings patented loading gate. The .44 Henry cartridge was also chambered in this model.
In the years that followed, Winchester worked to further improve upon their model of 1866, and in 1873, their newest rifle was introduced. Winchester considered the first and most important improvement in this rifle its adaptation to the use of a longer and a central fire cartridge, holding a larger charge of 40 grains of powder instead of 28 as in the Henry. They retained the same caliber, .44/100, and the same weight of ball, 200 grains. They stated, “The effect of this change is to increase the initial velocity of the arm from about 1,125
f.p.s. to 1,325 feet per second, reducing or flattening the trajectory and increasing the power and accuracy of the arm and giving it a penetration of about 4 inches, in pine board, at 1000 yards." Winchester described it to be effective and accurate to 500-600 yards.
Winchester Model 1873 - Winchester’s first center fire cartridge
Winchester's catalog of that era describes their new cartridge as the " Winchester Model 1873" Caliber 44-100. In today’s language that designation simply means .44. A few years later the cartridge was described in Winchester catalogs as the .44
W.C.F. (Winchester Center Fire). It was also called the .44 Winchester.
From 1873 to 1885 the cartridges did not have an identifying head stamp. In 1886, the first cartridges appeared with the
W.R.A. CO. .44 W.C.F. marking..
U.M.C.’s .44 C.F. / .44-40
Not long after Winchester introduced it‘s first central fire cartridge,
U.M.C. (Union Metallic Cartridge Co.) located in Bridgeport, Connecticut, began offering their version of the same cartridge which they initially called the .44 C.F. and later changed to the .44-40. Some cartridge boxes were labeled .44 Winchester, giving credit to the firm who invented the cartridge. Because Marlin did not manufacture cartridges like Winchester did, it worked closely with
U.M.C. and it’s rifles bore the .44-40 designation.
Early Differences between the .44 W.C.F. and .44-40 cartridges
Until 1885, both cartridges were dimensionally the same and both used a 200 gr. bullet over 40 grains of black powder. However, from 1886 until 1904, the .44-40 cartridge would carry a heavier 217 gr. bullet at 1,190
f.p.s. The .44 W.C.F. cartridge on the other hand, would continue to be offered with the 200 gr. bullet at a slightly faster 1,245
f.p.s. Both Winchester and U.M.C. loaded both versions of these cartridges with their different bullet weights. (Note the drop in catalog velocity from 1875……no doubt due to the improvement in chronographs during that period of time.)
In 1904, U.M.C. changed the bullet weight of their .44-40 cartridge back to 200
grs. but Winchester continued to offer the 217gr. bullet in their .44-40 cartridge for several more years until they also standardized on the 200 gr. bullet for both the .44
W.C.F. and .44-40 cartridges.
1895 - 1st Smokeless Powder .44 W.C.F. Cartridge - Winchester
Twenty two years after its introduction, the first .44 W.C.F. smokeless powder cartridge is found in Winchester's catalog No. 55, dated August, 1895. In its manufacture, Winchester used 17 grains of DuPont No. 2 which was a "bulk" type smokeless powder patented on August 22, 1893. DuPont's description of "bulk" smokeless powder indicated that it was to be loaded in "bulk" measure just like black powder.
In the .44 W.C.F., 17 grs. of DuPont No. 2 Bulk Smokeless occupied the same volume as 40
grs. of FFG. Velocity was catalogued at 1,300 f.p.s. for a 55 f.p.s. increase over the the black powder cartridge. To identify the new .44
W.C.F. smokeless powder cartridges from those containing black powder, which looked identical, Winchester put a "W" in a circle on the primer.
1896 - 1st Smokeless Powder .44-40 Cartridge - U.M.C.
In March of 1896, U.M.C. introduced it’s smokeless .44-40 cartridge. It also contained 17
grs. of Dupont No. 2 bulk smokeless powder. Catalogued velocity was 1,235
f.p.s., with the heavier 217 gr. bullet, a 45 f.p.s. increase over their black powder cartridge (1,190
f.p.s.). U.M.C. placed a “U” on the primers in their smokeless cartridges to identify them as being loaded with smokeless powder.
Although smokeless powder was used in lead bulleted cartridges, by this time “Metal Patched” bullets were also being offered in smokeless cartridges. Today we simply call them “jacketed” bullets. .44
W.C.F. W.R.A. CO. cartridges could be purchased with either 200 gr. lead, metal patched soft point or full metal case. Penetration in 7/8” thick dry pine boards placed at 15 feet from the muzzle were as follows: lead - 9; soft point - 10; full metal patched - 13.
U.M.C. reported that their heavier 217 gr. full metal patched bullet would penetrate 17 boards.
1903 - Introduction of the W.H.V. (Winchester High Velocity) cartridge
We first see these new improved performance cartridges in Winchester’s Catalog #70 dated March, 1903. Cartridges were head stamped .44
W.C.F. W.H.V. ’M92. Velocity with a 200 gr. metal patched bullet was catalogued at 1,500
f.p.s. in a 24” barrel. Instructions in Winchester’s catalogue and on the cartridge boxes indicated they were not for use in ’73 Winchesters or handguns. Velocity was increased to 1,570
f.p.s. in 1910.
U.M.C. brought out their .44-40 high velocity cartridge shortly after Winchester did. Cartridges were head stamped
U.M.C. .44-40 H.V. to distinguish them from the U.M.C. .44-40 head stamp used on the standard cartridge. Catalogued velocity from the start was 1,570
f.p.s. with a 200 gr. bullet. PETERS used the .44-40 H.P. designation.
During parts of this era, the .44 W.C.F. and .44-40 cartridges were offered in a variety of bullet weights:
- 122 gr. Round ball “Game Getter”
- 140 gr. Hi Speed Mushroom (jacketed hollow point)
REM-UMC (Fastest factory loading - 2,000+ f.p.s).
- 160 gr. Hi Speed Mushroom (jacketed hollow point) REM-UMC (2nd fastest factory cartridge - 1,980
- 165 gr. Lead hollow point PETERS
- 166 gr. Lead Mushroom (hollow point) W.R.A. CO.
- 180 gr. Lead Mushroom (hollow point) W.R.A. CO.
- 200 gr. Lead
- 200 gr. Jacketed soft point
- 200 gr. Full patch
- 217 gr. Lead
- 217 gr. Jacketed soft point
- 217 gr. Full patch
- shot cartridges with wooden shot carriers
- shot cartridges with paper shot carriers
- shot cartridges with extended cases - shot contained inside
44-40 Designation Standardized
With the Post War Plan of 1945, Winchester dropped the .44 W.C.F. head stamp and kept the .44-40 designation. This was noted at the time to be due to that nomenclature being more well known by the public. Bullet weight was standardized at 200
grs. with no other factory options available.
Today, factory, jacketed 200 gr. .44-40 ammunition is cataloged at 1,190 f.p.s., almost a 10% velocity reduction from it’s initial 1,300
f.p.s. loading. The answer for this reduction is due to a faster burning powder that is currently being loaded by the factories. Current dissected R-P .44-40 ammunition contained 7.3
grs. of smokeless powder. The earlier 1,300 f.p.s. factory loadings used slower burning smokeless powders (“Sharpshooter” and later, W630) in charge weights of 13 to 15
With the advent of Cowboy Action Shooting, another bullet weight was added, the heaviest ever factory loaded in the .44-40 …. a 225 gr. in Winchester Cowboy ammunition.
Today, it would be neat if .44 W.C.F. head stamped cartridges were again made available by one of the current producers of ammunition. After all, that was its birth name and the historical description that I prefer to remember it by.
Addendum: In keeping with this cartridge’s history, one of my favorite .44
W.C.F. loads is 17 grs. of H4227E or 4759 sparked by a Federal 155 primer, under a 200 gr. cast bullet, since DuPont No. 2 Bulk Smokeless, has long since been discontinued as have Sharpshooter and W630. The difference is that my 17 gr. load does not fill up the cartridge capacity, whereas DuPont No. 2 did. 15 grs of 2400 with standard large pistol primers works well also.
The other thing I like about these slower burning powders is that it is impossible to double charge the case which is a possibility with the faster burning propellants. This is a very, very important consideration, especially when loading for the older style rifles.