44 Winchester Cartridge Timeline

Winchester's 44W.C.F. and Marlin's 44-40

"Two Peas In A Pod"

"The Coming Gun"

Winchester's .44 Leveractions

1860-1873

In Winchester's 1873 catalog, the Model 73 is never mentioned. The catalog only talks about the Model 1860 and the Model 1866. The title "The Coming Gun" appears to be written sometime before 1865 as noted at the bottom of page 9. The catalog also states the following: [referring to the 1860 Henry]..."Gentleman are ready to stake anything reasonable, that with one of these rifles they will hit the figure of a man, marked life size on a target placed at 500 yards,..."

Even during the Civil War, the Military refused to order the Henry, so entire regiments bought and paid for their own guns rather than carry what the government furnished. The writing continues and describes at what could only cause the military to be disinterested.

"There is however a cause why they are not adopted [the Henry Rifles]......It is the same cause that has always prevented all governments availing themselves promptly of any improvements.......vis. The immobility of prejudice.

"It will never do to put such rapid firing guns into the hands of soldiers, because they will waste their ammunition."

"Another sage remark is that "repeating arms are too delicate and complicated to put into the hands of common soldiers."

Even a high ranking ordnance officer said, "repeating arms could never be used in the army"

Civilians and Indians thought otherwise!!! It was said that it was estimated that the Indians used between 150-250 lever-action rifles during Bighorn. Between 1984 and 2004, 202 cartridge cases and 252 bullets were recovered from the Bighorn Battlefields. All of this physical evidence represented 108 repeating rifles, Henry and the Winchester 66'. Sixty-two rifles at Custer's defeat and fifty rifles that helped pin down Reno and Benteens men at the Reno-Benteen defense line four miles south of Custer. Eight Winchester 73' rifles were represented by, 21 cases being found, seven rifles represented at Custer's battle and two at Reno-Benteen defense line. (Scott 2006). [note: at least one Winchester 73' represented at the Battle of the Rosebud the week prior to Bighorn but did not match any weapons at Bighorn, accounting for at least nine rifles used during the campaign.


"Henry Rifle of 1860" and the Winchester "Model of 1866"...

...as referred to by the catalogs, is really difficult to keep up with which rifle the 1873 catalog is talking about. After Winchester and Davies purchased Volcanic repeating Arms sometime around 1856, it gets rather complicated. The New Haven Arms Company, by 1857, manufacture the 1860 Henry, "Henry Rifle of 1860". By 1866, Henry lost attempts to regain the company and Winchester changed the name to Winchester Repeating Arms Company. In the meantime, by the end of December 1866, the "Infantry Model" [Winchester Model of 1866] had finished field testing in Switzerland. Testings from 300 to 1,000 paces shooting at 6ft x 6ft targets resulting in 1.5ft x 1.5ft groups@300 paces. Several 50-75 yard shots reported by amateurs resulted in 1/2" to 3" groups.




1866 Switzerland Trials

This photograph shows a target used during the Switzerland trials at 300 paces. A few years ago John Kort duplicated these shots but using the 44-40 loaded to Henry ballistics. The impact area roughly represents the average size of a man's chest.




Amateur's target @ 75 yards

During this time they used a string to measure the holes. They would measure from the center of the target out to the center of each hole then add the measurements of each shot together for a total "length".


"Winchester's "New Model of 1873"

​I failed to see a catalog offered for 1874, however, in Winchester's catalog of 1875 the "New Model of 1873" is introduced.

"Its Popularity Proves Its Success", the title given to the article that explains...

"One hundred and fifty thousand have been sold without advertising or puffing, and they have everywhere been given unqualified satisfaction, having earned their position solely by their merits."

Doc Pardee

Probably the most seen target today is the 110 yard, 30 shot, 4" group by Doc Pardee.

“It affords me much pleasure to communicate to you the result of 30 consecutive shots at a distance of 110 yards with one of the improved Winchester rifles (1873). The firing was done without wiping, which proves the Winchester to be steady in her performance…..”

This target is the grouping by Doc Paredee

John Kort replicated this target back in 2014 (LINK). Johns groups were the results of using modern components, a Marlin and a scope but the purpose was to prove the cartridge, not the shooters skills.


1875 Catalog, referred to this new cartridge only as the Winchester Model 1873

notice not the slightest hint of a bottleneck?



  • Top Left - is a rimfire design and never used for the 44 WCF cases, but was used for the 44 Henrys and a ton of others as well as todays .22 cal. The 44 Henry cartridge was used in the 1860 Henry and the Winchester model 66' rifles...namely the ".44 Henry Flat"
  • Top Center- Benet primer was used, for example, for the 45 Colt "Single Action Army revolvers...before they too were changed to center fire cases.
  • Top right is a true balloonhead case while...
  • Bottom Center is the semi-balloonhead case of which you will hear about in abundance throughout this website.

"The Cartridge"

1860-1872 -For nearly twelve years the repeating Henry seemed to be way ahead of it's time. The Henry cartridges and bullets can still be found today along many front lines and skirmish areas. It was time to improve and Winchester did just that. The Model of 66' used a little longer cartridge and heavier bullets. Both were still of the rimfire design. The firing pin would strike the edge of the rim. At times this would not work and the cartridge was removed, turned a little and retried. Recovered cartridges and spent cases sometimes reviled three or more attempts at firing.

~John Kort collection

1873

The 44 Winchester cartridge is born!

This photo, an x-ray, shows a lead flat nose bullet that does not appear to have an exposed lube groove. The bullet is only seated about .21". The Milbank primer is evident sticking up from the pocket. The "Dimple" is evident.


PRIMERS - I am not certain as to the history of the Milbank Primer design but it was patented, Pat. #103,641...May, 31, 1870. During the early development of the Winchester 73' cartridge, the Milbank primer design was used. It appears that this primer design was flawed and troublesome but I lack details. The primer was developed with a dimple in it and it much resembled a spent cartridge when in fact they were not fired. Several 73' cartridge cases recovered from early Indian battle sites such as Bighorn are reported as being such primed cases. Seems odd since those cartridges were short lived and may not have even sold in quantities. This cartridge with the new primer was very short lived and it has been said that some of the earliest deliveries of the 73' were delayed until the boxer primer system was released.

44-40 case artifacts excavated at the Little Bighorn battlefield between 1984-2004 are indicated to be these very early and rare Milbank primed cases. However, Scott notes that they MAY be Milbank or Boxer primed cases. He states..."These brass cases are centerfire and were primed with the Winchester-Milbank or Boxer type primers." ~Scott, 2006 Archaeological Mitigation Report, page 12)

I finally found a Milbank design cartridge and have written permission by the owner to share. This is believed to be an early Prototype. ​

Item 203 - RARE and early, this Winchester prototype .44 W.C.F. has a copper Milbank primer, {Pat. #103,641 May, 31, 1870,} it has a 1.177” / 29.91mm long brass case and a flat nose lead bullet. If side-by-side, an M-66 .44 Henry long case mouth would end at the shoulder of this. So this case was most likely too short to support the bullet and would have then been lengthened into the production .44 W.C.F. Weighing 319.4 gr., with uneven toning and oxidization, it is in good condition. estimate- $4,000-$5,000

Figure 2a (i)(i'), is a 44 WCF artifact found on the Little Bighorn Battlefields, 1984 "Archaeological Perspectives of the Battle of Little Bighorn"...page 155 ~Scott. This is obviously a spent cartridge and it may or may not be a Milbank primed case.

Milbank primeder


Milbank Unfired Primer, hard to tell when one was fired are not.


My attempt at recreating the Milbank Primed case regarding the 1.177" case length rather than today's 1.300".

Accuracy was an absolute flop thus further testing was halted.


1873-1877 - In Winchester's 1875 catalog the first 44 WCF cartridges appeared but were not labeled as "44 W.C.F". Winchester stated, “The effect of this change [from 44 Henry to the 44-40] is to increase the initial velocity of the arm from about 1,125 f.p.s. to 1,325 feet per second." During the Indian Wars, the Indians would proved how valuable the Lever-actions would become!!

BELOW - 1st style box design.

Cartridge boxes at this time showed a "44/100" designated but so did the .44 Henry boxes. The only way to know which rifle the ammo was for was to notice which rifle was designated on the cartridge boxes. The Second Green Label box, the 44-100 is removed altogether and eventually replaced with "50" on the left top and ".44 Cal." on the right top. Some later UMC boxes still used 44-100.

1st style box. 44/100 for the Winchester Repeating Rifle. "New Model of 1873". Note the boxes were not sealed at that time.

Three known to exist early first style 73' cartridges boxes feature this new primer design on the box label BUT only contain the newer boxer primed cartridges. One box recently sold for $6,000

1873 - 1874

1st style box

44/100 for the Winchester Repeating Rifle. "New Model of 1873". Note the boxes were not sealed at that time

It is noted in the book "Winchester Cartridge Shell Box Price Guide 1856-1956", by Giles and Shuey that the only three known to them boxes illustrating the Milbank primed 44 cartridges actually contain unheadstamped boxer primed cartridges. What I don't know is if these three boxes of boxer primed cartridges were of the folded-head or solid-head design. More than likely Winchester did not use the new boxed primer design box decals until they exhausted the Milbank primed cartridges box decals. Bullets used in both cartridge cases are reported by some people to be the same 200gr bullets used in the 44 Henry Rimfire cartridges until 1886....but according to the new x-ray (Figure 3), that is more than likely not the case.

1874-1876

The 2nd style box 1st variation. Top label wraps over the end but remains on the top lid. The boxes then were still not factory sealed. This is a replica box made by the author.

1876-1877

This is a late 2nd Style Box label. Rather than wrapping over one end, it is only on the top and the newer side label design seals the box. Winchester started sealing their boxes mid 1870's.

note the exposed grease groove



Also offered in 1875 is Winchester's Swaged Bullets for handloading. This replica box has the same design as seen in the catalog of the 2nd style ammo box.

It is reported that; "Some cartridge cases [found on the Custer Battlefield] was made of Bloomfield Gilding metal (essentially hardened copper), but soon went to brass. That brass is not the bright brass used since around 1885 or so, but a slightly more coppery colored brass." (Scott 2018)

More Catalog testimonials,

"The records show that all decisive actions of history, with muzzle-loaders, have been fought with a distance not exceeding 50 to 150 yards. Making all possible allowance for improvement in modern arms of precision, 500 yards will more than cover the distance at which decisive conflicts will be fought". ~1875 Winchester Catalog

(Indians proved this to be true at the battle of the Little Bighorn) LINK

Time after time the American Indian Warriors proved this, especially on "Custer Battlefield" when archaeologist discovered a couple hundred spent .44 Henry, Winchester 66' and a few Winchester 73" cartridges and cases on a small knoll 265 yards east of Last Stand Hill and a small hill, 150 - 200 yards east of Calhoun Hill, named "Heneryville" by the 2004 Archaeology team.


1877 through the 1890's

This third style Green label black powder box is fairly typical and is always in great demand by collectors. One variation to show it is an early box is the lack of a headstamp on the picture cartridge. Variations include the rare Blue label but more than likely have headstamped picture cartridges.


The solid-head semi-balloon primer pocket developed after 1880 held 40gr of black powder. "Dissected cases of 40gr show about an average .21" compression of the powder." ~John Kort

Cartridge Cases

Top Rows-should date back to between 1880, after the company started producing solid-head cases and before 1884, when they began headstamping their cases. The W.R.A. 44 WCF (Winchester Repeating Arms) stampeded cases in the bottom rows are examples of the post 1884 design, both used small pistol primers. Note the unheadstamped case heads are somewhat "rounded" like a doughnut while the stamped case heads are flat.

This original pre-1884 unheadstamped Cartridge's bullet has been pushed outward due to corrosion of the base of the bullet.

No Headstamp could date back to pre-1880s

Original 2nd from left

Several W.R.A. headstamps are of post-1884 marked cases and quite a few unheadstamped cases from pre-1884 before headstamping by most manufactures.


1884 - In 1884, the first cartridges appeared with the W.R.A. CO. "44 WCF" headstamp.

These are the bullets John Kort pulled from vintage cartridges. He replaced the primers and bullet lube, poured in the original powder and placed 40 of them in a 4 inch circle at 100 yards...Replicating Doc Pardee's 1875 demonstration.

More examples of bullets pulled from original cases, primers and lube replaced, poured in the original powder and shot into water for expansion tests. Water slightly over expands the bullets relative to using ballistics gel. Still good enough for a general comparison.

1886

The Official "44-40" Designation is born

Marlin's 44-40

Between 1886 and 1904 the UMC .44 WCF cartridge would carry a heavier 217 gr. bullet at 1,190 f.p.s. while Winchester still offered the 200gr at a slightly faster 1,245 f.p.s. (less than was offered in 1873 @ 1,325fps) By 1894 UMC designated the cartridge as a 44-40 for Marlin and by 1900 it was refereed as a 44-40 by Winchester as well and printed on their cartridge boxes at a later date.

Some load data into the 1930's references both Winchester and Marlin. I have seen references such as "44 Winchester", "44 Marlin" and even "44 W & M"

1895

"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 cataloged at 1,300 f.p.s. 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." ~John Kort

This label with it's arched "Cartridges" dates back to between 1895 and 1900.

The first smokeless powder "Red" labels!

1895 offered the first smokeless powder loads for this great cartridge. Early Red Label (signifying smokeless powder) cartridge boxes. Early boxes not noted but by 1900 "NOT FOR PISTOLS" was noted on the side labels. More than likely referring to...at the time...black powder frame pistols due to their weak metal construction. They were, however, labeled for use in the Winchester 73' and later between 1900-1903 both the 73' and 92' Models...busting the myth that smokeless powder loads of the day should not be used in the 73'.

However, by 1902, the wrods "Not For Pistols" was replaced by the words "Soft Point".

New Smokeless Powder Winchester Cartridge Box Label Colors

Approx Date introduced/Label Color/Powder Type/Projectile Type

1873...Green/Black Powder/Lead

1895...Red/Smokeless/Lead or Soft Point (NOT FOR PISTOLS)

1903...Lavender, Pink/Smokeless/Full Patch…High Velocity (NOT FOR PISTOLS)

1910[?]Yellow/Smokeless/Soft Point…High Velocity (NOT FOR PISTOLS)

Orange/Smokeless/Full Patch

Grey, Grey-Green/Lesmoke/Any

Tan, red print/ Smokeless/Any Bank or Proof Loadings

Tan, black print/Black Powder/Primed Empties. Blank, Military, Special Order loadings

1900

1903

1903 - Winchester offered the first "High Velocity" cartridges. [as well as the Jacketed Soft Point bullets]. NOTE the "Low Pressure" on the box in the photo to the left.

"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 cataloged at 1,500 f.p.s. in a 24” barrel. ~John Kort

"They should never be used in Winchester Moderl 73" rifle" noted in the side panel information as well as at the bottom of the side label in large letters "Not For Pistols".

[It is estimated that these new loads produced somewhere around 15,000psi]




1910

Velocity was increased to 1,570 f.p.s. by 1910. By now pressures were reported in the 22,000cup area, ruffly 18,000psi. The photo to the left, a later 1930's Yellow label...depicts "Especially Adapted To Winchester Rifles Model 92'" and shows the "Not For Pistols" now on the top label. This example shows a two piece box with the "K" code on the end indicating post 1920. However, the "Special Sight Adjustment" sticker was common by the 1930's. This is a one piece label that wraps across the top, ends and across the bottom edge to seal the lid. No mention of not to be used in the model 73' that I can see but certainly not a wise thing to do.

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. Cataloged velocity from the start was 1,570 f.p.s. with a 200 gr. bullet. PETERS used the .44-40 H.P. designation." ~John Kort

Several jacketed bullet designs used in the 44-40 cartridges. They were also used in the High Velocity cartridges.

Bullets sent to me by John Kort for testing in clear ballictis gel. Information on the HV's can be seen here: HV Loads of Yesteryear and High Velocity Loads.

By 1928 the standard load boxes took on major design changes. Adding the new "Staynless"primers words and one piece box, the new multi-colors boxes were blue & white, red/blue and yellow or red/white and yellow through 1955.

1956 and Today- sometime after WWII the 44-40 settled down to two offerings, the Standard load and the High Velocity load. I can't find it but somewhere I inquired John Kort about the neutered HV loads from Remington. John informed me that the Remington HV loads were nowhere near the 1,600fps as the original HV Winchester loads. Early HV boxes noted to NOT use them in pistols, and only designated for Winchester 92's and Marlins. However, the 1960's or so Remington HV boxes note they are safe for all firearms. The last 1,320fps load Winchester offered was in 1978. From 1979 to today, Winchester cartridges claim 1,190fps but recent trials showed 1,013fps from a 20" barrel and 1,055 from a 24" barrel. However, Buffalo Bore Ammunition [Link] started manufacturing loads safe for all firearms that clock in at 1,300fps. My test results came in @ 1,335fps in my 24" Marlin and 955fps in my 7 1/5" barrel revolver. I grouped 2 1/4" shots @ 100 yards with Buffalo Bore and 4 1/8" groups @ 100 yards with Winchester's 1980's box loads.


It is also worth noting here the pressure differences between the Black Powder Loads, Early Smokeless Powder Loads and the the High Velocity Loads. For a more complete explanation visit the PRESSURE TESTING PAGE

SAAMI's max chamber pressure for the 44-40 is 13,000cup/11,000psi. It has been reported that early smokeless powders actually produced lower chamber pressures with some calibers such as the 45-70. I am not sure what pressures the 1903 High Velocity loads produced but the 1910 and later loads produced a reported 22,000cup...(psi not listed).

Uberti Winchester 73' with Malcom scope.

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