The Volcanic Arms company made a lever action rifle and a lever action pistol, both called the Volcanic. Both were based on a cartridge system, which promised to displace muzzle loading loads of power and bullet. The company was losing money hand over fist, because the cartridge design was weak and failed too often. The rifle was also underpowered, and just was not reliable enough.
The assets of Volcanic were sold to its largest shareholder, Oliver H. Winchester, who had invested large sums of his personal money into the company. Winchester renamed the company the New Haven Arms Co., and later to the Winchester Repeating Arms Co. Hired by Winchester to make a reliable repeating rifle, gun designer B. Tyler Henry worked to improve the cartridge, and to make a rifle to use it. He came up with a large caliber lever action rifle and a .44 cal rimfire cartridge. He got a patent on his design in 1860, and the Henry rifle was in production before the U.S. Civil War started.
The Army evaluated the Henry rifle, as it was called, and bought a few of them. However they did not buy significant numbers of the Henry. Army brass thought the soldiers would waste a lot of ammunition by the rapid fire of the rifle, and units equiped with Henry's would be hard to keep supplied with ammunition. Since the days of the Kentucky Rifle, the Army has favored accurate single shot fire over massive firepower, often citing the wastefulness of massive firepower, and expense of all that ammunition. Although rejected by the Army, it was an instant success by the soldiers who used the rifle. Some Union outfits supplied themselves with Henry rifles, either on their own or by contributions from their communities.
A Southern general remarked that the Henry was a rifle that the Northerners could load on Sunday and fire it all week.
The Henry rifle would get hot during firing, and did not have a wooden hand grip under the hot barrel. It was a bit slow to load, a magazine tube being loaded from the muzzle end. But once loaded, it easily outclassed other rifles of its day. It was only made through 1866, when improved models of Winchester repeating rifles replaced the original design.
The Henry rifle and its descendents, the Winchesters, are cited as one of the three inventions that allowed the settling of the American West, along with Gliddens barbed wire fence, and Halliday's windmill.
Other rifle articles in the archives include:
The British Furgeson Breach Loader
The 1903 Springfield
The Krag Jorgenson
The First Colt Revolver
The Walker Colt
1911 Colt 45
The Collier Flintlock Revolver
Click on the Firearms Category to view all the firearms articles.