Henry Model 1860 Lever Action Repeating Rifle
Roughly 14,000 of the revolutionary Henry Rifles were produced from the 1850s up to 1866.
Authored By Dan Alex; Content ©www.MilitaryFactory.com
While not the "perfect" lever-action repeating rifle, the Henry Rifle was the revolutionary culmination of two previous major lever-action repeater attempts and forged the way for the successful line of Winchester arms to follow. The Henry Rifle saw limited service in the American Civil War as well as the Indian Wars and was produced in an equally limited number of examples. The rifle fired an all-new cartridge from a then-hefty ammunition count contained under the barrel and had certain famous gunsmith names associated with her origins including that of Horace Smith, Daniel Wesson and Oliver Winchester.
To trace back the start of the Henry Rifle, one has to visit a part of the lives of the aforementioned gentlemen beginning with Horace Smith and Daniel Wesson. Horace Smith took the basic principles inherent in the complex Lewis Jennings Rifle (itself based on the failed Walter Hunt 1848 Volition Repeating Rifle of lever-action and its "Rocket Ball" caseless ammunition) and produced an improved form through the "Volcanic" rifle and pistol lines. Jennings had purchased the Hunt patents in 1849, added some workability into the system and produced small quantities of his rifle through Robbins & Lawrence of Vermont. In turn, Smith & Wesson then purchased the Jennings patent from Robbins & Lawrence and - perhaps most importantly - poached their shop foreman, inventor Benjamin Tyler Henry (1821-1898) of whom the rifle was eventually named after.
Enter Winchester, Exit Smith & Wesson
With the foundation now in place, the burgeoning group needed the capital to further their Volcanic firearms endeavor. They incorporated to become the "Volcanic Repeating Arms Company" with several investors in the stable - chief among those was clothing businessman Oliver Winchester. By the end of 1856, the company had fallen on hard times and the Volcanic line proved a commercial failure, seeing only limited production. Prime for the taking, Winchester moved in and purchased the rest of the company, moved the production plant to New Haven, Connecticut, and changed its operating name to the "New Haven Arms Company" by the end of April 1857. Horace Smith left the reorganized firm and was rejoined a short time later by fellow Daniel Wesson to form the "Smith & Wesson Revolver Company". Nevertheless, the New Haven Arms Company proceeded under the direction of Benjamin Henry and production of the Volcanic Rifle continued for the time being. Henry furthered the development of a new rimfire cartridge and its corresponding lever-action rifle (based loosely on the Volcanic, retaining only its tubular magazine and breech mechanism) to fire it. The new cartridge became the ".44 Henry" and the new rifle became the "Henry Rifle" appearing in 1860. Production ranged from the 1850s to 1866 to which some 14,000 examples would be put into circulation before the end of it all. 900 Henry Rifles were produced in 1862 alone.
Henry Rifle Reach and the NHAC is No More
The Henry Rifle would find its way (in limited, unofficial service) with Union soldiers in the American Civil War. Of greater not, however, was that both it and the comparable Spencer Rifle would introduce the new "lever-action repeater" breech-loading firearm to the mass market, destroying the long-held tradition of single-shot, muzzle-loaded rifles then en vogue. The Henry Rifle would eventually serve as the starting point for the legendary Winchester Model 1866 just a few short years later for the New Haven Arms Company would be renamed once more to the Winchester Repeating Arms Company following the end of the Civil War.