The Metallic Cartridge

The Pin Fire Cartridge

Successful breech-loading systems were made possible only by the development of a cartridge carrying its own ignition and having an expanding case to serve as a breech seal. In its earliest form this successful cartridge was a "pin fire." The primer was inside the metal case head, but was not struck directly by hammer or firing pin; instead a metal pin jutted out from the side of the head of the case and the falling hammer hit this pin and drove it down into the primer to detonate the priming.

Pauly's experiments with sealing the breech by ductile metal discs led to further experiments in France by his successor, the Parisian gunsmith E. Lcfaucheux, who also vastly improved Pauly's breech design. In 1836 Le-faucheux introduced a hinged frame breechloader which is the parent of our modern double barreled guns, though its locking mechanism was crude and inefficient. The new cartridge was made of paper with a metal base like the modem shotgun case, but with a pin projecting from the side of the case head. This pin was struck by the falling hammer and driven into the cap to fire the cartridge. The design was not sufficiently gas tight to be entirely satisfactory and it was not until the Frenchman, Houiller, produced his improved pin fire cartridge in 1847 that the problem was really solved.

The Houiller improved pin fire was immediately applied by Lefaucheux to his double barreled gun. The constant association of the gun and cartridge linked the two inseparably in the public mind; and the pin fire is known throughout the world today as the Lefaucheux System. Even in such authoritative contemporary works as the six volume Etudes sur passe et VAvenir de I'Artillerie written by the Emperor Napoleon III and I. Fave and published from 1846 to 1871, we find pin-lire cartridges referred to generally as being similar to those in Lefaucheux sporting guns. Lefaucheux exhibited his shotgun with the improved pin-fire cartridge at the 1851 Exhibition in London.

The Rim Fire Cartridge

While Houiller's French patents touch on the rim fire principle, it is not on record that he did anything practical with the idea. Flobert, on the other hand, evolved the bulleted breech cap from the common percussion cap, and actually manufactured ammunition and arms to use it in the period between 1835 and

Flobert Pistols

Upper: The Volcanic. Lower: The Henry which is evolved from the Volcanic, and which later became the Winchester '66.

1847. patented muskets and pistols were entered in the Official Catalogue at the 1851 London Exhibition, under France No. 215.

Robbins 8c Lawrence of Windsor, Vermont had an exhibit of rifles and interchangeable parts (under America No. 328) at the same exhibit. Horace Smith, Daniel B. Wesson and B. Tyler Henry were all very intimately associated with Robbins 8c Lawrence at that time. It therefore seems quite probable that the founders of the Smith & Wesson arms company developed the first practical rim fire cartridge from Flobert samples obtained at this London Exhibition. The partners by devising a way to draw the cartridge cases at reasonable cost assured the immediate success of the rim fire cartridge. That was their great contribution. That original S&W .22 Rim Fire of. 1857 is practically the same as the modern .22 Short.

On October 16, i860 B. Tyler Henry was granted U. S. Patent No. 30446 for the Henry Rifle, the old Volcanic redesigned to shoot the .44 Flat Rim Fire Cartridge. Henry made no specific claims to being the developer of the rim-fire cartridge, but in remembrance of his efforts every Winchester rim fire cartridge from that day on has carried on its head the letter "II".

In their time the rim-fire rifles made history throughout the world. Limited today to "small bore" and "low-powered" weapons it was nevertheless the development of the breech-sealing rim-fire which opened up the whole vista of modern breech-loading small arms design.

'lhc Center Fire Cartridge

As we have seen, Houiller in 1847 covered the principle of the center fire cartridge in his patent specification, but did nothing concrete about developing or marketing the improvement.

In 1852 the famous English gunmaker Charles Lancaster produced a center fire shotgun using a special cartridge which, while it was center fire in action, was not a forerunner of the successful center fire cartridge as we know it. It requires mention because so many foreign writers have listed it as the origin of the true center fire. It distinctly is not, as an examination of a specimen cartridge will at once disclose. It actually represented Lancaster's endeavor to overcome the failings of the unsymmetrical pin fire with its side-projecting pin.

The true ancestor of the modern center fire system is the French Pottet case, closely resembling the modern shotgun case, described in detail in Pottct's French patent of 1857.

English patent specification No. 2203 of the year 1861 covers the first widely used center fire cartridge case and was patented in the name of F. E. Schneider of Paris. G. H. Daw, a noted English gunmaker marketed this cartridge. When W. T. Eley produced a center fire cartridge under specification No. 880 of 1866, Daw promptly sued him. One of the little gems of cartridge literature is the 1867 pamphlet published by Daw entitled: The Central-fire Cartridge before the Law Courts, the Government, and the Public, showing who has improved it, who has profited by it, and who ought to be rewarded for it. Mr. Daw either didn't know or forgot to mention the Pottet principle. In any event, the suit was thrown out on the grounds that Schneider's was not a master patent: and a wide variety of modified center fire cartridges were promptly marketed in England.

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Responses

  • morgana
    How does development of metallic cartridges relate to a modern rifle?
    4 years ago
  • Abbi Burns
    How does the development of metallic cartridges relate to dealing with modern rifles?
    4 years ago
  • ruaridh sutherland
    When breechloading rifles became pracitcal, what type of metal were the cartridge cases made of?
    4 years ago

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