The Henry Repeating Rifle

Victory thru rapid fire
Andrew L. Bresnan, M.S.
The National Henry Rifle Company

Chapter 1: The Henry is Born

The Volcanic Repeating Arms Company began producing rifles and pistols in early 1856. These weapons used the "Rocket-ball" cartridge that consisted of a bullet with a hollow cavity in the base which contained the powder charge. A priming cap held the powder in place and provided ignition. This ammunition was a grossly underpowered round and was made in either .31 caliber or .41 caliber. Muzzle energy was not impressive, at only 56 foot pounds of energy.(32)

The frame of the Volcanic rifles were made of brass. Brass was easier to work with as well as not rusting as iron would. Pistols in .31 caliber were made in either 4 or 6 inch barrels holding 6 or 10 shots respectively. The .41 caliber pistol came with either a 6 or 8 inch barrel holding 8 or 10 shots. A Carbine was produced in 3 barrel lengths, 16 inches holding 20 shots, 20 inches holding 25 shots and 24 inches holding 30 shots. All of these were manufactured in .41 caliber. The ammunition was held in a tubular magazine beneath the barrel that was loaded from the top by pivoting the top few inches of the barrel housing.(32)

The Volcanic arms had several problems such as gas leakage from around the breech, multiple charges going off at the same time, and misfires. Misfired rounds would have to be tapped out with a cleaning rod as the gun had no means of extraction. The fact the "Rocket-ball" ammunition was too underpowered to be considered a hunting weapon or a man-stopper was another disadvantage. Two advantages the Volcanic carbines had was a rapid rate of fire and it's ammunition was waterproof.(32)

Oliver Winchester, the company's second president, was forced to use much of his private funds to keep the company afloat. However this did not last long. On February 18, 1857, The Volcanic Repeating Arms Company was declared insolvent. Its biggest creditor was Oliver Winchester. He was given the major assets of the company. Winchester then employed Benjamin Tyler Henry. On October 16, 1860, Henry was granted a patent for a new rifle and ammunition, patent number 30,446.(32) The 1860 patent had been assigned to Oliver F. Winchester but the guns were actually made by B. Tyler Henry at the company plant at 9 Artizan Street, New Haven, Connecticut on an inside contract basis. In the process, the basic patent of 1854, held by Oliver Winchester, was also utilized.(37)

The new ammunition consisted of a copper casing .875 inches long containing the priming compound in the rim. It used a 200 to 216 grain bullet and 26 to 28 grains of black powder. This gave a muzzle velocity of around 1125 feet per second. Not great but a far cry better than the old "Rocket-ball" round. The Henry round gave about 568 foot pounds of muzzle energy. The copper cases were head-stamped with the letter H for Henry.(8)

The gun itself held 15 rounds in a magazine beneath its 24 inch barrel. The rifle loaded by turning the top five inches of the barrel housing. This gun when fully loaded weighed in at over 10 pounds. The Henry was advertised as some sort of super weapon with capabilities of hitting targets at 1,000 yards. What this rifle could do is to fire rapidly. Forty-five shots per minute could be attained. In other tests 120 rounds could be fired in 5 minutes and 45 seconds.(14)

We now had a truly successful breech-loading repeating rifle. The improved design and better ammunition made the Henry a weapon to be considered for both hunting and as a man-stopper. All that remained was for the orders for these guns to come pouring in. The Civil War produced many orders to the New Haven Arms Company.



Get Acrobat Reader

  Some letters and documents on our site require Adobe Acrobat Reader to open
  You can download your free copy directly from by clicking on the icon at left.

Contact Rob Kassab with questions about Winchesters, or specific guns on this site
Contact Michael Hager with questions specific to the function and content of the site

© 2021 All Rights Reserved