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Guns that Changed the World: The Henry Rifle

Updated on August 19, 2012

Guns that Changed the World: The Henry Rifle

Benjamin Tyler Henry (1821-1898) was an American gunsmith and manufacturer who invented the first reliable lever-action repeating rifle: The Henry Rifle. On October 16, 1860, he received a patent on the Henry rifle, which soon proved the worth of the lever-action design on the battlefields of the Civil War.

Original Manufacturing

Guns that Changed the World

The original Henry repeating rifle was an American .44 caliber rimfire, lever-action, breech-loading rifle designed by Benjamin Tyler Henry in the late 1850s. The Henry rifle was an improved version of the earlier Volcanic Repeating rifle. The Henry rifle used copper (later brass) rimfire cartridges containing 25 grains (1.6 g) of gunpowder to a 216 grain (14 g) bullet. 900 Henry rifles were manufactured between summer and October 1862; by 1864, production had peaked at 290 per month. By the time production ended in 1866, approximately 14,000 units had been manufactured.

The rifle's original list price was $42; as of 2004, an original 1862 Henry rifle may bring $14,000 (one sold in November 2006 for $60,000) in the collectors' market. For a civil war soldier, owning a Henry rifle was a point of pride. Although it was never officially adopted for service by the army, many union soldiers purchased Henry rifles with their own funds. The brass framed carbines could fire at a rate of 28 rounds per minute when used correctly, so soldiers who saved their pay to buy one often believed that the rifle would help them survive. They were frequently used by scouts, skirmishers, flank guards, and raiding parties, rather than in regular infantry formations. To the amazed muzzleloader-armed Confederates who had to face this deadly "sixteen shooter," it was "that damned Yankee rifle that they load on Sunday and shoot all week!"

Manufactured by the New Haven Arms Company, the Henry rifle would soon evolve into the famous Winchester Model 1866 lever-action rifle. With the introduction of the new Model 1866, the New Haven Arms Company would be renamed the Winchester Repeating Arms Company.

The Historic Henry Rifle: Oliver Winchester's Famous Civil War Repeater

Mechanical Workings

Guns that Changed the World

The Henry rifle used a .44 caliber cartridge with 26 or 28 grains (1.8 g) of black powder. This gave it significantly less muzzle velocity and stopping power than comparable repeaters of the same era, such as the Spencer repeating rifle. The lever action, on the downstroke, ejected the spent cartridge from the chamber and cocked the hammer. A spring in the magazine forced the next round into the chamber and locking the lever back into position sealed the rifle back up into firing position.

As it was designed, the rifle was not a very safe weapon. A Henry rifle, when not in use, would either have the hammer cocked or resting on the firing pin of the cartridge. In the first case, the rifle has no safety and is in firing position. In the second, an impact on the back of the exposed hammer could cause a chambered round to fire.

A Tour of the Henry Factory - Guns that Changed the World

Current production

Guns that Changed the World

In 1973, Louis Imperato bought the firearms company of Iver Johnson and began making commercial versions of the M1 carbine. In 1993, Imperato started a factory in his native Brooklyn to manufacture .22 caliber rifles under the newly recreated name of the Henry Repeating Arms Co. which are currently manufactured in Brooklyn, New York. (The current company, Henry rifles, does not produce the Civil War period firearm that this article defines. It produces lever action rifles that are more akin to later Marlin types.)

A. Uberti Firearms produces an almost exact copy Henry Model 1860, although it is not available in .44 Henry Rimfire. Instead, they are chambered for centerfire calibers such as .44-40 Winchester and .45 Long Colt.

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    • TenPoundTenor profile image

      TenPoundTenor 5 years ago

      I inherited one of these from my grandfather. It's nice to know more about it's history. Great lens.

    • bjj james profile image

      bjj james 5 years ago

      Would like to have one just to have one.

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      @Traderski: Mal used 2 Henry rifles...his and his Dad's

    • profile image

      Traderski 6 years ago

      @galant: Yes. Danny Glover's character Mal used one. Great movie.

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

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    • galant profile image

      galant 7 years ago

      Wasn't there a Henry Rifle in the Movie Silverado?

    • pylemountain1 profile image

      pylemountain1 7 years ago

      Great lens about the Henry Rifle. It's nice to find a lensmaster with so many lenses I enjoy reading. Well done.

    • sewjr24 profile image

      sewjr24 7 years ago

      Another great lens about another famous firearm. Thanks for sharing this information!

    • profile image

      anonymous 7 years ago

      Great lens about one of the most famous weapons of the old west. have ya got one on the Winchester '73? Nice work - great info and art work.

    • profile image

      tdove 9 years ago

      Thanks for joining G Rated Lense Factory!

    • Paula Atwell profile image

      Paula Atwell 9 years ago from Cleveland, OH

      I am not much of a gun person, so I don't know much about them, but the artwork on the gun and it's history are very interesting to me.

    • profile image

      ChristiannaGarrett-Martin 9 years ago

      Excellent lens! and some beautiful rifles here.


    • dahlia369 profile image

      dahlia369 9 years ago

      The only thing I like about rifles is beautiful engraving... lol

      Great, informative lens!

    • WhitU4ever profile image

      WhitU4ever 9 years ago

      Great lens! I like the history of the Henry repeating rifle... of helping to win the civil war because of it's repeating abilities and of how it was used in winning the west, which is where you and I live. I'd like to a lens on how the west was won as well.

    • James20 profile image

      James20 9 years ago

      A great lens. The muzzleloader was no match to this gun.

    • LucyVet profile image

      LucyVet 9 years ago

      Great lens. The history was really interesting, and I enjoyed the pictures. Beautiful art on those guns!

    • BFunivcom profile image

      Allan R. Wallace 9 years ago from Wherever Human Rights Reign

      I've read of both the Henry and the early Winchesters; but if I once knew the connection, I'd forgotten it. After your lens I won't forget again. Thanks for the resource.

    • profile image

      julieannbrady 9 years ago

      Ah, looks like someone else beat me to reviewing your newest lens Jeffrey! Again, a terrific, informative lens on something I knew nothing about until I found YOUR lens. 5*****

    • profile image

      bdkz 9 years ago

      Excellent lens! Very interesting.