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Thread: Henry Rifle History

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    Default Henry Rifle History

    I was Henry rifles mentioned in the thread about lever action rimfires started by EKC. Rather than hijack that thread, I wanted to ask all you firearm trivia experts out there: What is the connection between the original Henry Rifle and the Henry Repeating Arms company today? They say in their website that they are descended from the original Henry. Did Mr. Henry have his own company? I have heard he was employed by Winchester when he designed the rifle. I'm not doubting the company's claims, just wondering what the connection is. Ten pieces of leftover Halloween candy for an answer!

    My sons have a bolt action Henry single shot rifle and it's a nice little beginner gun....Louis
    Louis Knapp

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    Quote Originally Posted by Louis View Post
    I was Henry rifles mentioned in the thread about lever action rimfires started by EC. Rather than hijack that thread, I wanted to ask all you firearm trivia experts out there: What is the connection between the original Henry Rifle and the Henry Repeating Arms company today? They say in their website that they are descended from the original Henry. Did Mr. Henry have his own company? I have heard he was employed by Winchester when he designed the rifle. I'm not doubting the company's claims, just wondering what the connection is. Ten pieces of leftover Halloween candy for an answer!

    My sons have a bolt action Henry single shot rifle and it's a nice little beginner gun....Louis
    B Tyler Henry did not really "invent" the Henry although he and Horace Smith[of S&W fame] developed the toggle and link lever action it used as a improvement on the Smith-Jennings rifle. That patent also covered a metallic cartridge and extractor for it, although it is doubtful the cartridge could actually be produced at that time. Henry's name is not on that patent; it was assigned to Daniel Wesson and Smith.
    That improvement became the volcanic and this is where Winchester became involved, as a stockholder. Horace Smith and D Wesson left to form their own company and Henry took the shop superintendent job at volcanic once held by Wesson.
    Henry's name became attached to the rifle because of patents he received while in Winchester's employ[although he was actually a sub contractor] namely firing pin/breech improvements and the .44 cartridge it would use.
    Henry left New Haven arms, as Winchesters company was called in 1865. It was briefly, from 1865 to May 1866 when it was changed to Winchester, called the Henry repeating arms company but it was by no means "his company"
    I don't believe Henry ever owned his own company although he no doubt was employed by others in his post Winchester period.
    As far as the modern Henry company claiming to be a "direct descendant" of the original ,I think Winchester would have much stronger claim to that. They may make copy's of the original, but there certainly is no direct linage.

    Source: Madis the Winchester book, 1979 edition

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    Interesting read Jim
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    Thanks, Jim. Great informations there....Louis
    Louis Knapp

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    Its all kind of like Abe's axe,the handle has been changed five times and the head three.
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    I remember reading back in the 90's that there was no connection and believe it was also touted on the Henry website. When the rifle resurfaced as a 22 caliber if I remember correctly the recievers were painted adn not blued and were of skeptical quality.
    They seem to have been embraced of late possibly due to the nostalgia associated with the name.

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    Quote Originally Posted by PRDATR View Post
    I remember reading back in the 90's that there was no connection and believe it was also touted on the Henry website. When the rifle resurfaced as a 22 caliber if I remember correctly the recievers were painted adn not blued and were of skeptical quality.
    They seem to have been embraced of late possibly due to the nostalgia associated with the name.
    I went all through their web site and noticed they where careful not mention the company started in 1993.

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    Madis does indeed give credit to Winchester but the design of that first rifle, the solid brass receiver Henry rifle as Winchester called it, was designed by Henry. He also designed the 44 caliber rimfire cartridge it fired. Henry was the designer man of the Volcanic Arms co. but it fell on financial trouble to be bough in receivership by the principal stock holder, Oliver Winchester. The New Haven Arms company was an interim name of the company later owned and controlled by the New England shirt maker. Oliver Winchester never designed a gun so all of the world famous Winchester rifles were designed by others, B Tyler Henry was the designer of the first successful lever action rifle and for several years, in the 1860's, it was know as the Henry rifle. The copyright to the Henry name is owned by the Henry rifle company of today. Henry did not seek patents on his design and that of course was his failing. He did have a patent on the lever feed system in 1860. I don't personally think it is much of a design, many later lever guns were much better but it was the first forward tube fed, lever repeater.
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  9. #9

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    Quote Originally Posted by Murphy View Post
    Madis does indeed give credit to Winchester but the design of that first rifle, the solid brass receiver Henry rifle as Winchester called it, was designed by Henry. He also designed the 44 caliber rimfire cartridge it fired. Henry was the designer man of the Volcanic Arms co. but it fell on financial trouble to be bough in receivership by the principal stock holder, Oliver Winchester. The New Haven Arms company was an interim name of the company later owned and controlled by the New England shirt maker. Oliver Winchester never designed a gun so all of the world famous Winchester rifles were designed by others, B Tyler Henry was the designer of the first successful lever action rifle and for several years, innever the 1860's, it was know as the Henry rifle. The copyright to the Henry name is owned by the Henry rifle company of today. Henry did not seek patents on his design and that of course was his failing. He did have a patent on the lever feed system in 1860. I don't personally think it is much of a design, many later lever guns were much better but it was the first forward tube fed, lever repeater.
    Not sure what you mean with the first sentence. I have never read anything by Madis that Credited Winchester for designing anything[except some minor model 1866 magazine improvements]. He role is clearly explained for what it was-initially creditor[stockholder], later president.
    Henry's patent of 1860 was not for the the lever feed, nor was the Henry the first tube feed lever repeater; that would be the hunt repeater, patented by Walter Hunt in 1849. The Henry was the first cartridge using tube feed lever repeater; it's predecessor's the Hunt, Jennings, Smith- Jennings, and volcanic [all tube fed lever repeaters] used a hollow based bullet with the propellant[first straight fulminate, later fulminate and 6 gr black powder] contained in the base of the bullet.
    Henry's 1860 patent was not for the magazine or feed mechanism; it involved modifications to the breech bolt and firing pin to make it more suitable to rimfire ammunition. I have never had the pleasure of closely examining[or dry firing!] a volcanic, but my understanding is the breech bolt and firing pin where fixed to each other, requiring the hammer blow to transmit though both the breech bolt and firing pin which absorbed much of the energy; fine for igniting a bare piece of fulminate, not so good for crushing a rimfire rim. Henry locked the breech bolt and floated the firing pin, giving better energy transfer. Sounds pretty simple today, but worth a patent in 1860.
    As far as not retaining patents he never had that option with the toggle link lever action; that patent always belonged to H Smith and D Wesson. It's true he was instrumental in the design, but as a employee-I imagine it was just like today-if I invent a miracle drug working for a drug company, they get the patent, not me. He did own the 1860 patents because he was a inside contractor to New Haven arms, not a company employee. I would guess he sold the patent to Winchester because he never intended to become a arms manufacture. It would be similar to what you would do if you patented a improvement on automobile transmissions; you wouldn't start your own car company you'd sell the patent to GM and collect Royalty's on every car sold.
    No the toggle link action would not be worth much today, but recall it was patented in 1854 in anticipation of a self contained metallic cartridge that didn't even yet exist-yet proved itself so well that Winchester used it in the model's 1866, 73, and 76. No mean feat-a design created for a caseless bullet powered by only a primer charge lending itself to the 1876 Winchester 50-90 centerfire.
    As far as the modern Henery rifle company buying the Henry name I have no knowledge of that but since they started in 1993[or 96, depending on your source] I would be very surprised if someone still held the rights to a name last used, at the modern company's startup, 128 years ago

  10. #10

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    I need to add[my edit clock ran out] I reread your post and yes the Henry was the first successful tube magazine lever repeater, but I would credit that more to advances in rimfire ammunition manufacture then a wholly new gun design, after all a unreliable open base bullet powered by a primer charge was a hard sell, even in the 1850s.

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