Hampshire Museums

Henry Repeating Rifle

By The New Haven Arms Co. New Haven, Connecticut USA
Calibre .44 Rimfire. Lever action with under barrel tubular magazine Henry Repeating Rifle

Benjamin Tyler Henry, or B. Tyler Henry as he usually signed his name, was born in Claremont, New Hampshire on the 22 March 1821. He attended school until he was sixteen and then became apprenticed to J. B. Ripley and Company, gunsmiths, in the same town. During this period he was to work on various firearm designs including the so called ‘Waterproof Rifle’ patented in 1839 by R. B. Ripley. This was an early form of magazine gun which, while it never became popular, represented and intermediate development between Hall’s breech loading rifle and the Spencer repeating rifle, which first appeared in 1860. His work with the Ripley Company served to familiarize Henry with the problems of breech loading and repeating firearms.

At the end of his apprenticeship Henry went on to work in a number of different gun shops, including the Springfield Armoury. Around 1842 he was employed by N. Kendall and Coof Windsor Vermont and thereafter with the Robbins, Kendall and Lawrence Armoury. Henry was among those who worked on the improvement of the Jennings rifle and it was in connection with this that he met Daniel Wesson. Wesson was to form the partnership of Smith, Wesson and Palmer. Henry went with them to their works in Norwich. There is no record of how Henry first met Oliver Winchester. Winchester may have employed him to repair equipment at his shirt factory; or he may have been recommended by Smith or Wesson. However they were brought together, the relationship between Winchester and Henry was to lead to far reaching improvements in the manufacture of repeating firearms as well as effecting changes in the Volcanic system and ammunition.

The Henry rifle went into production in 1860 and continued until 1866 when some 14,000 had been made. It worked well, but there could be problems with dirt and damage preventing the magazine functioning properly. As in the Volcanic, when the magazine was loaded from the front end, fully loaded, it would hold sixteen rounds.

The Henry rifle can be seen as the true forerunner of the Winchester rifle. Further developments continued and in 1866 a new system for loading the magazine was adopted. Developed by Nelson King, who worked for the Company, this consisted of a spring loaded port on the side of the action. The rounds were fed in through this to the magazine and thus the weapon could be loaded from the firing position or when lying down. This is the system that continues in use to this day.

Accesion no HMCMS:ACM1963.91.96