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Is ".45 Long Colt" correct? Yes!

3538 Views 8 Replies 5 Participants Last post by  Dean Speir
This topic has been split from "Shot a Glock 37 in 45 GAP Tonight"
MikeO said:
Since some persist in calling another cartridge the .45 _Long_ Colt (seeing recall notices for just that all over the place)...
Actually, the term ".45 Long Colt" is technically and historically correct. This has been confirmed by historic cartridge boxes, ammunition advertisements, and actual cartridges going back to the late 19th Century.

The US Army was simultaneously issuing Colt's Model P and S&W's New Model #3 Schofield revolvers. The S&W chambered the shorter .45 S&W, which also had a somewhat different rim. To simplify supply, the Army decided to stop issuing Colt ammo and issue only the shorter S&W cartridge (with a redesigned rim) which it called .45 Colt Government or .45 Army. This is really the elusive ".45 short Colt" that made necessary the use of the name ".45 Long Colt", though I am not sure the name ".45 Short Colt" was ever used. The headstamp on at least some of these shorter cartridges said ".45 Colt" thus further showing that the use of "Long Colt" on longer cases was potentially significant.

Here are some references:

With two very similar-but not interchangable-cartridges in use, mix-ups inevitably occured. Units armed with the S&W revolvers were occasionally issued ammunition for the Colt, and vice versa. ""To resolve this issue, the Ordnance Corp. simply discontinued the production of the .45 Colt cartridges, and reduced the rim dimensions of the .45 Schofield to a point that would allow it to chamber in the Colt SAA's.. . . . The resulting combination became known as the .45 Colt government or the "".45 Army cartridge.""

It is interesting to note that the """"misnomer""",.45"Long"colt came into being to differentiate the original colt loading from the shorter cased ammunition then in use by the army. This ammunition remained in use until the S&W revolvers were withdrawn from service in the mid to late 1890's. The cartridge may also be commonly referred to as .45 Smith&Wesson, the .45 S&W, As well as the .45 Schofield."

There are short cartridges still surviving from that time marked "45 Colt", so it is easy to see why old timers referred to the present .45 Colt as the "Long Colt".

The short .45 Colt round was produced by the Army until 1892. Most all of the major ammunition producers made the short .45 rounds. Remington produced them until after WW I, though Elmer Keith states in his writings that they were never popular. The third edition of "Cartridges of the World" says the short .45's were produced by various manufacturers up into the mid-1940's.

I have a partial box of short .45's that was given to me years ago. These are made by Winchester and are marked ".45 Colt" on the headstamp. The box says they are for "Colt Single Action and Double Action Revolvers." The lid of the box [which long ago deteriorated] states they are ".45 Colt Government" rounds. Since these are marked ".45 Colt" and since they ARE short, they are .45 Short Colts!
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On this issue, I remain obdurate, vociferous and intractable!

Rob's report is accurate but that still does not mean that "long Colt" is proper terminology today.

The absolute arbiter of this is the SAAMI manual which simply says... ".45 Colt"... although sometimes the period seems to wander.

Colloquial usage coined the term "long Colt" in a time when the U.S. had two .45 caliber revolver cartridges. The "short" version also called the .45 S&W or .45 Schofield was intended to be useable in either Colt or S&W revolvers and simplify logistics but is totally irrelevant today.

Dean's recalcitrance aside, .45 Colt is the proper nomencalture.
Another thing to keep in mind is that unlike today, where cartridges have "official" names such as those accepted by SAAMI in naming cartridges, back at this time names could be somewhat nebulous.

Take a look at these two early cartridge boxes:

and note they do not even say ".45 Colt." As was not uncommon for the time, they state the caliber and the guns in which the cartridge will fit.

Here's another box, this one from 1911:

which shows the same cartidge called ".45 Revolver Ball Cartridges, Model 1909." Again, it nowhere says ".45 Colt."

Here's another box labeled "U.S. Government Standard" and later ".45 Caliber": ... um=5637591

which is probably the shorter .45 S&W with the modified rim.

I'll keep an eye out for further examples, and check my collection of old ammo catalogs and advertisements for early references to ".45 Long Colt" cartridges and ".45 Colt" being used to refer to the shorter round.
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Charlie Petty said:
Dean's recalcitrance aside, .45 Colt is the proper nomencalture.
I agree that .45 Colt is proper. My point in setting forth this info is that the opposition to the use of the term ".45 Long Colt" seems misplaced. The arguments I've seen against using that name have been that ".45 Long Colt" is historically and technically inaccurate because there never was a short .45 Colt. But since there was indeed a shorter cartridge which bore the .45 Colt headstamp, ".45 Long Colt" is a distinction that made sense and it is understandable that the nomenclature has hung around so long.

I agree with Dean on taking people to task who use "clip" when they mean "magazine," and "bullet" when they mean "cartridge," etc. But using ".45 Long Colt" is not really erroneous. Superfluous today, perhaps, but not inherently erroneous.

Then again, now that .45 Schofield ammo is in production again, maybe we should start calling it .45 Long Colt again. :wink:
Well, let's see....since the only remaining .45 Colt in regular service is the longER version (I know the Schofield is making a comeback, but only in CAS circles-try buying a DA revo chambered for it!) I propose we make it the "standard" for true .45 cartridges. That way, we have the following:
.45 Short (ACP)
.45 Standard (Colt)
.45 Long (.454 Casull)
.45 S & U (short & unecessary, aka .45 G.A.P.)
.45 OMG (OH MY GOD, aka .45-70, in a revo)

Clear as mud? Good. Now, excuse me while I get my 1911 .45 Short ready for today's IDPA match.
Rob, Charlie:

Even Colt Firearms can't make up their minds. Look at closely and you'll find they refer to the SAA being chambered in .45LC and .45 Colt.
Just another data point, this one from Paco Kelly:

Those that voraciously disagree with the word 'LONG' in the phrase 45 Long Colt............don't e-mail spiritual brother (for almost a lifetime), and dear friend, John Taffin, has been trying to change my position for decades....and John may be correct, as all of you may. But in this, I am unrepentant...why? Because among other reasons, I have a full box of 45 Short Colt ammo produced in 1883 and that got me to really investigate! Not Schofield...but "45 Short Colt" Ammunition.....(230 grain bullet/hollow base/28 grains B.P.) People back then called them LONG or SHORT Colts when making do I today. ... vergun.htm
And speaking of "another data point"

Although I was not a participant in the "Columbia Combat Conferences" of 1976… having occurred during the period in which I was still drunk and asleep in my boat shoes in Magic's Pub five nights a week… I was afforded an opportunity to attend the 15th Reunion at Chapman's Academy in April 1991 where I rubbed elbows with some of the legends, both celebrated and unsung, in the discipline which came to be called "IPSC." Aside from Jeff Cooper and Jim Cirillo and host Chapman (about whom it was quipped that "Will Rogers surely never met Ray Chapman!"), and some long-distance chums and early acquaintances like Ken Hackathorn, (the real) Dave Arnold and Jim McClary (are ya running with me, RAJ?), there was Lieutenant-General Denis Earp, World IPSC President J.P. Denis, attorney Dickie Thomas who 15 years earlier had actually imported Chapman from California, and a gentleman of obvious military bearing, Dick Culver, who, I was not surprised to learn, was a member of the USMC tribe.

Culver actually maintains an Internet site of his own, Culver's Shooting Page, devoted to things 1911 and service riflery, among other subjects. He also has provided some terrific historical treatises on military ordnance at the The First Shot, the Civilian Marksmanship Program's site.

That's the background… the following was excerpted from one of Colonel Culver's essays, appropriately yclept The Arcane World of Cartridge Designations.

Dick Culver at [URL="" said:[/URL]]
Dick Culver at [URL="" said:
Our first full-blown official metallic pistol round was known as the .45 Colt (since it was developed by Colt, it seemed only fair I suppose). All went without a hitch until a certain Col. Schofield came into the picture. He was much impressed with the break-top loading and ejecting system utilized by Smith and Wesson. This system, he felt would be a much better and faster system for the galloping Cavalryman to reload aboard a horse than the somewhat laborious side loading and ejecting system of the Colt. While he no doubt had a point, S&W chose to utilize their standard "big bore" top break pistol frame, which was a bit short to accommodate the full length .45 Colt Cartridge. S&W designed the "Schofield Smith" to use a cartridge they called the .45 S&W (again, only fair). The U.S. Army bought a number of these pistols in 1877 and they were issued and essentially interspersed with the venerable Colt with no thought of the ammunition problem they were creating. Much like the .38 special which will chamber in the .357 Magnum, but not vice versa, so it was with the .45 S&W and the .45 Colt. To solve this dilemma, the government simply adopted the .45 S&W as standard and called it the .45 Government Pistol Cartridge. This rather interesting solution has resulted in a cartridge misnomer that has lasted for over 100 years. Virtually everyone has heard the .45 Colt called the .45 Long Colt, but of course as you now know, that is not and has never been the official name of the .45 Colt cartridge. As the Schofield models found their way into the civilian market in the late 1800s (Wells Fargo even used some of them), the owners had to come up with suitable fodder for their sidearms. Walking into the local gunsmith's or hardware store asking for a few .45 pistol cartridges would no longer do. Those using a .45 Peacemaker didn't want the less powerful .45 S&W stuff when going in harm's way, even though they would shoot just fine in their Colt self-protection hardware. Thus it became customary to call the Peacemaker round "The .45 Long Colt" to differentiate it from the shorter S&W round.. The pesky .45 S&W cartridge has long since disappeared from the scene, but the misnomer of ".45 Long Colt" seems to survive despite all attempts to educate its users to the fact that they are really using the .45 Colt… Ah well, some things are so ingrained as to defy common sense and education I suppose.

To make matters even more confusing, there was even a third .45 Government round (this time of full .45 Colt length) designed for revolvers, and would chamber in the standard .45 Colt chamber. The only problem was that the cartridge rim was larger in diameter than the original (commercial) .45 Colt. This version of the .45 Colt was produced at Frankfort Arsenal (and perhaps other government locations) but as far as I know it was never a commercially available cartridge. The reason for this version's existence was tied in to our military experience in the Philippines around the turn of the century. Almost everyone has heard of the rather dismal performance of the .38 caliber pistols issued to our military at that time. When the military turned in the old .45 "thumbuster Colt single actions" they came up with a marvelous little double action pistol in a caliber which was essentially a rather underpowered version of the .38 Special. A call for help from our deployed forces resulted in many of the old .45 single actions being broken out of storage and shipped to the Philippines along with some of the later 1877 Colt Double Actions in the same caliber. The Philippine experience resulted in the Thompson-Legard Tests that recommended a service pistol caliber of no less than .45 caliber. The U.S. Government was then experimenting with adopting a semi-automatic pistol, but a final design had not yet been adopted in 1909. Anxious to give our troops adequate "pistol power," the government adopted an interim "fix" to the problem. They contracted with Colt to produce a Government version of the "New Service Colt" in .45 Colt caliber, and designated it the Model 1909. There were versions of the 1909 Model marked U.S. Army, U.S. Navy and even a "round butted" version marked U.S.M.C. As all of you know who have any experience with the .45 Colt Cartridge, one of its weaknesses is the rather narrow rim that had sometimes given extraction problems in the blackpowder days with the Single Action on the frontier. That coupled with the fear that the narrow rim would give extraction problems with the "ejection star of a 'new fangled,'" swing out cylinder double action, caused the designers of the new "interim" revolver to remedy the problem by modifying the old .45 Colt cartridge and giving it a wider case "rim." Needless to say it worked just fine in the new Model 1909s, but if you tried to load it into the Colt Single Actions of the same caliber (which had a cylinder that was smaller in overall diameter) the rims would interfere with one another and would only allow you to load every other chamber (interestingly enough, the 1909 worked just fine with a standard .45 Colt cartridge)! The new government version of the .45 Colt round went the way of the "Do-Do Bird" with the coming of the new 1911 Colt.
Great stuff, and given the excellence of Culver's research in general and his lineage… his USMC Dad was a service rifle shooter almost a century ago… I'd assign a high level of confidence to his material.

And talk about arcana and the recondite, here's another tidbit from the same learned essay that I especially enjoyed, given my own (a-hem!) Industry Intelligencer story of just over 14 years ago revealing that Glock actually beat S&W into the marketplace with the first production pistol chambered in .40 S&W:
Many other cartridges are linked to their originators, such as the .357 Magnum (officially the .357 S&W Magnum). The word "Magnum" is registered to S&W and must be so identified when listing the cartridge, even if the pistol happens to be a Colt Python (using the S&W .357 Magnum cartridge - take a look sometime!). You really get into an intertwinement of terms with the .44 Remington Magnum (the official designation of the Dirty Harry cartridge). Here we have Remington as the originator of the cartridge, but then they (the folks at Remington) were working hand in glove with S&W who was working to produce the pistol that Remington was designing the ammunition for. Interestingly enough, Ruger went through Remington's trash cans, found some of the .44 Magnum test brass and actually scooped S&W with the first commercially offered pistol designed to shoot the new cartridge! Commercial espionage had paid off in this case!
I never knew that!

A terrific trove of information!
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