In service 1875–1892
Designer Smith & Wesson
|Place of origin United States|
Used by US Army
The .45 Schofield or .45 Smith & Wesson is a revolver cartridge developed by Smith & Wesson for their S&W Model 3 American top-break revolver. It is similar to the .45 Colt round though shorter and with a slightly larger rim, and will generally work in revolvers chambered for that cartridge. US government arsenals supplied .45 Schofield cartridges for the Schofield revolver and the Colt Army revolver to simplify their armament needs. 45 Colt cartridges cannot be used in .45 Schofield firearms, since the .45 Colt is a longer cartridge.
This cartridge was originally designed as a black powder round. The Schofield revolver (a variant of the Smith & Wesson Model 3) was patented in the USA on 20 June 1871 and 22 April 1873 by Smith & Wesson. It was a Smith & Wesson Model 3 that was modified by Major George Schofield to make it easier for a cavalryman to reload while riding. While the Colt 45 had more power, the speed at which a cavalryman could reload a Schofield was less than 30 seconds, half of the time for a Colt 45. By 1879, the U. S. Army had purchased 8,285 of the revolvers. Due to its reduced power and recoil compared to the Colt .45, it was easier to shoot accurately, yet still retained effective stopping power on the battlefield. It became the standard cartridge of the Army, though the Colt 1873 still was the main issue side arm of the Army.
The .45 Schofield cartridge was shorter than the .45 Colt. It could be used in both the Schofield and the Colt 45 Peacemaker, but the .45 Colt was too long to use in the Schofield. As a result, by the 1880s the army finally standardized on a .45 cartridge designed to fire in both revolvers, the M1887 Military Ball Cartridge. The M1887 was made at Frankford Arsenal, and was issued only to the military. It had the shorter case of the Schofield and the reduced rim of the Colt round; as it was short enough to fit the Schofield, and its rim was not needed for the rod-ejector Single Action Army, the M1887 would fire and eject from both revolvers.
The Schofield was quite a popular handgun in the old west, and may have been used by General Custer at the Battle of the Little Bighorn. The effectiveness of the cartridge in battle, and its reputation for shootability and accuracy, led to the duplication of the cartridges' characteristics in the .45 ACP.
Many reports indicate that while the .45 S&W cartridge could be used in a gun chambered for the .45 Colt, not every chamber in the gun could be loaded at the same time. Because of the larger diameter rim (.522 inches) on the S&W cartridge, the rims would sometimes interfere with each other when attempting to load every chamber of a .45 Colt chambered revolver. Current production .45 S&W cases have a head diameter larger than .45 Colt but smaller than the originals to circumvent this problem on the Colt Single Action Army revolver.
Because of this, the Frankford Arsenal produced the .45 M1877 Military Ball Cartridge which was identical to the S&W cartridge but had a slightly smaller rim diameter of .512 inches (identical to the rim of the .45 Colt cartridge) which could be used in either the Colt or the S&W revolvers. Production of the .45 Colt cartridge was then discontinued by the Frankford Arsenal with the .45 M1877 ball revolver cartridge being adopted as the only .45 revolver cartridge issued from then on.
In the early 1880s the Benet (inside) cartridge primer was retired and the modern Boxer type (externally visible) primer was adopted for all future military production of revolver ammunition.