The .44-40 Winchester, also known as the .44 Winchester and the .44 WCF (Winchester Center Fire), was introduced in 1873 by the Winchester Repeating Arms Company. It was the first centerfire metallic cartridge offered by Winchester,
and was brought out as the standard chambering for the new Winchester Model 1873 rifle. Both rifle and cartridge soon became widely popular and ubiquitous, so much so that the Winchester 1873 became known as "The gun that won the West".
Remington and Marlin soon released their own rifles and pistols which chambered the round, Colt also offered it as an alternative chambering in its popular Single actionArmy Peacemakerrevolver which was called the Frontier Six-Shooter model. Settlers, lawmen, and cowboys appreciated the convenience of being able to carry a single caliber of ammunition which they could fire in both pistol and rifle. In both law enforcement and hunting usage the .44-40 became the most popular cartridge in the United States and to this day has the reputation of killing more deer than any other save the .30-30 Winchester.
When the Union Metallic Cartridge Co. (U.M.C.) began selling the cartridge, it called its own version the .44-40, (shorthand for .44 caliber and the standard load at the time of 40 grains of blackpowder), as it didn’t want to offer free advertising by mentioning the name of a competitor. Unfortunately for Winchester, the name stuck and it threw in the towel by itself adopting the .44-40 designation for the round after World War II.
The initial standard load for the cartridge was 40 grains of blackpowder propelling a 200 grain bullet at approximately 1,245 f.p.s (feet per second), but in 1886 U.M.C. also began offering a slightly heavier 217 grain bullet at 1,190 f.p.s., also with 40 grains of blackpowder. Winchester soon began to carry the 217 grain loading as well, but in 1905 U.M.C. discontinued the heavier load. In 1895 Winchester switched to a 17 grain loading of DuPont No. 2 smokeless powder with the 200 grain bullet for 1,300 f.p.s., and in 1896 U.M.C. followed suit with a reintroduced 217 grain bullet @ 1,235 f.p.s. Soon both companies were offering the cartridge with lead ‘Metal Patched’ (i.e. jacketed), and full metal case versions. In 1903 Winchester began offering a higher performance version of the loading called the W.H.V. (Winchester High Velocity), boasting a velocity of 1,500 f.p.s. with a 200 grain jacketed bullet from a 24 inch barrel length, U.M.C. and Peters Cartridge Company soon introduced equivalents. Over the years a number of different bullet weights and styles have been offered, including 122, 140, 160,165, 166, 180, 122 and 217 grain in lead, soft and hollow point, full metal case, and even blanks and shotshells. The most common current loading is a 200 grain bullet @ 1,190 f.p.s.
By 1942 more modern cartridges had all but eclipsed the .44-40, but it regained some popularity in the 1950s and '60s when Colt began once again to manufacture the Single Action Army and Frontier. More recently the .44-40 has enjoyed a resurgence due to the popularity of Cowboy action shooting, which inspired the introduction of a 225 grain loading, the heaviest factory bullet ever available for the cartridge.