A revolver cartridge that seems to cause more confusion than any other is Smith & Wesson’s (S&W) .45. Perhaps the cause has been the numerous names also given it along the way, such as .45 S&W “Schofield,” .45 S&W Government, and simply .45 Government. All those names describe the same cartridge with a nominal 1.10-inch case length and rim diameter of approximately .520 to .523 inches. (Measurements were taken from vintage military and civilian factory loads.)
Here’s a related bit of confusion: Starting in 1875, Smith & Wesson chambered a variation of its No. 3, top-break, single-action revolver especially for the .45 S&W. Because it used some patents given to Major George Schofield of the U.S. Army, this revolver came to be known as the S&W Schofield. It was adopted to a limited extent by the U.S. Army that same year. All Smith & Wesson No. 3 “Schofields” were chambered for the .45 S&W. However, not all Smith & Wesson No. 3 revolvers were “Schofields.” Only that single variation deserves the name.
The army had adopted Colt’s Single Action Army .45 two years earlier. It was chambered for a .45 round with 1.285-inch case length and rim diameter of about .502 to .506 inch. (Measurements taken from vintage military and civilian factory loads.) So in its infinite wisdom, the U.S. Army then had two .45 revolvers designed for two different.45 cartridges. The reason S&W came out with its own .45 was that Colt’s .45 was too long to fit in S&W cylinders. Furthermore, S&W No. 3 revolvers ejected cartridges simultaneously by means of a star extractor. Rims of .45 Colt cartridges were not wide enough so that the star extractors could extract and eject them reliably. Extractors would slip over tiny .45 Colt rims, letting rounds fall back into chambers, which tied up the entire works until removed. Hence, S&W increased rim diameter by .020 inch on its .45 version.
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