December 03, 2021
By Joel J. Hutchcroft
Charles Newton, who preferred to be called Chas, was an early pioneer of high-velocity rifle cartridges. He championed the lever-action type of rifle, eventually creating a unique hybrid LeverBolt action. He promoted handloading for enjoyment and invented his own reloading tools. He experimented with “progressive burning” gunpowder mixtures and produced his own protected-point bullet that featured a copper wire embedded in the tip. He was granted patents on many of his designs, and interestingly, he did all that after first becoming a lawyer.
Born on January 8, 1870, Charles Newton grew up in Western New York. By 1894, he was married, and the next year he went to law school. He was admitted to the bar in 1896. By 1915, he was an arms manufacturer. Along the way he spent six years in the New York National Guard.
We know of at least 10 cartridges that Newton developed, with the .250 Savage, the .220 Swift, and the .22 Savage probably the most familiar to shooters today. There also were the .30 Newton (that our reloading author Lane Pearce has written about), the .256 Newton, and the .35 Newton. He developed many others, ranging in caliber from .22 to .40.
Some have questioned whether Newton should be credited for developing what became known as the .280 Remington and the .25-06, while others make good arguments for doing so. I won’t take a side in that debate, but while Newton’s 7mm Special and .25 Special may not have been identical to the final configurations of those rounds, Bruce Jennings (author of Charles Newton, Father of High Velocity) shows that ballistically Newton’s cartridges were indeed those two cartridges. That said, the most interesting Newton cartridge to me is the .22 Newton.
While I have always been a fan of the .220 Swift, which Newton pioneered by necking down the 6mm Lee Navy to .22 caliber, I think the .22 Newton is more intriguing. It was based on a necked-down 7x57mm Mauser case, and it fired a 0.228-inch-diameter bullet weighing 90 grains at a muzzle velocity of 3,100 fps. Readers will recall that the .22 Savage also uses this unique bullet diameter. The .22 Newton proved to be very effective on deer—and even larger game—but the Newton Cartridge Co. was the only manufacturer known to have produced it.
While he strongly advocated for the lever action during his early career, Newton realized that bolt actions had the necessary greater strength that higher-pressure cartridges demanded. Consequently, he rechambered and rebarreled Mauser and Sauer bolt actions (famous barrelmaker Harry Pope worked for Newton at one time), using an innovative oval rifling pattern. He believed it gave higher velocity and better accuracy.
One of Newton’s most controversial developments was the Newton LeverBolt rifle. Because he believed the traditional bolt action was awkward, he designed the LeverBolt rifle to have the speed of a lever action with the camming power of a bolt action. It was never produced, and I have never seen one, but I have seen photographs of a prototype, and the action looks somewhat similar to a Blaser. Newton’s design was said to “lend itself to an alteration of any Mauser-type bolt-action rifle.”
Newton died of a heart attack on March 9, 1932. As writer Sam Fadala aptly put it, “That he [Newton] was a firearms genius and one of the most innovative, ahead-of-his-time shooters of any century is without question.”
Perhaps Newton was simply ahead of his time. Most of his cartridges were not popular with contemporaneous shooters. His LeverBolt rifle design did not get off the ground. His rifle-manufacturing companies (in various iterations) lasted only from 1914 until 1924, and his ammunition plant closed in 1919. Perhaps his business failures were a consequence of his personality as he was said to have been caustic and abrupt. But as other researchers have written, Newton was a student of super-speed and flat trajectories long before anyone else, and today’s riflemen have benefited from his genius whether they have heard of him or not.