Martin - the Winchester .32 Special cartridge was introduced in the Winchester Catalog 69, June 1902, for use in the Model 94 Winchester Rifle.
Firstly, a note appearing in the section on the 94 indicates that the .25 and .30 calibers for this rifle cannot be used with black powder. There is no further explanation with that particular note. They are referring, of course, to the .25-35 and .30-30 cartridges. They do cover, in the later page, the fact that the .32 WS is suitable for blackpowder loads.
Even though Winchester only offered the cartridge in smokeless powder loads, they offiered brass and bullets for reloading the round and suggested a load of 40 grains of black powder. While they did not offer, in that catalog, all of the specifications and reasons for the round, it is covered well in other sources.
Regarding being used with black powder, “this character was obtained with a bore diameter and 16” rifling twist corresponding to those of the .32-40 black powder cartridge." (American Rifleman Magazine, April 1972, Page 63). Evidently, at least according to the next reference cited below, the rifling was more shallow than that in the .30-30.
An author of an article entitled “Persistent Shooting Myths” published in “Precision Shooting” issue of March 1999, pages 27, 30-35, Mr. M. L. McPherson, considers this a myth. He quotes the 1916 catalog as indicating that Winchester designed the .32 Winchester Special “as a cartridge that would generate more energy than the .30 WCF (.3030) without being so powerful as the .30 Army (.30-40 Krag.” However, the explanation in the 1902 catalog contradicts his opinion that it is a myth, explaining that one of the reasons for this cartridge was to give a round that could be loaded easily and successfully with black powder (one can argue why, with the splendid .32-40 round already in existence, that it was needed at all, and I would argue that it was not, but that is a different story).
I will quote the Winchester 1902 Catalog, the original entries for this caliber, and let those reading this decide for themselves if it is a myth that the cartridge was created with black-powder reloading in mind. I have eliminated parts of the text that don’t relate directly to this specific issue:
"Rifles for the .32 Winchester Special Cartridge are fitted with a new and specially designed rear sight…which is graduated for either Smokeless or Black powder cartridges. (JLM: Bear in mind that they did not offer loaded black powder cartridges in this caliber themselves).
“The .32 Wwinchester Special Cartridge, which we have just perfected, is offered to meet the demand of many sportsmen for a Smokeless powder cartridge of larger caliber than the .30 Winchester and yet not so powerful as the .30 U.S. Army, AND WHICH COULD BE RELOADED WITH BLACK POWDER AND GIVE SATISFACTORY RESULTS.”
One can see that their statement about its power factor, as mentioned by
Mr. McPherson, is true, but is only half the original story put forth by Winchester as to the purpose of the introduction of this cartridge. The 1916 catalog, which was also consulted here, does omit that information in a much shortened explanation than the version that appears in earlier catalogs on the .32 Winchester Special cartridge. Perhaps they thought by then that interest in loading the round with black powder was waning. I cannot look into the thoughts involved in writing a catalog 90 years ago. However, the 1902 catalog, the original information on this cartridge, gives both reasons for its introduction.
If the part about the cartridge/rifle (bore especially) combination being introduced to offer sportsmen a smokeless load that can then be loaded with black powder is a myth, as McPherson claims, than it is a myth generated by those who originally designed and manufactured the cartridge, and the rifle that shot it.
Again, it is for for each person to decide. I can only present the published information here.
References: As cited above and:
Winchester Catalogs, Number 69, June 1902 and unnumbered Winchester catalog dated 1916.