Does anyone know who originated the term “wildcat” and when it was first used?
The term “wildcat” was first coined by Ray Meketa in 1951 for the sole purpose of dominating this subject and making me feel like I don’t know anything (which is coincidentally true) :)
Pay no attention to Vlad. I taught him everything that he knows and he still doesn’t know anything. ;-) ;-)
Wiki says that the word “wildcat” was coined in the early 19th Century to describe a risky or unproved venture. As applied to cartridges it probably originated in the late 1880s or early 1890s when a guy named Reuben Harwood designed what many consider to be the first wildcat cartridge, the .22-20 Harwood Hornet. The Hornet was distrusted and not accepted by many notable shooters of the day who thought it was a foolish concept, not wanted by American riflemen. Hence, an unproven idea.
But, that is only my guess. Every shooting reference that I know has a description of a wildcat cartridge, often the same, but none try to pin-point when it was first used. But, it was certainly before 1951 and not by me. I would remember that - I think.
Fede & Ray Meketa:
I WOULD HAVE TO AGREE WITH RAY AS TO THE INDIVIDUAL WHO’S NAME IS MOST OFTEN ASSOCIATED WITH THE TERM, “WILDCAT”, AS A MEANS OF DESCRIBING A NON-FACTORY CARTRIDGE DESIGNED BY A GUNSMITH OR SHOOTER.
REUBEN HARWOOD WAS BORN 3 APRIL 1849 AT OXFORD, MASSACHUSETTS AND DIED 22 JULY 1911 AT SPRINGFIELD, MASSACHUSETTS. HE OWNED AND OPERATED A GUNSHOP IN SOMERVILLE, MASSACHUSETTS FOR A NUMBER OF YEARS. HE DESIGNED THE CARTRIDGE WHICH WOULD COME TO BE CALLED THE “HARWOOD HORNET.” THE SPORTING NEWSPAPER OF THAT DAY, SHOOTING & FISHING, PUBLISHED SOME INFORMATION ON THE CARTRIDGE IN THEIR 22 MARCH 1894 PRINTING. THE CARTRIDGE WAS FABRICATED BY NECKING A .25-20 SINGLE SHOT CARTRIDGE TO .22 CALIBER AND LOADING IT WITH A LEAD BULLET WEIGHING FROM 48 TO 63 GRAINS.
THE PROPELLANT CHARGE WAS, 4 GRAINS OF NITRO POWDER (LIKELY DUPONT BULK SHOTGUN) AND 16 GRAINS OF BLACK POWDER.
UNDER THE PSEUDONYM, “IRON RAMROD”, HARWOOD WAS A FREQUENT CONTRIBUTOR TO THE SHOOTING & FISHING PUBLICATION.
Thank you all, specially Vlad for pointing me in the right direction…
I have lost precious time reading about the history of wildcat banks, wildcat currency, wildcat oil prospectors, wildcat strikes, wildcat ventures and even wildcat women, but at least now I’m familiarizated with the origin of this term in American culture. However, in relation to cartridges, I can’t find mention of it until the 1940’s.
If anyone else knows more about this please let me know.
I have found mention of this term in relation to cartridges in a National Sportsman magazine from 1936. It seems that around this date it was used as a pejorative, or maybe the author was one of the first wildcat cartridge haters.
I was told, when I wrote my article for A&T magazine, that the term wildcat had something to do with oil wells.
I should have that info somewhere in my email messages
Pivi, yes, that was one of the late 19th century uses applied to someone who drills for oil on the basis of a hunch rather than scientific information. However, it was used on an earlier date in relation to illegitimate banking ventures. Apparently, there was one of these banks in Michigan that issued bank notes with the image of a wildcat.
A wildcat oil well is one that is driven outside of known oil reserve locations and is unproven and likely a waste of time and money. It seems to fit most wildcat cartridges.
Capt Edward Crossman was a well known shooter and writer of the 1920s and 1930s. He was known for his cantankerous attitude and disdain for anyone who held opposing opinions. That National Sportsman article is typical of him. Having said that, I have read his books and still own one first edition. When I was beginning competitive shooting, many years ago, they were like a bible to me.
Ned Crossman was a controversialist and often prickly, but I’ve never seen anything from him as wrong-headed as this bit. For a man as generally supportive of independent gunsmiths and their work it’s remarkable in the worst sort of way. Jack
Actually the cartridges mentioned by Capt. Crossman all have a connection to WILDCATS. I believe that Col. Townsend Whelen was instrumental in the development of the 22 Hornet as a wildcat in the late 1920s which was quickly standardized by the factories. The Sage of Goffstown NH, Ned Roberts developed the .25 Roberts Wildcat. I once met an old man who had spent a small part of his young life in a letter writing campaign to get the Rifle manufacturers to adopt the 25 Roberts as a standard loading for their rifles. The .25 Roberts was standardized as the .257 Roberts. Necking the 250-3000 down to 22 caliber was done in the 1930s by a number wildcatters J. B. Smith, J. E. Gebby, Harvey Donaldson, Grosvenor Wotkyns, and John Sweany all had versions of a 22-250. Winchester agreed to a standardization of the round but decided to use the 6 mm Navy case and was fixed on getting a round that would go 4000 fps and thus the 220 Swift was born. J. E Gebby copyrighted the name 22 Varminter and it stayed a wildcat until Remington adopted and standardized it in 1965 as the 22-250 Remington.
Here is another early use of the “wildcat” term applied to cartridges from an article published by Field & Stream in 1922. In this case it was used to despise several European cartridges considered “junk” by the author.
I ENJOYED READING THE 1922 FIELD & STREAM POSTING. I FIND IT MOST INTERESTING THAT THE, “WILD-CAT”, CARTRIDGES THE AUTHOR CITES IN HIS TIRADE WERE ALL STANDARD METRIC CARTRIDGES DESIGNED FOR MAUSER RIFLES. I WONDER IF THE GERMANS THOUGHT THAT OUR .30-06 WAS A WILD-CAT CARTRIDGE IN GERMANY. AS THE MATERIAL WAS WRITTEN JUST 4 YEARS AFTER THE END OF “THE GREAT WAR” I FOR ONE THINK THE THE AUTHOR HAD A DISLIKE OF GERMANS IN GENERAL, THE METRIC SYSTEM, MAUSER, AND MOST LIKELY DWM IN PARTICULAR.
KEEP FINDING THIS OLD MATERIAL, JUST A FEW MORE YEARS BACKWARD AND YOU’LL END UP ON REUBEN HARWOOD’S DOORSTEP!
Fede: Was the Field and Stream item anonymous? I ask because the specific reference to “10 cents per shot” reminded me of a passage in a text by a certain gun writer of those days, but the tone of this piece doesn’t seem to match that man’s work very well. Jack
Jack, guess what? This article was also written by Capt. Crossman.
I can assure you that Germans did not consider .30-06 a wildcat, but as the military cartridge it was. Of course it satisfied them that the Americans copied the concept of the German S-Patrone.
My impression is that on the contrary Germans (inadvertently) managed to confuse Americans with their 8 mm catridges to a degree that, (if I remember correctly) Townsend Wheelen, after finding out that one German “8 mm” projectile could easily be dropped through a German “8 mm” barrel, gave up on trying to tell American Rifleman readers anything about 8 mm calibres.
You have your wildcats. We have, even after “normalization” two 8 mm calibres, and bullshit stories about their origin keep being told.
Since DWM demanded that the U.S. Govt pay them a royalty for the use of the “S” bullet, I don’t think it’s fair to say that they were satisfied that we had copied their concept.
Do you have a link to that story about Col. Whelen and the 8mm bullets? I have never heard that and it would be interesting reading.
Fede: Thanks for the ID. The idea of Crossman talking such foolishness doesn’t distress me nearly as much as if it were J.R. Mattern. Mattern had a crotchet or two of his own, but he was as a general thing more even-handed in his assessments. Jack
Getting a bit away from the “Wildcat” topic, but here is the sharp pointed Farley bullet of 1894 that played a role in determining whether or not the U.S. had copied a German design ?..There are others who can elaborate with more clarity than I…
Joseph Pearson Farley was Commanding Officer of Frankford Arsenal from Feb. 1, 1892 to March 3, 1897