If one wanted to stir up a hornet’s nest in an online sixgun group, one of the best ways is to post any question or comment concerning the “45 Long Colt.” Keyboard commandos will come out of the woodwork to correct the innocent poster that there is no such cartridge . . . they must surely mean the 45 Colt, which is the proper and official name of the round. And of course they do, and hopefully the original poster’s question gets answered after the ceremonial comeuppance. But this misnomer persists; the venerable 45 Colt has somehow picked up the erroneous title of “Long Colt” somewhere along the way. How could that be?
There are two standard answers; the first being that the “Long Colt” is to distinguish the 45 Colt from the later 45 ACP. This could make some sense given that both the 45 ACP and the 45 Colt served side by side in the World Wars, with the shorter ACP round chambered in the 1911 and the longer 45 in the big New Service Colt and Triple Lock Smith & Wesson revolvers. That one round feeds a semi-automatic and the other a revolver makes this version feel a little thin, as there are bigger differences to note than cartridge length. The second version, which perhaps sounds more credible on its surface, is that the “Long Colt” was to distinguish the more powerful cartridge from the shorter 45 S&W (also called 45 Govt), which was standard Army issue beginning in 1874 to fill the Smith & Wesson “Schofield” top-break revolver. This also makes sense since the shorter S&W round was actually issued for Army troops because it would chamber in either revolver, but a civilian who wanted the longer (slightly more powerful) cartridge might well ask a shopkeeper for “the long Colts” to differentiate between the two. This explanation has the ring of truth insofar as being historically possible, as both cartridges were in use during this time frame. A variant of this story is that the advent of Cowboy Action Shooting (CAS) created a need to differentiate between the original “long Colt” and newer “45 Cowboy,” which is a still shorter case to accommodate the extremely light charges of smokeless powder favored by the gamesmen, but I don’t believe this – the “Long Colt” term is far older than the Cowboy cartridge.
There is some history of cartridges having more than one name; Winchester introduced the highly successful 1873 lever action in their proprietary 44 Winchester CenterFire (WCF) cartridge and later in the 38 WCF, both of which were popular enough for Colt to chamber in their flagship single action. Colt, however, was loathe to put a Winchester name on their product, and instead called them by their powder charge, and so the 44-40 & 38-40 were born. It is considered correct to refer to these cartridges by either name.
But a manufacturer putting a name on their product, even if they are simply renaming an existing cartridge, still lends a legitimacy that the “Long Colt” designation seems to lack. The name “45 Long Colt” sometimes appears on ammunition boxes, but is this enough to recognize the popular misnomer?
For my money, yes, it is enough. People call the 45 the “Long Colt” and through long usage that has become (for better or worse) an accepted and widely understood alternate name for the cartridge. The whole debate is a non-starter; whether or not the “Long Colt” designation is official or not (it’s not) is irrelevant; when a shooter refers to the cartridge by this name everyone knows what they mean. Perhaps this attitude dates back to my youth, when I saw Ruger single actions with “45Colt” tags alongside reloaded ammo labeled “45 Long Colt” and yet somehow no one was confused or offended. It was a simpler time, with less strident labeling expectations.
But don’t take my word for it; noted gunwriter Mike Venturino has weighed in on this debate, and he has done far more shooting and research into the cartridges of the 19th century than most. In his article “All American 45s” he notes that not only was there the original 45 “Long” Colt and the 45 Govt, or Schofield, but Remington-UMC made 45 cartridges head stamped “45 Colt” that were clearly loaded in shorter cases (but not quite the same length as the Schofield) with the original narrow case rims of the longer, standard 45 Colt. So they were neither fish nor fowl, but their own hybrid cartridge. So perhaps the “Long Colt” crowd has a leg to stand on after all.
See his article here: https://www.magzter.com/article/Mens-Interest/Handloader/All-American-45s
So, if we give up on the 45 “Long” Colt debate, what’s left for us to quibble about on social media? Well, there’s always correcting people who refer to box magazines as “clips.”