In the general rush to commemorate the beginning of the Great War in 1914, a number of lesser anniversaries have been ignored. For American shooters, one that deserves to be remembered is the birth, and death, of the Newton rifle company of Buffalo, New York.
In a way, Newton Arms was both a result of the war and one of its direct casualties. Its founder, Charles Newton, had made a name for himself as a cartridge designer and was ambitious to go into the riflemaking business, chambering bolt-action sporters for cartridges of his own design.
Two of his best-known creations were made famous by Savage Arms–the .22 High Power, designed around 1905, and the .250-3000, announced in 1915.
As a proponent of high velocity, Newton felt that he had just scratched the surface with these two cartridges, successful as they were. His initial intention was to import Mauser actions from Germany until he could put into production a pure sporting bolt rifle of his own design. When supplies of Mausers were cut off by the war, he was forced to move quickly–too quickly–and encountered difficulties obtaining barrels as well as actions. As war production accelerated, he could not even get machine tools for his factory.
Even so, he managed to get enough to put his rifle into production, and between 1915 and 1918 (the dates are vague in spite of a century’s research) his company did produce about 3,000 rifles of his original design, with another thousand coming onto the market in later years as his companies went through receivership, reorganization, buyouts and lawsuits.
The pure Newton rifle was, by any standard, a well-designed and beautifully made sporting firearm. It was not a reworked or adapted military rifle. Newton knew what serious shooters would demand.
Outwardly, the Newton did resemble the Mauser 98, but internally there were many differences. Instead of two solid locking lugs, it had two sets of interrupted-thread lugs, similar to the Ross Mk. III, which in turn was based on an artillery breech. Its rocking safety on the side of the bolt also resembled the Ross, and both the safety and low bolt lift would accommodate a low-mounted riflescope. This was revolutionary for 1915.
The receiver had what we would now call a double square-bridge, suitable for scope bases. The trigger was a double-set of Newton’s own design, while the stock was slim and graceful, with a modern cheekpiece and schnabel forend. The rifle could be taken down without tools, and the two points of attachment could be tightened to adjust for wear–essential for consistent accuracy.
This brief description does not do justice to the Newton. The quality of manufacture matched Newton’s meticulous design, and the rifle feels much like the early Mannlichers and sporting Mausers in its ergonomics–slim, sleek, light and handy. It is a beautiful stalking rifle.
Newton’s cartridges were so far ahead of their time that, if you were to introduce the line tomorrow, it would not look out of the place.
His “all around” cartridge was the .256 Newton. In reality it was a 6.5mm (.264) and his use of British nomenclature caused some confusion later on. It is essentially a .30-06 case shortened and necked down. His .22 Newton was not matched until the advent of the .220 Swift, 20 years later, and his .280 Newton was basically the later .280 Remington. The .30, .33, .35, and .40 Newtons were based on a larger case, similar to the .300 H&H with the belt removed; they had minimal taper and a sharp shoulder.
Ballistically, they were not matched until the .300 and .338 Winchester Magnums, the .358 Norma, and the .416 Taylor all came along in the 1950s and ’60s.
Newton rifles are so rare that when Frank de Haas wrote Bolt Action Rifles in 1971, he had never seen or handled one. When he found one, in time for the second edition, he mused that someone, somewhere, should put it back in production. It was that good.
Charles Newton died in 1934. He never got rich. In fact, he barely escaped repeated bankruptcy. But, for both his groundbreaking cartridges and his innovative rifle, Charles Newton deserves to be remembered more than he is.—Terry Wieland