Winchester designed the .32 Winchester Special rifle cartridge in 1901. Winchester explained their rationale for developing this cartridge in their 1916 catalog:
"The .32 Winchester Special cartridge, which we have 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 Army."
(".30 Winchester" is the original name for the cartridge which is now known as the .30-30, and ".30 Army" is the original name for the cartridge which is now known as.30-40 Krag.)
What Winchester failed to mention is that the .32 Special only improved muzzle velocity by about ten percent over the .30 Winchester. It is worth noting, however, that the .32 Special shoots flatter at distances greater than 200 yards, and retains slightly more energy.
The .32 Winchester Special case uses a necked up .30-30 Winchester. Bullet diameter is 0.321" and the bullets commonly weigh between 165 and 170 grains. Muzzle velocities range between 2,280 and 2,400 feet per second. Muzzle energies range between 1,900 and more than 2,100 foot pounds. The bullets are manufactured in the most volume in various soft point configurations, including Remington’s Core-Lokt bullets and Federal’s Power-Shok bullets. The two rifles most commonly found which fire the .32 Special are the Winchester Model 94 and the Marlin 1892, both well known lever action rifles.
A primary difference between the .32 Special and the .30-30 has to do with the ratio of rifle twist in the barrels of the respective guns. The ratio of rifle twist in the .30-30 is 1:12, and the ratio of rifle twist in the .32 Special is 1:16. Winchester used this rifle twist ratio in their marketing efforts, explaining that this would reduce powder fouling for those who desired to reload their own ammunition. Many firearms historians are perplexed by this, however. “Why would Winchester build a cartridge to specifically encourage reloading?”
While the answer to questions like these may be lost to time, it is fascinating to speculate just how these developments came about. The .32 Special has a loyal group of supporters still, sufficient that at least three major manufacturers produce the still produce the cartridge. It seems that for all the similarities with the .30-30 Winchester, the .32 Winchester Special will still be around for many years to come.