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After more than 150 years on the ammunition market, there is still confusion around what separates rimfire from centerfire – which is distinguished by the location of the priming compound within the case of an ammunition cartridge. A rimfire cartridge has the priming compound placed in the rim, while the priming compound for a centerfire cartridge is in a removable cup inside the base.
The Flobert cartridge was the first rimfire cartridge to enjoy commercial success, and propelled a 6mm bullet with the pressure of the exploding priming compound. This cartridge was employed for indoor shooting practice, and in many countries is called the .22CB.
Smith & Wesson borrowed the idea of the Flobert in 1857, and placed a few grains of powder inside to create the .22 Short. This cartridge was designed to be fired in their Smith & Wesson Model 1, America's first rimfire revolver. The .22 Long was introduced on the heels of the successful .22 Short, firing a heavier bullet with a slightly bigger charge of powder and showed a moderately improved performance over its predecessor. But the .22 Long Rifle, released in 1887, surpassed the popularity of every other .22 caliber rimfire bullet, and grew to become the most widespread cartridge on the planet.
Regarding rimfire cartridges, the wide variety of calibers is often forgotten. Other well-known rimfire cartridges include the .25 Stevens, the .32 Long and the .44 Henry Flat. The .58 Miller was the largest rimfire cartridge produced. Muskets toward the end of the Civil War were converted to fire this cartridge.
The .17 HMR and the .17 Mach 2 are two calibers on the leading edge of rimfire ammunition technology today. Bullets from these cartridges travel at extremely high velocity and follow a flat trajectory – two features that make them popular with varmint hunters. The recoil of these .17 caliber cartridges is practically non-existent, and they make considerably less noise than most centerfire ammunition for varmints.
For nearly 200 years, rimfire cartridges have been a fixture in the ammunition industry. Rimfire ammo continues to experience huge demand from the public, and manufacturers have continued to offer improvements in design and performance.