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Thompson: the American Legend

ISBN 0-88935-208-9 584 pages, 456 b&w illustrations, 22 color plates Contact Tracie Hill at 740-345-9777 to order the book. About the cover On the Side of Law and Order: the backbone of the Columbus, Georgia, Police Department in 1945. From left: Judge Smith, O.C. Bryant, Buster Davidson, C.L. Johnson, Miland Hethcock, Chief Whitley, T.C. Moore, J. Hart, Otis Skinner, and Fred Mobley (with Reising Model 50). A rare view of the entire staff of the Department is depicted on the endpapers!

The First Submachine Gun by Tracie L. Hill

If you would like to ask Tracie Hill about Thompsons, feel free to contact him at 740-345-9777.

This remarkable and long-awaited book is a compilation of the writings of several modern scholars, together with contemporary accounts events as they took place, concerning the life and times of the Thompson. While not the first gun to fire pistol ammunition automatically, the term “Sub Machine Gun” wan in fact coined to describe the Thompson.

The story begins in and around World War I as U.S. Army General John T. Thompson, after an outstanding military career culminating as wartime Director of Arsenals, teamed up with retired U.S. Naval Commander John N. Blish, inventor of the “Blish principle” of metallic adhesion, to develop an unprecedentedly lightweight automatic rifle.

With the backing of “the Gray Ghost of Wall Street”, the fabulously wealthy Thomas Fortune Ryan, Auto-Ordnance Corporation was formed and a small team of designers and engineers was secretly put to work, initially in the converted second story of a disused frame house in Cleveland, Ohio.

The .30 caliber Thompson Autorifle was a flawed design which, in those days before the advent of the fluted chamber, required lubricated cartridges in order to function reliably. It was discovered that the then recently developed .45A.C.P. cartridge was far better suited to the “Blish system” than was the full-power .30-’06, whereupon General Thompson envisaged a new type of weapon: “a one-man, hand-held machine gun-a trench broom.”

After a belt-fed false start called the “Persuader”, the full-auto-only “Annihilator” first appeared in 1919. Sightless and buttless, the “Annihilator” was soon perfected as the selective-fire late Model of 1919 Thompson Sub-Machine Gun, which new evidence suggests was manufactured in grater numbers than previously thought.
In 1920 a historic contract was signed by Auto-Ordnance and the famous Colt’s Patent Firearms Manufacturing Co. of Hartford, Conn., following which exactly 15,000 Model of 1921 Thompson submachine guns were produced, with deliveries beginning in March, 1921 and completed in September, 1922.

Almost immediately the Thompson was seized upon for innovative trials by the U.S. Air Service, who mounted stripped-down Thompsons as both flexible armament and fixed wing guns in Attack aircraft. Just as quickly, despite the Auto-Ordnance motto “On the Side of Law and Order”, the Thompson was in hot water, both at home and abroad.

In June, 1921, nearly 500 Thompsons were seized aboard the freighter East Side, bound for the I.R.A. Meanwhile in America, where originally rose fast as first the gangsters and bandits, then the police and the Marines, equipped themselves with Thompsons. The U.S. Navy adopted a slow-down version called the Model of 1928 in March, 1932, and the M1928A1 was adopted as Standard Procurement in September, 1938.

Total sales stood at 10,300 guns by December 30, 1938, every one originating from the 15,000 guns produced by Colt’s in 1921 and 1922. The study of this unique “motherlode” of collectibles is further enhanced by an authoritative, 167-page list of Thompson serial numbers-the most complete ever published.
Production was resumed during World War II, resulting in the development of the simplified M1 model by Savage Arms Corp., and the manufacture of 1,387,134 new M1928A1, M1 and M1A1 Thompsons.

All models are featured and discussed, including the B.S.A. Thompsons and numerous U.S. experimentals, along with chapters on the Thompson In Depth, Accessories, Literature, and Ammunition, plus some lesser-known Auto-Ordnance products such as the T2 S.M.G., the Grant Hammond Light Rifle, and the William B. Ruger Light Machine Gun!

The American Thompson Association
Tracie Hill is the editor of the Thompson Collectors News, a monthly newsletter dedicated to networking Thompson collectors all over the world. If you have any information on the Thompson that does not appear in this book, and/or if you would like to subscribe to the Thompson Collectors News, you are cordially invited to write to:

American Thompson Association
P.O. Box 8710
Newark, Ohio 43055

An event born out of the newsletter, and another brainchild of Tracie’s, is the annual All-Thompson Show & Shoot, held every August in Newark, Ohio. This popular event has brought many Thompson collectors together to share in preserving the history and integrity of the Thompson – the First Submachine Gun.