Designed by Brig. Gen. John Taliaferro Thompson to give the U.S. Army a literal “trench broom” to sweep the Kaiser’s troops from their positions on the Western Front in World War I, the “Tommy Gun” was finished too late for the war and only entered production in 1921.
As Thompson’s Auto-Ordnance company lacked the production capability to crank out the new .45ACP-caliber open-bolt select-fire SMG, early Thompsons were made by Colt. Expensive for their day, it took Auto-Ordnance the bulk of the 1920s to sell the 5,000 Colt-made guns, although the Navy did later buy a decent amount of these– once their rate of fire had been trimmed.
Although they made a lasting reputation as the “Chicago Typewriter” during Prohibition, used by both sides of the law to include gangster John Dillinger and legendary G-man Melvin Purvis, the gun’s first commercial success only came after 1938 when the U.S. Army adopted the gun in quantity.
Soon, the gun was being supplied to Allies such as Great Britain in quantity as well.
Eventually, more than 565,000 M1928A1 variants and another 824,000 simplified (and cheaper to make) M1/M1A1 wartime-era Thompsons were produced by 1945. Only replaced in later years by the M3 Grease gun in U.S. service, Tommy guns continue to pop up in conflicts around the world to this day, a testament to their design.
While Numrich Arms continued to assemble Thompsons in the 1950s from surplus parts, Auto-Ordnance has been selling semi-auto versions of the famous gun in .45ACP, 9mm and even .22LR for generations in carbine, pistol, and SBR variants.
Still, there is nothing like full-auto to get your attention, although prices for transferable Title II guns range from $15K for plain Jane WWII M1s to more than double that for the more classic 1921/1928s.