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Tales of the Gun - The Tommy Gun

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By Charles H. Smith

Anyone who has watched an old movie or browsed through a book on World War II will quickly recognize the familiar outline of this fine weapon. That finned barrel topped off with a Cutts compensator, the square receiver, either a drum or box magazine... the famous "Thompson Submachine Gun." Although "submachine gun" is an familiar part of today's gun owner lexicon, the word was created by the man who was responsible for bringing us this great gun.

John Taliaferro Thompson was born in 1860 and graduated from West Point in the class of 1882. Upon commissioning, he entered the army in the Artillery, later transferring to the Ordnance Department in 1890. During the Spanish-American War he distinguished himself when he directed the supply of munitions at a time of near chaos in the Army's ordnance and quartermaster units.

Thompson was involved in the testing and adoption of the Springfield M1903 rifle. He became famous for tests he conducted that resulted in adoption of the AS caliber as the official U.S. Army handgun cartridge. Various calibers were tested on cadavers. Later, in the slaughterhouses of Chicago, he conducted tests on beef cattle to determine the best cartridge. From these tests it was determined that the .45 was the only acceptable cartridge for a handgun and thus leading to the adoption of the Colt AS M1911 automatic.

In November 1914 he retired from the service with the intention of devoting his full time to perfecting an automatic rifle. He was to join Remington Arms Company as their Chief Engineer. There he was responsible for organizing the construction, outfitting and operation of a rifle factory at Eddystone, Pennsylvania, to produce the British Enfield rifle. In 1916 he set up another factory to produce MosinNagant rifles for the Russian Army.

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