The Most Effective Portable Fire Arm In Existence (1925)

By the mid-1920s Auto Ordnance had only sold a few thousand of their .45 ACP Thompson submachine guns to military and law enforcement organizations. To help increase sales they started marketing them to private business owners. This above advertisement, which shows a cowboy gunning down a gang of cattle rustlers, recommends the 1,500 rpm submachine gun for the defense of “large estates, ranches, plantations etc.”. says

With military purchases almost non-existent, Auto Ordnance decided that it had to beef up submachine gun sales to State and Local Police departments. AO was quick to take advantage of the public’s concern over the new “motorized bandits” that were terrorizing small towns. These were criminals that would rob a bank and quickly leave town in their get-away cars; often exchanging gunfire with the local police who were hot on their trail. But even with sales to the PD’s of New York, Boston and San Francisco, and to the State Police in Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, West Virginia, Connecticut and Michigan, sales to law enforcement hadn’t materialized in the quantities expected. By 1925 only three thousand Thompsons had been sold. To help boost sales, Auto Ordnance soon resorted to advertising the Thompson Submachine gun as the answer to every possible solution that a firearm could provide. The most notorious being one that depicted a Cowboy blazing away with his Thompson, defending his ranch from Mexican cattle rustlers and bandits.

This sort of advertising may seem incredible today, but in 1925 anyone with $225 could purchase a Thompson Submachine gun either by mail order, or from the local hardware or sporting goods store. And with military and police sales being flat, Auto Ordnance sold it’s machineguns through every legal outlet it could. It wasn’t until 1934 that machineguns, and other classes of firearms such as suppressors (silencers) and short barreled rifles and shotguns, were eventually placed under strict Federal Regulation with the passage of the National Firearms Act (NFA).

Now many of you will be thinking “why didn’t grandaddy buy a few of these for me to inherit?”. $225 in today’s money is the equivalent of just over $3,000. Today, a used Thompson will set you back at least $9,000 or $10,000 but an unused .380 Cobray M11 machine pistol can be purchased for just $3,500. So the question you should really be asking is why you have not purchased a machine gun yourself for your grandkids to inherit.

Steve Johnson

Founder and Dictator-In-Chief of TFB. A passionate gun owner, a shooting enthusiast and totally tacti-uncool. Favorite first date location: any gun range. Steve can be contacted here.


  • JT

    Maybe one day this country will apply the same liberties to firearms that we enjoy in electronics. I want a Full auto Zip22 for Christmas.

    • Michael Pham

      So after clearing all the jams… that’s 8 rounds per minute?

      • JT

        well, in my ideal world it would be filxed 😛 I think I saw one somewhere with a 20 round mag or something. Maybe it was a converted magazine.

      • BryanS

        Perhaps the design could be improved if the need to have the blessing from Saint (uncle) Sam with any major change to the fire control group.

  • I just want a chance to hold and (hopefully) fire a M1928. I write about them so much, I honestly feel like a bit of a cheat for never getting any hands-on experience with one.

    • claymore

      You may be disappointed. They are not as much fun to fire if you have fired a wide selection of machine guns. If it is your first one it will be ok.

      • Yeah, I’ve had experience with a variety of semi-autos and so forth, but never anything fully automatic. And it’s really about “getting to know” the gun, more than pure fun.

        • BillC

          Join the army, you get paid for it. Just won’t be fun though, the army can suck the fun out of Disney World.

          • A little too old, fat, and near-sighted for that. I save my military experiences for the fictional world…

      • Sean

        Interesting. I got to shoot a Tommy on full auto once.Two whole 50rd drums back to back. It was awesome. That was the first full auto gun. Later, I got to shoot AK’s and a MP5sd. The Tommy was still the best, and most fun.

      • STOVL

        I did a couple mag dumps with a MP9, and then a M1928 (Navy model I believe). I went in thinking the MP9 would be a lot nicer, but came away with the realization that the Thompson was a much, much better design. Easy to shoot, smooth operation, great cyclic rate etc (at least compared to the MP9).

        • STOVL

          ^ should clarify that I am referring to the Ruger MP9, not the swiss machine pistol.

        • 2hotel9

          It often depends on how well a Thompson has been maintained. Over the years I have fired several, 1928s and military models, they can be pretty on the outside and rough as hell on the inside. Makes then run bad when they are not routinely stripped all the way down and cleaned and oiled. Ain’t an AK which you can throw in the mud, stomp on, throw in the back of the truck for a month and blow a 30rd mag through without a hiccup. They are rather tight tolerance machines.

          And the MP9 is not one of my favs. Going that route I prefer an Uzi or Beretta Model 12. And if you get to try a golden oldie I really like M3 Grease Gun and Sten Mark 2. Both excellent weapons and ugly as f**k.

        • claymore

          And way more muzzle climb and it’s HEAVY. You ever attempt a mag change using a drum mag? I think not.

          • 2hotel9

            Drum magazines, for any weapon, are pretty toys. Finicky, heavy, and prone to major problems with the least amount of dirt and dust. And Gawd forbid you get one full of water. Marines rejected them for all those reasons, Army accepted them simply because there was a lot of them available.

            Muzzle climb is what you let it be, that applies to any weapon, doubly for Thompson. It is heavy enough that with a minimum of practice it is quite controllable. All comes back to training.

          • claymore

            And those were the exact points I was making thanks.

    • Eric S

      I dumped two mags in Vegas from one. It was interesting, but I jammed the thing like 4 times.

  • Ed

    Ohh they joy of pre86 machine guns makes you see the prices and cry.

  • Jesse P Weaver

    Cause $3,500 for a 380 is crazy…

  • RPS

    I was looking at the article and noted a common mistake. When you try to make comparisons for costs for a period in the earlier part of this century most people just use the difference between now and then in the Consumer Price Index (CPI) as a quick way of estimating relative costs. But this does not include other variables needed to give a true representation of purchasing power, which is the actual correct way to determine relative costs. It does not matter nearly as much what the ‘costs’ are, as it matters what you as an individual can afford to pay… how much disposable income you have. All sorts of things can affect this, such as taxes, other expenditures, even values of precious metals. Some years back I had a reason to do a complete economic analysis of this subject and I came up with a different ratio. My baseline was for about the year 2004, which is when I did this study, and 1927, which I chose as the other base year, since there were many catalogs and other sources of prices available to me that I could use to test my work.

    The final result was that as a general rule the ratio of prices from 1927 to about 2004 was about 33 to 1. This would make the relative cost of that Thompson closer to $7000 to $7500 as opposed to the figure given.

    • Steve (TFB Editor)

      Very good point. Yes, I just based that on inflation. Interesting that the real cost is not far away from how much it costs today.

  • st4

    I’ve rented an M1A1 at a local range a few times. Good times. Just remember that exposed barrel gets hot real fast!

  • 2hotel9

    The first automatic weapon I was taught to fire was a Thompson M1a1, instructed by a retreaded Mud Marine who did not accept inattention or mistakes. Seat that mag SOLIDLY, then tap it, then fire. Got the tap to the head when the mag dropped the first time I tried to fire. Good times.