“The Gun That Made The Twenties Roar”

Every so often the government decides to make something everyone loves illegal.  In the twenties, politicians saw the sea of citizens before them, enjoying a beer with friends, and thought it would be a great idea to make that a crime.  Thus we were blessed with the only amendment to the constitution ever to be repealed, one that left Americans with a hangover the shakes for the next decade or so.

Evidence democracy just doesn't work

During this time, World War I had just ended, prohibition-related crime was on the rise, and World War II was on the horizon.  Americans of all walks of life dropped their beers and picked up their brooms.  The trench broom that is.  Yes indeed, America saw the birth of the Thompson Submachine Gun, a glorious weapon that would become a symbol of the time.

The Thompson SMG, or Tommy Gun as its more popularly known, was invented by John T. Thompson in 1919.  Before that time, machine guns were heavy weapons, usually mounted, and lacked any real amount of portability.  The Tommy Gun was a cell phone in a world of landlines.  Thompson had envisioned a new portable weapon that soldiers could use, ones that were fully automatic to replace the bolt action rifles that had seen so much use in WWI.  It was to be a trench broom, as he called it, used to sweep the trenches of those villainous krouts.   His original name for the weapon was the Annihilator, but he soon realized comic book sounding names might make his fine weapon less respectable.  Not to be deterred, the media would later crown this gun with all manner of names, including the Chicago Typewriter, Chopper, Chicago Piano, and the now ubiquitous Tommy Gun.

Fat, drunk and armed to the teeth. Churchill was more American that most Americans.

The gun was extremely popular at the time, and gained widespread use by the Allies in WWII.  It’s early versions sported an impressive 1,200 rounds per minute and large drum magazines, but this was slowed down in later models because of the extreme recoil and reduced accuracy.  Compared to modern SMGs, the Tommy Gun was a rather heavy weapon, around 11lbs without ammunition.  Regardless, it was a huge innovation and revolutionized the armories of organizations ranging from militaries, police, and gangsters alike.  It used the large Browning-made .45 ACP round because the gun’s creator, John Thompson, insisted on a “real man-stopper” type of ammunition.  The gun is no longer in service, having been phased out in most NATO countries and replaced by the Heckler & Koch MP5.  Some replaced it with the Uzi.  But while it is certainly a dated gun, coming it at 92 years old, it was certainly an influential weapon in its centenarian existence.

But though it was mostly used in WWII and by police departments and new government crime fighting agencies, the gun will forever remain a symbol of prohibition-era gangsters.  The first real recognition of this relationship came about as a result of the Saint Valentine’s Day Massacre.  Though it sounds like a massacre invented by the greeting card industry, it was in fact a mass murder that occurred during a gang war in Chicago.  On February 14, 1929 Al Capone’s gang, the South Side Italian Gang, hired men to line up seven people associated with the North Side Irish Gang against a wall and (spoiler alert) shoot them up with Tommy Guns.  The South Side men were dressed as businessmen and police officers.  Though, like Prohibition, this seemed like a good idea at the time, it was the beginning of the end of Al Capone’s influence.  And with the end of Prohibition came the end of the Golden Age of gangsters, and with it the decline of the Thompson SMG in America’s collective imagination.  It was the death of the classy gangster.  And thus we’ve gone from this:

To this:

The Tommy Gun may just be a relic of the past, but we do see it resurface from time to time in conflicts.  The most recent conflict to make use of this antique was the War in Bosnia and Herzegovina, which took place between 1992 and 1995.  And the FBI only stopped using it in 1976, when the US Government officially declared it obsolete.  Though to this day, violinists everywhere are looked upon with deep seated suspicion, a lasting impact of this once great weapon.

It can only play one song


5 Comments to ““The Gun That Made The Twenties Roar””

  1. “It can only play one song.” Brevity is indeed the soul of wit.

  2. Fantastic Article! This makes me want to write a little better. This is infotainment!

  3. Got to Love some Guns. Love your avatar and banner by they way. I made my banner in photoshop real fast.

  4. Great article! Loved seeing the diffrerences in gasters over the years! Great writing and looking forward to your next installment. This blog is awesome!!!! Keep it up.

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