Cities Fighting to Keep Old Tommy Guns

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The Thompson submachine gun is perhaps one of the most famous and icon weapons of the 20th Century. In the hands of infamous gangsters, fedora wearing lawmen and brave soldiers and marines in combat, the .45ACP select-fire Tommy gun made history. These guns are so pivotal in fact, that at least two different cities are going the extra mile to keep theirs.

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Sharon PA

John Dillinger robbed no less than a dozen banks in the Midwest in a string of daring daylight feats that earned him lasting infamy. The confirmed robberies were all from 1933-34 strung out across Iowa, Indiana, South Dakota Wisconsin, and Ohio. The Dillinger gang hit small towns like Mason City, South Bend, Daleville, and Racine. One small town very close to the action was Sharon Pennsylvania. Located 60 miles from Pittsburgh, it was 140 miles as the crow flies from where the gang hit in nearby Fostoria, Ohio in May 1934, garnering $17,000.

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To help ensure the safety of his own bank, the President of the McDowell National Bank in Sharon bought a Thompson submachine gun and gave it to the local police department 'to level the playing field'. It was well known that Dillinger was a fan of the Tommy gun and, should Sharon have their own, odds were it could help.

Well Dillinger was killed in by agents leaving a movie theatre in Illinois but the Sharon PD held on to the gun -- just in case. They still have it and even tried to sell it last year to raise money for the cash-strapped department. The thing is, since it was non-transferable the ATF said it would have to be chopped up for parts. Tommy gun parts are rare and valuable, and the department could have made some decent scratch from the bones of its gun. Unable to slice up a piece of history, they recently decided to go ahead and keep it instead.

It seems like there are more important things than a little cash.

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Above we see plainclothed LAPD Det. Lt. Oscar Bayer posing while holding an unloaded M1921 tommy gun, 1927 with the stock removed. The Thompson was used in law enforcement for generations as this below picture shows a Delaware State Police trooper in a 1960s riot with a very much loaded M1928 Tommy gun.

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Newport KY

It seems in the quiet town of Newport Kentucky, they want their history back. This town of 15,000 just over the state line from Cincinnati used to have a big steel mill back in the 1920s. Well things got out of hand once or twice during labor disputes back then. As was common during the time, when you say steel mill and labor issues, you had violence on an epic scale. To keep the peace, the local police department went to the hardware store and ordered two Thompson Model 1921 submachine guns.

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(Pre-1934 you could go into a hardware store and buy a Thompson cash and carry or you could send funds to their office and they would mail one right to your house)

These guns came in handy during the later rum-running era as the Cincinnati area became home to large-scale organized crime. In fact, one of the biggest names in Prohibition era bootlegging, the Great George Remus (rumored to be the inspiration for the Great Gatsby) was arrested in none other than Newport, KY.

Well the city held on to these guns for more than sixty years, only selling the weapons in the 1980s to help with the town's budget. Now, they want to try to get at least one of the guns back from a dealer in Pennsylvania who has it. To do so they are collecting funds through donations and are talking to the owner about a good price.

"I think it means a lot," said [current Newport Police Chief Thomas] Collins, a thirty-six year police veteran who served as Chief of Ludlow Police and Captain at Kenton County previously. "You can look at the (historic) badges and helmets, and it talks about Newport's history. I don't think any place in Northern Kentucky is so rich in history with the gambling and mob history and things that happened here. There's not anybody that doesn't have a story about Newport."

In an interesting side note, General John Taliaferro Thompson, the inventor the gun, was born in Newport. They intend to add it to the city's museum if they can get it back.

We wish them luck

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December 18, 2013  •  11:36 PM
Interesting write up, I've been to Newport many times as it's less than an hour from me. Really cool.