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The Auto-Ordnance Corporation
(a brief historical summary)
By Douglas W. Richardson
Founded on August 25,1916 by John T. Thompson (Colonel, U.S. Army retired), John Blish (Commander, U.S. Navy retired), Thomas Ryan (financier) and others, the Auto-Ordnance Corporation (AOC) set forth on a program to develop a light automatic gun. After giving up on their efforts to design a semi-automatic rifle, they turned to the development of a light machine gun. That effort continued until 1920 when a series of prototypes evolved into the production Model of 1919 Thompson Submachine Gun (TSMG). This model was manufactured by AOC, although probably less than ten were actually made.
On August 18,1920, AOC contracted with the Colt Patent Firearms Manufacturing Co. to manufacture 15,000 TSMGs. The Model of 1919 design was immediately modified to become the Model of 1921 TSMG which was the model manufactured by Colt. The following models 1922, 1923, 1927, 1928, 1928 Navy and 1928A1(Colt) were all made by modifying guns from the original Colt 1921 production.
By 1939, most of the founders of AOC had died and the company had been essentially a business failure with many of the guns from the Colt production remaining unsold. In July of 1939, Russell Maguire purchased AOC. He contracted with the Savage Arms Co. to put the TSMG back into production in order to fill foreign military orders prompted by the beginnings of World War 2
Savage began production of the Model of 1928 which went primarily to the British. A few of the guns were fitted with Colt 1921 parts, retrostamped “1921" and sold commercially. Savage also made a prototype aluminum version which failed to win favor, so very few of those were made. Production of the Model of 1928 was terminated when the U.S. entered the war and production of the U.S. Army Model of 1928A1 began. Even though Savage made the guns, they were all marked only “Auto-Ordnance Corporation”.
AOC also began production of the 1928A1 in their own newly acquired factory in Bridgeport Connecticut in 1941.
The 1928A1 was repeatedly simplified until 1942 when it went through a major redesign which created the Model M1 and then the M1A1.
In 1944, AOC became Maguire Industries and so lost its corporate identity. The Thompson business became known as the “Ordnance Division of Maguire Industries”.
The patents that had protected the 1919 through 1928A1 TSMG had expired. No patents were obtained for the M1 and M1A1 models. Thompson trademarks were abandoned as were all vestiges of the AOC identity. Contrary to claims by some writers and others, Maguire never sold the Auto-Corporation or the Ordnance Division to anyone. Actually, there was nothing really to sell other than the remnants of the manufacturing facility.
No true Thompson gun was made after production of the M1A1 gun ceased in 1944. But that has not stopped many people from assembling guns from left over parts or manufacturing guns that, to varying degrees, are reproductions of the Thompsons. Many are marked “Thompson”. Some are sold deceptively under the “Auto-Ordnance” name. Some of the fakes have fooled the “experts” into believing they have discovered “rare” models. The Thompson name, trademarks, letterheads and logos are freely reproduced. To some. this is a tribute to the legacy of Thompson. To others, it is a method of defrauding unwitting buyers.