History of the Thompson
By Tracie L. Hill

When WWII ended, Auto-Ordnance Corporation stopped producing arms of any kind and was literally packed up into crates and put on the shelf. George Numrich bought the name and the assets of Auto-Ordnance in 1950 and moved Auto-Ordnance to his facilities in West Hurley, New York. At first, Thompsons were produced by assembling them from remaining spare parts inventories or re-importing World War II produced arms and accessories. The same was true with spare parts and L drums. However, by the early 1970’s the supply of surplus items was getting difficult to obtain and he decided to start production of “new” Thompsons.

The last item to be made new was the L drums. The first maker of “new” L drums since WWII was the MGC Corporation of Japan. They produced a dummy Thompson submachine gun made from “pot metal” and supplied them with a blued steel dummy drum.

Numrich Type XL Drum

Numrich purchased these dummy drums and inserted a stamped rotor on the inside that held 39 cartridges. The outside was stamped with “Auto-Ordnance Corporation, West Hurley, New York, U.S.A.”, along with the bullet logo, on the front face at the six o’clock position. No other markings on the face plates were added. This drum was referred to as a type “XL” or 40-round drum magazine. The quality of the drum was poor and reliability suffered.

.22 Caliber Drums

During this time Numrich also offered .22 caliber semiautomatic and later full automatic Thompsons, based on the Model of 1928 appearance. Shown here are only two versions of this caliber drum magazine.

One version used the MGC dummy drum body with an H&R ten round box magazine welded into place to feed the Thompson. The backside of the body had the normal drum rails removed from the face plate and a vertical steel bar welded into place. This allowed the drum to be loaded into the Thompson like a box magazine.

Another version was originally made for the Mitchel Arms PPS-50, a .22 caliber copy of the Russian PPSH-41. Numrich used the drum with a section of a Thompson box magazine welded to the back of the drum allowing the drum to be inserted like a box magazine and added the Thompson bullet logo to the back surface of the drum.

Numrich Type L Drum

Finally, in the 1980’s, Numrich created its own Type L fifty-round drum magazine. Quality of these drums is similar to most of the WWII era drums. However, great care must be taken by novice collectors so as not to confuse this drum with Colt era drums. The rear face plate also uses a New York address but with a little observation, the differences are apparent.

Numrich Type C Drum

In the 1990’s Numrich took the step to produce a hundred round drum magazine. Other than the Type C drums produced by Johns Works Co., in the early 1920’s no other company had produced this version. These drums were made by Elmsford Tool & Die. Worchester Co., New York. Numrich had each drum serialized with a matching number on the cover. Numrich, unfortunately, rushed these drums into production and got what they put into it. The drums produced were a disaster, with poor quality and even worse reliability. These drums became really good boat anchors or paperweights. However, these drums can now be rebuilt to function reliably today. This will be discussed in a later section.

Numrich/Kahr Type X Drum

With the passage in 1998 of the large capacity magazine ban, magazines were limited to a maximum of ten rounds. This led to the creation of the Type X ten-round drum. These were built for collectors who wanted the look of a drum magazine, but one which complied with the new federal laws.

The drum was created by taking a Type L drum and removing the spiral feed rails for all but ten rounds of ammunition. At first, these drums used the full spring rotors from the Type L. Later drums had the springs reduced to only turn enough for the ten rounds of ammo.

Numrich Type L “Export” Drum

With the magazine ban in place, Numrich continued on a very limited basis to produce the 50-round Type L drum magazine. However, sales of these drums (at that time) were limited to only law enforcement or for export. These drums were the standard Numrich L drum, but had the added markings of “FOR EXPORT ONLY” stamped on the back face at the six o’clock position.

These drums were manufactured by Elmsford Tool and Die, Westchester Co., New York and assembled by Iona Co., New Windsor, New York.

With the sunset of the Brady Law/magazine ban, these drums can now be owned by all collectors.

In January 1999, Numrich sold the Auto-Ordnance Corporation name and assets to Saileo Group (Kahr Arms Co.), which continued the production of drum magazines and semiautomatic Thompson carbines.

Kahr Type L “Export” Drum

When Kahr bought Auto-Ordnance in 1999, they took over the production of the Type X and Type L drum magazine production. However, Kahr export drums were marked differently. On the back side of the drum is stamped “EXPORT AND LAW ENFORCEMENT ONLY” at the six o’clock position. With the sunset of the magazine ban, these drums can now be owned by all collectors.

Kahr Type L Drum

With the sunset of the magazine ban, Kahr retooled and went back into production of the Type L drum. Their first attempts exhibited poor workmanship and reliability suffered greatly. These drums were not built with the Class III world in mind, and were intended for the semiautomatic carbine owners only.

Kahr took suggestions from the public and tried to refine the manufacturing of their Type L and introduced what is referred to as an “improved” model. These drums were only marginally better and again reliability is an issue. These drums have a noticeable difference in marking. Notice how the number 9 in the winding instructions appears to have been replaced from the first Kahr L drum.

Modern Reproduction Drums

It can be fun to collect some of the more recent drums on the market. The first is the all rubber drums that have been accredited to the movie industry. These all-rubber drums have been patterned after several different versions of the West Hurley era drums. These drum are only for display and will not function.

Additionally, there are also available drums made for the airsoft Thompsons. These all plastic drums actually feed a plastic 8mm ball to the spring powered Thompson replicas.

This article first appeared in Small Arms Review V9N5 (February 2006)
and was posted online on March 15, 2013


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