The prompt for this bump to the top was the arrival in my mailbox two days ago of the September 2008 issue of Small Arms Review, which had been impossible to obtain around here until I subscribed to it. The issue was a double whammy (of the good kind) for this board, with great feature articles from two members, host Dave Albert on Manville gas guns, and "TD" Tom Davis on the Kilgore era in Thompson history. The latter article occupies eight full pages and concludes that an undefined entity, repeatedly described as "the Thompson", passed from Maguire Industries, to Kilgore, to Frederic Willis and unidentified associates, and eventually to George Numrich and Numrich Arms Company in what seems to be represented as an unbroken ownership succession. Or maybe I am grossly misinterpreting what is claimed in the last sentence.
The article purportedly lays to rest any doubts as to "the Thompson's" unbroken chain of ownership during the time period covered...and by implication, up to and including the contemporary Kahr Arms era. When I took issue with that conclusion in August, I was taken to task for commenting without having done my homework, by reading TD's article...which supposedly had new information which would lay to rest my reservations.
I've now read the article, two or three times, taking a lot of notes before posting this response to the contention that I was not qualified to comment. As soon as the SAR article came out, it was cited as conclusive proof of the "unbroken succession" theory, that Thompson proprietary rights, intellectual property rights, can be traced directly from the original, documented 1940s owners to Kahr Arms today. It's clear to me that the article was expected to be the final word on the "unbroken succession" debate, with it being published in a respected venue such as SAR. I'm not inclined to let that become the new status quo, for the sake of accuracy. I'm totally satisfied that the opposite is true, and that contention cannot be successfully challenged, with reference to the verifiable facts, or lack thereof, available to each of us as of today. There is no "unbroken succession" that any of us know about, or can prove by citing verifiable independent sources and documents.
Anybody who sets out to do research on a scientific or historical issue which may involve controversey, has to accept that the work is open to peer review. This is that. It is nothing more and nothing less. It is a part of the continuing research to find more facts, for those interested. And I accept that very few of us are. If peer review finds the historical evidence claimed is verifiable, then information presented in the book or article becomes a part of the accepted historical record. If the scientific experiment can be independently repeated, we have a breakthrough for mankind. Cold Fusion didn't make that cut.
The good news is that TD's fine article reveals a wealth of new anecdotal information on what happened to bits and pieces of the Thompson story after Maguire stopped making the guns during World War II and before George Numrich began putting a few surplus pieces together in the 1960s. But continuity of the essence of it, ownership changes of virtually any of the intellectual property involved, is not newly verified in any way. I have to elaborate, because I know this will be hotly disputed.
Weeks before reading the SAR article, I had attended TD's excellent lecture and slide show on the same subject at our recent TATA meeting in August. I asked some pointed questions regarding the implied but unproven intellectual ownership transfers. The responses did not resolve anything. None of this reflects unfavorably on all the positive research, TD's good and exceptional work, done so far. The problem is only about the premature conclusion.
One consistent problem ran through the SAR article, the lecture, and the slide show. Repeatedly, reference is made to the sale or ownership transfer of what is described as "the Thompson", usually without defining the term further or adding descriptive words. Rereading the article, I started counting these and got lost after about 28. It is out of order to use a term like that in a scholarly context without defining exactly what it means, at the very beginning. In this case, I don't believe it is prudent to use it in a vague way at all, in a piece which is being held up as the scholarly resolution of an issue which has been in dispute among Thompson collectors for a long time.
Besides the above 28 uses of "the Thompson", there are references to "the Thompson submachine gun", and "the Tommy Gun", and "the Thompson business". Some of these entities are said to have been "transferred", were "sold off", or "made the move". We don't get details, names, dates, places, where and how the transactions were recorded, or anything which could be independently verified by the reader. It's interesting, of course, and can be considered reason to probe further.
The closest we come to additional facts is reference to a letter from Bill Helmer regarding what he "thought" he remembered about the alleged sale of "drawings, blueprints, dies and other assets". But this is very thin stuff upon which to base a historical theory which is set forth as fact instead.
Further, Helmer is quoted on what he said he "heard" from George Numrich, regarding ownership changes of something relating to Thompson resources. That also is interesting, but not close to fact.
It gets even murkier, when we read that Numrich "said" Kilgore "reportedly" paid $385,000 for all rights and interests in "the Thompson submachine gun". No further verifiable sources for this alleged remembrance are cited. To say this is smoke, would be an understatement. Yet to me, this is one of the most tantalizing fragments. That amount could have bought a lot of unfinished guns and parts and tooling, and there are suggestions that it may have been stored at several locations. It might also have bought some intellectual property, the essence of "the Thompson". But we don't know any of that; the evidence is simply not there. It may have bought both. We just don't know.
We are vaguely told that Numrich supposedly purchased "the Thompson assets", whatever that means, from Frederic Willis and unidentified associates at an unspecified time, at an unspecified place, for an unspecified amount, in a year which I think I can narrow down to 1951. More thin stuff? You bet. But all of the above is very interesting, and some of it is worth pursuing further, to try to get at those nuggets which would shift the intellectual property sale theories into the realm of verifiable fact.
Nowhere in the article, the lecture, or the visual aids is there even reference to the existence or sale of such key intellectual property assets such as the Thompson bullet logo, the Thompson name for a firearm, or the corporate name of Auto Ordnance. Without these, "the Thompson" does not exist. There can be no scholarly discussion of "the Thompson's" ownership progression without these questions being answered with what lawyers describe as "reasonable specificity".
The red flag went up for me as I hit these references to "the Thompson" on the first page of the article. We simply have to define things better than that.
TD says at the very end of the article that his research has "laid to rest" questions of what Kilgore planned to do with the hard assets and tooling and parts they reportedly purchased. I agree with your conclusion on their intentions, TD; they planned to manufacture guns. But they didn't. Where all of this good research falls to pieces is in the very last sentence, where there is a giant leap to the claim that somehow it has now been "established" that Kilgore purchased "theThompson" and that this still undefined entity was passed along to successive owners, with Numrich Arms Company being named last. Nothing of the kind has been established.
But it may be, sometime. Right now, we do not have the verifiable facts and documentation at hand to make that sweeping statement with scholarly accuracy. To represent it as a theory, or guess, or assumption would be fair. But that is not what has happened. It is being represented as fact. And my credibility for taking exception has come under direct fire...unwarranted fire. I'll stand on my assessment. And my mind is open. If and when new facts surface, and if they can be objectively verified, I'll be happy to accept that.
But right now, there is not one shred of evidence to support the "unbroken succession" theories on the chain of ownership of Thompson intellectual property rights, which consist of the product name, the bullet logo, and the corporate name of the original Auto Ordnance Corporation.
It just ain't there.
...as I said long before reading the excellent and interesting SAR article.
If I could make it happen, I would. We'd all be happier and TD would not be upset with my voicing of this analysis. Honestly TD, I commend you for all this research and the great article. My only criticism is that the new anecdotal results which you unearthed do not logically lead to the conclusion reached at the very end. The facts are not yet there. That is not a situation of my making; I only describe it.
I'm not any less happy with any of the people holding opinions on the other side, and I just hope I don't get hosed from all directions when I get on the Newark PD range next year.
Maybe by that time we'll have found all the missing documents. But I wouldn't be unhappy if we never find the missing link connecting all these honorable people and their companies to those little old elf craftsmen, builders of guns and drums that occasionally work, at Kahr Arms in upstate New York.