Exterior of the Thompson House with the "Tommygun" Inventor historic marker.
The Thompson House
The "Tommy Gun", or Thompson Submachine Gun
Brigadier General John T. Thompson
Backstory and Context
Built in 1814 by Richard Southgate, a local lawyer and senator, the Southgate house was left to his daughter Francis Parker when he died. Her daughter, Julia, would marry Army officer James Thompson and it would become the family home to Brigadier General John Thompson who, while also known for being the youngest man promoted to Colonel in the Army in his day, is best known as the inventor of one of the most iconic firearms ever made — the Thompson machine gun. The house was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1977.
While doing his part as chief of the Small Arms Division for the Ordnance Department, Thompson was part of the development and testing of the M1911 pistol (another iconic firearm). Weapons design and development was a familiar concept to him. Before the United States had entered into WWI, Thompson, who grew concerned about the plight of the Allies in the new style of brutal trench warfare, envisioned an automatic weapon that would be a valuable tool in the hands of the professional soldier. He went into development in the brief period between his two stints in the Army in hopes it would be available for use in the war, but the war ended just as the first prototypes were becoming available. Because of this, the firearm's most prominent early adopters were the gangsters and police who used it during the 1920s after its first release. Nicknames such as the “Chicago Typewriter”, “Tommy Gun”, and “The Chopper” were too dazzling for Hollywood to resist and a weapon that could have been used to save the lives of Allied soldiers, as what Thompson called a “Trench Broom”, was instead used by American citizens against American citizens. Despite this early use being far separated from what Thompson had intended, and its limited effective range due to its design and .45 caliber ammunition, this firearm found great use in WWII where its close combat capabilities and high rate of fire were valuable in the European theater where street combat was a regular occurrence.Thompson’s childhood home, like his rifle, has had several lives of its own and has been continually reinvented on its way to becoming a historical landmark. Just as his machine gun was a gangsters tool of intimidation that became a lifesaving sidearm of Allied soldiers in France, the Thompson House was once a well known home to prominent families in Kentucky that has now become a beloved music venue and popular site for haunted tours. Between its rich history, haunted lore, and musical offerings there is something to interest any visitor of the Thompson House.