Thursday, May 9, 2019

Firearm Factory of the Month: Thompson/Center Arms

The story of Thompson/Center Arms starts with a machinist named Kenneth W. Thompson.

Thompson opened a machine shop in his garage on Long Island New York in 1945.
The company came to be known as K.W. Thompson Machine and Tool Company Inc. Being located near gun central, it wasn't long before Thompson was machining parts for gun makers throughout the area. Many of his parts were molds for investment casting, an area in which gun maker Sturm, Ruger & Co. was a pioneer in.

By 1963, the company grew and the need for more space necessitated a move to Rochester, New Hampshire.

Thompson had long thought about building his own gun, but never started until 1965. That is when a gun designer by the name of Warren Center joined the company. Center had worked for Iver Johnson and Harrington & Richardson and already had a design for a pistol with interchangeable barrels.

A new venture was formed: Thompson/Center Arms and in 1967 they released their now famous Contender Pistol

photo courtesy of Guns & Ammo Magazine

Because they were already adept at making molds for casting, Thompson/Center used investment cast parts for their new pistol. Similar to Sturm, Ruger's Pine Tree Casting, Thompson's casting division would create parts for other gun makers and industries.
Also similar to Ruger pistols, the Contender became known for being very stout and was favored by wildcatters.

The Casting division of the company was in a building about 3 miles away on Old Dover Road.

As time went on T/C Arms added additional models including a Hawken, black powder rifle replica. The muzzle loaders proved successful and eventually grew to include nine rifle and two pistol models.

The original Contender was redesigned and released as the G2 (Generation 2) as well as a larger framed version called the Encore. They added a Contender rifle as well, which led to a lawsuit by the BATF.
In 1992 the case went to the Supreme Court, who sided with Thompson/Center. The case hinged on weather or not having the parts to assemble a short barreled rifle constituted "intent" to violate the 1934 National Firearms Act, which restricts the ownership of rifles with barrels shorter than 16".

On December 18th, 2006 Smith & Wesson Holding Corporation announced it would be purchasing Thompson/Center Arms for $102 Million.

Four years later in the first week of December 2010, S&W announced they would close the T/C Rochester plant and move production to Smith & Wesson in Springfield, MA.

In 2012 S&W sold the Thompson Casting division to a partnership that continue to operate under the name Thompson Investment Casting Company.

Time line of events:

1945: Kenneth W. Thompson opens his machine shop

1963: Thompson moves his operation to Rochester, NH

1965: Warren Center joins the company

1967: The Thompson/Center Contender is introduced

1970: T/C ads muzzle loading rifles to their catalog

1983: The Encore pistol is introduced, shortly after the Contender G2 is released

2006: Smith & Wesson announces the purchase of T/C Arms

2010: S&W announces the closing of the T/C Arms facility in Rochester

2012: S&W sells the casting division

Factory/Office locations

We have seen many ads with a Farmington Road address (including 2109 Farmington Road). I am not sure where this building was, the 2109 address does not exist on a map. Farmington Road becomes North Main after it crosses State Route 202, so maybe the location was the same but the addresses changed to 400 North Main when the freeway was put in?

The Casting division is still at 41 Old Dover Road in Rochester, now operated by new owners.

We know the main manufacturing plant was at 400 North Main Street. This building(s) was torn down sometime after S&W vacated the property in the summer of 2011.

The lot at 400 North Main is now vacant

Guns & Ammo Magazine
Rifle Shooter Magazine
Thompson Investment Castings 
Seacoast Online

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