I was born in 1937 in New York but grew up in Illinois in a small town south of Chicago. My first memory in life was running into the kitchen to tell my mother that I had just heard President Roosevelt announce that the United States had been attacked by Japan. That was 1941. For the next 4 years everybody was part of the War effort. Most news came by weekly magazines like Life, Look, Saturday Evening Post and Collierís. I would take those magazines, cut out the pictures I liked and paste them in my scrap book. Many years later, my mother showed me my scrapbook. Every picture in the book featured a Thompson.!!!
It seems like my whole life has been one project or business after another. The first was making wooden Thompsons. With the help of my father, who was the guiding light of my life, I would make the Thompsons which I would take to grade school to sell to my classmates. Every recess we would grab our Tommy Guns to defend the world in the playground. Then there were backyard carnivals, travel shows based on my imagination, building huge electric train layouts in the basement, etc. I became fascinated with marionettes which lead to making them and putting on shows. My first book was "How To Make Marionettes". It was a literary masterpiece complete with crayon drawn illustrations. I studied taxidermy by correspondence and by 8th grade I was making money at it. I was honored by being invited to the Natural History Museum in Chicago to study with the taxidermists there.
My father was named "Industrial Editor of the Year" for his work on the monthly in-house news magazine where he worked and was listed in "Who's Who In America". That got him many invitations to tour other factories and facilities on a VIP basis. Since there was nothing I liked better than to find out how machines worked and how things got made, I ensured that every invitation was accepted and I got to go. I was very lucky in this area. My father had a lot of connections and the interest to take advantage of every opportunity to learn about things. I was like a sponge soaking up every bit of information available. I think he used me as an excuse to follow his interests. That was OK because his interests were also mine. That is, except for sports. He played college football. I don't remember ever actually seeing a complete football game.
Our family had some trying times. I had two sisters and a brother. I was the oldest. Mother became totally paralyzed with the birth of my brother and the oldest sister got very sick. I ended up raising three children including an infant while my father tried to hold things together. That turned out to be a marketable skill. I didn't much like it but I became the most in demand babysitter for every couple with a new born. My mother completely recovered. My sister did not. She died at 10 years old.
I did not much care for high school. But even with a full time job starting at 14, I managed to graduate #6 out of over 600 in the Class of 1955 without ever studying anything. Our school was in a not so nice area close to the south side of Chicago and getting worse. I never liked sports but I studied Judo and went undefeated in the State of Illinois in wrestling just to learn how to defend myself. Things got so bad there that I started carrying a gun to the dances and other events. I kept up my interest in guns, target shooting, reloading and studying Thompsons.
From there, it was off to the University of Illinois at Champaign/Urbana and a new life. I was never a good student, mostly because I had so many projects going on like putting an Oldsmobile V-8 engine in my 1954 Corvette, other car projects and always the Thompsons. In 1957 while working as a machinist in the University machine shop, I made my first full sized steel Thompson receiver. Other projects included manufacturing Luger barrels which I sold out of the fraternity house.
I never did like being cold so it was off to Florida every Spring break. Problem was I would always be late getting back which did not help my grades. It was during one of those breaks that I met Rosemary. She already had her Master's Degree and was working on a PHD while working full time teaching. To this day, she is the most intelligent person I have ever met. She set her sights on me in spite of my not having any interest in marriage and, besides, my father would disown me if I got married before graduation. It wasn't that I did not love her. I had decided that I did not want to ever have children and I did not believe her that she didn't either. She made some kind of deal with my father guarantying that she would get me through college. He married me off and she did her part.
I graduated in 1961 with a degree in mechanical design engineering. Off we went to California - she to teach and me as an engineer for Douglas Aircraft. Soon thereafter, with her help, I added a masters degree in business management from USC.
My next products were Luger sight adjusting wrenches and then FN FAL safety sears. Also, my Thompson hobby continued to develop, finally becoming a real business in1962. Rosemary and I partnered with Edmond H. De La Garrigue and his wife, Phyllis, to form the Universal Precision Corporation. It was a gun manufacturing business specializing in making exact replicas of very rare antique guns and Ĺ scale Thompsons. I did all the engineering and other technical work, Garrigue was in charge of the manufacturing. After that business ended, I continued to expand my Thompson hobby with the goal of putting the Thompson back in production.
Rosemary and I did a lot together. We traveled by Land Rovers and ships and even made a movie for Disney featuring our pet Jaguar cat. We purchased a 40 acre ranch in Malibu so she could return to her farm girl roots and have a horse again as I had promised her. I really enjoyed living in the country. Our relationship was either great or horrible. We got divorced and then remarried. It was all short lived because the children issue surfaced just like I predicted it would. The second time we divorced, it stuck. She went off to make her babies.
I moved from Douglas Aircraft to the Northrop Aviation Company. While there, I finished a degree in law and met my next wife, Karen. Later I took a job with Litton Industries building ships for the Navy. That lasted until I became 30 years old. I had made myself a promise when I was 18 that I would get as much education and advance as far as I could in the corporate world until I was 30 years old and then never be employed again. That is exactly what I did. I was never good at conventional life and I understood that. But I had also been born during the Depression and lived through WW2, so a good foundation was important to me. Now that we had more time, Karen and I traveled a great deal. We traveled primarily by ship and Land Rover and had a good life. She was a great traveler. On one of the trips I negotiated with Pirelli to become the West Coast distributor for their inflatable boats. We even immigrated to Costa Rica but that was short lived because the Government made a park out of our land. That caused us to relocate to Belize where I was previously living. But too much of a good thing is sometimes difficult. I think she wanted to be more anchored. The relationship never seemed to "gel" and ended after about five years.
I continued to be outside the U.S. for the most part. When I did return, I put an ad in the singles newspaper to try to initiate some sort of social life. I did not expect too much from it until it resulted in my meeting some really outstanding women. My last 2(3?) wives were outstanding as well. But, I hit the jackpot when my ad attracted Madalon. I telephoned her when I happened to be in her neighborhood. We agreed to a spur of the moment,15 minute, blind date at her condo to determine if we wanted to take it further at another time. When I met her, I realized instantly that she was the woman I had been searching for my entire life. I never left. Finding her was the best thing that ever happened to me. That was 35 years ago and we are still going strong.
We started traveling mostly by ships. On one trip to Europe, I managed to secure the entire distribution for North America for Bellino German Army "jerrycans". We started doing Land Rover expedition outfitting using equipment of my design and manufacture which has been a substantial part of my life. (Visit www.landrovercamper.com for more on that.) We also sailed most of the Caribbean by ship and yacht and also sailed around French Polynesia (Tahiti). I had promised Madalon that I would build her a nice house. We assumed it would be on the ranch. That project leaped to the forefront when our old house on the ranch burned down in the 1982 Malibu fire storm. With the way the U.S., and California in particular, were going down hill, we had misgivings about making any further investment in the U.S. Therefore, I took Madalon to Belize where we now call home. We owned and operated a resort hotel there until it was destroyed by Hurricane Iris, Oct. 7, 2001. We now build only with concrete.
The Thompson work never stopped. Just as I was about to start production on the 1921 gun, President Reagan signed the 1986 gun law which prevented citizens from being able to purchase new-made machine guns. So, I started to develop my tool and accessory designs, wrote several reference books on the Thompson and manufactured semi-finished receivers, frames (trigger housings) and my various product designs. I also worked for the movie industry making working Thompsons including the Dillinger Thompson. I became very successful in the Thompson field. Not because I had talents no one else had, but because I combined my engineering design and manufacturing expertise with a passion for the Thompson that has now lasted for over 70 years. Unfortunately, I am getting too old (now 79)and have developed very poor vision. I can no longer do the things I used to do.
It is not my age that is doing me in as much as it is the poor vision. I was born with kerataconis. That is a genetic affliction that causes the cornea to distort and become cone shaped. There is no cure. Hard contact lenses got me by for most of my life but I can not tolerate them any more as my vision continues to deteriorate. I can no longer drive or read normal print. The only hope is with cornea transplants which I have already done three times in one eye without much success.
I will never stop working on Thompsons but "working on" is taking on a new meaning. I would like to find someone to take over, relegating me to a consulting role. (See the Richardson/Thompson Business For Sale page in the WEBSITE CONTENTS for more information.) There are a number of Thompson projects that I never seemed to find time for that I would like to work on. They include the Model 1923 gun and my semi-auto design.