Skip to main content

Sale of antique Tommy gun brings Minnesota county $37K

  • Author:
  • Updated:

A weapon once used in the fight against Depression-era bootleggers is now fetching a pretty penny for Steele County.

The Owatonna People's Press reports a Thompson submachine gun that's belonged to the county since 1935 was rediscovered in a basement cleanup a few years ago and is being sold to an Arizona gun collector for $37,500.

Sheriff Lon Thiele tells the People's Press “This is a win-win for the county when I can surplus my budget and put a piece of history in a private museum and not on the street.” Thiele says the buyer operates a museum and plans to display the gun on a wall in a secure setting.

The Tommy gun earned a place in American history during the 1920s and '30s. The Smithsonian, which keeps one at the National Museum of American History, says it was developed just as World War I was ending. Instead of selling the gun to the military, its manufacturer found a market among the country's police departments and it then became popular with Prohibition-era gangsters.

While the one that turned up in the basement was acquired by Steele County in 1935, Thiele tells the People's Press it was made in 1921. That would put it in the first batch of Thompson guns that were mass-produced after the prototype developed by Gen. John Thompson (left) was tested.

The weaponry used to fight gangsters changed quite a bit during the decades that Steele County's gun was gathering dust. That makes Owatonna's Tommy gun an artifact, and a valuable one at that. Now the sheriff tells the newspaper that value will be used on modern-day needs:

“When I found out this gun could fetch anywhere from $35,000 to $55,000, that’s a squad car, that’s an (automated external defibrillator) or other equipment we could use without taking out of the budget.”

County commissioners approved the sale this week and also authorized money for the gun to be delivered to Arizona in person, the People's Press says.

Next Up

University of minnesota sign

U of M gives some students 50% off meals for September after complaints

Students have complained about an array of issues surrounding dining halls.


Gallery: Sprawling estate near Superior National Forest listed for $2.9M

The property has been in the same family for over 60 years.

Screen Shot 2022-09-27 at 2.51.49 PM

Surgery clinic proposed to replace 111-year-old farmhouse in Eagan

A developer is proposing to transform the remnant farm property.

Hurricane Ian

Why Hurricane Ian could be catastrophic in Florida

Hurricanes are the atmosphere’s biggest show of force and energy, and Hurricane Ian is no exception.


Suspect arrested after man and dog shot on St. Paul's East Side

The shooting happened around 12:45 p.m. Tuesday.


Bemidji police appeal to find missing teenager

Tahlia Poitra was last seen Wednesday.


Crisp & Green owner launches new chain, with 12 MN locations planned

Steele Brands already owns and operates Crisp & Green and Stalk & Spade.


New vendor to open at Rosedale Center food hall

POTLUCK Food Hall offers a rotating collection of local restaurants and food retailers.


Woman charged in drunk driving incident that killed Minnetonka HS alum

Nate Stratton, 20, died from his injuries on Sept. 18.