Thompson Center Arms
Country of Origin

United States


Rochester, New Hampshire (US)


K.W. Thompson
Warren Center

Year of Founding


Owner(s)/Parent Company

Smith & Wesson

Key People

Gregg Ritz (CEO)

Weapon Types


Famous Firearms

Thompson Contender Pistol
Hawken Rifle

Area(s) served

United States

Thompson Center Arms, formed in 1965, are an American based firearm manufacturer. Originally formed by K.W. Thompson to produce a pistol designed by Warren Center, the firm has produced unusual pistol designs ever since, supplementing this line with novel rifle designs including the muzzle loading Hawken Rifle.


Thompson Contender

The first Thompson product, the Warren Center designed Contender pistol.

Thompson Center Arms began when K.W. Thompson, whom had created a tool company (the K.W. Thompson Tool Company), was approached by Warren Center, himself looking for a company to produce his Contender Pistol design. Hence the Thompson Center Arms Company was set-up in 1965 with the first of over 400,000 Contender Pistols was shipped two years later in 1967. 

The 1970s saw Thompson begin production of the 19th century Hawken Rifle, a blackpowder, muzzle loading rifle originally developed in 1823. This decision not only allowed Thompson to dominate a whole area of the gun manufacturing market but also prompted them to develop a range of modern designs inspired by the Hawken. These designs have also been added to by their bolt action rifles.

Hawken Rifle

An example of an original percussion lock Hawken Rifle.

The 1990s and 2000s have seen Thompson develop as a company. A legal challenge by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tabacco and Firearms led to a Supreme Court ruling (albeit in Thompson's favour) in 1992 while at that time Thompson ended production of their founding product (the Contender). The Contender did, however, live on into the 2000s (in the guise of the Contender G2 and Encore). On the 4th of January 2007 Smith & Wesson completed the purchase of Thompson Center Arms, with Thompson coming into the Smith & Wesson Holding Corporation group, although its production remained unchanged.

United States v. Thompson Center ArmsEdit

As mentioned above Thompson Center Arms received a legal challenge from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tabacco and Firearms in 1992, refering to their Contender pistols (which exact model the challenge referred to is unclear as the exact dates of the ending of the production of the original Contender and the beginning of the production of its replacements are unkown). The Bureau regarded the design as an illegal attempt to produce a SBR (Short Barreled Rifle) breaking the laws of the US 1934 National Firearms Act.

The Supreme Court ultimately deemed that Thompson had not been in breech of the Act, as in their view the ability to modify the Contender pistol into a rifle (through the addition of a stock and rifle length barrel) did not constitute the view that Thompson were deliberately manufacturing SBRs. The ruling also gave a conformation of the term "make" in the Act.


Thompson Center Arms have produced a number of unusual designs for both rifles and pistols. Several of these designs have developed large followings and even helped to spark life into shrinking markets.


Thompson Contender G2

The Thompson Contender G2 Pistol, successor to the famed Thompson Contender.

Thompson's first creation, the Warren Center designed Contender Pistol, first entered the market in 1967. The design was novel, in that it was a break action design with the ability to fire virtually any calibre cartridge (by virtue of having interchangable barrels). The success of this design meant that it remained in production until the 1990s when it was replaced by the near identical Encore Pistol. This was then supplemented with the Contender G2, the second generation version of the Contender. These designs were refined from the original Contender and brought the design into the 21st century.


Thompson began producing replicas of the 19th century Hawken Rifle in 1970. This move opened Thompson Center Arms into the muzzle loading rifle market, a move which allowed them to take command of the market for a considerable amount of time. The production of the Hawken has been supplemented with more modern designs, including the Venture, Icon, Triumph, Omega and the Dimension (a variety of bolt action and muzzle loading designs).


Thompson Center Arms has also been responsible for several innovative designs. These innovations range from a unique rifling pattern (named 5R Rifling) to a claimed 50x more effective weather proofing system named the Weather Shield. Other innovations concern the design of their bolt action mechanism, stocks (including recoil absorbing materials) and a solution to improve loading times for muzzle loading rifles (named the QLA or Quick Load Accurizor).


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