The “Baby Machine Guns” of Hyman S. Lehman,
In the 1920’s and 30’s Hyman S. (Hymie) Lehman was a small time Jewish gunsmith who worked out of a leather and saddlery shop in San Antonio, Texas. At the height of his career he invented a new type of firearm based on similar concepts used in World War I; the machine pistol. Essentially Lehman took a Colt 1911, chambered for either .45 ACP or .38 Super, and converted it to fully automatic. At full auto the 7 round magazine of a 1911 would be instantly drained, so he combined his new weapon with a custom 20 or 30 round magazine. In addition, for more control when firing the weapon he attached the foregrip from a Thompson Submachine Gun, and installed a compensator on the muzzle. The result was a very small weapon that could pour out a ton of firepower.
Obviously an ingenious design, surely the military or police would be interested in such a weapon. In fact Lehman probably could have become rich if he was awarded a government contract. However, Lehman’s clientele was made up of some very seedy characters. Infamous names such as John Dillinger, Baby Face Nelson, Pretty Boy Floyd, and Roger “The Terrible” Touhy all purchased one of Lehman’s baby machine guns. Indeed, Lehman’s machine pistols became a part of the violence that was the gangster era. Baby Face Nelson even used his to kill Federal Agent W. Carter Baum and wound two others during a shootout at the Little Bohemia Lodge in Wisconsin. When questioned about the sales, Lehman simply maintained that he had no idea that the men he sold them too were dangerous criminals.
In 1934 the National Firearms Act was passed into law, outlawing the manufacture or possession of fully automatic firearms without a special government tax stamp. Early Texas had passed a similar state law. In 1935 Lehman was arrested for violating that law. Despite two trials he was never convicted. He died due to complications caused by Alzheimer’s Disease in 1990.