As America Mobilized for War, Pres. Woodrow Wilson Fretted Over Silencers
Wilson feared stealthy German saboteurs
On March 30, 1917, just days before the United States entered World War I, Pres. Woodrow Wilson directed his personal secretary Joseph Tumulty to write to the Department of Justice requesting that the agency look into the threat German fifth columnists might pose if they used Maxim silencers to attack key infrastructure.
Maxim Silencers “should be prohibited and all outstanding weapons collected by the police,” Wilson’s letter stated. The president worried that sentries guarding isolated posts such as bridges and munitions factories might become targets of opportunity for assassins carrying silenced weapons. “Great damage could be done before main guard … discovered [the] sentry’s death.”
On April 3, the Department of Justice in turn wrote to the secretary of war and asked for his comment on the issue.
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The U.S. Army adjutant general consulted Brig. Gen. William Crozier, chief of ordnance. Crozier responded on April 7, saying that the use of a Maxim silencer by “unauthorized persons” was not considered sufficiently important to require special action by the War Department. “A silencer reduces the intensity of the report at discharge, but does not entirely eliminate it,” Crozier noted.
While Wilson’s concerns might to some seem unwarranted, German saboteurs had already been active in the United States, most notable in 1916 when American-made ordnance destined for Europe was destroyed by German spies in what became known as the “Black Tom explosion.”
It wasn’t until World War II that clandestine operatives on both sides of the conflict widely used silencers.