The first commercialized silencer was created by Hiram Percy Maxim. Hiram P. Maxim was the son of Hiram Stevens Maxim, the man who brought us the first fully portable machine gun. Hiram P. Maxim was a brilliant engineer who graduated from MIT. He worked in several other businesses, but formed his own Maxim Silencer Company in 1908.
Maxim’s products were available in hardware stores for less than $5 per piece. He formulated his idea around how he could make firearms quieter in order to not disturb his neighbors while he was shooting. Hiram named his product a “silencer,” and the ATF officially recognizes them as silencers as well. Of course the devices don’t fully silencer a weapon, and in fact, it’s impossible to do so as there are too many parts which contribute to the noise created by firing a gun. However, Maxim chose the name silencer, and so that is the official name. The terms suppressor, muffler, and “can” are also commonly used.
Silencers became very popular in the US. They were mostly used to moderate the sound of firearms while hunting and target shooting, but eventually their ability to make firearms quieter yielded them as potentially useful in criminal activities. Some felt silencers might make poaching much easier. There were also concerns they could be used by mobs and in robberies. The federal government began looking for ways to make silencers illegal to own. They couldn’t go so far as outlawing them entirely because of the 2nd Amendment, but in 1934, the National Firearms Act was enacted.
The National Firearms Act (NFA) not only restricted silencers, but also other weapons potentially associated with mob or gangster criminal activities such as short barrel rifles, short barrel shotguns, and machine guns. The federal government also put restrictions on what they called “any other weapon,” a general phrase to encompass weapons which were small and concealable such as pen guns, cane guns, knife guns, or the H&R Handy Gun. A full ATF definition of “any other weapon” can be found here.
Under the NFA, a person could still legally obtain one of the restricted firearms, but the person must pay a $200 tax (which at the time was equivalent to about $3,000 today) and go through an approval process. That was a large sum of money then, so many people decided to stop using silencers altogether.
In more recent years, silencers have regained popularity. The $200 tax has remained the same despite inflation, which makes the purchase of a silencer much more feasible than it used to be. Also, technology has developed, even in the last five years, to bring silencers up to a far more effective level in ability to suppress the gun fire than ever before. Where once it was almost required that all pistol silencers be shot “wet” (with some sort of fluid such as water or wire pulling gel in them) to get into a hearing safe range, now it is almost frowned upon as the designs are effective enough that a liquid medium is not required or suggested.
Silencers have gone through many changes in the last 80 years. They have boomed in popularity in the last decade and will likely continue to do so. If you’d like to place an order for your own silencer, give us a call today at 888.781.8778!