Now all roads lead to France and heavy is the tread
Of the living; but the dead returning lightly dance.
Edward Thomas, Roads

Sunday, August 29, 2021

Who Was Benjamin Hotchkiss?


Poilus Firing a Hotchkiss Machine Gun

Benjamin Berkeley Hotchkiss (1826–1885) was born in Watertown, Connecticut, and grew up in a family involved in machinery. His father and brother, both inventors, had established a business that manufactured their patented articles. In 1856 Hotchkiss designed a rifle field gun that the Mexican government purchased. Along with his brother, Andrew, he came up with a projectile for rifled artillery. It had two sections (front and rear) made of cast iron that were joined by a band of lead, intended to fit into and take the shape of the grooves of the rifling in the gun. This created a much more accurate shell. Hotchkiss also helped his family to develop a better percussion fuse, and, as a result, more Hotchkiss shells were used for rifled cannons during the American Civil War than those any other munitions manufacturer in the country. His family was so closely associated with the Union cause that during the New York City draft riots of 1863, Hotchkiss had to ride through the streets of Manhattan concealed beneath a pile of cloth.

Benjamin Hotchkiss

Success followed Hotchkiss after the war. He traveled to Paris, where he invented an improved metallic cartridge case and made many improvements in hand-held firearms and cannons. Hotchkiss designed a revolving-barrel machine gun and created a revolving cannon that destroyed a boat during trials, having hit the ship with 70 shots out of 119 fired. While aboard a train in 1875, he met a Romanian army officer who told him of the need for a magazine repeating rifle. In a half-hour, Hotchkiss sketched a design for such a weapon, which later proved to be superior to all others at the time.

Hotchkiss was reputed to be the world's best artillery engineer. By 1882, his B.B. Hotchkiss Company had branches throughout Europe. Hotchkiss was working on a new machine gun design when he died in 1885. His company perfected his plans after his death, and brought out a gas-operated machine gun in 1897. The first gas-operated and air-cooled machine gun, the Hotchkiss  Modèle  1914 was used extensively in World War I, most notably by the French Army and the American Expeditionary Force. It was initially supplied to frontline troops in 1916 when a parliamentary committee of inquiry concluded that the Hotchkiss was more reliable than the previous principal machine gun, the St. Etienne. It had a heavy barrel with external fins to dissipate heat, and weighed 88 pounds (40 kilograms). It could fire at the rate of 450–500 rounds per minute and had a muzzle velocity of 2,325 feet per second. It was fed by strips of belts, each holding 24–30 rounds. A 250-round belt was also made.

Source: How Products Are Made Website;  Britannica


  1. France was one of the only major countries that did not adopt a version of the Maxim type machine gun.