Benjamin Berkeley Hotchkiss was born in Watertown, Connecticut in 1826. He became a skilled designer in the family's
engineering business with a passion for weapons but having failed to
interest the US Government in his designs he moved to France where he
set up the Hotchkiss Company in 1867. His first factory was located at
Route de Gonesse in Saint-Denis which is close to Paris and there he
began producing weapons and explosives for the French Government. Hotchkiss died in 1885 but the company continued
with his personal ambition to develop a truly automatic machine-gun.
The first working model was produced by 1892
and in 1897 it was adopted by the French Army.
A series of modifications and improvements followed resulting in
the definitive 'Hotchkiss gun' by 1914. The weapon became one of the
standard gas-operated heavy machine gun designs to be adopted for use by
Britain, France and Japan. It could even be used as an anti-aircraft
weapon (shown opposite). At the turn of the century the company also
diversified into making components for motor cars and then vehicles.
Hotchkiss was growing fast and about to become one of the largest and
most important mechanical engineering companies in France.
1903 saw the production of the first of a series of motor vehicles, a 20
horsepower four-cylinder car, though a major fire in the factory nearly
ended production for good. The badge for the 'Automobiles Hotchkiss'
marque consisted of a pair of crossed cannons - in reference to the
company's origin (see top of page). In 1909 the Hotchkiss Company
produced its first military vehicle, an armoured car equipped with a
machine gun located on the rear. The 'Automitrailleuse' is shown
opposite and, ironically, having been ordered by the Sultan of Turkey
the vehicles were captured by his enemies during the delivery process
and ended up being used to depose him.
During the 1930's Hotchkiss
grew to became a well established and successful motor car manufacturer.
The French Army, like most others at the time were interested in
experimenting with the use of cars as light weight military vehicles.
The photograph (left) shows Hotchkiss AM80 cars being for desert patrol
work in the Syrian desert in 1929 - 1936. These had a six cylinder OHV
3-litre engine and oversize tyres compared with the normal production
More powerful sports versions
of the AM80 were developed to compete in the Monte-Carlo Rally where
Hotchkiss gained victories over, rival French manufacturer Delahaye by
winning in 1932, 1933, 1934, and 1939. (Two further victories were
achieved after the war in 1949 & 1950). Hotchkiss also became a
sufficiently successful and prestigious manufacturer to have a racing
team that competed regularly at international venues like the famous
Brooklyns Circuit. The 1930's also saw a range
of multi-wheel drive military vehicles produced in conjunction with the
These included cars, ambulances, tankers,
carriers, and prime movers. Laffly-Hotchkiss vehicles were more often
than not designed by Laffly but incorporated Hotchkiss engines and were
often manufactured by both companies. Almost all the larger military
vehicles featured the additional set of small front wheels to help the
vehicle overcome obstacles. The vehicle shown on the left is a 1939
Hotchkiss R15R Command & Reconnaissance 4x4 which was both designed and
built by Hotchkiss rather than one of the more numerous collaborative
In 1936 to meet the French
Army's vehicle requirements for the light armoured division (Divisions
Légere Mécanique) Hotchkiss also produced the H35 tank with a 37mm gun
and 75 horsepower engine. The design then evolved through the H38 with
its larger engine (120 hp) and the H39 with larger engine and a longer
gun barrel. Tanks were also being produced by other manufacturers like
Renault but the Hotchkiss was probably the best of the French designs
though it did have a few problems. When France fell to the Germans in
1940 a total of about 1188 Hotchkiss tanks had been in service. About
600 of these ended up being captured by the advancing army who put them
straight back into service, mainly with second line units.
Cars designed for the civilian market like
the Hotchkiss 680 sedan (left) were also adopted for military use in the
lead up to W.W.II. The 680 had a 6 cylinder, 3 litre engine and was
known as a 'Voiture de liaison de plus de 15 CV'.
Henry Ainsworth, Managing Director of Hotchkiss,
managed to escape to London at the beginning of the war where his
knowledge of vehicle and tank manufacture was put to good use by the
Allies. Part of this work involved liaison with Willys-Overland, a
factor that was to shape post-war Hotchkiss activities.
Hotchkiss merged with several other companies. In
1956 with Brandt forming Hotchkiss-Brandt and the last time, in 1966
with Thomson-Houston, led to the end of the Hotchkiss name in 1972.