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The gun that became the Hotchkiss 1914 and served as the bulwark of French and American forces in World war One was actually first designed and patented by an Austrian officer; Adolph von Odkolek. He took his idea to the Hotchkiss company in Paris hoping to arrange for them to produce it under license. The design was inspected by Laurence Benet (chief engineer at Hotchkiss) and Henri Mercie (Benet’s assistant), and they concluded that the gun was not suitable for production. However, the core concept in the patent – Odkolek’s gas piston system – was a worthy one and would allow production of machine guns to compete with Maxim and Colt without violating their existing patents. So Benet arranged to simply buy the patent outright for a flat fee, and then Hotchkiss set about redesigning the gun to be much better.
The result was the model 1897, an air-cooled, strip-fed heavy machine gun that was sold to many different nations. It was improved in 1900, and between the two models sales were made to Japan, Mexico, Chile, Brazil, China, Spain, Ethiopia, Finland, Greece, Guatemala, Luxembough, Norway, Sweden, Turkey, Portugal, and Venezuela in a variety of calibers. The French government also purchased some Hotchkiss guns, primarily for colonial use. For the bulk of the metropolitan army, France opted to design its own gun in the state arsenals (which was the Modele 1907 St Etienne gun; which is suspiciously like a Hotchkiss with the operating direction of the parts reversed to avoid patent infringement).
When World War One broke out, and the need for vast quantities of machine gun became apparent, the Hotchkiss was finally adopted on a large scale by France. The commercial 1900 pattern was revised slightly (a better barrel locking system and replacement of the shoulder stock with a D-ring rear handle) and some 45,000 would be produced by 1918. The Hotchkiss would supplant the 1907 St Etienne over the course of the war, as it was a more reliable and less expensive design. It would go on to serve the French military through the end of World War Two, gaining a reputation as a gun of unparalleled simplicity and reliability.
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