Société Anonyme des Anciens Etablissements Hotchkiss et Cie was a French arms and car company established by United States engineer Benjamin B. Hotchkiss, who was born in Watertown, Connecticut. He moved to France and set up a factory, first at Viviez near Rodez in 1867, then at Saint-Denis near Paris in 1875. He produced arms used by the French in the Franco-Prussian war and later the US government also bought cannons, deploying them in the 1879 Mill River Campaign against Sitting Bull.
An example of the company's output was the Hotchkiss revolving cannon (see picture from a privately circulated book dated 1874 by Alfred Koerner, later chairman of the company.) The cannon had five barrels each able to fire 43 shells a minute a distance of one mile; it was made in four sizes from 37 mm to 57 mm, the largest intended for naval use. At the turn of the century, the company introduced the gas-actuated Hotchkiss machine gun, a sturdy and reliable weapon which was widely used during World War I and thereafter by the French Army.
An embarrassment of profits at the turn of the twentieth century prompted the company to move into the car business to avoid attracting too much attention from the French government, according to the chairman's son, also Alfred Koerner, speaking in the early 1980s. Information provided on the company for the International Universal Exhibition of 1900, at which it displayed a variety of cannons, said the St Denis factory employed around 400 staff and had 600 machine tools.
The first Hotchkiss car, a 17 CV (13 kW) four-cylinder model, appeared in 1903. The badge for the marque consisted of a pair of crossed cannons — a salute to the company's first products.
A factory fire nearly killed all projects. Despite this, a six-cylinder model followed in 1906. During World War I, they mass produced the Hotchkiss M1914 machine gun, tank parts and other weapons. In 1933, they developed the Hotchkiss H35 tank.
Post war came a luxury model called Type AK (6.6 litre) but only one was built. In 1920, there was an unsuccessful attempt to build Hotchkiss cars by a British arm of Hotchkiss in the United Kingdom — only a prototype was made.
A refined model named Type AM was in production between 1923 and 1928. A new six cylinder model, named AM 80 came in 1928. The company made several successful racing cars. Hotchkiss racers won the Rallye Automobile Monte Carlo in 1932, 1933, 1934, 1939, 1949 and 1950.
The Hotchkiss 680 was an important model between the wars—it had a 6 cylinder, 3 litre engine. In 1937, the company merged with Amilcar. J. A. Grégoire joined the company as a designer. After World War II, the 680 continued. The first new car post war was a 13 CV four-cylinder model. From 1947, 2 litre flat-four models are frequently called Hotchkiss-Grégoire. In 1954, Hotchkiss purchased French manufacturer Delahaye, closing down their automotive line but continuing to produce Hotchkiss-Delahaye trucks for a few months before eliminating the Delahaye name completely. After 1954, Hotchkiss manufactured Jeeps under licence from Willys.
In 1956, Hotchkiss merged with French car manufacturer Brandt, producing jeeps at their factory near Paris for the French military until 1966. The firm was merged into Thomson-Houston in 1966 and in 1970 stopped producing vehicles of any sort. In the early 1970s, the Hotchkiss marque disappeared, as the French conglomerate came to be known as Thomson-Brandt. This, in turn, was nationalized in 1982 to form Thomson SA.
The name of the Hotchkiss firm is associated with a form of power transmission called the Hotchkiss drive. See also Hotchkiss gun and Hotchkiss machine gun for other products of the Hotchkiss company.