No, not a law firm. Hiram P. Maxim (1840 – 1916), Benjamin B. Hotchkiss (1826 – 1885), Col. Isaac N. Lewis (1858 – 1931) and John M. Browning (1855 – 1926) have at least two things in common. First, they all designed machine guns that were used in the time frame of 1890 – 1920. Second, they were all Americans.
Maxim was born in Sangerville, Maine. A prolific inventor, his machine gun design was patented in 1883 and was licensed to Vickers of the UK in 1886, Germany’s Deutsche Waffen- und Munitionsfabriken Aktien-Gesellschaft in 1901 and Russia in 1910. These guns were in production for a long time, the Vickers type claiming the record, as it ran until 1968. The Germans alone produced over 225,000 Maxim-design weapons. There are reports that Russian Maxim-design guns have recently been in use in the Donbass region of eastern Ukraine.
Hotchkiss was a native of Watertown, Connecticut. After working for Colt and Winchester, he moved to France in 1867 and set up his own company. His multi-barrel revolving cannon, made in four calibers from 37 mm to 57 mm, was widely used, particularly on ships. Although he didn’t design the M1909 and M1914 machine guns that his company produced (he had been dead for over 20 years), over 65,000 o these were made between 1914 and 1920.
Col. Lewis, from New Salem, Pennsylvania, graduated from West Point in 1884. He patented his air-cooled light machine gun in 1911. No American company was interested, so he licensed the design to Birmingham Small Arms of the UK, who manufactured well over 100,000 of these, with production running up to 1942 and service use not ending until 1953. Due to its light weight (28 lbs) as well as being air-cooled, the Lewis was particularly suited to aircraft use in WW1.
Browning, born at Ogden, Utah Territory, was a firearms genius, with over 128 patents filed during his lifetime. Some of his designs are still in production, including the Hi-Power automatic pistol and the M2 .50 caliber machine gun. His first machine gun was the air-cooled M-1895 designed for Colt, called by the soldiers ‘the potato digger’. It wasn’t a big success, although the Russians bought quite a few of them.
His next design was the Rock Island Arsenal’s water-cooled M-1917, which looked like a streamlined Vickers but wasn’t a knock-off. Although only 1,200 were available by November 1918, over 128,000 were manufactured up until 1945 and the gun was long used on U.S. Army Night Infiltration Courses. In 1967 I crawled through mud and under barbed wire for a couple of hundred yards while live tracer rounds passed overhead. Later Browning designed an air-cooled version, called the M-1919, which was in production until 1957 and is still in use today with irregular forces.