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The Maxim machine gun and its various derivatives was, without a doubt, the most influential weapon on the field of battle in WWI. It was the biggest leap in weapons development since the encased bullet cartridge. However it was not the only automatic machine gun developed in the late 1800's. Several men all over the world independently developed their own designs for self-reloading guns. These guns did not succeed in a military environment for several reasons:
- They were hand-cranked, thus not really automatic.
- They were needlessly over-engineered.
- They were too fragile.
- They were too bulky.
- They used ammunition that was too small.
- The barrels could not be cooled efficiently and over-heated often.
- They were unreliable.
- They never mastered feeding in rounds on a belt, which meant they used huge and awkward magazines.
- They were difficult to manufacture on a production line, making them extremely expensive.
- They were never marketed effectively, unlike the Maxim.
The Maxim was the only automatic weapon that overcame all of these difficulties. Hiram Maxim was a brilliant engineer as well as a great marketer. The number one reason why the Maxim was so successful was because of Hiram's great marketing skills. He gave shows where he chopped down trees with his gun. He gave free models to all major armies. After designing the gun, he simplified it so that it could survive in battle. None of the other designers ever really came close to Maxim's success. So without Maxim the machine gun would not have been a feasible weapon for the First World War.
Automatic guns that were developed but were never successful include:
- The Gatling gun (hand-cranked, unreliable, awkward, bulky, never mastered belt-feeding)
- Kjellman machine gun (over-engineered, fragile, unreliable, expensive, not marketed well)
- Gardner Gun (fragile, never mastered belt-feeding, not marketed well)
- Bira Gun (expensive, never mastered belt-feeding, not marketed well)
For the above reasons, I believe that without Maxim it would have been perfectly reasonable that the machine gun is not developed in time for WW-I.