Hiram Maxim was an American-born British inventor best known as the creator of the first portable fully automatic machine gun, the Maxim gun. Maxim held patents on numerous mechanical devices such as hair-curling irons, a mousetrap, and steam pumps.
Hiram Maxim Early Life
- Hiram Maxim was born in Sangersville, Maine on November 4, 1840. He was the eldest son of a farmer who was a locally notable mechanic.
- Maxim’s only education came from five years spent within a one-room schoolhouse. There he learned basic skills such as reading and writing.
- At the age of fourteen, owner of carriage maker company accepted him as apprentice. Working in a mouse infested mill, Maxim showed signs of ingenuity when he developed an automated mouse trap, a design that is still used today in common households.
- During the next few years, he took out several patents including those for gas appliances and electric lamps. In 1881, Maxim visited the Paris Electrical Exhibition.
- While he was at the exhibition, he met a man who told him: “If you wanted to make a lot of money, invent something that will enable these Europeans to cut each other’s throats with greater facility.”
- Hiram Maxim emigrated to England in 1881 and became a naturalised Briton in 1899 and over the next few years worked on producing an effective machine-gun.
Hiram Maxim Machine Gun
- As a child, Maxim rifle’s recoil knocked him over, and this inspired him to use that recoil force to automatically operate a gun.
- In 1885, he demonstrated the world’s first automatic portable machine-gun to the British Army.
- Maxim used the energy of each bullet’s recoil force to eject the spent cartridge and insert the next bullet.
- The Maxim Machine-gun would therefore, fire until the entire belt of bullets was used up. Trials showed that the machine-gun could fire 500 rounds per minute and therefore had the firepower of about 100 rifles.
- The British Army adopted the Maxim Machine-gun in 1889. The following year, the Austrian, German, Italian, Swiss and Russian armies also purchased Maxim’s gun.
- The gun was first used by Britain`s colonial forces in the Matabele war in 1893–94. In one engagement, fifty soldiers fought off 5,000 Matabele warriors with just four Maxim guns.
- In his later years due to years of exposure to the noise of his guns, Maxim became profoundly deaf.
- Queen Victoria knighted Maxim in 1901 for his inventions, many of which had military applications.
- Maxim founded an armaments company to produce his machine gun in Crayford, Kent. Later in 1896, Vickers Corporation later bought the Maxim Company.
Hiram Maxim Legacy and Death
- Before his death in 1916, Hiram Maxim also invented a pneumatic gun, the gun silencer (subsequently adapted for car exhausts), a smokeless gunpowder, a mousetrap, carbon filaments for light bulbs and a flying machine.
- As a long-time sufferer from bronchitis, he also patented and manufactured the “Pipe of Peace”, a menthol amodium inhaler.
- Throughout his career, Maxim received 122 United States patents and 149 British patent. Toward the end of his career, he devoted much of his time and energy to aeronautical experiments.
- Maxim died at his home in Streatham, London on 24 November 1916 at the age of 76. His family buried him in south London’s West Norwood Cemetery with his wife and his grandson, Lt Colonel Maxim Joubert.