Hiram Stevens Maxim
Sir Hiram Stevens Maxim (February 5, 1840 – November 24, 1916) was an American-born inventor who emigrated to England
England is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. It shares land borders with Scotland to the north and Wales to the west; the Irish Sea is to the north west, the Celtic Sea to the south west, with the North Sea to the east and the English Channel to the south separating it from continental...

 at the age of forty-one, although he remained an American citizen until he became a naturalized British subject
British subject
In British nationality law, the term British subject has at different times had different meanings. The current definition of the term British subject is contained in the British Nationality Act 1981.- Prior to 1949 :...

 in 1900. He was the inventor of the Maxim Gun
Maxim gun
The Maxim gun was the first self-powered machine gun, invented by the American-born British inventor Sir Hiram Maxim in 1884. It has been called "the weapon most associated with [British] imperial conquest".-Functionality:...

 – the first portable, fully automatic machine gun
Machine gun
A machine gun is a fully automatic mounted or portable firearm, usually designed to fire rounds in quick succession from an ammunition belt or large-capacity magazine, typically at a rate of several hundred rounds per minute....

 – and the ubiquitous mousetrap
A mousetrap is a specialized type of animal trap designed primarily to catch mice; however, it may also trap other small animals. Mousetraps are usually set in an indoor location where there is a suspected infestation of rodents. There are various types of mousetrap, each with its own advantages...

. He laid a claim to inventing the lightbulb, and even experimented with powered flight, but his large aircraft designs were never successful. However, his "Captive Flying Machine" amusement ride
Amusement ride
Amusement rides are large mechanical devices that move people to create enjoyment. They are frequently found at amusement parks, traveling carnivals, and funfairs.-Notable types:*Afterburner*Ali Baba*Balloon Race*Booster...

, designed as a means by which to fund his research while generating public interest in flight, was highly successful.


Maxim was born in Sangerville, Maine
Sangerville, Maine
Sangerville is a town in Piscataquis County, Maine, United States. The population was 1,270 at the 2000 census. The town was named after Colonel Calvin Sanger, a landowner...

 in the United States
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

 in 1840. He became an apprentice coach
Coach (vehicle)
A coach is a large motor vehicle, a type of bus, used for conveying passengers on excursions and on longer distance express coach scheduled transport between cities - or even between countries...

builder at the age of 14 and ten years later took up a job at the machine works of his uncle, Levi Stephens, at Fitchburg, Massachusetts
Fitchburg, Massachusetts
Fitchburg is the third largest city in Worcester County, Massachusetts, United States. The population was 40,318 at the 2010 census. Fitchburg is home to Fitchburg State University as well as 17 public and private elementary and high schools.- History :...

. He subsequently worked as an instrument maker and as a draughtsman. (His early jobs in these arenas led him to often be disappointed with workers when he ran his own companies later on in life.)


His brother, Hudson Maxim
Hudson Maxim
Hudson Maxim , was a U.S. inventor and chemist who invented a variety of explosives, including smokeless gunpowder. He was the brother of Hiram Stevens Maxim, inventor of the Maxim gun and uncle of Hiram Percy Maxim, inventor of the Maxim Silencer.Maxim was a man of many talents...

, was also a military inventor, specializing in explosives. They worked quite closely together until later in life, there was a disagreement on a patent of smokeless powder. The patent, Hiram claimed, had been put under the name 'H. Maxim,' and that because of this, his brother was able to stake a claim at the powder being his own. Hudson was a skilled and knowledgeable man, and sold armaments in the U.S., while Hiram worked mainly in Europe. Hudson had success in the States, which caused jealousy from Hiram (he lamented having "a double" of himself running around in the States. The jealousy and disagreements caused a rift between the brothers that would last the rest of their lives.

He married his first wife, Jane Budden, in 1867. Their children were: Hiram Percy Maxim
Hiram Percy Maxim
Hiram Percy Maxim was an American radio pioneer and inventor, and co-founder of the American Radio Relay League . He originally had the amateur call signs SNY, 1WH, 1ZM, 1AW, and later W1AW, which is now the ARRL Headquarters club station call sign...

; Florence Maxim, who married George Albert Cutter, and Adelaide Maxim, who married Eldon Joubert, Ignacy Jan Paderewski
Ignacy Jan Paderewski
Ignacy Jan Paderewski GBE was a Polish pianist, composer, diplomat, politician, and the second Prime Minister of the Republic of Poland.-Biography:...

's piano tuner.

Hiram Percy Maxim followed in his father's and uncle's footsteps and became a mechanical engineer and weapons designer as well, but he is perhaps best known for his early amateur radio
Amateur radio
Amateur radio is the use of designated radio frequency spectrum for purposes of private recreation, non-commercial exchange of messages, wireless experimentation, self-training, and emergency communication...

 experiments and for founding the American Radio Relay League
American Radio Relay League
The American Radio Relay League is the largest membership association of amateur radio enthusiasts in the USA. ARRL is a non-profit organization, and was founded in May 1914 by Hiram Percy Maxim of Hartford, Connecticut...

. His invention of the "Maxim Silencer" for noise suppression
A suppressor, sound suppressor, sound moderator, or silencer, is a device attached to or part of the barrel of a firearm which reduces the amount of noise and flash generated by firing the weapon....

 came too late to save his father's hearing. Hiram Percy would later author a biography on his father called, "A Genius in the Family." This biography contained about 60 anecdotes of Hiram Percy's experiences with his father throughout his early life (until about 12). Most of these short stories are incredibly funny and capturing; they give a reader an insider's (and child's) view on this magnificently brilliant man's personal and family life. The same family he would later abandon when moving to Europe (which would become a permanent move).

He married his second wife, Sarah, daughter of Charles Hayes of Boston, in 1881. It is not clear if he was legally divorced from his first wife at this time.

There is also a controversial case with a woman called Helen Leighton. She claimed that Maxim had married her in 1878 and that "he was knowingly committing bigamy" against his current wife, Jane Budden. In this "marriage," she claimed that Maxim had fathered a child by her (Romaine). The case was eventually dropped, at a settlement under $1,000 (the original amount asked for was $25,000), and Maxim put the case and near public humiliation behind him. Later in life though he did leave 4,000 sterling to a Romaine Dennison who may in fact have been the Romaine that Leighton claimed he had fathered. It is an unsolved mystery of Maxim's life.

Emigration and knighthood

In 1881, Maxim arrived in England in order to reorganize the London offices of the U.S. Electric Lighting Company. By 1900, his visits back to the United States became infrequent and in that same year, Maxim became a naturalized British subject
British subject
In British nationality law, the term British subject has at different times had different meanings. The current definition of the term British subject is contained in the British Nationality Act 1981.- Prior to 1949 :...

. In the following year, Queen Victoria bestowed a knighthood upon him. Unfortunately, Queen Victoria died on January 22, 1901, and the actual knighting was done by Maxim's "friend and new king, Edward VII."


Maxim was a Chevalier of the Legion of Honour; a Civil, Mechanical and Electrical Engineer; Member of the London Chamber of Commerce; Member of the Royal Institution
Royal Institution
The Royal Institution of Great Britain is an organization devoted to scientific education and research, based in London.-Overview:...

; Member of the British Association for the Advancement of Science
British Association for the Advancement of Science
frame|right|"The BA" logoThe British Association for the Advancement of Science or the British Science Association, formerly known as the BA, is a learned society with the object of promoting science, directing general attention to scientific matters, and facilitating interaction between...

; Member of the British Empire League
British Empire League
The British Empire League was formed in London in 1894 in order to support the ideology of British imperialism and to promote loyalty to and the unity of the British Empire...

; and Member of the Royal Society of Arts
Royal Society of Arts
The Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufacturers and Commerce is a British multi-disciplinary institution, based in London. The name Royal Society of Arts is frequently used for brevity...


The Maxim machine gun

Maxim was reported to have said: "In 1882 I was in Vienna, where I met an American whom I had known in the States. He said: 'Hang your chemistry and electricity! If you want to make a pile of money, invent something that will enable these Europeans to cut each others' throats with greater facility.'"

As a child, Maxim had been knocked over by a rifle's recoil, and this inspired him to use that recoil force to automatically operate a gun. Between 1883 and 1885 Maxim patented gas, recoil and blow-back methods of operation. After moving to England, he settled in a large house formerly owned by Lord Thurlow in West Norwood
West Norwood
West Norwood is a place in the London Borough of Lambeth.It is primarily a residential suburb of south London but with some light industry near Knights Hill in the south....

 where he developed his design for an automatic weapon, using an action that would close the breech and compress a spring, by storing the recoil energy released by a shot to prepare the gun for its next shot. He thoughtfully ran announcements in the local press warning that he would be experimenting with the gun in his garden and that neighbours should keep their windows open to avoid the danger of broken glass.

Maxim founded an armaments company to produce his machine gun in Crayford
Crayford is a town and electoral ward in the London Borough of Bexley that was an important bridging point in Roman times across the River Cray, a tributary of the River Darent, which is itself a tributary of the River Thames.-History:...

, Kent
Kent is a county in southeast England, and is one of the home counties. It borders East Sussex, Surrey and Greater London and has a defined boundary with Essex in the middle of the Thames Estuary. The ceremonial county boundaries of Kent include the shire county of Kent and the unitary borough of...

, which later merged with Nordenfeldt and the Vickers
Vickers was a famous name in British engineering that existed through many companies from 1828 until 1999.-Early history:Vickers was formed in Sheffield as a steel foundry by the miller Edward Vickers and his father-in-law George Naylor in 1828. Naylor was a partner in the foundry Naylor &...

 Corporation in 1896, becoming 'Vickers, Son & Maxim'. Their updated design, referred to as the Vickers gun after Maxim's resignation from the board in 1911 on his 71st birthday, was the standard British machine gun for many years. With arms sales led by Basil Zaharoff
Basil Zaharoff
Basil Zaharoff, GCB, GBE , born Zacharias Basileios Zacharoff, was an arms dealer and financier...

, variants of the Maxim gun were bought and used extensively by both sides during World War I
World War I
World War I , which was predominantly called the World War or the Great War from its occurrence until 1939, and the First World War or World War I thereafter, was a major war centred in Europe that began on 28 July 1914 and lasted until 11 November 1918...


In his later years Maxim became profoundly deaf, as his hearing had been damaged by years of exposure to the noise of his guns.


Maxim is also credited with inventing the common mousetrap and, as a long-time sufferer from bronchitis
Acute bronchitis is an inflammation of the large bronchi in the lungs that is usually caused by viruses or bacteria and may last several days or weeks. Characteristic symptoms include cough, sputum production, and shortness of breath and wheezing related to the obstruction of the inflamed airways...

, he also patented and manufactured a pocket menthol
Menthol is an organic compound made synthetically or obtained from peppermint or other mint oils. It is a waxy, crystalline substance, clear or white in color, which is solid at room temperature and melts slightly above. The main form of menthol occurring in nature is -menthol, which is assigned...

An inhaler or puffer is a medical device used for delivering medication into the body via the lungs. It is mainly used in the treatment of asthma and Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease . Zanamivir , used to treat influenza, must be administered via inhaler...

 and a larger "Pipe of Peace", a steam inhaler using pine
Pines are trees in the genus Pinus ,in the family Pinaceae. They make up the monotypic subfamily Pinoideae. There are about 115 species of pine, although different authorities accept between 105 and 125 species.-Etymology:...

 vapour, that he claimed could relieve asthma
Asthma is the common chronic inflammatory disease of the airways characterized by variable and recurring symptoms, reversible airflow obstruction, and bronchospasm. Symptoms include wheezing, coughing, chest tightness, and shortness of breath...

, tinnitus
Tinnitus |ringing]]") is the perception of sound within the human ear in the absence of corresponding external sound.Tinnitus is not a disease, but a symptom that can result from a wide range of underlying causes: abnormally loud sounds in the ear canal for even the briefest period , ear...

, hay fever
Hay Fever
Hay Fever is a comic play written by Noël Coward in 1924 and first produced in 1925 with Marie Tempest as the first Judith Bliss. Laura Hope Crews played the role in New York...

 and catarrh
Catarrh is a disorder of inflammation of the mucous membranes in one of the airways or cavities of the body. It can result in a thick exudate of mucus and white blood cells caused by the swelling of the mucous membranes in the head in response to an infection...

. After being criticised for applying his talents to quackery
Quackery is a derogatory term used to describe the promotion of unproven or fraudulent medical practices. Random House Dictionary describes a "quack" as a "fraudulent or ignorant pretender to medical skill" or "a person who pretends, professionally or publicly, to have skill, knowledge, or...

, he protested that: "it will be seen that it is a very creditable thing to invent a killing machine, and nothing less than a disgrace to invent an apparatus to prevent human suffering".

He also invented a curling iron, an apparatus for demagnetizing watches, magno-electric machines, devices to prevent the rolling of ships, eyelet and riveting machines, aircraft artillery, an aerial torpedo gun, coffee substitutes, and various oil, steam, and gas engines.

Maxim developed and installed the first electric lights in a New York City building (the Equitable Life Building (New York City) at 120 Broadway
Broadway (New York City)
Broadway is a prominent avenue in New York City, United States, which runs through the full length of the borough of Manhattan and continues northward through the Bronx borough before terminating in Westchester County, New York. It is the oldest north–south main thoroughfare in the city, dating to...

) in the late 1870s. However, he was involved in several lengthy patent disputes with Thomas Edison
Thomas Edison
Thomas Alva Edison was an American inventor and businessman. He developed many devices that greatly influenced life around the world, including the phonograph, the motion picture camera, and a long-lasting, practical electric light bulb. In addition, he created the world’s first industrial...

 over his claims to the lightbulb. One of these actions regarded the incandescent bulb, for which Maxim claimed that Edison was credited by means of his better understanding of patenting law (though in England Joseph Wilson Swan had already obtained the first patent in 1878). He claimed an employee of his (Maxim's) had falsely patented the invention under his own name, and that Edison proved the employee's claim to be false, knowing that patent law would mean the invention would become public property, allowing Edison to manufacture the lightbulb without crediting Maxim as the true inventor.

Flying machines

Maxim's father had earlier conceived of a helicopter powered by two counter-rotating rotors, but was unable to find a powerful enough engine to build it. Hiram first sketched out plans for a helicopter in 1872, but when he built his first "flying machine" he chose to use wings. Commencing work in 1889, he built a 145 feet (44.2 m) long craft that weighed 3.5 tons, with a 110 feet (33.5 m) wingspan that was powered by two compound 360 hp steam engine
Steam engine
A steam engine is a heat engine that performs mechanical work using steam as its working fluid.Steam engines are external combustion engines, where the working fluid is separate from the combustion products. Non-combustion heat sources such as solar power, nuclear power or geothermal energy may be...

s driving two propellers.
In trials at Bexley
Bexley is an South East London]] in the London Borough of Bexley, London, England. It is located on the banks of the River Cray south of the Roman Road, Watling Street...

 in 1894 his machine rode on 1800 feet (548.6 m) of rails and was prevented from rising by outriggers underneath and wooden safety rails overhead, somewhat in the manner of a roller coaster. His apparent goal in building this machine was not to soar freely, but to test if it would lift off the ground. During its test run all of the outriggers were engaged, showing that it had developed enough lift to take off, but in so doing it damaged the track; the "flight" was aborted in time to prevent disaster. The craft was almost certainly aerodynamically unstable and uncontrollable, which Maxim probably realized, because he subsequently abandoned work on it.

Captive Flying Machines

In order to both fund his research into flight and to popularise the notion of flight, Maxim designed and built an amusement ride for the Earl's Court exhibition
Earls Court Exhibition Centre
The Earls Court Exhibition Centre is an exhibition centre, conference and event venue located in west London, United Kingdom in the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea . It is the largest exhibition venue in central London. It is served by two underground stations, Earl's Court and West...

 of 1904. The ride was based on a test rig he had devised for his research, and consisted of a large spinning frame from which cars hung captive. As the machine spun, the cars would be swung outward through the air, simulating flight. The ride was similar to the later Circle Swing ride, popularised in the USA by renowned roller coaster designer Harry Traver
Harry Traver
Harry Guy Traver was an American engineer and early roller coaster designer.Traver was born in Gardner, Illinois...


Maxim originally intended to use primitive aerofoils and wings to allow riders to control their flight, but this was outlawed as unsafe. As a result, Maxim quickly lost interest in the project, declaring the adapted ride as "Simply a glorified merry-go-round". Nevertheless, his company built several more rides of various sizes at The Crystal Palace
The Crystal Palace
The Crystal Palace was a cast-iron and glass building originally erected in Hyde Park, London, England, to house the Great Exhibition of 1851. More than 14,000 exhibitors from around the world gathered in the Palace's of exhibition space to display examples of the latest technology developed in...

 and various seaside resorts including Southport
Southport is a seaside town in the Metropolitan Borough of Sefton in Merseyside, England. During the 2001 census Southport was recorded as having a population of 90,336, making it the eleventh most populous settlement in North West England...

, New Brighton
New Brighton, Merseyside
New Brighton is a seaside resort forming part of the town of Wallasey, in the Metropolitan Borough of Wirral, in the metropolitan county of Merseyside, England. It is located at the northeastern tip of the Wirral Peninsula, within the historic county boundaries of Cheshire, and has sandy beaches...

, and Blackpool
Blackpool is a borough, seaside town, and unitary authority area of Lancashire, in North West England. It is situated along England's west coast by the Irish Sea, between the Ribble and Wyre estuaries, northwest of Preston, north of Liverpool, and northwest of Manchester...

, all of which opened in 1904. Originally Maxim had only intended to build two, but a lengthy breakdown on the original Earl's Court ride forced him to build more in order to make the venture profitable. He had plans for further variations of the ride but his disillusionment with the amusement business meant that they were never realised.

Although he expressed regrets about the whole project, the rides were held in high regard within the amusement industry and the Blackpool ride still operates to this day as part of what is now the Pleasure Beach amusement park. Along with the same park's similarly historic River Caves
River Caves
River Caves are a type of amusement ride involving a boat trip through "cave-like" tunnels, each incorporating a different theme. These rides are relatively rare these days and can be found in only a few locations, mainly in the UK and United States...

, it is the oldest operating amusement ride in Europe. The Flying Machines has the distinction of being virtually unchanged from Maxim's original design. The Blackpool ride's name is now usually abbreviated to the "Flying Machine" or "Flying Machines", although the full name, "Sir Hiram Maxim's Captive Flying Machines", is given at the ride entrance.

In 2001 Disney's California Adventure
Disney's California Adventure
Disney California Adventure, or simply California Adventure, is a theme park in Anaheim, California, adjacent to Disneyland Park and part of the larger Disneyland Resort. It opened on February 8, 2001 as Disney's California Adventure Park. The park is owned and operated by the Walt Disney Parks and...

 opened, featuring the Golden Zephyr
Golden Zephyr
Golden Zephyr is an attraction at Paradise Pier in Disney's California Adventure Park. Themed to the Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon style rocket ships, it takes park guests on a relaxing trip...

, a modern day recreation of the Traver version of the ride. The ride itself is much smaller than the Blackpool version with cars swinging out to a much less severe angle. Nevertheless, engineers from Disney visited Blackpool to inspect the Maxim ride (the only example of either version still standing) in order to help design their ride.

Grahame-White, Blériot, and Maxim Company

In 1911 he headed the newly formed Grahame-White
Grahame-White was an early British aircraft manufacturer, flying school and later manufacturer of cyclecars.The company was established as Grahame-White Aviation Company by Claude Grahame-White at Hendon in 1911...

, Blériot
Louis Blériot
Louis Charles Joseph Blériot was a French aviator, inventor and engineer. In 1909 he completed the first flight across a large body of water in a heavier-than-air craft, when he crossed the English Channel. For this achievement, he received a prize of £1,000...

, and Maxim Company, founded with the two aviators and two hundred thousand pounds of capital.
He had hoped to produce military aircraft capable of scouting or dropping a 500 lb (226.8 kg) bomb, but his failing health and financial difficulties with his other enterprises restricted his ability to develop this enterprise before his death.

Philosophy and religion

In addition to his Civil, Mechanical and Electrical endeavours, Maxim "compiled and edited" a book he titled "Li Hung Chang's Scrapbook".
This book was addressed to Li Hung Chang
Li Hongzhang
Li Hongzhang or Li Hung-chang , Marquis Suyi of the First Class , GCVO, was a leading statesman of the late Qing Empire...

 (also spelled Li Hongzhang and Li Hung-chang) and endeavoured to address a belief that "The Chinese were generally puzzled as to how it was possible for people who are able to build locomotives and steamships to have a religion based on a belief in devils, ghosts, impossible miracles, and all the other absurdities and impossibilities peculiar to the religion taught by the missionaries" (Op. cit. Foreword page x).

Maxim held European missionaries in China in low esteem, for reasons described in the scrap-book. He stated "...it was my aim, in compiling for His Excellency a scrap-book with explanatory notes, to put the Chinaman right in this respect. I wished to show that we were not all fools." (Op.cit. Foreword page x). His scrap-book comprised some 400 pages with 42 illustrations, presenting his views on The Nature of Christianity; Christianity in China; and his conclusions on subjects including Miracles, Spirituality, Faith; and the influence of the Bible on the civilization of Europe and America. He concluded his scrap-book with an appeal to the Missionaries and his thoughts on the reason for the failure of what he described as "Missionary Propaganda" in China.


Maxim died in London
London is the capital city of :England and the :United Kingdom, the largest metropolitan area in the United Kingdom, and the largest urban zone in the European Union by most measures. Located on the River Thames, London has been a major settlement for two millennia, its history going back to its...

 on November 24, 1916, as the Great War raged on. He is buried in West Norwood Cemetery
West Norwood Cemetery
West Norwood Cemetery is a cemetery in West Norwood in London, England. It was also known as the South Metropolitan Cemetery.One of the first private landscaped cemeteries in London, it is one of the Magnificent Seven cemeteries of London, and is a site of major historical, architectural and...

 with Lady Sarah Maxim and his grandson, Lt. Colonel Maxim Joubert.


  • Artificial and Natural Flight
  • Li Hung Chang's Scrapbook
  • A New System of Preventing Collisions at Sea
  • My Life. With 11 Text Illustrations and 10 Plates.
  • Monte Carlo facts and fallacies


- Electric lamp - Electric lamp - Electric lamps - Process for removing air from globes of electric lamps - Electric lamp - Electrical lamp - Process of manufacturing carbon conductors - Electric Lamp - Process of Manufacturing Carbons - Incandescent Electric Lamp - Process of Manufacturing Carbon Conductors - Electric Lamp - Electrical meter - Process of Manufacturing Carbons for Incandescent Lamps - Electric Lamp - Apparatus for the Manufacture of Filaments for Incandescent Lamps - Manufacture of Filaments for Electric Lamps - Manufacture of explosive - Apparatus for Manufacturing Filaments for Electric Lamps - Method of Manufacturing Filaments for Electric Lamps
  • GB189700207 (1897 with Louis Silverman) - automatic fire mechanism
  • GB189607468 (1897) - gas action for machine guns
  • GB189607045 (1897) - breech mechanism of machine gun

Hiram Percy Maxim (son): - Motor vehicle - Motor vehicle running gear - Electric motor vehicle - Motor road vehicle

External links

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