||This article's lead section may not adequately summarize key points of its contents. (November 2013)|
|Sir Hiram Stevens Maxim|
February 5, 1840|
Sangerville, Maine, USA
|Died||November 24, 1916
London, England, UK
|West Norwood Cemetery|
|Children||Hiram Percy Maxim,
Florence Maxim Cutter,
Adelaide Maxim Joubert
|Relatives||Hudson Maxim (brother)|
Sir Hiram Stevens Maxim (February 5, 1840 – November 24, 1916) was an American inventor who moved to the United Kingdom at the age of 41. He remained an American citizen until he became a naturalized British subject in 1900. He was the inventor of the Maxim Gun – the first portable, fully automatic machine gun – and held patents on mechanical devices such as a mousetrap, hair-curling irons, and steam pumps. He laid 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, 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 in the United States in 1840. He became an apprentice coachbuilder 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. 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, was also a military inventor, specializing in explosives. They worked quite closely together until later in life, when there was a disagreement on a patent for smokeless powder. The patent, Hiram claimed, had been issued under the name 'H. Maxim,' and that because of this, his brother was able to stake a claim as the powder being his own. Hudson was a skilled and knowledgeable man, and sold arms 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.
Hiram Maxim married his first wife, Jane Budden, in 1867. Their children were: Hiram Percy Maxim; Florence Maxim, who married George Albert Cutter, and Adelaide Maxim, who married Eldon Joubert, Ignacy Jan Paderewski'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 experiments and for founding the American Radio Relay League. His invention of the "Maxim Silencer" for noise suppression came too late to save his father's hearing. Hiram Percy would later author a biography on his father entitled A Genius in the Family, which 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 amusing and captivating; they give a reader an insider's (and child's) view of 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 pounds 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. In the following year, Queen Victoria bestowed a knighthood upon him. 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; Member of the British Association for the Advancement of Science; Member of the British Empire League; and Member of the Royal Society of Arts.
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 blowback methods of operation. After moving to England, he settled in a large house formerly owned by Lord Thurlow in West Norwood 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 arms company with financial backing from Edward Vickers to produce his machine gun in Crayford, Kent, which later merged with Nordenfeldt. Subsequently, part of the Barrow Shipbuilding Company purchase by Vickers Corporation in 1897, formed 'Vickers, Son & Maxim'. Their improved development of the Maxim gun design, the Vickers machine 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, variants of the Maxim gun were bought and used extensively by both sides during World War I.
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, a longtime sufferer from bronchitis, patented and manufactured a pocket menthol inhaler and a larger "Pipe of Peace", a steam inhaler using pine vapor, that he claimed could relieve asthma, tinnitus, hay fever and catarrh. After being criticized for applying his talents to quackery, 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.
A large furniture factory had repeatedly burned down, and Maxim was consulted on how to prevent a recurrence. As a result, Maxim invented the first automatic fire sprinkler. It would douse the areas that were on fire, and it would report the fire to the fire station. Maxim was unable to sell the idea elsewhere, but when the patent expired the idea was used.
Maxim developed and installed the first electric lights in a New York City building (the Equitable Life Building (New York City) at 120 Broadway) in the late 1870s. However, he was involved in several lengthy patent disputes with Thomas Edison 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). Maxim claimed that an employee of his 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.
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 m) long craft that weighed 3.5 tons, with a 110 feet (34 m) wingspan that was powered by two compound 360 horsepower (270 kW) steam engines driving two propellers.
Conceived of as a test rig, having no provision for aerodynamic stability or control, the machine ran on an 1,800 feet (550 m) length of rail track which Maxim laid down at Bexley for the purpose. In trials in 1894 the machine lifted and was prevented from rising by outriggers underneath and wooden safety rails overhead, somewhat in the manner of a roller coaster. 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 pulled up the track; the tethered "flight" was aborted in time to prevent disaster. Maxim subsequently abandoned work on it but put his experience to work on fairground rides. He subsequently noted that a feasible flying machine would need better power-to-weight engines, such as a petrol combustion engine.
Captive Flying Machines
In order to both fund his research into flight and to bring attention to the notion of flight, Maxim designed and built an amusement ride for the Earl's Court exhibition 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, made popular in the USA by renowned roller-coaster designer Harry Traver.
Maxim originally intended to use primitive airfoils 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 and various seaside resorts including Southport, New Brighton, and Blackpool, all of which opened in 1904. Originally, Maxim had intended to build only 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, 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 California Adventure Park opened, featuring the Golden Zephyr, 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 at a much lesser 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 Maxim headed the newly formed Grahame-White, Blériot, 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 (230 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 endeavors, Maxim "compiled and edited" a book he called Li Hung Chang's Scrapbook. This book was addressed to Li Hung Chang (also spelled Li Hongzhang and Li Hung-chang) and endeavored 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"
Maxim held European missionaries in China in low esteem, for reasons described in the scrapbook. 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." His scrapbook 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 scrapbook with an appeal to the Missionaries and his thoughts on the reason for the failure of what he described as "Missionary Propaganda" in China.
- 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
- U.S. Patent 208,252 - Electric lamp
- U.S. Patent 230,310 - Electric lamp
- U.S. Patent 230,953 - Electric lamps
- U.S. Patent 230,954 - Process for removing air from globes of electric lamps
- U.S. Patent 230,309 - Electric lamp
- U.S. Patent 234,835 - Electrical lamp
- U.S. Patent 237,198 - Process of manufacturing carbon conductors
- U.S. Patent 244,277 - Electric Lamp
- U.S. Patent 247,083 - Process of Manufacturing Carbons
- U.S. Patent 247,084 - Incandescent Electric Lamp
- U.S. Patent 247,085 - Process of Manufacturing Carbon Conductors
- U.S. Patent 247,380 - Electric Lamp
- U.S. Patent 255,308 - Electrical meter
- U.S. Patent 277,846 - Process of Manufacturing Carbons for Incandescent Lamps
- U.S. Patent 283,629 - Electric Lamp
- U.S. Patent 405,239 - Apparatus for the Manufacture of Filaments for Incandescent Lamps
- U.S. Patent 405,170 - Manufacture of Filaments for Electric Lamps
- U.S. Patent 430,212 - Manufacture of explosive
- U.S. Patent 618,703 - Apparatus for Manufacturing Filaments for Electric Lamps
- U.S. Patent 618,704 - Method of Manufacturing Filaments for Electric Lamps
- GB 189700207, Maxim, Hiram Stevens & Louis Silverman, "Improvements in the Firing Mechanism of Automatic Guns", issued October 30, 1897
- GB 189607468, Maxim, Hiram Stevens, "Improvements in Automatic Guns", issued February 27, 1897 , gas action for machine guns
- GB 189607045, Maxim, Hiram Stevens, "Improvements in Automatic Machine Guns", issued March 13, 1897 , breech mechanism of machine gun
Hiram Percy Maxim (son):
- U.S. Patent 594,805 - Motor vehicle
- U.S. Patent 757,941 - Motor vehicle running gear
- U.S. Patent 772,571 - Electric motor vehicle
- U.S. Patent 845,106 - Motor road vehicle
- Sir Hiram Maxim. Encyclopædia Britannica.
- Who's who in World War One. Psychology Press.
- Great Inventors and Inventions. Courier Dover Publications.
- Encyclopedia of military technology and innovation. Greenwood Publishing Group.
- They All Laughed...: From Light Bulbs to Lasers: The Fascinating Stories. HarperCollins.
- The American aviation experience: a history. SIU Press.
- The playful crowd: pleasure places in the twentieth century. Columbia University Press.
- "Hiram Stevens Maxim". Grace’s Guide. Retrieved December 6, 2013.
- Hawkey, Arthur (2001). The Amazing Hiram Maxim. Staplehurst: Spellmount.
- "Hiram Percy Maxim, Wireless Amateur No. 1, Defended Rights of Youth". New York Times . February 23, 1936. "Radio amateurs, numbering more than 45,000 in the United States, are mourning the loss of a friend and faithful ally in the passing of Hiram Percy Maxim of Hartford, Connecticut. As an ardent wireless amateur Mr. Maxim is remembered by veteran experimenters of pre-war days by the musical tone of his quench spark gap which spelled out the call letters of his pioneer station."
- "Noise's Bogeyman". Time. January 4, 1932. Retrieved 2007-08-21. "While mental hygienists, efficiency experts and city officials have been bewailing the maddening effects of city noise, Hiram Percy Maxim has been manufacturing noise mufflers at Hartford, Conn. Last week he announced that his Maxim Silencer Co., of which he is president and his only son Hiram Hamilton is chief engineer and whose factory is in Asylum Street, Hartford, will—besides continuing to make silencers for guns, motor exhausts, safety valves, air releases, in fact every kind of pipe which emits a gas—offer a consulting service in noise abatement."
- Maxim, Hiram Percy (1936). A Genius in the Family. London: Michael Joseph Ltd.
- Hawkey, Arthur (2001). The Amazing Hiram Maxim. Staplehurst: Spellmount. ISBN 1-86227-141-0.
- "Who Made America". PBS.
- "The Town of Two Knights". Sangerville Public Library.
- Hiram Stevens Maxim (1913). Li Hung Chang's Scrapbook. Watts & Co.
- Malcolm Brown 100 years of 'Maxim's Killing Machine' New York Times, 26 November 1985.
- Ben Weinreb & Christopher Hibbert, The London Encyclopedia, ISBN 0-333-57688-8 Serbia House
- Action By Sir Hiram Maxim, The Times, 16 January 1915.
- "Sir Hiram Maxim's great Invention", The Times, 19 July 1910.
- Hiram's inventions
- Chinn, George M. (1951), The Machine Gun I, Bureau of Ordnance, p. 127.
- "Death Of Sir Hiram Maxim. A Famous Inventor, Automatic Guns And Aeronautics". The Times. 25 November 1916.
- <Wragg, D.; "Flight Before Flying", Osprey (1974).
- Beril, Becker (1967). Dreams and Realities of the Conquest of the Skies. New York: Atheneum. pp. 124–125.
- My Life.
- "Maxim Leads Air Company. Grahame-White, Bleriot and Maxim Company with $1,000,000 Capital.". New York Times. "Sir Hiram Maxim, who has just resigned from the ordnance firm with which his name has been for so long connected, will be the Chairman of a new company to be known as the Grahame-White, Bleriot, and Maxim Company, limited, with a total authorized capital of 200,000 ($1,000,000.)"
- "Sir Hiram Maxim's Resignation. The Inventor And Aviation", The Times, 23 March 1911.
- Li Hung Chang's Scrapbook, Foreword, p. x.
- Joseph McCabe (1950). A Rationalist Encyclopaedia: a book of reference on religion, philosophy, ethics, and science (2 ed.). Watts. p. 384. "He was a member of the firm of Vickers' Sons and Maxim. Maxim was an aggressive Atheist (personal knowledge) and the compiler (with the present writer) of the collection of strong criticisms of religion..."
- The Freethinker, Volume 92. G.W. Foote. 1972. p. 45. "Now Maxim really way a militant atheist!"
- Hiram Stevens Maxim (1908). Artificial and Natural Flight. Whittaker.
- Hiram Stevens Maxim (2009). A New System of Preventing Collisions at Sea. Schwarz Press. ISBN 1-4446-0553-4.
- Hiram Stevens Maxim (1915). My Life. Methuen & Co., Ltd.
- Hiram Stevens Maxim (1904). Monte Carlo facts and fallacies. Grant Richards.
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