Maxim, Sir Hiram Stevens

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b. 5 February 1840 Brockway's Mills, Maine, USA
d. 24 November 1916 Streatham, London, England
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American (naturalized British) inventor; designer of the first fully automatic machine gun and of an experimental steam-powered aircraft.
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Maxim was born the son of a pioneer farmer who later became a wood turner. Young Maxim was first apprenticed to a carriage maker and then embarked on a succession of jobs before joining his uncle in his engineering firm in Massachusetts in 1864. As a young man he gained a reputation as a boxer, but it was his uncle who first identified and encouraged Hiram's latent talent for invention.
It was not, however, until 1878, when Maxim joined the first electric-light company to be established in the USA, as its Chief Engineer, that he began to make a name for himself. He developed an improved light filament and his electric pressure regulator not only won a prize at the first International Electrical Exhibition, held in Paris in 1881, but also resulted in his being made a Chevalier de la Légion d'honneur. While in Europe he was advised that weapons development was a more lucrative field than electricity; consequently, he moved to England and established a small laboratory at Hatton Garden, London. He began by investigating improvements to the Gatling gun in order to produce a weapon with a faster rate of fire and which was more accurate. In 1883, by adapting a Winchester carbine, he successfully produced a semi-automatic weapon, which used the recoil to cock the gun automatically after firing. The following year he took this concept a stage further and produced a fully automatic belt-fed weapon. The recoil drove barrel and breechblock to the vent. The barrel then halted, while the breechblock, now unlocked from the former, continued rearwards, extracting the spent case and recocking the firing mechanism. The return spring, which it had been compressing, then drove the breechblock forward again, chambering the next round, which had been fed from the belt, as it did so. Keeping the trigger pressed enabled the gun to continue firing until the belt was expended. The Maxim gun, as it became known, was adopted by almost every army within the decade, and was to remain in service for nearly fifty years. Maxim himself joined forces with the large British armaments firm of Vickers, and the Vickers machine gun, which served the British Army during two world wars, was merely a refined version of the Maxim gun.
Maxim's interests continued to occupy several fields of technology, including flight. In 1891 he took out a patent for a steam-powered aeroplane fitted with a pendulous gyroscopic stabilizer which would maintain the pitch of the aeroplane at any desired inclination (basically, a simple autopilot). Maxim decided to test the relationship between power, thrust and lift before moving on to stability and control. He designed a lightweight steam-engine which developed 180 hp (135 kW) and drove a propeller measuring 17 ft 10 in. (5.44 m) in diameter. He fitted two of these engines into his huge flying machine testrig, which needed a wing span of 104 ft (31.7 m) to generate enough lift to overcome a total weight of 4 tons. The machine was not designed for free flight, but ran on one set of rails with a second set to prevent it rising more than about 2 ft (61 cm). At Baldwyn's Park in Kent on 31 July 1894 the huge machine, carrying Maxim and his crew, reached a speed of 42 mph (67.6 km/h) and lifted off its rails. Unfortunately, one of the restraining axles broke and the machine was extensively damaged. Although it was subsequently repaired and further trials carried out, these experiments were very expensive. Maxim eventually abandoned the flying machine and did not develop his idea for a stabilizer, turning instead to other projects. At the age of almost 70 he returned to the problems of flight and designed a biplane with a petrol engine: it was built in 1910 but never left the ground.
In all, Maxim registered 122 US and 149 British patents on objects ranging from mousetraps to automatic spindles. Included among them was a 1901 patent for a foot-operated suction cleaner. In 1900 he became a British subject and he was knighted the following year. He remained a larger-than-life figure, both physically and in character, until the end of his life.
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Principal Honours and Distinctions
Chevalier de la Légion d'Honneur 1881. Knighted 1901.
Bibliography
1908, Natural and Artificial Flight, London. 1915, My Life, London: Methuen (autobiography).
Further Reading
Obituary, 1916, Engineer (1 December).
Obituary, 1916, Engineering (1 December).
P.F.Mottelay, 1920, The Life and Work of Sir Hiram Maxim, London and New York: John Lane.
Dictionary of National Biography, 1912–1921, 1927, Oxford: Oxford University Press.
CM / JDS

Biographical history of technology. - Taylor & Francis e-Librar. . 2005.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • Maxim,Sir Hiram Stevens — Max·im (măkʹsĭm), Sir Hiram Stevens. 1840 1916. American born British inventor of an automatic, recoil operated machine gun (1884), which was widely used during World War I. His brother Hudson (1853 1927) invented smokeless gun powder, and his… …   Universalium

  • Maxim, Sir Hiram (Stevens) — born Feb. 5, 1840, Sangerville, Maine, U.S. died Nov. 24, 1916, London, Eng. U.S. British inventor. Son of a Maine farmer, he was apprenticed to a carriage maker. He became chief engineer of the U.S. Electric Lighting Co. (1878–81), for which he… …   Universalium

  • Maxim, Sir Hiram (Stevens) — (5 feb. 1840, Sangerville, Maine, EE.UU.–24 nov. 1916, Londres, Inglaterra). Inventor británico nacido en EE.UU. Hijo de un granjero de Maine, fue colocado como aprendiz de un fabricante de carruajes. Llegó a ser ingeniero jefe de U.S. Electric… …   Enciclopedia Universal

  • Sir Hiram Stevens Maxim — noun English inventor (born in the United States) who invented the Maxim gun that was used in World War I (1840 1916) • Syn: ↑Maxim • Instance Hypernyms: ↑inventor, ↑discoverer, ↑artificer …   Useful english dictionary

  • Hiram Stevens Maxim — This article is about Hiram Stevens Maxim. For his son, automotive pioneer and co founder of the ARRL, see Hiram Percy Maxim. Sir Hiram Stevens Maxim Born February 5, 1840(1840 02 05) Sangerville, Maine …   Wikipedia

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  • Hiram Stevens Maxim — Hiram Maxim Hiram Stevens Maxim (1912) Hiram Stevens Maxim (5 février 1840 24 novembre 1916) est un inventeur britannique d origine américaine. Il a notamment inventé la mitrailleuse Maxi …   Wikipédia en Français

  • Hiram Stevens Maxim — Hiram S. Maxim Maxim Maschinengewehr ca. 1910 Sir Hiram Stevens Maxim (* 5. Februar 1840 in Sangerville …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • Maxim Gun —    , MAXIM SILENCER    There were three Maxims, all inventors. The elder Maxim, Sir Hiram Stevens (1840 1916), was born near Sangerville, Maine. He moved to England and became a naturalized British citizen. Between the years 1881 and 1884, he… …   Dictionary of eponyms

  • Stevens — Stevens, Siaka Probyn Stevens, Wallace * * * (as used in expressions) Hewitt, Abram S(tevens) Maxim, Sir Hiram (Stevens) Ruby Stevens Stevens, George Stevens, John Stevens, John Paul Stevens, Robert Livingston …   Enciclopedia Universal

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