Brief Bio: Hiram Stevens Maxim
Updated: Dec 12, 2019
Born in Maine in 1840, Hiram tried for years to become successful in a variety of professions during the first 40 years of his life. It wasn’t until he moved to Europe that things really took off for him.
Before delving into Maxim’s history “across the pond,” there’s one more important thing to happen while he lived in the United States. In 1869, he and his first wife Jane had their first child: Hiram Percy Maxim. Percy would go on to patent the first successful firearms suppressor - the Maxim Silencer. Since both father and son shared the name Hiram, many assume that the same man who invented the machine gun also invented the suppressor, but that’s not the case.
OK, now to Hiram Stevens Maxim’s accomplishments in Europe. He reportedly told a newspaper that it was an American colleague in Vienna who, in 1882, quipped, “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.”
He developed and crafted his machine gun in a shop just two miles from London Bridge over the Thames River. The shop has long since been torn down and replaced, but a plaque on the wall notes the significance of the location. It was at a second London address - his home - where he tested his machine guns in the garden. Ever the courteous neighbor, he ran ads ahead of his tests in the paper, warning neighbors to keep their windows open during testing; better to be exposed to loud noise than to have broken windows, I suppose.
With financial backing from Edward Vickers, who had made his money in the railroads and steel industry, Maxim started his own arms company. The two men’s names would be forever linked with machine guns. It was an improvement on Maxim’s original design that became known as the Vickers machine gun.
In 1899, Maxim became a British subject, renouncing his American citizenship. Two years later, in 1901, he was knighted by Queen Victoria.
Though he had already put the arms industry behind him by the time World War I broke out in 1914, Hiram Stevens Maxim had already made quite a bit of money from the advice of his American colleague in Vienna all those years before.
When he passed away in 1916, the Europeans were doing a bang-up job of cutting each others’ throats with his machine guns. It’s probably a good thing that he didn’t live long enough to see the full-scale involvement of American troops in World War I, many of whom were cut down by guns bearing his name.
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