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Home: Military: Hiram Maxim
Maxim was undoubtedly the father of the Automatic Machine Gun, the
Machine Gun that we know today. Prior to Maxim the word machine gun was
already in use, such as the Gardiner (1863) and the Gatling gun (1861),
however these were not truly automatic as they required cranking by the
operator. Maxim’s weapon was much more efficient and reliable as it used the recoil from firing a bullet to load the next.
Born in America in 1853, Maxim became a prolific inventor (not
weapons). He produced so many patents that the office tried to make
him stop so that they could reduce their paper work. One such
the light bulb, which caused conflict with Edison, as Maxim claimed he
had produced light bulbs in 1879; Edison's patent is dated
Whilst visiting Paris at the age of fourteen Maxim was advised
make a lot of money he would need to invent
The idea for an automatic weapon had been sown.
Maxim moved to London and set up offices in Hatton Garden and,
1884, he filed his first patent for an automatic weapon, joining
forces with Vickers at Crayford to manufacture the weapon. The British
Government was not impressed, they stated that "it needed perfecting
before they would consider adopting it", and, "why use fifty bullets
when one would do". They also confused the weapon with a Field Gun, as
did the Germans. Not to be defeated Maxim toured the world to find a
buyer. One possible purchaser, the Chinese, remarked that expending so
many bullets was too expensive and rejected it.
In 1887 Kaiser Wilhelm II visited London. While he was
10th Hussars headquarters in Hounslow he was shown the Nordenfeld Gun.
Being very impressed he ordered guns of the same kind to be
demonstrated in Berlin. The Maxim gun proved to be more stable than the
other competing manual weapons leading the Kaiser to remark "this is the only
machine gun". Germany started to manufacture the weapons under license
and officially adopted the Maxim in 1899.
Machine Guns of all types were used by armies in this
although not officially adopted. In 1891 the British adopted a Maxim,
firing 0.45 inch Martini Henry rounds, and the Maxim Nordenfeld
variant. It took nearly twenty years from the first demonstrations to
the adoption of the weapon by all armies around the world.
In 1896 Vickers purchased Maxim's company outright then, in 1898, Vickers
and Maxim amalgamated and developed the Vickers variant which was adopted in
Maxims original patent expired in 1900 leading to more
improvements, the Germans developed the MG 01 and the British developed
MG 08 Maschenin Gewehr
MG 08/15 Maschenin Gewehr
© The Museum of Technoloy, the Great War and WWII, 2009