Maxim, Hiram Stevens 1840 - 1916


(1840-1916), Knight, Engineer and Inventor

Hiram Stevens Maxim was born on the 5 February 1840 at Brockway's Mills, near Sangerville, Maine, USA. Maxim was apprenticed at age 14 to a carriage maker, Daniel Sweat before moving on to new employment with a Daniel Flynt with better pay and working conditions. In 1864 Maxim joined his uncle, Levi Stevens, the proprietor of an engineering works at Fitchburg, Massachusetts, where he acquired a knowledge of draughtsmanship and continued his technical and scientific studies. Then he entered the service of Oliver Drake, gas machine builder and philosophical instrument maker. Exhibiting an early genius for invention, he obtained his first patent in 1866, for a hair-curling iron. His iron was followed by a device for generating illuminating gas and a locomotive headlight.

By 1873 he was senior partner in Maxim and Welch, gas and steam engineers of New York. In 1878 he was hired as chief engineer of the United States Electric Lighting Company, the first such company in the United States. In that post he produced a basic invention, a method of manufacturing carbon filaments. In 1881 he exhibited an electric pressure regulator at the Paris Exposition.

Shortly afterwards Maxim transferred his operations to London, where in 1884 he opened a workshop in Hatton Garden and directed his attention to gunnery. He formed the Maxim Gun Company in the same year and prepared a design for a fully automatic gun. The Maxim gun was adopted in the British army in 1889 and in the Royal Navy in 1892, within a few years every army was equipped with Maxim guns or adaptations. His firm merged with the Nordenfeldt Company in 1888 and the joint concern established various manufactories near Crayford, in Kent, before being itself absorbed in 1896 into the company of Vickers Sons and Maxim, of which Maxim became a director; he retired from the board in 1911.

In the 1890s Maxim experimented with airplanes, producing one powered by a light steam engine that successfully rose from the ground; he recognized that the real solution to flight was the internal-combustion engine but did not attempt to develop it. His hundreds of patents in the United States and Great Britain included a mousetrap, an automatic sprinkling system, an automatic steam-powered water pump, vacuum pumps, engine governors, and gas motors.

In 1867 Maxim married an English immigrant, Louisa Jane Budden (1841–1911); they had a son and two daughters. He also had another daughter with a Helen Leighton. Louisa divorced Maxim in early 1888 and he married Sarah (1854–1941), daughter of Charles Haynes of Boston, Massachusetts, she was his secretary and mistress, they married in May 1888. In 1900 he became a naturalized British subject, and in 1901 he was knighted by Queen Victoria. In 1915 he published his autobiography, titled 'My Life'. He died of broncho-pneumonia and heart failure at his home, Sandhurst Lodge, High Road, Streatham, London, on 24 November 1916 and was buried at Norwood cemetery.