Nov. 24, 1916: Sir Hiram Stevens Maxim, a native of the Piscataquis County town of Sangerville and the inventor of the machine gun, dies at 76 in London while the armies of World War I, underway just across the English Channel, are making prolific use of his weapon on the battlefield.

Maxim’s innovation was making the gun’s recoil supply the power to reload it. He moved to England in 1881 and remained there. Queen Victoria knighted him in 1901.

As a youth, Maxim worked with a carriage maker in the village of Abbott before moving to upstate New York and working in a threshing factory. He went to Canada and became a prizefighter, bartender and painter of decorations. Moving on to Massachusetts and back to New York, he patented a variety of inventions, including his first patent, for an improved curling iron, in 1866. He moved permanently to England in 1881.

Maxim experimented for more than 20 years in aeronautics and invented types of airplanes. In the first decade of the 20th century, he took the British to task for what he considered their indifference to mechanical flight, noting that when airplanes were in their infancy, Britain was in danger of bombardment if a war were to occur. When World War I broke out in 1914, Germany used dirigibles to bomb Britain.

At the age of 70 he helped organize the British air force, and he lived to experience the age of aerial combat amply fulfilling his prediction.

Maxim’s many electrical inventions include incandescent lamps, self-regulating current machines, several pieces of ordnance and smokeless powder. British Prime Minister David Lloyd George appointed him to the inventions board of the British munitions department in 1915.

Maxim’s son, Hiram Percy Maxim, becomes a well-known inventor in the United States who devised the Maxim silencer.

Joseph Owen is an author, retired newspaper editor and board member of the Kennebec Historical Society. Owen’s book, “This Day in Maine,” can be ordered at To get a signed copy use promo code signedbyjoe at checkout. Joe can be contacted at: [email protected]

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