The Maxim Gun

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  • Topic: Ammunition, Machine gun, Firearm
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  • Published : December 18, 2005
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The Maxim Gun By Alexander Thompson

Hiram S. Maxim, who was working with an engineering works in Fitchburg, Massachusetts, invented the Maxim machine-gun in 1884. Hiram Maxim was born in Sangersville, Maine on February 5, 1840. His first patented inventions included models of electric lamps and gas appliances, and curling irons. Maxim's first idea of inventing a weapon effective for battlefield combat came from a man he met at the 1881 Paris Electrical Exhibition. This man told him: "If you wanted to make a lot of money, invent something that will enable these Europeans to cut each other's throats with greater facility"(Anon. 1881). Maxim moved to London the following year and began to work on producing a gun that could fire automatically, without little external force. 4 years later, Maxim produced the world's first automatic machine-gun. The concept Maxim applied was simple if not ingenious. The energy created by each bullet's recoil ejected the spent cartridge and inserted a new bullet. Therefore it was impossible to stop the firing of the weapon until the ammo belt ran out of ammunition.

Maxim's initial design, which was water-cooled and fed via belt, allowed a theoretical rate of fire of 600 rounds per minute. In 1891, he invented a smokeless cartridge which improved the effectiveness of his machine gun (Jeffries, J. 2000).

Maxim firstly demonstrated his new machine-gun to the British Army in 1885. Two years later, the British government placed an initial order for three machine-guns for testing purposes. Although the Maxim Gun passed all qualifying tests, the British did not pick it up until 1889 (Gamble, R. 2001). This was because the British high command believed that there would be limited infantry use of the weapon.

Calibre: 7.92 mm (.311 inch), same as the German infantry rifle. •Muzzle velocity: 2,821 feet per second.
•Sighting range: 2,200 yards.
•Extreme range (at 32 degrees): 4,400 yards.
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