Hiram Maxim

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In 1900 Maxim became a British subject, and the next year Queen Victoria acknowledged his service to her Empire by knighting him. Maxim’s genius became even more widely recognized when the First World War broke out in 1914. As the lines of trenches spread across Europe, the laggard powers studied their deadlocked armies and began to realize what a truly formidable weapon the machine gun was.

Maxim died in the winter of 1916, just as the battle of the Somme, the most stunning demonstration of his gun, was drawing to a close. He doubtless had heard of the three quarters of a million British soldiers killed, most of them by German machine guns—which had been manufactured under his patents since the 1890’s—but he had nothing to say about them. He had other concerns in his last years. He had rented a front room at the top of a building in a London business district, and there he spent hours blowing black beans out of a peashooter at a Salvation Army band that regularly played across the street.