There have been many significant technological advances in warfare, with the Maxim gun leading the way at the turn of the century. But did you know that the creators of the Maxim gun also invented the silencer out of necessity?
Hiram Percy Maxim was the son of Hiram Stevens Maxim, the inventor of the automatic Maxim gun. Percy Maxim created the first silencer for guns after his father’s hearing was severely affected by testing Maxim guns. But sadly, it was too late.
The Maxim Gun
British-American inventor sir Hiram Stevens Maxim developed and built the Maxim gun in 1884. Maxim, who had several inventions, began to take an interest in the problem of automatic weapons. He wanted to create a more efficient automatic gun that was better than the Gatling gun present at the time. (Source: Britannica)
The Gatling gun, invented during the American Civil war in 1861, was the first automatic machine gun. It was designed to have six barrels arranged in a circular pattern and rotated around a central pivot when a crank was turned.
Bullets were fed from a topper. As the barrel rotates, shells will be fed into it, locked, fired, and extracted. The Gatling gun was capable of firing 350 rounds per minute. The Gatling gun, however, had two main problems. It was a hand-cranked gun, and the process of loading, firing, and extracting the munition case was highly complicated.
Maxim wanted to simplify and improve this process and thereby improve the automation of the gun. His idea was to use the bullet’s recoil to operate the loading, firing, and extraction process, and one of the roadblocks to this was the kind of gunpowder used at the time.
At the time, ordinary gunpowder burned too quickly. It did not allow gas pressure to form and force the gun to recoil. Maxim soon developed his gunpowder, which ignited slower and did not emit smoke.
With the Maximite, a fired round would generate enough power to force back a sliding breech bolt, and the spent casing would be carried back with it, to be ejected when the bolt reached the back of the breach. This backward motion would also compress a large spring, which would then force the bolt forward.
As it moved forward, the bolt would force another round from a belt of ammunition into the barrel; the round would be fired, and the whole process repeated. The developed Maxim gun could fire 600 rounds per minute without jamming and be fed continuous belts of bullets linked together. The British army then adopted the Maxim gun and used it until World War 1. (Source: Encyclopedia)
Designing the Silencer
Hiram Percy Maxim, son of Sir Hiram Stevens Maxim, followed in his father’s footsteps. He became an inventor and manufacturer. Maxim, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology graduate, wanted to improve the gasoline-powered automobile. His research led him to the creation of the muffler. (Source: Britannica)
Maxim, an avid hunter and target shooter, wanted a way to shoot at his home without bothering his neighbors with the explosive noises. He incorporated his research on car mufflers and developed a silencer to go about his shooting. He then invented silencers for the Armed Forces’ snipers and sharpshooters. (Source: Finding Aids)