Hagley Museum & Library
Manuscripts & Archives Department
P.O. Box 3630
Wilmington, DE 19807-0630
2 linear ft.
Hudson Maxim was born in Orneville Maine on February 3, 1853, to a poor but mechanically-gifted family. His older brother Hiram invented the Maxim gun, the first truly efficient automatic machine gun, and his nephew, Hiram Percy Maxim, invented the silencer. Hudson was the first to successfully produce smokeless powder in America. In the 1880s, Hudson Maxim worked in his brother's English gun factory, where he became familiar with a French version of smokeless gunpowder. He returned to the United States in 1888 as the American representative of the Maxim-Nordenfelt Guns and Ammunition Company, Ltd., and began experimenting on his own with high explosives, securing his first patent in 1889. The contract with his brother expired in 1891, and Maxim established the Columbia Powder Manufacturing Company to manufacture dynamite at a plant near Farmingdale, N.J. When the company failed in 1893, he reorganized it as the Maxim Powder Company. Maxim then began experimenting with smokeless powder and received a number of patents between 1893 and 1895. He then returned to England, where he attempted to set up companies to manufacture explosives, calcium carbide, and, at the suggestion of his nephew, Hiram Percy, automobile engines. None of these efforts was successful. Hudson laid the blame on Hiram's interference, and a permanent rift developed between the brothers. Hudson sold his most important patents to E.I. du Pont de Nemours & Co. in 1897, and the company established a laboratory and summer home for him at Lake Hopatcong, N.J. Maxim continued to produce inventions relating to explosives, ordnance, and torpedoes through the 1910s, but he also wandered down many blind alleys, including "Maxim-feast," a soybean-based food supplement, and "the Game of War," a supposed "improvement" on chess.Maxim helped organize the Maxim Munitions Corporation in 1915, hoping that it would assume the promotional burdens while he concentrated on inventing, but he soon withdrew when its managers tied his name to a scheme to turn water into gasoline. After 1900 Maxim carved out a second career as a public speaker and inveterate writer of magazine articles and letters to the editor, freely venting his opinions on poetry and language as well as invention, progress, and public affairs. Beginning in 1914 he vociferously argued for American rearmament against a wide array of Progressive-era pacifists. After the war he concentrated on the development of the Lake Hopatcong area and on local affairs. He died on May 6, 1927. The papers comprise a small body of material left in Maxim's Lake Hopatcong home at his death and subsequently purchased by Martin Wiener, a local industrialist and collector. While they include fragmentary material from Maxim's early life, most of the papers focus on three periods: his attempt to float his inventions in England in the late 1890s, his anti-pacifist crusade and war-era activities, and his work at Lake Hopatcong. There is also an incomplete file of Maxim's patents, as well as a collection of conflicting patents issued to other inventors. A file on Maxim's 1915 book DEFENSELESS AMERICA, shows that the entire production was financed by P.S. du Pont, contrary to Maxim's public assertion that he was the only armaments maker urging rearmament. Other documented activities of this period include the Maxim Munitions Corporation, "Maxim-feast," "The Game of War," a Russian munitions contract, and Maxim's work for the Naval Consulting Boar.d There is an extensive file of Maxim's writings on a variety of subjects, most importantly his attacks on pacifism and Prohibition. These include newspaper exchanges with Progressives like Raymond Moley and savage lampoons of William Jennings Bryan and Henry Ford. One of the responses to DEFENSELESS AMERICA is from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Maxim also produced a series of letters and articles on the course of the war and its weapons. The writings also include a number of short stories and fables that may have remained unpublished. Family correspondence comes from a variety of siblings and nephews, as well as his father- and mother-in-law, Mr. and Mrs. William Durban of London, and describes both family and business matters. There are few letters from Hiram, who was shunned by both Hudson and his own son Hiram Percy, but several notes express Hudson's disgust at his brother's sexual peccadilloes.
The collection includes a copy of an agreement between Maxim and E.I. du Pont de Nemours (October 17, 1897) whereby Maxim sold to the company his patents for smokeless powder. Also included is correspondence with Alfred I. du Pont and Francis G. du Pont relating to this transaction. A letter to Francis I. du Pont (February 13, 1917) describes a machine gun which Maxim designed. Correspondence with the United States government relates to smokeless powder and the propulsion of torpedoes and torpedo boats. Letters from the Ordnance Department describe the Navy's 1891 tests of Maxim's smokeless powder. Correspondence with Pierre S. du Pont (1916) relates to Maxim's book DEFENSELESS AMERICA, an anti-pacifist polemic. The collection also contains correspondence with British and Swedish producers of smokeless powder, dynamite, munitions and ordnance.