The life and turbulent times of two of the most prolific military inventors of all time.
The Maxim brothers were self made men from a humble New England background whose inventions span many fields of activity. They were rumbustious, even vulgar, but they had a talent for making things work. Hiram's automatic machine gun is the best known of their inventions, with variants on his design in use in several armies until well after World War II. Even the Royal Navy's multiple pompom was basically to Hiram's design. Both the Admiralty and the War Office are shown as interested and progressive in trials of the new weapons. Their reluctance to purchase in quantity seems well justified in the light of rapid developments in this field.
Both men were active on propellants for guns and both warned of the danger of cordite as then made in the United Kingdom. Hudson was largely instrumental in persuading the US Navy to adopt nitro-cellulose, which probably kept that navy clear of the disastrous explosions which afflicted ships using cordite. It was Hudson's initiatives in this field which led to the final split between the brothers, as Hiram thought that Hudson had pirated his work.
Hiram's attempts to fly were unsuccessful but very brave and well conceived. He began serious work in 1889 with the development of a light weight steam engine and boiler. Over the next few years he built an aeroplane which, in final form, had a wing span of 104 feet and weighed 8000lb with fuel, water and a crew of two. It ran on rails for take off but a second set of rails prevented it from rising too far at first. In July 1894,near Dartmouth in Kent, it did take off and seems to have travelled about 600 feet before crashing. Though work continued for a time, it was proving costly and the support of the Vickers company was withdrawn.
The book is well written, easy to read and, with numerous wives, mistresses etc., quite spicy!