| On a small hill overlooking Dexter's Lake
Wasookeag on a June day in 1890, a gathering of townspeople watched
history in the making as bullets whizzed into the lake waters at a rate
of 666 per minute. The small-town quiet was shattered
as the gun swayed back and forth to show how a fast-moving army could be
cut down in minutes. From that location, about 10 miles
from his Sangerville home, Sir Hiram Maxim's gun entered the battlefields
of World War I, and later the Russo-Japanese War, World War II, and even the battlefields
of Korea and Vietnam.
* * * * *
| As a boy, Hiram Maxim lived
at Brockway Mills, located off Silvers Mills Road. Born on the fifth
of February, 1840 in a less than modest home - on a small knoll overlooking
a stream, he tended sheep throughout the summer months. Legend
has it, as a young lad he and his brother Hudson stood atop a large boulder
outside their home and with raised arms pledged to themselves that someday
they would become famous. Both men achieved fame and garnered themselves a place in the history
* * * * *
| Hiram's only schooling was
what he gleaned from five years of learning in a one-room Sangerville schoolhouse. At the age of 14, he was apprenticed to Daniel Sweat, an East Corinth carriage maker who had recently returned to Sangerville. Hiram went to work for Mr. Sweat in Abbott and it was there that he perfected
his first invention - an automatic mousetrap that soon rid the Abbot
grist mill of mice. That invention was soon followed by others, including a silicate blackboard. Shortly afterward, young Maxim traveled
through Canada, New England, and New York State, where he met Spencer D.
Schuyler, founder of the United States Electric Lighting Co. Schuyler hired Maxim as his
chief engineer and soon the former sheep-tender was busy working on dynamos,
arc lamps and other electrical devices. In an impressive list of 271 patents
filed, Maxim invented a prototype of a curling iron, an apparatus for demagnetizing watches, magno-electric machines, devices to prevent the rolling of ships, eyelet and riveting machines, aircraft artillery, a flying machine, smokeless powder, an aerial torpedo gun, coffee substitutes, and various oil, steam, and gas engines.
* * * * *
| In 1881, Hiram Maxim went to Europe
to attend the Electric Exhibition at Paris where he was decorated by the French
Government for his work with electricity. Two years later, he began work on his first automatic gun. When it was publicly announced that an American electrical engineer had produced a gun that would load and fire itself by simply touching a button, the report was rebukked and labeled incredulous. When Maxim offered his invention to the U.S. War Department, they refused it, deeming it unworthy by U.S. military standards. Maxim returned to England and
was soon visited in his workshop by English Royalty. A demonstration followed, and his automatic weapon was ordered for Her Majesty’s Royal Forces. The Maxim Gun Co. was quickly formed
and later merged with Nordenfelt Guns and Ammunition Co. of England.
* * * * *
| In 1900, Maxim became a naturalized
British Subject and was Knighted the following year by Queen Victoria. Hiram infrequently returned to America, and it was on one of these rare visits that he traveled to the site of his
birthplace in Brockway Mills. This particular visit coincided with Sangerville's
Centennial held June 13, 1914. Here was a gathering of Sangerville residents
at the Town Hall where Hiram's son, Hiram Percy Maxim, read aloud a letter
written by his father in London. The Centennial celebration also included
an exhibition of moving pictures showing Sir Hiram Maxim and King George
of England inspecting the now-famous gun.
* * * * *
| It was during the Spring of
1914 that the Sangerville Woman's Club erected a sign on the lawn of the Town Hall
attesting Sangerville as the birthplace of Sir Hiram Maxim. Presentation of this honor
to the town was made by Mrs. Minnie Hayes, President of the Woman's Club.
The sign was a project of the club conforming to the Community Improvement
Department of the New England Conference of the State Federation of Women's
Clubs. Nearly three decades later, the original sign was replaced by one proclaiming that Sir Harry Oakes was also a Sangerville native who was Knighted by the English Realm. Hence,
Sangerville became known as the Town of Two Knights, the other honor belonging to Sir Harry Oakes. Sir Hiram Maxim died in his adopted homeland at Streathan on Nov. 24, 1916, at the age of 77.
* * * * *
The following website was referenced as a source for this information: http://uk.multimap.com/wi/59353.htm
The Sangerville Public Library would like to thank the author, Marie Howard. Content was edited by Gwen Sandau.
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