ALTHOUGH the subject of the present sketch has been a tireless worker in many fields of activity, his name is best known in connection with his work in the development of high explosives and their application to modern ordnance. Hudson Maxim was the fourth son of a family of eight children—six boys and two girls. He was born February 3rd, 1853, at Orneville Piscataquis County, Maine. His parents, Isaac and Harriet Boston (Stevens) Maxim, were of sturdy stock of English and French Huguenot descent. In 1875 he formulated the hypothesis of the compound nature of the so-called atoms, which has only recently been generally accepted as a proven theory through experiments on radiant matter. His theory, as first published in brief in the SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN SUPPLEMENT, NO. 697, of May 11th, 1889, is that all matter is one in the ultimate, and that the difference in the. various forms of matter and manifestations of force is due to the difference in the relative positions of the ultimate atoms. Prom 1883 to 1888, Mr. Maxim was engaged in the subscription book publishing business at Pittsfield, Mass., and during this period he wrote and published a book on Penmanship and Drawing of which nearly half a million copies were sold by subscription. In 1888, he left the publishing business for the more fascinating occupation of inventing and experimenting with ordnance and explosives. In 1890, he erected a dynamite and smokeless powder mill at Maxim, New Jersey, where he developed and manufactured the first smokeless powder to be adopted by the United States Government. The E. I. duPont de Nemours Powder Company, of Wilmington, Delaware, purchased his inventions and plant, engaging him as consulting engineer and expert in experimental work. Following exhaustive experiments by the United States army at Sandy Hook, Mr. Maxim sold this Government in 1901 the secret of his high explosive Maximite. It was the first high explosive to be successfully employed as a bursting charge for armor-piercing projectiles. Among the others of his successful in ventions is a detonating fuze for high- -explosive projectiles, which has proven itself superior to all rival fuses, and has been recently adopted by this Government. A later invention is stabillite, a new smokeless gunpowder, which in addition to other desirable qualities, has the great advantage that it may be used as soon as produced. This, in view of the fact that ordinary nitro-cellulose smokeless powder requires several months to dry, renders stabillite of the greatest importance in the event of war. For the larger guns, more than a year is often required to dry out the solvent. Stabillite does away with all this difficulty. Simultaneously with the invention of stabillite, Mr. Maxim produced a new self-combustive compound, which he named motorite, intended to be employed instead of compressed air for driving torpedoes of the Whitehead type. The motorite is made in bars about five feet long and seven inches in diameter. These bars are then coated on the> outside and forced and sealed into steel tubes. The bar is ignited at one end, to which the combustion is confined until the bar is entirely consumed. Water is forced into the combustion chamber and is instantly converted into steam by the flame blast, the products of combustion and the steam mixing to produce a motive fluid which is employed to drive a turbine or other engine. There is probably none of his inventions upon which Mr. Maxim has expended more time and effort than upon this. In addition to driving torpedoes it is also applicable for driving small torpedojboats during the run of attack, and Mr. Maxim has designed a new type of torpedo boat, which itself forms a veritable torpedo, driven by motorite during the run of attack through the gun-fire of a warship. The boat will carry a ton of high explosive in the warhead, which will be delivered against the hull of the war vessel attacked. The process of making calcium carbide continuously by the electrical resistance'of a molten carbide conductor, removing the carbide as fast as formed, and simultaneously supplying fresh material to the heating fluid, now in general use in this country, was invented by Mr. Maxim, the invention being sold to the Union Carbide Sales Company in 1906. During experiments in the manufacture of calcium carbide, he invented a process for the manufacture of micros-scopic diamonds by electro-deposition. Another late invention of his is a game of .skill—*«n improvement on chess; it is called the War Game, the movements of the pieces simulating field operations of troops in battle. He is fhe author of “The Science of Poetry and the Philosophy of. Language,” published by Funk and Wagnalls, 1910. The work embraces an exhaustive treatise on the nature and use of sounds in language, and contains many .important scientific discoveries in the constitution and dynamics of human speech. From the foregoing one can easily, appreciate what a hard worker and tireless, thinker this man must be, and yet, aside from inventive labors, he has won acknowledgment as writer, critic, philosopher and so- ciologist. He is an effective public speaker, and is also a frequent contributor to the leading periodicals on a wide range of subjects. He is a member of the following societies: The Aeronautical Society of New York (of which he is past president) ; The Military Service Institution, Society of Chemical Industry, Chemists' Club, Navy League, Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Director of the New England Society, 2nd Vice-President of the Aero Club of New York, President of the Hopatcong Rifle Club. Mr. Maxim has had a great many narrow escapes in his long experience as an inventor and manufacturer of explosive compounds. In the manufacture of explosives, even after the work has become thoroughly ' systematized and the duties of the workmen become routine, there is an inseparable element of considerable danger; but in pioneer inventive work and experimentation with explosive materials, the risk of life and limb is very much greater for the reason _ that the experimenter is obliged to deal with unfamiliar compounds and unfamiliar reactions under unfamiliar circumstances. The pathway of the inventor of explosive materials is like that of the vedettes of an army passing over a road planted with the torpedoes of the enemy. One becomes accustomed to the danger of explosives, Mr. Maxim says, just as a veteran soldier gets used to the dangers of battle; but it does not lessen the risk. One day, seventeen years ago, at his powder works in New Jersey, Mr. Maxim was experimenting with a new fulminate compound, one of the most dangerous and deadly explosives known to science, when, owing to a little oversight, his left hand was blown off to the wrist. At another time, at the same place, when one of his assistants was weighing out some of this dangerous material in the laboratory, an arm supporting the scoop of the scales gave way and a weight fell, striking within an inch of a quantity of fulminate which was piled on a piece of glass. Had the weight struck the glass, there would have been an explosion, and as there were ten pounds of fulminate in a jar standing on a bench, the explosion would certainly have had fatal results. At another time, requiring some dry guncotton for an experiment, and not finding a suitable vessel to put it in, he was delayed a few minutes until one should be cleaned. During those few minutes, the guncotton house where he was going for the material blew up. At another time Mr. Maxim was conducting some experiments in throwing aerial torpedoes from a 4-inch cannon. These projectiles, charged with a high explosive, were fired into a sand bank one hundred yards distant. The line of fire being parallel with a line of railroad about one thousand feet away, no danger to the railroad was suspected. Several torpedoes had already been discharged and the gun was being reloaded when the whistle of a passing train was heard. The gun was fired, but the aerial torpedo, instead of striking into the bank and exploding, as the previous ones had done, glanced from the bank, mounted high in the air, and passed clear over the train into the swamp beyond, where it exploded with terrific force. Once, when he was conducting some experiments with motorite, the combustion chamber exploded like a bombshell, blowing the windows of the workshop into the street, while the walls were pierced with fragments in all directions. Mr. Maxim and his assistant, though both standing in the room at the time, escaped without a scratch. A smoker is often unintentionally the cause of many a conflagration, the exploder of fire damp in mines, and the cause of the blowing up of powder mills. No smoker and no one carrying matches is ever knowingly admitted into any powder mill or dynamite factory. One occasion when Mr. Maxim confesses to have been thoroughly scared was when an intimate personal friend, a habitual smoker, escaping the vigilance of guards and assistants, entered one of the buildings at Mr. Maxim's experimental works on Lake Hopatcong, with a lighted and partially consumed cigar in his mouth, having an inch of hot ashes and cinders on the end of it ready to drop off at the least jar. When Mr. Maxim caught sight of him he was standing over a large box containing fifty pounds of dry guncotton, examining the material with his hand, and upon the same bench where the guncotton rested were two other boxes filled with smokeless gunpowder, one hundred, pounds in .each. Mr. Maxim went up to the smoker, threw a cover over the box, and quietly asked him please to stand back a little. Then he told him what he had done, and the offender was so scared that lie nearly fell to the floor. Technical Experts at German Consulates IT is reported that the German government is about to create a new class of consular officers, viz., technical experts, who will be attached to important consulates and whose duty will be to follow the progress of industrial development in the country to which they are assigned, and to report on all novelties of a technical character. These officials will supplement the commercial experts already attached to many German consulates, who, though they are of great value in furthering the foreign commerce of the fatherland, lack the professional training necessary for answering the many technical questions addressed to the consulates by German manufacturers, engineers, etc., pertaining to the progress of applied science in the several foreign countries.
This article was originally published with the title "Hudson Maxim" in Scientific American 105, 23, 491 (December 1911)