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Hudson Maxim papers

Creation: 1851-1925
Accession: 2147
View selected items online in the Hagley Digital Archives.
View selected items online in the Hagley Digital Archives.


Hudson Maxim (1853-1927) was an inventor and chemist best known for his work in the development of smokeless gunpowder and military explosives. This collection focuses on Maxim's attempt to float his inventions in England during the late 1890s, his anti-pacifist crusade and war-era activities, and his work at Lake Hopatcong.


  • Creation: 1851-1925



2 Linear Feet

Biographical Note

Hudson Maxim (1853-1927) was an inventor and chemist best known for his work in the development of smokeless gunpowder and military explosives. He was born in Orneville, Maine on February 3, 1853, to a poor but mechanically-gifted family. His older brother Hiram Maxim (1840-1916) invented the Maxim gun, the first truly efficient automatic machine gun, and his nephew, Hiram Percy Maxim (1869-1936), invented the silencer.

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, New Jersey. When the company failed in 1893, he reorganized it as the Maxim Powder Company.

Maxim then began experimenting with smokeless powder and received several 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, New Jersey. 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. He soon withdrew, however, when its managers tied his name to a scheme to turn water into gasoline.

After 1910, 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.


Arranged alphabetically by subject.

Scope and Content

While they include fragmentary material from Maxim's early life, most of the papers focus on three periods: his work to promote his inventions in England in the late 1890s, his anti-pacifist crusade and war-era activities, and his work at Lake Hopatcong. Also included is 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 Board.

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 the "savage lampoons," William Jennings Bryan, and Henry Ford. Maxim also produced a series of letters and articles on the course of the war and its weapons. The writings 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 wife's parents, Mr. and Mrs. William Durban of London, and describes both family and business matters. There are few letters from brother Hiram, who was shunned by both Hudson and his own son Hiram Percy, but several notes express Hudson's disgust at Hiram's sexual peccadilloes.

Existence and Location of Copies

View selected items online in Hagley Digital Archives.

Related Material

Hudson Maxim Papers (MssCol 1918), Manuscripts and Archives Division, The New York Public Library.

Hudson Maxim photographs (Accession 1996.312), Audiovisual Collections and Digital Initiatives Department, Hagley Museum and Library.

Hudson Maxim papers (Accession 0509), Manuscripts and Archives Department, Hagley Museum and Library.

Hudson Maxim Papers (Accession 2154), Manuscripts and Archives Department, Hagley Museum and Library.

Language of Materials


Additional Description


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.

Finding Aid & Administrative Information

Hudson Maxim papers
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Describing Archives: A Content Standard
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Repository Details

Repository Details

Part of the Manuscripts and Archives Repository

PO Box 3630
Wilmington Delaware 19807 USA