Hudson Maxim; A Maine Success

All too often we forget about some of the people of Maine who have become successful in their lives, even though they may leave the state. Hudson (born Isaac) Maxim is just one of these men. Born into a poor family in the little town of Orneville, Maine, Hudson left for New Jersey and became one of the most prolific inventors in the field of explosives used by the military. Every person in Maine who hunts with modern smokeless ammunition can thank this Maine born inventor, as he is the inventor of this product, produced and marketed by Dupont. Maxim is important to us today in Maine because he is proof that no matter where you were born, and no matter the circumstances of life, you can do great things. Unfortunately, most references to this great man omit his birthplace, also omitting the pride this small community should have for one of its sons. (photo Library of congress)

HUDSON MAXIM, who next to Edison is probably the greatest scientist and inventor in America, was born in a little backwoods village in Maine. His father was a miller with a large family and a small income. However, the elder Maxim was a man of imagination and inventive skill —traits which his son inherited from him.

The lad, Hudson, possessed unusual physical strength, developed from working in the fields in order to secure funds with which to go to school. He used to walk two miles to the district school, often through snowdrifts almost as high as his head. After absorbing all the knowledge available in the vicinity of Orneville, which was not a great deal, young Maxim was offered a position as teacher in a neighboring school. The job was given him more on account of his muscular build than his store of knowledge, for the school had the reputation of being one of the hardest to manage in Maine, containing a number of rowdies who had thrown the previous teacher out through the window without raising the sash. Young Maxim, however, succeeded in subduing them by thrashing one after the other. After that he was able to start instructing them, at the same time educating himself, so that soon he was able to enter Maine Wesleyan Seminary for a real education.

When twenty-two years old, Hudson Maxim advanced the scientific theory of the “ultimate atom”, which was widely published in scientific journals throughout the country.

But though he knew at this time that his lifework was to be a science, the young man’s researches availed him little money and he was in need of ready cash. So after his graduation from Maine Wesleyan, he spent five years in the book-publishing business, earning enough out of this to start experimenting in the field of explosives on a large scale.

About this time he took a trip to New York that might have cut short his career as a scientist. He was introduced by his brother to some sporting men, who, impressed by his muscular physique and reputation in Maine as a wrestler and boxer, induced him to challenge a wrestler named Flynn, then one of the top-notchers in the game. Young Maxim threw Flynn easily and big money was offered him for a second bout, but Hudson Maxim had other plans.

Going to a small town in New Jersev, he built his first dynamite and smokeless powder mill in I890. Here he worked out the experiments that gave smokeless powder to the United States Army. The Du Pont people afterward bought this invention from him, and Mr. Maxim became their consulting engineer and expert.

From that point on he continued to mount up the ladder, producing one valuable invention after the other. These include Maximite, the first high explosive successfully used in armor piercing projectiles; Stabillite, a development of the smokeless powder idea; and Motorite, which propels torpedoes with compressed air. These discoveries, all conceived and brought to perfection in Mr. Maxim’s private laboratory on his estate at Lake Hopatcong, N. J., have made him the foremost authority on explosives in America.

Of course his work was not without great danger. During one of his experiments an accident occurred that cost the inventor the loss of his left hand. He was many miles from a physician at the time, and it was only his wonderful stamina that enabled him to pull through.

Mr. Maxim is a poet and author, as well as inventor. His book, “defenseless America”, did much to arouse this country to the need of preparedness in the days immediately preceding our entrance into the war.

Though he has invented probably the most terrible engines of destruction, Mr. Maxim is not a militarist.

“War is sometimes a necessity, and when it comes we want the best tools we can get to fight with”, says Mr. Maxim. “But I don’t believe in war, and I am confident the day is coming when peace will be universal. Meantime, the use of such terrible explosives as I have invented makes for peace more than all the sermons that can be delivered.”

Mr. Maxim is a man of boundless energy, even now at the age of sixty-seven. When he feels the need of recreation, he ceases work upon his inventions and, retiring to his library, studies philology or poetry.

The inventor’s pet beliefs at present are that the energy in the sun’s rays can in some way be used by mankind, and that an airplane can be evolved that will encircle the world in seventeen hours.

Probably Mr. Maxim will soon work out these beliefs to practical ends, for he is a dreamer whose dreams generally come true. (From

Categories: Geneology, history, Maine, Maine Biographies, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

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