“Transitional” Maxim

When we last left Hiram Maxim, he had perfected his very first machine gun – the world’s first practical machine gun, really. However, while his gun worked well, it was not yet a design which was suitable for military acceptance. It was too large, too complex, and too expensive. If he wanted the gun to become popular, Maxim needed to make it quick and easy to assembly and disassemble.

One of the major hurdles to doing that was the feed system. Maxim’s first gun had a feed system with two separate spindles – it took a lot of space, and was too complicated. He also needed to simplify elements like the rate of fire control, to remove components like hydraulics from the gun. The first major step in this direction was detailed in Maxim’s patent #1307 of 1885. In this gun we can clearly see a gun halfway to becoming the classic Maxim which we are familiar with today.

The feed system of this gun was reduced to having only one spindle, and the lock was beginning to look like a proper Maxim lock. The moving parts were simplified to the barrel, sideplates, and lock, operating inside a fixed receiver box. The fusee spring made its first appearance, and the crank handle took a form which was starting to look like the final version. I do not know  how many of these guns were ever made, but I suspect it could be as few as just one, as they were never marketed in any way, and served simply as an experimental stepping stone. As far as I know, none exist today. However, the same fellow who created the animation of the first Maxim has done a similarly exhaustive and outstanding job modeling this Patent #1307 design:

While this second prototype design was an important step forward, it was not enough. The gun had to be still simpler and more user-friendly. The result was what became known as the “Transitional” gun, and its main innovation was to make the feedblock and lock into self-contained and interchangeable components. This would become one of the fundamental strengths of the Maxim; that the gun would disassemble into discreet pieces, each easily removed and replaced. Thanks to our talented computer modeling benefactor, we have a great video showing the workings of the Transitional as well!

In addition, I had a chance to get a bunch of photos of a very rare surviving Transitional. I will leave you with those, and our next chapter in this story will be when Maxim finally breaks through with his World Standard gun and starts selling them in real numbers!