John Browning vs Hiram Maxim: Patent Fight!

When John Browning designed his Model 1895 machine gun with it’s rotary-lever gas operation system, Hiram Maxim filed suit claiming patent infringement. Maxim had filed quite broad patents covering gas pistons operation, but specifically in a linear format. Browning and Colt (who had the license to manufacture the Model 1895 machine gun) countered that the swinging lever was a different system, and thus not covered by Maxim’s patents. More to the point, they claimed that the gun would work without using a gas piston at all – and built this experimental model using a gas trap or muzzle cap system instead to prove the point.

Ultimately, the genesis of the fight was moot (the Maxim did not run well in 6mm Lee Navy, and would not have won a US Navy contract regardless of the Colt/Browning gun), and the court ultimately decided in favor of Colt and Browning. But this gun remains from the incident…

18 Comments

  1. Many years ago someone told me that the lever action guns were especially watched by the BATF, because of this modification. I did some research and actually found a patent drawing that showed how to do this, if you had some metal working / gun smithing expertise. Have you ever heard of this fact??

    • Sounds pointless for those guys to label lever guns as “easy to convert into super murder machines.” Adding a mechanism to operate by gas pressure does not make your standard tube-fed Winchester or Marlin into an effective machine gun, as rimmed cartridges on elevator ramps and a magazine capacity of less than 10 cartridges generally do not mix with rapid fire (over 5 shots per second, let us say). I could be wrong.

      • Well, both Maxim and Browning converted Winchesters to full-auto, Maxim with a butt-plate that operated the lever on recoil and Browning with his gas-flap at the front. Then they went on to produce less ungainly weapons.

  2. A modern author once used the old-fashioned word “cad” to describe Hiram Maxim. Maybe his patent challenge doesn’t quite justify that, but he was a pretty general-purpose sort of

    I don’t want to use bad language on this genteel site.

  3. Holy Locomotive! It seems that the mass of the reciprocating parts would be sufficient to make the gun jump about enough to be unusable. Was this intended to be a proof of concept example that would later be refined?

    • The muzzle part of it was a one-off made for the sole purpose of proving a point to the patent office. Ian discusses that at 4:15.

      The machine gun Colt was producing (the “potato digger”) was simpler.

  4. 1) Maxim’s tactic of suing for patent infringement is a standard tactic – “throw it at the wall and see if it sticks”. You’ve got nothing to lose by bringing a suit (in the US the loser does NOT automatically pay the winner’s court costs)
    2) I’ve always thought that Sjoren Bang had the perfect name for a firearms designer
    3)I guess the Maxim patents were expired when the US adopted Browning’s recoil operated M1917 and M1919
    4)He may have been a cad, but he was also a genius…Edison’s backers were so scared by Maxim’s work with electricity that they paid him a large sum of money to get out of the field for ten years. George Westinghouse? Don’t make us laugh, he’s the air brake guy…
    5) Maxim lived for a period of time in my home town, Fanwood NJ – but there is no memorial and if you mentioned his name to 99.9 percent of the people – even historical society members – they’d say “Who?” I didn’t learn about the connection until long after college and when I asked around town, in the library, etc, I drew a blank

    • Maxim’s gas piston patent was filed in 1884. It would have absolutely been expired by the time that the Browning M1917 and M1919 machine guns were produced. That particular patent would have entered the public domain in 1904, assuming that the term of the patent didn’t get adjusted, and most other Maxim gun related patents would have been entering the public domain fairly close to the same time frame.
      Those patents, I think, are the reason why Maxims dominated the machine gun market all the way to WWI. There are only so many ways to operate a machine gun, and Maxim had most of the really good ones locked down until the first decade of the 20th century. By which time, he was the machine gun manufacturer to beat.

  5. In all this patent back-and-forth, where does Baron von Odkolek, who sold a patent for a gas-piston-operated gun to Hotchkiss in the 1890s, fit in? Was Maxim’s piston patent unenforceable on the Continent?

    Again, to all here, I recommend “John M. Browning, American Gunsmith” by his son,, John A. Browning, and Curt Gentry. A little uncritically adoring of the master, but packed with interesting anecdote, it recounts the day JMB successfully operated his gas-actuated Winchester — in full auto!

  6. your article is fantastic ! very impressed. i’m looking for articles to be published in a book of works on Hiram. i am separating them by subjects. i’ll be using several articles on each subject. would love to use yours as the lead article on explosives and guns. yours is unique and different.these works won’t be published till later this year. i know what what you mean when your the only one in town who has even heard the name. at times being frustrating. i came up with the idea when reading articles and books by Edison freaks. they are easy marks for slander they are little con men who want you to believe the nonsense they write, yet they leave out the good parts of other inventors including the works of Tesla and bell. in the book power makers (2008) the writer tells the coward nature of maxim who ran away from his obligation and duty to his country. the part he did not tell his readers was Mr and Mrs maxim had already lost two of there sons to the dreaded war. Leander and youngest brother Samuel came home in box’s. they desperately fought to keep the brilliant Hiram from the war. they claimed wasting his life wasn’t right, and they just dreaded the possibility of losing a third son to the same war. if you were them, would you have fought like hell to save your next in line ? the next thing you read is a comment ive heard before. the writer claims Hiram used to beg for help at editions door all the time. if anybody truly knows the story of Hiram maxim, they know how bad this guy writes. he hated edison. if he could have gotten away with blackening his eye he would have. he did everybody else. i have an entire section on his world of violence. most people knew to never disrespect him in him to his face. the last one is the most common. everybody lists him as a life long atheist. which was never true…he hated the idea of denominations, and people he didn’t know that would bother him about it. his family was super religious and would prey for an hour and a half each day. Hiram and later Hudson, both taught Sunday school in Maine. bible quotes and passages to children. when Hiram traveled in Europe, he would come across christian churches which he would visit from time to time. he had no interest in telling strange reporters anything on his personal life. i agree! life savers .. you might know these things already. he invented the collision presenter which would be attached to a ship. i believe it worked for 30 miles. it sent out soft vibrations as echo’s and would measure the distance away, as well as the objects size. it also worked on land. it made light houses obsolete. (kind of). in his book, preventing collisions at sea. he tells a story of white star line, who owned titanic and sister ships. he met with them and they decided Hiram’s device was to expensive. they chose to pass. soon after the titanic hits an iceberg and sinks.1,400 people loose there lives. Hiram made a world wide statement that if they had listened, the ship would not have sunk. not single person said a word. i believe nowhone dared disrespect the man for fear of repercussions. at that time 65 ships in all the worlds oceans carried his device. 23 years after his death,a group of guys from London invent radar.the truth is they did not invent anything. they improved on maxims system. his last big invention was his decimator. when fired in the direction of a landing shell of gas, it decimated poison gas. the air was so unaffected it was safe to breath without masks. Hiram died before seeing an invention that literally saved thousands of lives. late 1917. his collision preventor did the same thing. he wasn’t always the taker of life…i don’t know if his decimator of poison gas was fired as a canister or shell. i do know it was fired within seconds of an enemy gas shell landing.. i’m Henry h. maxim.. great nephew of Hiram and Hudson. i live in the mountains of new Hampshire. i don’t ever leave messages. i couldn’t help it after reading your work……..thanks….

  7. forgot one thing that relates to browning maxim…browning tried nine straight times to patent his own machine gun, only to go away empty handed. he kept interfering with any one of maxims 30 models. he was not happy..we know eventually he broke through.talk about frustrating ! i only own browning. didn’t maxim corner the market on machine guns ? 1884 through 1914 ? or monopolizing..i do know it made him a millionaire many times over, even in the late 18 hundreds. Hiram employed 15,000 by 1908…five factory’s in the us, and 7 in England and at least two in France etc…in 1904 he sold all his captive flying machines for 20,000 pounds. it was included in the sale of several of his business’s for 175,000 pounds.it included a flying machine and spare parts and tools……. Henry……….

  8. forgot one thing that relates to browning maxim…browning tried nine straight times to patent his own machine gun, only to go away empty handed. he kept interfering with any one of maxims 30 models. he was not happy..we know eventually he broke through.talk about frustrating ! i only own browning. didn’t maxim corner the market on machine guns ? 1884 through 1914 ? or monopolizing..i do know it made him a millionaire many times over, even in the late 18 hundreds. Hiram employed 15,000 by 1908…five factory’s in the us, and 7 in England and at least two in France etc…in 1904 he sold all his captive machines for 20,000 pounds. it was included in the sale of several of his business’s for 175,000 pounds.it included a flying machine and spare parts and tools……. Henry……….

  9. it is funny how a new day brings the things you couldn’t remember the day before. the last invention that saved maybe millions of lives was an electric current regulator. maxim won the paris exposition in 1881 with this invention. it was used in power stations to regulate raw voltage from surging into houses and businesses. remember how little kids liked to play with light sockets? adults still use one socket to plug in many others cords. you would be dead as a door nail without this invention. the good thing about Hiram winning four paris expo’s is that Edison didn’t. he also won with an electric pressure regulator and his machine gun (original model). he bested Alfred Nobel several times on explosive inventions, like cordite. maxim was seriously hurt when the american war board didn’t want his inventions, due to there claim, they were not practical. this includes his guns and explosives. it might have something to do with the fact he sue’d them several times for stealing his inventions. he didn’t win. hiram loved being an american first. he liked to be called a maine yankee. over time the Americans did buy into his weaponry, but not like the other 17 country’s did.they without a doubt lost a huge number of men in ww 1
    to Hirams guns and explosives. Hudson absolutely had a lot to do with it as well. both guys never hesitated to sell to all sides..the Americans, did not have an answer. it was common for the Americans to use the guns they took from the enemy. i am aware that later in the war several other machine guns were used. there were many maxim men being fired apon with maxim guns. funny how that happens. a little on hudson the jersey boy. hiram brought him to broolyn ny from maine. he tried out as a profesial wrestler. hiram claimed he thru every apponet from the ring. both boys claimed they never lost a fight in the state of maine. while living in hopatcong nj, hudson released his defensless america, but not without critics. seems a a jewish rabbi kept insulting him as a killer of men, and that hudson was only trying to make a buck with his book. hudson was fed up over reading this nonsense and decided to challenge
    the rabbi to a fight, either in his front yard or in a ring for all to see. he wanted to entice the rabbi into doing it. hudson offered through the papers to build him the best synigog in the world. with all the bells and wistles. plus cash,to fight him. in the end the rabbi thought twice about making maxim mad. he was never heard from again..hudson lost his left hand when his nj powder factory exploded. parts of his hand ended up four blocks away on a roof top. none of his neighbers had a working window amoungest them. he was up the night before with a tooth ache. while in the shop he accidently rubbed his fingers together with fulminate between them. that is stronger and more delicate than nytrogliseren. hard to believe he survived. there were no hospitals in those days. hard to believe percy was as tame as a kitten. hudson once drove his car to kittyhawk just to find out if his brothers machine guns could be strapped to the wrights flyer.. after investigating he detemined that they could…..enough already !! henry maxim……..

  10. it is funny how a new day brings the things you couldn’t remember the day before. the last invention that saved maybe millions of lives was an electric current regulator. maxim won the paris exposition in 1881 with this invention. it was used in power stations to regulate raw voltage from surging into houses and businesses. remember how little kids liked to play with light sockets? adults still use one socket to plug in many others cords. you would be dead as a door nail without this invention. the good thing about Hiram winning four paris expo’s is that Edison didn’t. he also won with an electric pressure regulator and his machine gun (original model). he bested Alfred Nobel several times on explosive inventions, like cordite. maxim was seriously hurt when the american war board didn’t want his inventions, due to there claim, they were not practical. this includes his guns and explosives. it might have something to do with the fact he sue’d them several times for stealing his inventions. he didn’t win. hiram loved being an american first. he liked to be called a maine yankee. over time the Americans did buy into his weaponry, but not like the other 17 country’s did.they without a doubt lost a huge number of men in ww 1
    to Hirams guns and explosives. Hudson absolutely had a lot to do with it as well. both guys never hesitated to sell to all sides..the Americans, did not have an answer. it was common for the Americans to use the guns they took from the enemy. i am aware that later in the war several other machine guns were used. there were many maxim men being fired apon with maxim guns. funny how that happens. a little on hudson the jersey boy. hiram brought him to broolyn ny from maine. he tried out as a profesional wrestler. hiram claimed he thru every apponet from the ring. both boys claimed they never lost a fight in the state of maine. while living in hopatcong nj, hudson released his defensless america, but not without critics. seems a a jewish rabbi kept insulting him as a killer of men, and that hudson was only trying to make a buck with his book. hudson was fed up over reading this nonsense and decided to challenge
    the rabbi to a fight, either in his front yard or in a ring for all to see. he wanted to entice the rabbi into doing it. hudson offered through the papers to build him the best synigog in the world. with all the bells and wistles. plus cash,to fight him. in the end the rabbi thought twice about making maxim mad. he was never heard from again..hudson lost his left hand when his nj powder factory exploded. parts of his hand ended up four blocks away on a roof top. none of his neighbers had a working window amoungest them. he was up the night before with a tooth ache. while in the shop he accidently rubbed his fingers together with fulminate between them. that is stronger and more delicate than nytrogliseren. hard to believe he survived. there were no hospitals in those days.. hudson once drove his car to kittyhawk just to find out if his brothers machine guns could be strapped to the wrights flyer.. after investigating he detemined that they could…..enough already !! henry maxim……..

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