Hiram Maxim was the first person to create a truly practical and functional machine gun, based on a patent he filed in 1883. He pioneered the recoil operating system – the concept of harnessing the recoil generated by a firearm to perform the actions of reloading that firearm. His patent was based on a lever action rifle, but his intent was to create a machine gun, complete with belt feed and water cooling. After a testbed “forerunner” gun, he built this model which he called the “Prototype”. It was meant as a proof of concept, and used in many public exhibitions and demonstrations.
The Prototype used a hydraulic rate of fire control system which could be set as high as 500 rounds/minute (interestingly, the USMC example goes up to 600 rpm) and as low as just one round per minute. The gun did not have a trigger as we would recognize it today, but rather a single lever like a vehicle accelerator which acted as both trigger and fire rate control. Only three of these Prototypes exist today, with one belonging to the USMC, one on public display at the Royal Armouries museum in Leeds, and this one in the NFC reserve collection at Leeds.
For a fantastic exploded view of all this guns working parts, check out this work by YouTube channel vbbsmyt:
Many thanks to the Royal Armouries for allowing me to film this tremendously important artifact! The NFC collection there – perhaps the best military small arms collection in Western Europe – is available by appointment to researchers, but you can also browse the various Armouries collections online.