Hiram Maxim poses with one of his revolutionary auto-loading machine guns not long after he patented the new weapon in 1884. His innovative "blowback" design advanced rounds by using recoil force to automatically eject spent cartridges and load the next one — at a rate between 400 to 600 rounds a minute.
Hiram Maxim stands by as the Prince of Wales, the future Edward VII, tries out an early model of the new machine gun at a demonstration in 1888. The inventor established major production contracts with the British Vickers and Germany's Spandau firms that both produced models under their own names.
An American sailor known only as "Gunner Smith" poses with a heavy caliber Maxim "pom-pom" model mounted on the bow of the USS Vixen, an 800-ton yacht that saw action along the Cuban coast during the Spanish-American War. According to the original caption, this gun, essentially a 37 mm auto-cannon, fired 400 consecutive shots during the Battle of Santiago on July 3, 1898.
The Army manual for the 1904 Maxim stated that five mules were required to carry the gun, tripod, ammunition and other equipment. These pack trains (20 mules for a 4-gun machine gun company) proved their worth during the 1916-1917 Mexican Expedition when the 17th Infantry and other units fought against the paramilitary forces of Pancho Villa.
Turkish machine gun crews supervised by German officers engage targets on a firing range in a camp at the Dardanelles along Turkey's Mediterranean coast. German Spandau 08 machine guns like these mowed down waves of British, Australian and New Zealand troops during the Allies' disastrous Gallipoli campaign of 1915-1916.
A battle-hardened German crew mans their Spandau machine gun somewhere on the edge of the Western Front's "no man's land" in 1917. Unlike the British, the Germans eagerly embraced the new weapon before World War I and deployed them by the thousands once bloody trench warfare settled in.
y 1918 when this photograph was taken, the US Army and Marine Corps were in the midst of a crash course to take their place on the World War I battlefield. Inspired by the original Maxim design, American arms makers Colt and Browning had already developed their own versions of recoil action machine guns.
In an illustration from the April 27, 1918 edition of Collier's Weekly that accompanied the article "Making Soldiers in Dixie," a British officer sternly instructs newly minted American machine gun crews. With their tradition of favoring marksmanship over filling the air with metal, the British veterans often came across as unnecessarily "tight" when it came to expending ammunition.
By the time this overly idealized image of American machine gunners appeared on the cover of Collier's Weekly in August, 1918, US troops were about to plunge into some of the most bloody fighting of the war. Since they were largely on the offensive, it was American soldiers who suffered the most from Maxim's invention — in the form of the German Spandau 08.
A 1942 combat sketch from Guadalcanal shows Marine PFC John Minihan manning his Browning .30 cal water cooled machine gun in a tropical dugout. With only limited availability of the newer air-cooled guns, the Marines had to use weapons that dated back to the First World War during the first island campaigns. Classic Maxim-style machine guns like the Browning M1917 continued to see combat service up through the Korean War.