Hiram Percy Maxim: His Books, and Even a Hollywood Movie!

Most hams know the name Hiram Percy Maxim as being an early ham radio operator, W1AW, and the founder of the American Radio Relay League. Very few hams realize that Hiram Percy Maxim's character appeared in a 1946 Hollywood move, "So Goes My Love," starring Don Ameche and Myrna Loy. The film was based upon Hiram Percy Maxim's 1936 book, A Genius in the Family: Sir Hiram Stevens Maxim Through a Small Son's Eyes. (It should be noted that the British edition of this book was entitled So Goes My Love, and it also appears that some later American editions of the book also carried that title.)

Maxim wrote this book shortly before his death, and it was published posthumously. The book, as the American title suggests, is a memoir of his days as a young child, and focuses mostly upon his father, Hiram Stevens Maxim. The elder Maxim's name is no longer a household word, but he was a very famous inventor in his day. He was the inventor of the Maxim gun, the first portable automatic machine gun. Hiram Stevens Maxim was born in Maine in 1840. The British government took more interest in the Maxim gun than did the Americans, and the elder Maxim eventually emigrated to Britain and became a British subject. He was later knighted by Queen Victoria in recognition of his invention. A more complete biography of Hiram Stevens Maxim is available at his Wikipedia page.

The younger Maxim's book consists of a number of vignettes about his life and his relationship with his parents growing up in Brooklyn in the 1870's. He starts out by admitting that his father had no training in the vocation of fatherhood, and largely blundered through the process, but that he succeeded quite well. Most of these stories are vaguely politically incorrect. Many of them would be dismissed today as examples of bad parenting. But it's also obvious that they provoked a sense of curiosity in the son. For example, at one point, Percy got the idea that an old peach tree could be encouraged to bear fruit by the simple expedient of fertilizing it with a dead cat. Young Percy spent several days searching for a dead cat, and finally found one. With his father's amused assistance, he buried it near the tree. The next morning, the tree was indeed bearing fruit. Young Percy didn't realize until many years later that peaches didn't actually sprout overnight, impaled on the twigs of the tree. Modern parenting experts would probably be aghast at tricking an impressionable child in this way. But the duped child seems to have recovered from the trauma, and looks back fondly at this incident.

The book is full of such stories, and gives an interesting look at childhood and parenting in the 19th Century. Those with an interest in "the Old Man" will enjoy this look at his life as a young man.

Interestingly, one edition of the book was printed in Nazi Germany in 1944, and is part of a series entitled "Collection of English Texts for Use in Schools". I find it interesting that students learning the enemy's language were using this book. I doubt if this was an authorized edition. According to WORLDCAT, this edition can be found in a few libraries in Germany and Switzerland.

In 1946, the book was turned into the movie "So Goes My Love," which starred Don Ameche as Hiram Stevens Maxim, and Myrna Loy as his wife Jane Budden Maxim. A more complete description can be found at the movie's page at IMDB. The movie focuses more on the relationship between Mr. & Mrs. Maxim, but young Percy's character is also central. The movie begins with young Jane going to the big city to find her love and getting involved with the eccentric struggling inventor, who is in the process of almost burning down his landlady's house with one of his inventions. In the movie, Percy is played by Bobby Driscoll.

For many years, the movie was unavailable. Several years ago, I finally found a DVD copy on e-Bay. As far as I can tell, the seller was able to make the copy directly from the studio vault. I have no idea whether my copy was legal, but it later disappeared from e-Bay.

In 2011, the studio finally released the movie on DVD, and now it is freely available. You can now find it on Amazon at the following link:

The book has always been available, although it might take some hunting to find. It will be available in many public libraries. Again, it's been in several editions, so you'll need to check more than one of the following links. But here are the listings on WORLDCAT. By adding your zip code at the following pages, you should be able to find the closest copy:

If you want to buy a copy, the book is available at a low cost on Amazon. New copies are available, although at a rather high price. I suspect that these are print-on-demand reprints of an earlier edition. Your best bet is to find a used copy on Amazon. The links below show all of the available editions. The prices can vary considerably, so it's best to check them all and find the one with the least expensive used copy.

The full text of the book is also available at Project Gutenberg Australia.

Hiram Percy Maxim was the author of two other books. I haven't read either of them, although they look interesting. Horseless Carriage Days was a look at the early days of the automobile, up through 1901. Used copies are available, although they are a bit expensive:

You can also find a copy of Horseless Carriage Days at the library from the book's WORLDCAT listing.

His other book, Life's Place in the Cosmos , published in 1933, also looks intriguing. It's described on Wikipedia as an "overview of contemporary science that surmised life existed outside of earth." Unfortunately, used copies of Life's Place in the Cosmos seem to be selling for hundreds of dollars:

Fortunately, this book is available in many University libraries and public libraries, as can be seen at this WORLDCAT link or this one. Again, by adding your zip code to either of those pages, you'll be able to find the closest copy. If it's not available locally, you can ask your local librarian to get a copy through interlibrary loan.

I did a copyright search and determined that the copyright to Life's Place in the Cosmos expired in 1961, and the book is now in the public domain. Because it has been unavailable for so long, I decided to scan it and make it available here. You may read the book online at this link.

Copies of Maxim's biography by Alice Schumacher are also available on Amazon. There are two listings for this book, one of which contains a misspelling. Therefore, it's a good idea to check both listings for the best price:

In 1936, Maxim wrote two interesting articles for Popular Mechanics entitled The Next War, discussing the technology that would be used in wars of the future. They're available at Google Books at the following links:

Not all of Maxim's predictions came true, and some haven't come true yet. The beginning of the second part is especially interesting, since it paints an eerie picture of what we would today call an EMP attack.

Finally, you'll find many of Maxim's writings in early issues of QST. If you're an ARRL member, all issues, right back to the very first in 1915, are available at the ARRL website.

Maxim Silencer

If you're interested in the history of radio and telegraphy, you'll find a lot of free resorces on my old radio books page.

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