Sir Hiram Maxim's 'Pipe of Peace', © Science Museum/ Science and Society Picture Library
Sir Hiram Maxim was an American inventor with a wild imagination. He is most famous for his invention of the Maxim machine gun but he also invented lots of other objects which often get overlooked.
As a lifelong sufferer of Bronchitis, Maxim wanted to invent something that would help ease respiratory illnesses (illnesses to do with your breathing). Two of his inventions can be seen here, a pocket-sized menthol inhaler and the larger Pipe of Peace. The pipe worked by heating water mixed with medicine, the vapours would be inhaled and were thought to soothe the throat.
Despite being an inventor his whole life, and a very good one at that, people found it hard to believe that this pipe would work. They accused Maxim of quackery – that is the promotion of fake medical practices. Eventually, word of its effectiveness spread and the inhaler became very popular, by the early 1900s hundreds of thousands had been sold.
Respiratory illnesses were particularly common at the time because of the industrial revolution. Factories and foundries across the UK were releasing tonnes of fossil fuels into the air every day. People who worked in the factories could not avoid these fumes and often became very ill as a result.
In comparison to his machine gun, this is one of Maxim’s inventions that helped to heal rather than harm people.
Things to think about:
- Can you imagine a modern-day inhaler? Do you think it is very different from maxim’s inhaler or quite similar?
- Why do you think he called it the 'Pipe of Peace'?
- Do you know of any other things that Maxim invented?
This is a great example of invention in the field of medicine. Maxim's inhaler can be seen as the prototype for our modern day asthma inhalers.
The Science Museum has a great website dedicated to the history of medicine. The website is actually aimed at GCSE students however the information they provide could be easily translated into a KS 2-3 lesson.
Additionally, Worcester Medical Museums have a load of great resources for teachers and students about the history of medicine.
Teachers can also visit the Science Museum Group learning resources website.This website brings together learning resources from the four Museums in the Science Museum Group, including activities, games and videos. Browse all the resources and discover activities to support a range of curriculum topics for use in the classroom, in museum galleries and beyond.
- Hiram Maxim is best known for the invention of the automatic machine gun. However, he also developed this inhaler, known as the ‘Pipe of Peace’. It was used to treat throat and chest problems like bronchitis. Soothing vapours made from warm water mixed with a few drops of 'Dirigo', a drug made from Maxim’s own recipe, could be delivered right to the back of your throat via a long, swan-necked glass tube. In this set, the drug is made by John Morgan Richards and Sons Ltd. As word of the effectiveness of Maxim’s invention spread, demand grew and eventually hundreds of thousands were sold in the early 1900s."
- Sir Hiram Maxim was an American inventor with a wild imagination. He is most famous for his invention of the Maxim machine gun but he also invented lots of other objects which often get overlooked.