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Sir Hiram Maxim's 'Pipe of Peace'

Three pieces of glass breathing apparatus and small bottles of medicine, shown with their packaging; a red cardboard box

Sir Hiram Maxim's 'Pipe of Peace', © Science Museum/ Science and Society Picture Library

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  • Intro
    Museum's Description
    Teacher notes
    • 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?

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