The elaborately named Sir Hiram Maxim’s Captive Flying Machines at Blackpool Pleasure Beach is possibly the oldest, still-operating amusement ride in Europe, but it was a horrible disappointment to its eponymous creator.
Born in 1840, Hiram Maxim was a prolific inventor of mousetraps, sprinkler systems, and eventually, weaponry. His most successful invention, the world’s first portable machine gun, saw extensive use in World War I and earned him a knighthood (although his work on the roaring machine would later make him deaf). Maxim may have even invented the incandescent light bulb prior to Thomas Edison, but according to legend, Edison was simply more well-versed in patent law and stole the credit out from under Maxim. With such a diverse portfolio, it is little wonder that the inventor tried his hand at early aeronautics, which led to the development of the so-called “captive flying machines.”
In order to bring attention to and fund his newly-developed flying machine (a massive steam-powered folly), Maxim created fun fair attractions that would simulate human flight and raise interest in the project. The inventor opened Sir Hiram Maxim’s Captive Flying Machines at a handful of amusement parks across England in 1904, and they were a near instant hit. The ride itself consisted of rocket-shaped passenger cars hanging from a central armature which would spin, causing the cars to sway out at a pendulous angle, simulating flight. Maxim wanted to add rudders and airfoils that would allow the riders to have a degree of control over the swinging cars, but this was deemed unsafe, which led to the inventor’s disgust with the amusement business as a whole. Maxim felt that the toothless design had turned his grand idea into, “Simply a glorified merry-go-round.”
Similarly designed rides now exist in theme parks the world over, and most of Maxim’s original rides have been decommissioned, however the noble Sir Hiram Maxim’s Captive Flying Machines at Pleasure Beach continue to run to this day.