The patent illustration for H. P. Maxim's first truly successful silencer.
Examples of the clamps and couplers used to attach the original Maxim silencers to the weapons of the day. These couplings sold for $2.50, while the silencers themselves sold for $7.00.
Firing the '03 Springfield with the Maxim silencer, 1910. From left to right: Hiram Maxim, Lieut. Col. Richard J. Goodman, and Capt. Earl D Church.
gases had no escape except through this central hole. Being central they could not possibly get out until they had slowed down. This, of course, meant that they must come out gradually and, in consequence, noiselessly. The first time I shot the rifle I was quite excited. 1 will never forget the sensation I experienced when I found it was quiet! That was the birth of the Maxim silencer."
His son, Hiram Hamilton Maxim, described that first silencer, built in 1908, as "a little device that looked like a conch shell stuck on the end of his Winchester .30-30. It worked, in that the gases swirled up into that conch, but it didn't work well. My father was a perfectionist, and he knew he could do better. He junked that design and went back to work in the shop."
Maxim's next effort was his entry card to the Ordnance Hall of Fame. His 1909 model was the world's first truly efficient silencer to be designed, produced, and marketed. While it was effective enough at reducing sound, it had two serious drawbacks. It was a sealed unit that could not be cleaned nor have the inner materials replaced. Also, because of the concentric passage for the bullet, the silencer unit obliterated the sight picture on the weapon to which it was attached. Once more, H. P. knew he could do better and did so the following year.
Most experts agree that Maxim's 1910 model was his finest. It was also the most popular sales model and the one which is most commonly encountered now in collections. The major advantage was the off-center passage design which allowed this silencer to be used with the attached firearm's original sights. Another design modification which improved the 1910 model was Maxim's addition of a second physical action. In addition to the circular swirling motion, his new design also forced the gases through sloping holes the length of the silencer tube, cutting down noise even more.
The unit was still assembled from stamped sheet steel and could not be disassembled, though. It was advertised and sold for $3.25 per unit, there being no sales restrictions in those innocent days before the reformers, do-gooders, and politicians had private ownership of silencers handicapped in 1934.
Criminal usage of his silencer was far from H. P.'s mind. He described his successful 1910
The Maxim logo of the 1920s featuring Hiram Maxim's famed Dr. Shush.
The Maxim logo of the 1920s featuring Hiram Maxim's famed Dr. Shush.
Hiram P. Maxim holds a Winchester .30-30 rifle equipped with his first silencer. Others are the eight-year old Hiram H. Maxim who later became president of the Maxim Silencer Company; T. W. Goodridge, Maxim's business partner; L. lenkins, a patent attorney;and Simeon Britt, the machinist who made the silencer.
silencer as being for the man who wanted to shoot targets in the backyard without upsetting the neighbors. Others used Maxim-silenced guns to knock off troublesome garden pests or unwanted alley rats and cats. Innocent America didn't know about silencers used for poaching humans- yet.
W. T. Hornaday, one of the alarmists of his day, called the Maxim invention a "break for every assassin." He also held that union breakers would be able to pop off strikers more easily. There may have been an element of truth in that, as a few Maxim silencers were used to quietly settle labor-management problems during steel strikes in 1910 and 1911. Meanwhile, in New Jersey, two young men used silenced. rifles to kill six horses on a farm, then demanded an $800 ransom for their promise not to silently kill others. Police caught them and their Maxim silencers.
These were minor exceptions. For the most part, the civilian users of Maxim silencers were law-abiding sportsmen and target shooters. Indeed, in February of 1909, Hiram P. Maxim presented one of his .30 caliber silencers to President Theodore Roosevelt for use on one of his rifles during the 1909 hunting expedition to Africa. According to the British historian Stephen Critlow, Roosevelt used the silenced rifle on his African trips primarily for camp hunting so as not to disturb other creatures or the quiet of the people in the camp. There is no record of his using it for his record game kills, however.
H. P. had the silencer business to himself despite a volley of unsuccessful would-be competi-
Containing First Authenlk Accowt' of thi No'Sfh-y • Gun the man who brought us quiet killing
Antigunners in the 1900, An editorial cartoon (left) in the A/ev York World made nasty fun of the Max.m s.lencer.
NATIONAL GUAR MAGAMi for Fehrfurn?
/, „* loriQ featured Teddy Roosevelt hunting tors. One of his earliest competitors was his father, Sir Hiram S. Maxim, who lived most of his adult life in England. Sir Hiram was granted a British patent for a device to silence a machine gun's operation just two days prior to his son's own U.S. application for his silcncer design. According to the late Major F. W. A. Hobart, the noted British firearms historian, neither design went beyond the plans and prototype stage. The son's later designs obviously did. however.
H. P. became Mr. Silencer, or when he satirized himself in his company's sales brochures and ads, he became Dr. Shhhhsh. The man was an all-pro(motional) genius.
When he was fifteen, Maxim entered the School of Mechanical Arts at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He was graduated in 1886 when he was seventeen, the youngest student in his class. He went to work for the Jenny Electric Company in Fort Wayne, Indiana and later for the Sun Electric Company of Woburn, Massachusetts, a subsidiary of the Thompson Electric Company, one of the firms which eventually formed today's General Electric Company. In 1892, he became superintendent of the American Projectile Company in Lynn, where he was increasingly interested in the development of the gasoline engine.
By 1895, he was in Hartford developing the Columbia car, as chief engineer of the Electric Vehicle Company, organized by the Pope Company. In 1900, he left Hartford and went to Pittsburgh as vehicle motor engineer for the Westing-house Electric and Manufacturing Company. In 1903, Maxim returned to his old post as chief engineer of the Electric Vehicle Company.
By 1906. Maxim realized that the Electric Vehicle Company was going to go out of business. With a friend, he formed a partnership to build the Maxim-Goodridge Electric car. They were unable to find either serious financial backing or potential customers so the partnership was disbanded after one prototype. It was then that Hiram Maxim turned his attention to the firearm silencer. In 1908 his first official business name was The Maxim Silent Firearms Company.
Despite his original desire to produce a silencing unit to make the noise of plinking less bothersome, the nasty reality of business quickly and loudly shattered his dream. Although hunters, sportsmen, considerate plinkers, and even a few poachers bought Maxim silencers from their local hardware and gun shops, there were simply too few
units being sold to the American public to turn a profit.
"My father was finally convinced that the military market was his only mass market," H. H. Maxim told me during a visit to his home some years ago. "He outlined in a series of handwritten notes the potential military uses including sharp-shooting (sniping), guard harassment, destruction of supplies, and, interestingly, marksmanship training.
"A lot of soldiers never learned to shoot well because they feared the awful sound of the explosion of that .30/06 round in the Springfield, and, later, the Ml. My father wanted to put Maxim silencers on the weapons used by those nervous trainees. It was a good idea."
Ironically, that same concept- silencer-equipped training rifles was part of the concept of the U.S. military in its Joint Services Small Arms Project (JSSAP) in 1984.
As a result of Maxim's military marketing thoughts, his 1912 model silencer was designed with soldiering in mind. Several of these units were tested by the Army with their '03 Springfield. The silencer quieted the muzzle blast, but did nothing to stop the sonic crack of the bullet down range. Tests run during the late 1960s at Philadelphia's Frankford Arsenal used the Maxim Model 15 silencer, similar to the 1912 unit, with an Ml903 Springfield rifle. These tests used subsonic ammunition which eliminated the ballistic crack. The test report noted that the Springfield rifle and its Maxim silencer was "one of the better units tested at Frankford Arsenal."
But back in 1912, despite appreciation for the Maxim silencer's effectiveness, the U.S. Army wasn't buying in standard issue amounts. It was peacetime with slashed budgets and a tight economy. There was no powerful defense lobby and no Pentagon hawks to buzz around the Hill squawking their war cries of "Stronger defense; more weapons!" H. P. Maxim was on his own.
As usual, special mission items like silencers were lumped under "miscellaneous," which meant that H. P. sold few silencers to the military. Some of those few 1912 models went with Gen. John Pershing's expedition into Mexico to chase after Pancho Villa. Sixteen of Pershing's sharpshooters carried Springfields equipped with the Maxim silencers. There is no record that these units were used successfully, but then, there is little to document that any of the Pershing mission was more than a symbolic success either.
From Catling through Maxim through Lewis through Thompson, Johnson, Stoner. Ingram, et al., the U.S. Army has been amazingly closed-minded about its weapons systems development. Unable to sell to the home government. American inventors go elsewhere. Hiram P. Maxim was no exception. His sales agent, Joseph Keegan, easily sold Maxim silencers all over the world, with shipments made to China, Japan, Mexico, England, France, Belgium, Russia, and South America.
The most obvious sales point was the lack of sound. H. P.'s favorite demonstration involved mounting a company business card in a special holder set several inches from the muzzle of an un-silenced gun. When the gun was fired, the muzzle blast blew the card to shreds. Then, with a dramatic flourish, H. P. would mount his silencer to the rifle and repeat the demonstration. This time there would be a mild click and a neat hole in the center of the calling card.
"No noise, no fuss, no muzzle blast." he would tell the startled audiences who had to be shown the card for proof the gun was actually fired.
By the time World War I primed to the shooting point, the Maxim Silencer Company was producing a line of quality silencers in calibers ranging from .22 through those large enough for machine guns. Despite the popularity of the Maxim silencers, their deployment during World War I was not widespread. Sniping and trench harassment constituted most of the use; a favorite trick was sharp-shooting officers, at which both the Germans and British excelled.
When World War I really opened in Europe and it became apparent that America would be involved despite the politically neutral stance taken by President Woodrow Wilson, the Maxim Silencer Company's business success took off like a rocket. They ran production overtime for the military markets eagerly gobbling up their firearm silencers, gas grenade casings, automotive mufflers, and parts for bayonet scabbards. They sold at home and abroad; money was made.
By 1917, selected sharpshooters of the American Army were armed with Springfields equipped with the Maxim silencer. Some of these men and their weapons made it to Europe for our glorious 180 days of action in the Great War. But, there is little in the official record of American silencer success in that action. The enemy was impressed, though, as the Germans dubbed the British silencer-equipped Enfield rifles, using Maxim units, "The Whispering Death." Meanwhile, for the American GI. his Maxim silencer-equipped Spring-fields survived their post World War I cosmoline nap to serve snipers again in World War II and Korea.
But. in 1918. after the war had ended, the pany had financially quiet times until 1922 when the industrial silencer market took hold. H. P.'s firearms designs were modified to provide mufflers and silencers for huge industrial machinery. By 1925, the firearm silencer branch was discontinued as being unprofitable. Two years later, the industrial silencer business had the organization back to its wartime success level.
In early February of 1936. H. P., then sixty-six years of age, left New England with his wife for a West Coast holiday. He became ill on the train and a very sick Hiram Maxim was examined at La Junta, Colorado for what has been described as "a fatal infection." He died in Colorado on 17 February 1936.
Firing an M16 in the old-line residential Garden District of New Orleans on a sunny, warm, spring afternoon is not listed in the Chamber of Commerce tour guide. But then, Don Walsh didn't write that guide.
One evening, residents in the famed Hotel Maison de Ville in the city's French Quarter didn't share the professional delight of the men firing a Beretta model 70 pistol in one of the elegant suites. But then, Don Walsh was there.
Don Walsh invented and now produces silencers so effectively quieting that we easily "field tested" all sorts of weapons in his city without arousing any of the citizenry nor the police, the militia, or anyone else for that matter.
A thirtyish bachelor, Walsh is the prime mover and shaker for Interrand Corporation, a suburban Washington company with the potential to become the prime supplier of firearms silencers to the world's military and police. According to many of his peers, this man's innovative, yet simple and efficient, silencer designs place him in line to succeed the legendary Mitch WerBell III as the name in silencer state-of-the-art.
Walsh acknowledges the comparison, saying, "Everyone in the clandestine weapons field owes a huge debt to Mitchell WerBell III. In addition to the technical expertise and innovative designs he and Gordon Ingram brought to this field, he contributed something more.
In the indoor test facility, Walsh checks an M3A1 sporting a two-stage Larand suppressor (two views!
"More than anyone, he elevated awareness of the legitimacy of silenced weapons in the small arms arsenal. Historically, these special mission weapons have been a last-minute, modified afterthought. WerBell literally brought practical silencer design and use out of the closet. He made the genre legitimate. He's why the rest of us are here today.
"From a technical standpoint, WcrBell's patents speak for themselves. There are technical benchmarks in the history of practical silencer design. Maxim started it, WerBell refined it, and someday I hope some young new technician might say that Walsh perfected it," he adds with a hearty chuckle.
Walsh approaches silencer design pragmatically; he is not at all interested in gimmicks or James Bondian toys. "My designs and finished products are designed to be used in the field under all conditions," he says. "My criteria for a good silencer are simple: simplicity, strength, low or no maintenance, indefinite field life, no reduction in weapon accuracy or bullet velocity, plus the greatest possible reduction in sound. In addition, I work to make the size and weight of my silencers as minimal as possible commensurate with the specific weapon in question."
So far, Walsh has succeeded in all areas according to all tests to date. I have examined, tested, and used his various silencer/weapon combinations.
They're good, no question about that. From my empirical observations I would say that the Walsh silencers generally perform about 30 to 40
percent quieter than the Military Armament Corporation silencers we used for comparison. Weapons tested included the M16A1, Beretta pistols, various Heckler and Koch pistols and assault rifles, the M3 A1. Ingram M10 and Mil, plus a Thompson Centerfire in massive .45/70. No ear protection was needed; the man's silencers are good.
In addition, Walsh's silencers have been examined and tested by various weapons and military experts. Their evaluations have been as enthusiastic as mine. Don Walsh has a new idea-in the world of silencers he has designed a quieter mousetrap. He didn't do it by accident, either. He's an educated, experienced, practical man with a delightful sense of humor.
Walsh attended the University of New Orleans at various times between 1968 and 1980, studying political science, then working as a research chemist. He is a native of New Orleans, which he chuck-lingly refers to as a city of one-way streets, two-way men, and three-way women. This inventive humorist says that his love for meerschaum pipes, Upmann cigars, great food, and rare liquors even comes ahead of his love for fine firearms and their (his) silencers.
Yet Walsh brought to suppressor design some very definite ideas about the proper design of the silencers men need in the field. Unlike the "sce-a-problem-solvc-it-from-the-field" type of designer, Walsh knew that homespun, cracker-barrel ingenuity wasn't the total answer. Instead, he looked at the science and technology theories involved in
problem solving before cranking up a lathe. Walsh has obviously done his homework. He put his scientist's mind to work, studying to become knowledgeable in ballistic and acoustic engineering, metallurgy, structural design, and even the nuts and bolts of machining.
"There was just too much technology at stake for me to treat this like some basement tinkerer's hobby. I studied the appropriate sciences and engineering, then began to survey the literature," he says. "As both a past user of silencers in the field and from my research, I concluded that for a given volume silencer, a wire mesh type of packed silencer is inherently superior to a baffle type. This was the same conclusion AMF came to in their very valuable research and I concur, now that I have thoroughly tested variations of both types of designs."
Walsh adds, "The mesh system is far superior because of its dynamic interaction with the impulse noise of a firearm. Hot gases and burning propellant are expanded and cooled while acoustical energy is lost by mechanical transfer to the mesh. On the other hand, the baffle design is static, with no interaction.
"Baffles and chambers are inferior because they serve only to delay the escape of these sound-causing gases, which are cooled then by adiabatic expansion."
He says that in addition to being a far superior silencing medium, his mesh design also allows a much smaller package to perform better than a larger baffle design. His proven concept now allows the use of a smaller, lighter silencer for larger caliber weapons than previously encountercd-a definite advantage in the field.
"I was also able to overcome the only major disadvantage of a mesh silencer. The old method was to stack inside of a tube washers cut from woven wire cloth of a suitable wire diameter and mesh size. The inside diameter of the washer stack formed the bullet path and was typically .025 to .050 inch larger than the projectile diameter," he says.
"However, vibration and blast allow individual strands of loose wire to work loose and into that bullet path. When you have 240 washers, as in the typical unit, the possibility of wires getting into the bullet's path are quite certain. If enough wire debris is in that path it will throw off the accuracy of the projectile. This is why, for example, the High Standard HD used by the OSS and later by the CIA, as well as the M3A1 silenced by Bell Labs, have to be repacked so often.
"That situation defined part of my problem-to find a packing with the acoustical and thermal/ mechanical properties of a wire screen washer stack, but without the loose ends. I finally located a prime manufacturer of metal and plastic textiles who was willing to work with me on the metallurgical engineering. Soon, samples of the type of packing I wanted were fabricated for field trials. The results were so positive that I immediately ordered tooling and dies for my custom mesh pieces that would be the guts of my design."
His original custom design-seamless, knitted copper wire mesh was formed into what Walsh calls "donuts" in the proper size for each caliber. The mesh donuts and various spacers are simply placed in one of Walsh's specially designed tubes, end caps are screwed in place, and the unit screwed on the end of the weapon in question. The result is one of the quietest weapons in the field.
For production purposes, his original system has been superceded by a simplified refinement which Walsh calls "Gl-proof," meaning it is now field ready for the troops. He adds, "I am now using an exotically machined central core passage in all my units except the .22 rimfire models. This change allows absolute simplicity in manufacture, plus control of alignment at a much lower cost than before."
The professional firearms design field is not a large group of people, and relations between the principals are not always as pleasant as someone like Dale Carnegie might wish. Indeed, there are some downright hostile feuds between contemporaries in this field. The silencer fraternity is even smaller, and following the cheerful lead of pledge-master Mitch WerBelTs reputation, Don Walsh agrees that his field has none of the bitchiness that swirls about in the other areas of less than corporate ordnance. In fact, he speaks very highly of his competition. Men like WerBell, Dr. Philip Dater, Jonathan Arthur Ciener. and Reed Knight all get his highest professional approval and esteem. He adds, "I may disagree with them on a few technical details, but these men are all top professionals and 1 respect their work."
Walsh does have strong feelings about silencer technology, and isn't shy about stating them. "I am very averse to porting barrels. Usually, porting. venting, wipes, and the like are merely
Interrand suppressors in attache case headed for military trials.
The Larand suppressors, 9mm HK P9s laying down with the .45 model leaning on the case.
Interrand suppressors in attache case headed for military trials.
The action of the suppressed Thompson. Note the ART mounted on the weapon which Walsh calls "a real beast to shoot, but quieter for it.
Wire mesh donuts for the Don Walsh suppressors.
The 9mm HK P7 with a Larand suppressor.
Quiet fun on full auto in a residential part of New Orleans. Walsh blasts away, but quietly so, with his suppressed Sterling.
The 9mm HK P7 with a Larand suppressor.
Wire mesh donuts for the Don Walsh suppressors.
Master suppressor builder Don Walsh with one of his Larand units on a Walther MPK 9mm smg.
Camera-shy operative tests one of Don Walsh's prototype test suppressors on an m/--HK pistol.
crutches needed to bolster a basically ineffective system so the sound signature of the weapon is at least reasonable," he explains.
"If a silencer is designed and produced properly in the first place, there is absolutely no need for porting or wipes. About the only time you would even consider porting is when you are using a weapon firing the 9mm ball round and you can't get subsonic loads."
There are few weapons Don Walsh says he cannot effectively quiet, moderate, or distort, even large caliber centerfires. But two domestic firearms really draw his ire when he gets requests to turn out a silencer unit for them. He says even some police units want these weapons silenced.
"The AR7 and the American 180 are bad designs to begin with, and I refuse to stock them myself. If I couldn't talk a customer out of it, I guess I could put a can on the end for them, but I wouldn't be happy about it," he adds.
Walsh also has tough words for the various silencer kits being advertised through Shotgun News. He says that despite the pious wording about federal approval needed for assembly, these kits mostly end up in an illegal configuration. Most of those he has tested are also highly ineffective.
"I'd advise anyone to stay clear of most of the silencer kits. Most are expensive trouble for you and your wepaon. Not only are the majority poorly designed and manufactured, but shortly after the mailman or the UPS driver brings your kit, you're liable to have friendly ATF boys at your door. If you want a silencer, pay the money to do it right and do it legally."
Asked the difference between a silencer and a sound suppressor. Walsh replies, "Mostly it's
semantics, something important only to the arcane technical minds who have nothing to do but worry about things like that.
"Technically, no silencer really silences; it only quiets or suppresses the noise of a gunshot. Hiram Maxim, the man who started all of this by inventing the first practical silencer, called his device a silencer, and that's good enough for me."
Walsh did not get into silencer work by his own design, nor did he slide in by the usual military contact door. He has one degree in political science, another in synthetic organic chemistry, plus he wanted to be a science-fiction writer, so he wrote, sold, and had published his science fiction stories. He has also published as a chemist in the professional journals of that field.
"My entry into the silencer field was a business progression," he notes. "I gravitated from collecting to selling sporting weapons as a hobby, to starting a business, to handling surplus military weapons then conventional military small arms, then weapons covered by the National Firearms Act."
He freely admits he is in the design and manufacture of silencers as a profit-turning business, adding, "I had a Class 3 license in 1975 but soon found that manufacturing is the only way for me to make a real business in this field. I recognized that the demise of MAC (Military Armament Corporation), which started to fall apart when Mitch left the company in 1972, created a real void in this field of military design.
"Some of my earliest work was converting the old OSS/CIA stuff over to my system and seeing how much more improved it was. I refitted an HD, an M3A1, the SOE's Welrod, and some of the modem weapons for early customers, who were usually friends with Class 3 licenses."
He began doing more custom silencer work for both collectors and Class 3 dealers, producing units for their weapons or designing and producing integrated units by matching weapon and silencer.
"It was fun," he adds. "But there was no real money in it, and I like the things in life that you must have money to enjoy. Since someone always seemed to be at war with someone else, I turned to police and military markets in 1981."
There are three markets for silencers: individuals, domestic government, and export sales. The first includes collectors and other private citizens who can qualify for and afford the S200 per unit federal transfer tax on top of the purchase price. Nobody ever got rich with this, and no serious silencer manufacturer considers it a prime market. The government and export markets are something else, though, especially with the Rea-ganista defense spending philosophy dominating the western world.
Mallory Engler, a former military officer and counterinsurgency warfare expert from England, says, "Vietnam and some of the paramilitary and antiterrorist activities since May have finally convinced the traditional military mind that silencers have a legitimate and most useful special mission role in a variety of operations. This acceptance really opens a broad market for silencer makers."
Engler adds. "The important thing is to demonstrate the devices, as many of the government officials who make the purchasing decisions are men who have never been in the field or actually seen or heard a silencer in action. They must be shown."
Don Walsh agrees with this wholeheartedly, saying, "Domestic marketing is mostly a matter of getting my silencers in the hands of the decisionmakers who must see and 'hear' my technology and capability. Hearing this sound of relative silence, if I may be a bit literary, is usually all it takes. It's not ego, but fact; my silencers sell themselves because they meet the need.
"I show my devices to police and military officials and demonstrate their efficacy in terms of command and control situations. That's about all it takes. There are so many ways silenced weapons may be used to save time, money, hassle, and even lives."
The official U.S. attitude was notoriously anti-silencer during the Carter administration. Despite the obvious advantages of silenced weapons in anti-terrorist, counterinsurgency, military/police, and training operations, our government was officially opposed to the devices and concepts. Not only was this regressive policy injuring domestic research and development, the State Department hindered export sales.
"This was the era in which I was conducting most of my own R & D," Walsh says. "It was a good time for me to experiment. Now, with the Reagan administration's emphasis on fighting back against global terrorist activity, the emphasis is on the proper tools for such combat."
Walsh notes, "If my business has something to gain from this shift in policy, so does the ultimate freedom of law-abiding people everywhere. That's especially true for those who now live in fear of the terrorist who is able to move and strike with impunity, unconcerned about inadequately armed police and security forces with their unsophisticated equipment.
"Dozens of 'field laboratories' from Africa to South and Central America to Southeast Asia have taught us that silencer-equipped weapons are the finest antiterrorist weapons around."
Although he is a corporate member in good standing of the American Defense Preparedness Association, the Association of the U.S. Army, and other military/industrial organizations, Walsh admits his name or that of Interrand is not yet in the defense household word category as are Winchester. Colt, and Smith & Wesson. But in the world of silencer design, he is already on his way to a good season and sure stardom.
As Walsh says, "Interrand Corporation is the only full-time military small arms sound suppressor manufacturer in the United States today. We want to develop consistently superior sound and flash suppressors and to promote broader application of this technology.
"Our silencers are designed to meet stringent military requirements for a whole new generation of silenced weapons. Ours are smaller, lighter, simpler, stronger, cheaper and quieter. We accomplish all this without requiring maintenance or replacement of components and without affecting accuracy or velocity. Ours are the benchmark against which all other silencers must be judged."
He grins, then says. "In this business, silence goes a long way, so I'll just call myself the uniquely quiet American.
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