from "Foibles & Fallacies of Science"by Daniel Hering (1924)
History relates several types of perpetual motion machines. The inventor's motives range from the ideal of pure invention to an attempt to defraud the public. Perpetual motion machines have been traced back for several hundred years. As of this date there has been no known account of a working perpetual motion machine which can be built and demonstrated by anyone other than the inventor. Although, we have heard many claims, we have yet to see a working model. This does not rule out the possibility that one could actually be made and practically demonstrated. The U.S.Patent Office receives about one hundred applications a year on perpetual motion machines but they are usually rejected by the office, without research into their workability. The keywords which bring about the rejection are perpetual motion. ----------------------------------------------------------------- PERPETUAL MOTION ----------------------------------------------------------------- Visit a workshop - it matters little what shop, or where - talk with the mechanic skilled or unskilled, his name is Legion, and you will find that he has present in his mind or discarded in his garret a device for perpetual motion. You would be likely to make the same discovery if you consulted a clerk in a counting house, a minister in his study, or the president of a bank. Turn to the man of all men in the whole country who is most familiarly associated with the wizardry of invention - perhaps you know his name - and see if he has not at some time been inoculated with this same virus. When it began to work cannot be known but historically this "folly" is not so old as some of the others. While the baffling mathematical problems and the search for their solution date back several thousands of years, authentic records of The Perpetual Motion Machine are probably not more than five hundred or six hundred years old, but of the many mechanical vagaries unquestionably this has been the most absorbing. If, by a machine that would produce perpetual motion, we mean simply a contrivance that will go on indefinitely without human or animal assistance, the problem is not only solvable but is in the constant act of being solved. With the ordinary forces of nature any machine may be kept continually in operation. The incessant flow of water over a waterfall is perpetual motion, and needs only a wheel placed under the falling water to communicate power to other machinery. The turbines under Niagara are examples. Alternations of temperature which cause a body to expand and contract will accomplish the same result. "Perpetual Motion" as a mere fact is a commonplace of science if it is not understood to imply a perpetual supply of power from nowhere. The ceaseless flow of rivers, the incessant tides, the movements of the earth and other heavenly bodies are perpetual notion, sufficient for all human purposes. But these do not express the purpose of the inventors of perpetual motion. Their idea was and is to produce a device which, when set going, would of itself develop power enough to keep it in operation without drawing upon extraneous sources. The effect of gravity, whether helpful or harmful, was always within their purview, but no other physical agency. The inventions have been of multifarious design, employing about every known principle of mechanics and some that are not known, but they all fall into a few classes. One type, comprising many of the inventions, is some sort of pump to keep enough water flowing to a waterfall to keep it going. Another type is a wheel with jointed arms or spokes that hang down from the side of the hub that is rising, but when passing the top, an arm swings out into a horizontal position and having a weight at the end, it propels the wheel. There are always one or more extended weighted arms on one side of the wheel, to raise the slack pendent arms on the other side. Instead of jointed arms the wheel may have radial tubes containing balls that roll out from the hub to the rim on the side that is descending, and roll in from the rim to the hub on the other side, thus serving the same purpose as the arms with weights at the end. The wheel is overbalanced. A favorite variation is a clock that shall be self-winding. Where the winding up has been accomplished by utilizing cleverly some of the work of the descending weights, this has been as fallacious as the scheme of pumps. This type of automatic renewal, like many others that began honestly, has been exploited fraudulently to victimize the credulous, by the introduction of some auxiliary contrivance which is skilfully concealed, and for a while escapes detection. But genuine self-winding clocks have been constructed, and consequently perpetual motion, in a qualified sense, has been secured, by using other natural agencies. Expansion and contraction of a piece of metal in the clock, properly geared to the winding machinery has served the purpose and so, too, has the varying pressure of the atmosphere. But these, though genuine, are not instances of perpetual motion as originally understood and sought after. The Mechanics' Magazine (London, 1823 - 1872) at first opened its columns freely to the consideration of perpetual motion. No amount of ridicule or criticism could quench the ardor of the perpetual motion enthusiasts rather, opposition seemed to stimulate it. Disappointments were recounted by the editor and correspondents, and frauds and tricks of all sorts were exposed ; never were propagandists more steadily admonished or more vainly. And yet, only the frauds were supported by actual working models ; in the sincere attempts, the inventors relied wholly upon drawings and descriptions to establish their contention, with an insistence that the machine would work, and a challenge to the editor and everybody else to prove that it would not work, and to show why it would not. For a long time an impression was general in England that there was an outstanding offer from the Government of a large reward for the successful invention of such a machine, and in spite of the efforts of publishers to correct this error, one inventor after another asks for information how to proceed to get the reward, in case his invention is accepted. In response to such an inquiry, the editor of The Mechanic's Magazine for January 29, 1848 says : "No reward has been offered by government;it has done many foolish things but none so foolish as this. Before our correspondent wastes any more time on his schemes, let him first seat himself on a three legged stool, and try to lift himself by the legs of his stool. If he succeeds in that, he may go on - the want of government reward notwithstanding." The mental attitude of present-day seekers after perpetual motion is severely censured by Mr. Dircks, but his strictures are founded altogether on the record. He says: "A more self-willed, self-satisfied, or self-deluded class of the community, making at the same time pretension to superior knowledge, it would be impossible to imagine. They hope against hope, scorning all opposition with ridiculous vehemence, although centuries have not advanced them one step in the way of progress." He enumerates the classes of the people high, low, ignorant, educated that have essayed to produce the perpetual motion, and says: "There is something lamentable, degrading, and almost insane in pursuing the visionary schemes of past ages ... not a solitary discovery is on record, not one absolutely ingenious scheme projected, or one simple self-motive model accomplished...." - * * from Perpetuum Mobile: A History of the Search for Self Motive Power from the 13th to the 19th Century. But when one has made an illusion part of his very existence can he welcome its destruction? Is there a more pitiful being in the world than a man with shattered illusion? Perpetual Motion inventors are still numerous, and in most cases are plainly cranky; they are obsessed with the infallibility of their scheme which, at the worst, lacks only some trifling change or addition to make it a success and their persistence makes them actual nuisances. They are always `open to conviction' but never can or never will see what is wrong about their device, no matter how plainly it is shown to them. Often their idea is so crude, so crass, that no intelligent mechanic would fail to see its absurdity, but in other instances the invention is diabolically clever, and even if the scientist does appreciate its fault, he has difficulty in pointing it out or explaining it. It might be expected that applications for patenting perpetual motion machines would become embarrassing to the government unless the Patent Office adopted some definite policy regarding them. As the impression has prevailed at some times and places that the U.S. Patent Office had decided to reject outright all such applications, the author addressed an inquiry to the Commissioner of Patents as to the attitude of the Office on this subject. The reply was as follows. (January 25, 1917) : Department of the Interior United States Patent Office Washington Perpetual Motion : Replying to your recent letter, you are advised that the Patent Office understands the term `perpetual motion' to mean a mechanical motion creating energy, that is, a machine doing work and operating without the aid of any power other than that which is generated by the machine itself, and which when once started will operate for an indefinite time. The views of the Office are in accord with those of the scientists who have investigated the subject, and are to the effect that mechanical perpetual motion is a physical impossibility. These views can be rebutted only by the exhibition of a working model. Many persons have filed applications for patent on perpetual motion, but such applications have been rejected as inoperative and opposed to well known physical laws, and in no instance has the requirement of the Patent Office for a working model ever been complied with. In view of these facts the Office will not now permit such an application to be filed without a model and this practice has been adopted in order to save applicants the loss of the fees paid with their applications. After an application for patent has been considered by the Examiner the filing fee of $15.00 cannot be returned. W.F. Woolard, Chief Clerk (of course fees have changed radically since 1917...Vangard...) The failure to submit a working model is doubtless due to the lack of that `trifling' addition, which cannot affect the validity of the idea on which the invention rests, but the applicant cannot risk the danger of being anticipated by some one else, and therefore cannot afford to wait for the completion of a successful model. F. Charlesworth, Assistant Examiner in the British Patent Office, says that the earliest British patent for a perpetual Motion machine was granted on March 9, 1635, the method of action being mot described ; the next was in 1662, for an overbalanced wheel with weights at the ends of jointed arms. Between 1617 and 1903 over six hundred applications had been made to that Office for Perpetual Motion, all except twenty-five being since 1854. They were of course greatly varied in character but mainly mechanical, their operation depending on various agencies - chiefly gravity, loss of equilibrium, specific gravity of floats and weights in water or other liquids, receptacles inflated with air or other gas under water, compression and subsequent expansion of gases, and surface tension. So confident were some of the applicants, that they considered it necessary to include a brake in their machine, that it might be stopped or restrained from reaching a too high speed. It was not until the latter part of the eighteenth century that physical science reached a state of development that seemed to preclude the possibility of the perpetual motion, and not until the middle of the nineteenth was its inherent impossibility believed to have been assured. This came with the establishment of the doctrine of the conservation of energy, and the degradation of energy, and yet, as just stated, nearly six hundred applications were made to the British Patent Office in the forty-eight years from 1855 to 1903. Not every mechanic is acquainted with the conservation of energy as a principle of science, and of those who are, not all can escape the lurking thought that sources of forms of energy may be in operation that are not yet recognized either as to their extent or their mode of action. Again among those who do recognize and accept this doctrine are some who question the correctness of one or another supposed law of nature. They therefore hope that by dodging such a law, or by the help of some free energy somewhere, they can secure perpetual motion of a so-called `second kind.' It will be remembered that the astonishing revelations of radium and other radioactive substances seemed, at first, to upset the conservation of energy, and Lord Rayleigh invented a device which acted continually under such radiation, while apparently the energy of the source of radiation, while apparently the energy of the source of radiation was undiminished. He was not so hasty as some others, however, who were ready to believe that the doctrine had broken down, and now such perpetual motion is to be regarded as only one of the second kind, which employs natural agencies not differing from solar radiation of light or heat, or even from tidal power in their relation to the problem. So generally is the impossibility of `The Perpetual Motion' now recognized among scientific men that when a hypothesis leads to perpetual motion as its certain result, that fact is regarded as a proof of error in the hypothesis, like a reductio ad absurdum in logic or mathematics. In an early work (1648) entitled "Mathematicall Magick," by Bishop John Wilkins of Chester, England, its author says : "The discovery of a `perpetual motion' hath been attempted by Chymistry. Paracelsus" (d. 1541) "and his followers have bragged that by their separations and extractions they can make a little world which shall have he same perpetual motions with this Microcosme with the representation of all Meteors, Thunder, Snow, Rain, the courses of the sea, in its ebbs and flows; and the like. But these miraculous promises would require as great a faith to believe them as a power to perform them. `At nusquam totos inter qui talia curant Apparet ullus, qui re miracula tanta Comprobet....' And though they often talk of such great matters, yet we can never see them confirmed by a real experiment. * And then, besides, every particular author in that art hath such a distinct language of his own (all of them being so full of allegories and affected obscurities), that "tis very hard for any one (unless he be thoroughly versed among them) to find out what they mean, much more to try it." The procedure by which one can obtain a perpetual motion in a chemical way, for example, is this : "Mix five ounces of (Mercury=Mercury) with a equal weight of (Tin=Jupiter); * grind them together with ten ounces of sublimate; dissolve them in a Cellar upon some marble for the space of four days till they become like oyl-olive; distil this with fire of chaff or driving fire, and it will sublime into a dry substance and so, by repeating of these dissolvings and distillings, there will be at length divers small atomes which, being put into a glass that is well luted and kept dry, will have a perpetual motion." (Fr. Dirck's Perpetuum Mobile, p.3.) * The aforementioned letter from the U.S. Patent Office would indicate that Bishop John Wilkins's ground of complaint against perpetual motion inventors had not been removed during the centuries between his time, 1650 and the present. * The use of planetary symbols for metals was common in early chemistry and, its is said, began with the Chaldean philosophers and was continued by their successors in astronomy and astrology. They associated the heavenly bodies not only with metals, but also with the organs of the human body. The latter they divided into twelve parts corresponding to the twelve signs of the zodiac. They considered the metals to be seven in number, corresponding to the sun, moon, and five planets, with their symbols as follows : Gold = Sun Silver = Moon Mercury = Mercury Copper = Venus Iron = Mars Tin = Jupiter Lead = Saturn It is not quite clear how the Chaldeans could associate the planet Mercury with the metal mercury, when that metal was not discovered until more than two hundred years after the Chaldean empire ceased to exist; but this particular connection may be of later date than the others. Chaucer writes of this association in the Canterbury Tales about 1390. In the Canon's Yeoman's Tale, the Yeoman reels off a long string of scientific nomenclature with which he was made acquainted in his service of the Cannon, and enumerates the four spirits and the seven bodies thus: "The foure spirites and the bodies sevene, By ordre, as ofte I herde my lord hem nevene. The firste spirit quyk-silver called is, The seconde orpyment, the thridde, y-wis, Sal-armonyak, and the ferthe brymstoon, The bodyes sevene eek, lo, hem heere anoon! Sol gold is, and Luna silver we threpe, Mars iren, mercurie quyk-silver we clepe, Saturnus leed, and Juppiter is tyn, And Venus coper, by my fader kyn." He classes the perpetual motion machines as ; "1. Those depending upon chymical extractions; 2. By magnetical virtue; 3. By the natural affection of gravity." According to Bishop Wilkins, hydraulic machines, kept going by the descent of the liquid which they had raised, were used earlier than the overbalanced wheel, the earliest and apparently most attractive form being that in which water was raised from a cistern by the familiar Screw of Archimedes. The figure illustrates one variant of the type. When discharge at the top of the screw the water fell upon the vanes of a wheel mounted upon the screw shaft, being caught in a vessel at a lower level and again discharged upon the vanes of another wheel; and as this operation could be again and again repeated, the descending water would more than suffice to keep the machine in operation. This appeared in 1642, but it is difficult to fix the deserts of these inventions chronologically. In a work by Robert Fludd, which appeared in 1618, is described a common water wheel which sets in motion a chain pump by means of a system of toothed wheels, and the pump is supposed to raise the water necessary to keep the wheel going. The accompanying figure is a sketch accredited to Vilard de Honnecourt, a Gothic architect of the 13th century, who gave a description of it, and this seems to be the earliest authentic record of a perpetual motion machine. It represents a wheel with an odd number of mallet-like weights attached to the rim by a hinge at the end of the handle. It is supposed that when set going, the fall of a mallet upon the rim of the wheel gives an impulse to the latter, and as that action in general places more of the mallets on the descending side of the wheel than on the ascending, the motion is continuous! A number of Honnecourt's free hand sketches, including this among other, are in the Paris Ecole des Chartes. (F. Ichak, Das Perpetuum mobile, pp. 8, 9.) There are, however, allusions indicating that the idea was not absent from the minds of some of the philosophers, even of pre-Christian times. Although the seeds were sown so early, they seemed to germinate and fructify much more rapidly in the Middle Ages, that period of darkness and superstition, from which so much of knowledge did actually emerge in a renaissance, but the growth of this particular vagary has been most vigorous in modern times. Perpetual motion cannot exist with the principle of conservation of energy in any machine that has prejudicial resistances such as friction or the inertia of the surrounding air, and the establishing of that principle did much toward quieting the restless spirit, but any apparent contradiction of this principle reawakens the sleeper. Leonardo da Vince (1452 - 1519) dallied with the problem. Of the overbalanced wheel, there are many variations. A famous example of this type was produced by the Marquis of Worcester, about 1648. No picture of the wheel itself is available, though a somewhat circumstantial account of a demonstration with it at the Tower of London is on record, but its character is that shown in the diagram. Many devices of producing perpetual motion have been submitted to the author for comment. In almost every instance they have been more or less ingenuous variants of earlier inventions. One suggested by Mr. J. S. Hamilton of New York may be taken as an innovation inasmuch as it purports to utilize a modern idea, namely, that of the injector reversed, so as to act as an ejector. Since an injector, by means of a steam jet, will cause a stream of water to enter a boiler against a pressure equal to or greater than that of the steam jet, then, according to this inventor, if a stream of water flowing out of a cistern at a high level have its velocity sufficiently increased, it will re-enter the cistern at a lower point and also do work in its passage external to the cistern. "Starting the turbine from exterior source, (motor or engine), establishes the vacuum" (below it), says the inventor, "after which the turbine will run alone. The initial pressure will seek the vacuum and perform work en route. The water will return by reason of its increased velocity secured by the nozzling effect of the passage ways inside the turbine. The entrance gates of a water turbine nozzle the water, and since the turbines are radial inward flow, the passage ways in the `runner' are more narrow near the is increased it will enter, just as the injector has proven times without number." A discussion of this with its author would inevitably involve a discussion of the injector, to say nothing of what is to keep the turbine in motion if the water, on leaving it, is to have a greater velocity and therefore more energy, than on entering it; but it would not be difficult to show that its successful performance would contradict the conservation of energy. It is needless to say that this machine never reached the stage of a `working model'. With the well-known Principle of Archimedes staring them in the face, inventors could not be expected long to neglect so helpful an idea in their attempts to solve the problem of perpetual motion. According to this principle, a body immersed in a liquid is said to "lose weight," or weigh less than in air. A force that will lift a stone weighing one hundred pounds in air will lift one of a hundred and fifty pounds in water, and a block of wood will not only weigh nothing in water but will rise with a lifting effort of its own. As a simple application of this principle, an endless chain passing around an upper wheel in air and a lower one in water has ledges or buckets attached to it carrying balls, and as they descend they enter the water at the foot of the machine and are carried around the lower wheel, and then, either by the apparatus itself or by their own buoyancy, the balls are brought up in a column of water that reaches to the upper wheel, where they are discharged upon the descending side of the chain. The preponderance of weight on this side is the driving force. It is extremely simple (and the believer in it is scarcely less so). The astonishing thing is the employment of auxiliary pieces like the balls just mentioned, which are light in the water on one side of the chain, and heavy on the other, i.e., the descending side. If the idea were workable at all, the endless belt, a cord, or chain alone would be sufficient to demonstrate the action without the help of balls or weights, for the portion in the column of liquid would be buoyed up and so be lighter than the other portion of the chain, and the movement would go merrily on. It was left to a recent inventor to suggest the machine thus simplified, though he appears to be unaware that the general idea had occurred to others before him. A description and discussion of this attempt at the problem is given by John Phin in his `The Seven Follies of Science.' There is no difficulty in representing it by a drawing, but the hopeful aspirant for a patent is met by that discouraging demand for a "working model," and it seems impossible in practice to get a column of liquid to stand higher in one vessel than in another with which it communicates! Various changes have been rung upon the design, including the buoyant effort of liquids upon vessels that are inflated in the liquid and deflated outside. Thus statics, dynamics, hydraulics, pneumatics, all as branches of mechanics, have been called upon in connection with gravity; and by less direct action, heat, light, magnetism and electricity have been invoked in this fruitless endeavor to inveigle Nature into repudiating her own laws.
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