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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

         "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


    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

                                                  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

         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

          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

         "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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