AOH :: PMOTION2.TXT|
A Story from a book called Foibles and Fallacies of Science
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This is a story from a book called FOIBLES AND FALLACIES OF
SCIENCE, written by Mr.Daniel Hering in 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
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.
contributed by Ron Barker
THE REDHEFFER FIASCO
One American invention played a conspicuous if not very
creditable part among perpetual motion machines. This was the
invention of Charles Redheffer who exhibited it in Philadelphia in
1812 and 1813. Although it continued in operation apparently as
long as its maker desired, it was perhaps not inherently more or
less plausible than some others but it became une cause celebre.
There were two circumstances connected with it that gave it
celebrity, and entitle it to special notice: It created so much of
a furore that the legislature of Pennsylvania thought it worth
while to appoint a commission. This was a dignity to which such
machines rarely attained. The other circumstance was the
exceedingly clever way in which the fraudulent character of the
machine was twice detected; once, by the eye, trained to observe
the niceties of mechanical action; and once, by the ear, skilled
to detect any peculiarity in the sound of moving machinery. At an
appointed time the commission visited the house in which the
machine was exhibited, on the Schuykill near Philadelphia, but
arrived there only to find the house locked and the key missing.
They did not get the opportunity to examine the machine and
could only inspect it through a barred window. They saw a vertical
shaft carrying a horizontal disc on which two inclined planes bore
weighted cars that descended and rose at certain points in the
rotation of the disc. This action of the planes and cars drove the
shaft and disc which, in its turn, propelled further mechanism.
The horizontal disc was a spur wheel and the teeth in its edge
engaged with those of a smaller wheel and so, ostensibly, drove
the rest of the machinery.
One of the visiting commissioners, Mr. Nathan Sellers, took
with him his young son, Coleman Sellers, who was a mechanical
genius, and was keenly interested in the whole affair. Young
Sellers saw something that escaped the others; his attention was
caught by the appearance of the cogs in these two wheels. They
were not much worn, only smoothed a little, but what little effect
of rubbing together they did show was on the wrong side of the
The faces of the cogs that will show wear depends upon which
wheel is driving the other and, in this instance, the small wheel
proved to be driving the larger. If the fact is the reverse of
this, as it was represented to be, then to the mechanic whose eye
detects this discrepancy, such a machine would appear to be
running backwards. Although the source of propulsion was not
discovered the deception was unmistakable. After returning home
the young man told his father what he had discovered; the latter
then employed a skilful mechanic to make a small model just like
the Redheffer machine, but propelled by a clockwork mechanism
concealed in an ornamental post of the framework. This mode
exactly duplicated the behavior of the larger machine, to the
astonishment and mystification of Redheffer himself to whom
Sellers showed it.
Conscious of his own trickery he was scared by the idea that
another had actually achieved what he pretended to do, and
proposed to buy out young Sellers, offering him a handsome share
in the profits to be derived from the machine.
(See Article on the Redheffer Perpetual Motion Machine, by
Henry Morton, in the Journal of the Franklin Institute,
Vol. 139, 1895, p.246.)
An exposure like this which did not actually reveal the
secret of the machine was not sufficient to check the interest of
those who wanted to believe in it, and the exhibitions were
continued. In 1813, soon after the fiasco in Philadelphia, this
same machine or a duplicate of it was placed on exhibition in New
York, where it was to meet its second reverse, The sequel is well
told by Mr. C. D. Colden in his Life of Robert Fulton.
" One of these perpetual motions," says Mr. Colden, speaking
of the Redheffer machine, "commenced its career in this
city" (New York), "in eighteen hundred and thirteen. Mr.
Fulton was a perfect unbeliever in Redheffer's discovery,
and although hundreds were daily paying their dollar to see
the wonder, Mr. Fulton could not be prevailed upon for
some time to follow the crowd. After a few days, however,
he was induced by some of his friends to visit the machine.
It was in an isolated house in the suburbs of the city.
" In a very short time after Mr. Fulton had entered the room
in which it was exhibited, he exclaimed, `why, this is a
crank motion.' His ear enabled him to distinguish that the
machine was moved by a crank, which always gives an unequal
power, and therefore an unequal velocity in the course of
each revolution; and a nice and practised ear may perceive
that the sound is not uniform. If the machine had been kept
in motion by what was its ostensible moving power, it must
have had an equable rotary motion, and the sound would have
been always the same.
" After some little conversation with the showman, Mr.
Fulton did not hesitate to declare, that the machine was an
imposition, and to tell the gentleman that he was an
" Notwithstanding the anger and bluster which these charges
excited, he assured the company that the thing was a cheat,
and that if they would support him in the attempt, he would
detect it at the risk of paying any penalty if he failed.
" Having obtained the assent of all who were present, he
began by knocking away some very thin little pieces of
lath, which appeared to be no part of the machinery, but to
go from the frame of the machine to the wall of the room,
merely to keep the corner posts of the machine steady.
" It was found that a catgut string was led through one of
these laths and the frame of he machine, to the head of the
upright shaft of a principal wheel: that the catgut was
conducted through the wall, and along the floors of the
second story to a back cockloft, at a distance of a number
of yards from the room which contained the machine, and
there was found the moving power. This was a poor old
wretch, with an immense beard and all the appearance of
having suffered a long imprisonment; who when they broke in
upon him, was unconscious of what had happened below, and
who, while he was seated on a stool, gnawing a crust, was
with one hand turning a crank.
" The proprietor of the perpetual motion soon disappeared.
The mob demolished his machine, the destruction of which
immediately put a stop to that which had been, for so long
a time, and to so much profit, exhibited in Philadelphia!"
Besides the numberless variations in the methods of applying
the principles of mechanics to secure a return of more power than
is expended to secure a return of more power than is expended on
the machine, consciously or unconsciously the principles of
thermodynamics were invoked by inventors for the same purpose. The
fallacy was the same. Only two generalizations are needed to
comprise all known principles of heat in connection with work, and
these are called the two laws of thermodynamics. They are to the
effect that (1) a definite amount of heat has an exact equivalent
in a definite amount of mechanical work, and either of these can
be transformed into the other; (2) if by any means we cause heat
to be transferred from some outside source; no self-acting machine
will do it of itself.
While the first of these laws is universally and unreservedly
accepted, the second has always been a subject of dispute and
still is so. The desire to get something for nothing and the
belief in the possibility of dong so are too strong to yield to a
dictum the demolition of which would seem to assure this
possibility. To disprove a law by a process of reasoning is one
thing, to violate it by a process of action is another. In theory
the law has been controverted repeatedly, and disproved, at least
in the opinion of the controverts, and if it could only be
violated in practice the perpetual motion could be obtained ; the
" working model " demanded by the Patent Office might be
Submitted by: Ronald Barker,
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