History of perpetual motion machines

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An engraving of Robert Fludd's 1618 "water screw" perpetual motion machine.

The history of perpetual motion machines dates back to the Middle Ages. For millennia, it was not clear whether perpetual motion devices were possible or not, but the development of modern theories of thermodynamics has shown that they are impossible. Despite this, many attempts have been made to construct such machines, continuing into modern times. Modern designers and proponents often use other terms, such as "overunity", to describe their inventions.


Kinds of perpetual motion machines

There are two types of perpetual motion machines:

  • Perpetual motion machines of the first kind are those devices that violate the first law of thermodynamics, the principle of conservation of energy, creating energy out of nothing. Most attempts fall into this category.
  • Perpetual motion machines of the second kind are devices that violate the second law of thermodynamics. Even though they obey the principle of conservation of energy, they attempt extraction of work from a single heat reservoir, violating the principle of no entropy decrease in an isolated macroscopic thermodynamic system.
For more details on this topic, see Perpetual motion classification.

Pre-19th century[edit]

There are some unsourced claims[1] that a perpetual motion machine called the "magic wheel" (a wheel spinning on its axle powered by lodestones) appeared in 8th-century Bavaria. This historical claim appears to be unsubstantiated though often repeated.

Early designs of perpetual motion machines were done by Indian mathematicianastronomer Bhaskara II, who described a wheel (Bhāskara's wheel) that he claimed would run forever.[2]

A drawing of a perpetual motion machine appeared in the sketchbook of Villard de Honnecourt, a 13th-century French master mason and architect. The sketchbook was concerned with mechanics and architecture. Following the example of Villard, Peter of Maricourt designed a magnetic globe which, if it were mounted without friction parallel to the celestial axis, would rotate once a day. It was intended to serve as an automatic armillary sphere.[2]

Leonardo da Vinci made a number of drawings of devices he hoped would make free energy. Leonardo da Vinci was generally against such devices, but drew and examined numerous overbalanced wheels.[3][4]

Mark Anthony Zimara, a 16th-century Italian scholar, proposed a self-blowing windmill.[5]

Various scholars in this period investigated the topic. In 1607 Cornelius Drebbel in "Wonder-vondt van de eeuwighe bewegingh" dedicated a Perpetuum motion machine to James I of England.[6] It was described by Heinrich Hiesserle von Chodaw in 1621.[7] Robert Boyle devised the "perpetual vase" ("perpetual goblet" or "hydrostatic paradox") which was discussed by Denis Papin in the Philosophical Transactions for 1685.[8] Johann Bernoulli proposed a fluid energy machine. In 1686, Georg Andreas Böckler, designed a "self operating" self-powered water mill and several perpetual motion machines using balls using variants of Archimedes' screws. In 1712, Johann Bessler (Orffyreus), investigated 300 different perpetual motion models and claimed he had the secret of perpetual motion.[citation needed]

In the 1760s, James Cox and John Joseph Merlin developed Cox's timepiece.[9] Cox claimed that the timepiece was a true perpetual motion machine, but as the device is powered by changes in atmospheric pressure via a mercury barometer, this is not the case.

In 1775, the Royal Academy of Sciences in Paris made the statement that the Academy "will no longer accept or deal with proposals concerning perpetual motion."[citation needed]

Industrial Revolution[edit]

19th century[edit]

In 1812, Charles Redheffer, in Philadelphia, claimed to have developed a "generator" that could power other machines. Upon investigation, it was deduced that the power was being supplied from another connected machine. Robert Fulton exposed Redheffer's schemes during an exposition of the device in New York City (1813). Removing some concealing wooden strips, Fulton found a catgut belt drive went through a wall to an attic. In the attic, a man was turning a crank to power the device.[10][11][12]

In 1827, Sir William Congreve, 2nd Baronet devised a machine running on capillary action that would disobey the law of liquids never rising above their own level,[clarification needed] so to produce a continuous ascent and overflow. The device had an inclined plane over pulleys. At the top and bottom, there travelled an endless band of sponge, a bed and, over this, again an endless band of heavy weights jointed together. The whole stood over the surface of still water. Congreve believed his system would operate continuously.[citation needed]

In 1868, an Austrian, Alois Drasch, received a US patent for a machine that possessed a "thrust key-type gearing" of a rotary engine. The vehicle driver could tilt a trough depending upon need. A heavy ball rolled in a cylindrical trough downward, and, with continuous adjustment of the device's levers and power output, Drasch believed that it would be possible to power a vehicle.[13]

In 1870, E.P. Willis of New Haven, Connecticut made money from a "proprietary" perpetual motion machine. A story of the overcomplicated device with a hidden source of energy appears in the Scientific American article "The Greatest Discovery Ever Yet Made". Investigation into the device eventually found a source of power that drove it.[14]

John Ernst Worrell Keely claimed the invention of an induction resonance motion motor. He explained that he used "etheric technology". In 1872, Keely announced that he had discovered a principle for power production based on the vibrations of tuning forks. Scientists investigated his machine which appeared to run on water, though Keely endeavoured to avoid this. Shortly after 1872, venture capitalists accused Keely of fraud (they lost nearly five million dollars). Keely's machine, it was discovered after his death, was based on hidden air pressure tubes.[15]

1900 to 1950[edit]

In 1900, Nikola Tesla claimed to have discovered an abstract principle on which to base a perpetual motion machine of the second kind. No prototype was produced. He wrote:

In the 1910s and 1920s, Harry Perrigo of Kansas City, Missouri, a graduate of MIT, claimed development of a free energy device.[17] Perrigo claimed the energy source was "from thin air" or from aether waves. Perrigo demonstrated the device before the Congress of the United States on December 15, 1917. Perrigo had a pending application[18] for the "Improvement in Method and Apparatus for Accumulating and Transforming Ether Electric Energy". Investigators report that his device contained a hidden motor battery.[19]

Cover of the October 1920 issue of Popular Science magazine

Popular Science, in the October 1920 issue, published an article on the lure of perpetual motion.[20]

Modern era[edit]

1951 to 1980[edit]

During the middle of the 20th century, Viktor Schauberger claimed to have discovered some special vortex energy in water. Since his death in 1958, people are still studying his works.[21]

In 1966, Josef Papp (sometimes referred to as Joseph Papp or Joseph Papf) supposedly developed an alternative car engine that used inert gases. He gained a few investors but when the engine was publicly demonstrated, an explosion killed one of the observers and injured two others. Papp blamed the accident on interference by physicist Richard Feynman, who later shared his observations in an article in Laser, the journal of the Southern Californian Skeptics.[22] Papp continued to accept money but never demonstrated another engine.

On December 20 of 1977, Emil T. Hartman received U.S. Patent 4,215,330 titled "Permanent magnet propulsion system". This device is related to the Simple Magnetic Overunity Toy (SMOT).

Thesta-Distatica[23] electrical circuit as explained in Potter's "Methernitha Back-Engineered"[24] article.

Paul Bauman, a German engineer, developed a machine referred to as the "Testatika"[25] and known as the "Swiss M-L converter"[26] or "Thesta-Distatica".[23]

Guido Franch reportedly had a process of transmuting water molecules into high-octane gasoline compounds (named Mota fuel) that would reduce the price of gasoline to 8 cents per gallon. This process involved a green powder (this claim may be related to the similar ones of John Andrews (1917)). He was brought to court for fraud in 1954 and acquitted, but in 1973 was convicted. Justice William Bauer and Justice Philip Romiti both observed a demonstration in the 1954 case.[27]

In 1958, Otis T. Carr from Oklahoma formed a company to manufacture UFO-styled spaceships and hovercraft. Carr sold stock for this commercial endeavour. He also promoted free energy machines. He claimed inspiration from Nikola Tesla, among others.[28]

In 1962, physicist Richard Feynman discussed a Brownian ratchet that would supposedly extract meaningful work from Brownian motion, though he went on to demonstrate how such a device would fail to work in practice.[29]

In the 1970s, David Hamel produced the Hamel generator, an "antigravity" device, supposedly after an alien abduction. The device was tested on MythBusters where it failed to demonstrate any lift-generating capability.[30][31]

Howard R. Johnson's US Patent 4151431

Howard Robert Johnson developed a permanent magnet motor and, on April 24, 1979, received U.S. Patent 4,151,431.[The United States Patent office main classification of his 4151431 patent is as a "electrical generator or motor structure, dynamoelectric, linear" (310/12).] Johnson said that his device generates motion, either rotary or linear, from nothing but permanent magnets in rotor as well as stator, acting against each other.[32] He estimated that permanent magnets made of proper hard materials should lose less than two percent of their magnetization in powering a device for 18 years.[33]

1981 to 1999[edit]

Dr. Yuri S. Potapov of Moldova claims development of an over-unity electrothermal water-based generator (referred to as "Yusmar 1"). He founded the YUSMAR company to promote his device. The device has failed to produce over unity under tests.[34][35]

CETI claimed development of a device that outputs small yet anomalous amounts of heat, perhaps due to cold fusion. Skeptics state that inaccurate measurements of friction effects from the cooling flow through the pellets may be responsible for the results.[36]


Motionless electromagnetic generator circuit as explained in US Patent 6362718

The motionless electromagnetic generator (MEG) was built by Tom Bearden. Allegedly, the device can eventually sustain its operation in addition to powering a load without application of external electrical power. Bearden claimed that it didn't violate the first law of thermodynamics because it extracted vacuum energy from the immediate environment.[37] Critics dismiss this theory and instead identify it as a perpetual motion machine with an unscientific rationalization.[37][38][39][40][41] Science writer Martin Gardner said that Bearden's physics theories, compiled in the self-published book Energy from the Vacuum, are considered "howlers" by physicists, and that his doctorate title was obtained from a diploma mill.[37] Bearden then founded and directed the Alpha Foundation's Institute for Advanced Study (AIAS) to further propagate his theories. This group has published papers in established physics journals and in books published by leading publishing houses, but one analysis lamented these publications because the texts were "full of misconceptions and misunderstandings concerning the theory of the electromagnetic field."[42] When Bearden was awarded U.S. Patent 6,362,718 in 2002, skeptic Robert Park complained so loudly that the American Physical Society issued a statement against the granting.[40] The United States Patent and Trademark Office said that it would reexamine the patent and change the way it recruits examiners, and re-certify examiners on a regular basis, to prevent similar patents from being granted again.[43]

In 2002, the GWE (Genesis World Energy) group claimed to have 400 people developing a device that supposedly separated water into H2 and O2 using less energy than conventionally thought possible. No independent confirmation was ever made of their claims, and in 2006, company founder Patrick Kelly was sentenced to five years in prison for stealing funds from investors.[44]

In 2006, Steorn Ltd. claimed to have built an over-unity device based on rotating magnets, and took out an advertisement soliciting scientists to test their claims. The selection process for twelve began in September 2006 and concluded in December 2006.[45] The selected jury started investigating Steorn's claims. A public demonstration scheduled for July 4, 2007 was canceled due to "technical difficulties".[46] In June 2009, the selected jury said the technology does not work.[47]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Mark E. Eberhart(2007):Feeding the fire: the lost history and uncertain future of mankind's energy,p.14
  2. ^ a b Lynn Townsend White, Jr. (April 1960). "Tibet, India, and Malaya as Sources of Western Medieval Technology", The American Historical Review 65 (3), p. 522-526.
  3. ^ Time-Life Books (1991). Inventive Genius. 143 pages. Page 125. ISBN 0-8094-7699-1
  4. ^ Philip J. Mirowski, (1991). More Heat Than Light: Economics As Social Physics: Physics As Nature's Economics 462 pages. Page 15.
  5. ^ Ord-Hume, Arthur W. J. G. (1977). Perpetual Motion: The History of an Obsession. New York: St. Martin's Press. pp. 41–44. ISBN 0-312-60131-X. Retrieved March 12, 2011. 
  6. ^ "Wonder-vondt van de eeuwighe bewegingh" (PDF). Retrieved 2013-03-04. 
  7. ^ http://www.drebbel.net/1621%20PPM.pdf
  8. ^ MIT, "Inventor of the Week Archive: Pascal : Mechanical Calculator", May 2003. "Pascal worked on many versions of the devices, leading to his attempt to create a perpetual motion machine. He has been credited with introducing the roulette machine, which was a by-product of these experiments."
  9. ^ Ord-Hume, Arthur W. J. G. Perpetual Motion: The History of an Obsession. St. Martin's Press. ISBN 0-312-60131-X.
  10. ^ Redheffer's Perpetual Motion Machine
  11. ^ Information originally at www.skepticfiles.org/skep2/pmotion2.htm
  12. ^ No. 438: Redheffer's PMM-I by John H. Lienhard
  13. ^ pmm_physics German page0300
  14. ^ Image of Scientific American
  15. ^ "Keely's Secret Disclosed.; Scientists Examine His Laboratory and Discover Hidden Tubes in Proof of His Deception." (PDF), New York Times, 20 January 1899 
  16. ^ N. Tesla, "The problem of increasing human energy: With special references to the harnessing of the sun's energy", Century Magazine (1900). Full text available here
  17. ^ Harry E. Perrigo, a vertical file at the Kansas City Public Library in Kansas City, Missouri, described as follows: "Photos, illustrations, and information on Harry Perrigo, a local inventor of a "free energy" device in the 1910s-1920s turning out to be a hoax. Energy source of "invention" supposedly "from thin air" or from "ether waves" but in actually from a hidden battery."
  18. ^ filed December 31, 1925; Serial Number 78,719
  19. ^ Citations originally at www.kclibrary.org resources Subject area ID 77176
  20. ^ Phillip Rowland. "The undying lure of perpetual motion". Popular Science, October 1920.
  21. ^ Who was Viktor Schauberger? frank.germano.com. (archived version).
  22. ^ R. Feynman on Papp perpetual motion engine; Originally published in LASER, Journal of the Southern Californian Skeptics
  23. ^ a b New scientist, Volume 170, Issues 2286-2291. Page 48.
  24. ^ "Back-Engineered Testatika" by Paul E. Potter
  25. ^ Jeane Manning, The coming energy revolution. Reviews Avery Pub. Group, April 1, 1996. Page 141.
  26. ^ Matthey, PH (1985), "The Swiss ML Converter - A Masterpiece of Craftsmanship and Electronic Engineering"
  27. ^ The Straight Dope: Is there a pill that can turn water into gasoline?
  28. ^ Otis Carr Flying Machine – KeelyNet 12/23/01
  29. ^ Feynman, Richard P. (1963). The Feynman Lectures on Physics, Vol. 1. Massachusetts, USA: Addison-Wesley. Chapter 46. ISBN 0-201-02116-1. 
  30. ^ http://kwc.org/mythbusters/2006/12/episode_68_christmas_tree_ligh.html
  31. ^ MythBusters Episode 68: Christmas Tree Lights, Antigravity Device, Vodka Myths IV [1]
  32. ^ Jorma Hyypia (Spring 1980). "Amazing Magnet-Powered Motor". Science & Mechanics.  (Cover illustration is here.)
  33. ^ "Industrial Engineer Gets Patent for a Device Powered by Magnets". Sarasota Herald-Tribune. April 29, 1979. 
  34. ^ ETI – Experiments
  35. ^ Commercial Sources
  36. ^ CETI : Patterson Cell – taking a scientific look
  37. ^ a b c Martin Gardner, "'Dr' Bearden's Vacuum Energy", Skeptical Inquirer, January/February 2007
  38. ^ "Free Energy: Perpetual Motion Scams are at an All-Time High", What's New, APS, 5 April 2002
  39. ^ "Vacuum Energy: How Do You Patent a Perpetual-Motion Machine?", What's New, APS, 3 May 2002
  40. ^ a b "Free Energy: APS Board Speaks Out on Perpetual Motion", What's New, APS, 28 June 2002 "The Executive Board of the American Physical Society is concerned that in this period of unprecedented scientific advance, misguided or fraudulent claims of perpetual motion machines and other sources of unlimited free energy are proliferating. Such devices would directly violate the most fundamental laws of Nature, laws that have guided the scientific advances that are transforming our world."
  41. ^ Energy: No Such Thing as a Free Lunch", Eric Prebys, Guest Lecture at Columbia University, November 4, 2008. Also, shorter version for Fermilab's "Ask a scientist" program, December 6, 2009
  42. ^ Trovon De Carvalho, A. L.; Rodrigues, W. A. (July 15, 2003). "The non-sequitur mathematics and physics of the New Electrodynamics proposed by the AIAS group" (PDF). Random Operators and Stochastic Equations (Walter de Gruyter GmbH & Co.) 9 (2): 161–206. Retrieved 24 March 2013. We show that the AIAS group collection of papers on a 'new electrodynamics' recently published in the Journal of New Energy, as well as other papers signed by that group (and also other authors) appearing in other established physical journals and in many books published by leading international publishers (see references) are full of misconceptions and misunderstandings concerning the theory of the electromagnetic field and contain fatal mathematical flaws, which invalidates almost all claims done by the authors. 
  43. ^ "Free Energy: The Patent Office Decides to Take Another Look", What's New, APS, 23 August 2002
  44. ^ State of New Jersey
  45. ^ Originally at http://steorn.net/en/news.aspx?p=2&id=911
  46. ^ Originally at http://steorn.net/en/news.aspx?p=2&id=981
  47. ^ "Irish 'energy for nothing' gizmo fails jury vetting". The Irish Times. June 6, 2009. 

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