Saturday, December 13, 2014

Steampunk Saturday - Perpetual Motion Machines

It's not surprising that perpetual motion machines have fascinated crackpot inventors since before Leonardo da Vinci. Mankind loves the idea of something for nothing. It's what drives us to cut coupons, buy two-for-one deals, and believe burning fossil fuels couldn't possibly impact the environment. Perpetual motion is the Fountain of Youth of the inventor's world, undying power - mechanical immortality, and it drew the attentions of notables such as Robert Boyle (of Boyle's Law fame) and Nikola Tesla. In the end, like the Fountain, perpetual motion proved to be nothing but a myth, a lovely idea that hucksters and hoaxers used to part suckers from their hard-earned cash.

A collection of perpetual motion machines as shown in the October 1920 issue of Popular Science

In 1920 Popular Science Magazine printed an article driving another stake in the heart of the mythological beast, but the beast that is perpetual motion survived. In 1977 Emil T. Hartman patented a magnetic system with the distinctly unromantic acronym of SMOT which purported to change magnetic energy into kinetic energy which exceeded the amount of required to power the magnets. It never has worked. And, less you see the fad of perpetual motion as dead and gone, as recent as 2006 Steorn Ltd. claimed to have created a magnetic device which would withstand scientific scrutiny, in 2009 the jury of scientists they solicited stated the device did not work.

The facts are interesting, but this is a Steampunk Saturday post and, as such, we should take a look at something that looks like it could have come from the mind of Jules Verne or H. G. Welles. Not to disappoint, I give you mass-transit done perpetual motion-style.

From the October 1920 issue of Popular Science Magazine, an outtake supposedly from the September issue of the Galaxy Illustrated Magazine

Though Popular Science didn't reveal the inventor's name a search showed that an article regarding perpetual motion and "self-moving carriages riding on conical wheels" appeared in the September 1871 issue of The Galaxy Illustrated Magazine and I even managed to find a line drawing of one of the carriage cars. Unfortunately, Google's repository of scanned ephemera doesn't contain the issue of interest. I'll keep looking, maybe it will appear eventually. Regardless, if you need a topic for your steampunk crackpot scientist to obsess over, perpetual motion just might do the trick!

From the September 1871 issue of the Galaxy Illustrated Magazine

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