History and Quest For Perpetual Motion 1191 to 1500

About the many attempts through history in the question for perpetual motion from 1191 to 1500, information on inventors, inventions and more.


Would-be inventors have long dreamed of creating a machine so efficient that, once started, it would keep itself going indefinitely with no consumption of fuel or other natural resources. Such a device might power ships and land vehicles, factories and mining operations, heat pumps and refrigerators--not to mention making the inventor very rich and putting today's electric and oil companies out of business. The story of the quest begins with the dawn of civilization and, for some, still continues today.

Ancient Egyptian galley slaves of 3500 B.C. found their work load lightened by the invention of the sail. In the 1st century B.C., the water mill first appeared in northern Greece. Although both inventions were tremendously successful, neither produced true perpetual motion since they depended on external (and unreliable) energy sources.

1191 A.D. Dean Herbert decided to apply sail--power to his landlocked farm in England. The result was the first English windmill, which he successfully used to grind corn until the local abbot had it destroyed. Like all things that are both illegal and useful, windmills thereupon multiplied rapidly.

c. 1245 The French architect Villard de Honnecourt hit upon an ingenious idea. Rather than depending on wind, water, or muscle to produce motion, he would mount seven heavy movable hammers on the rim of a large wheel and axle. Once the contraption was set into motion, De Honnecourt reasoned, there would always be more weight on the descending side of the wheel than on the ascending side and so the motion would be perpetual. The annoying fact that the device wouldn't work scarcely dampened the architect's enthusiasm; he advocated its use for such things as sawing wood, raising weights, and building "an angel whose finger turns always toward the sun."

1269 Speculating on the failures of De Honnecourt and others, a French crusader named Pierre de Marcourt decided that the key to perpetual motion lay in magnetism. He designed a hollow wheel with 10 lodestones (permanent magnets) fastened to the rim; inside was an arrangement of bent iron nails and another large lodestone. Alternate attraction and repulsion between the moving lodestones and the rest of the device was to keep the wheel in motion. It didn't.

c. 1500 Leonardo da Vinci envisioned a large and delicate wheel with flat, curved spokes. Inside the rim, and between each pair of spokes, was a heavy metal ball. The balls were to roll toward the rim on the descending side of the wheel, giving the device an impetus that was to allow it to carry the balls on the other side back to the top. Set into motion, the wheel ground to an unceremonious halt.

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