History and Quest For Perpetual Motion 1618 to 1712

About the many attempts through history in the question for perpetual motion from 1618 to 1712, information on inventors, inventions and more.

THE QUEST FOR PERPETUAL MOTION

1618 Robert Fludd, an English physician, went back to the water mill. If somehow a supply of running water could be made dependable and available anywhere (not just near streams), the perpetual motion problem would be solved. Then came the inspiration; he'd use a waterwheel to drive a pump that would lift the fallen water back to the top of the millrace. The same water would be recycled again and again. The shaft of the water wheel would also drive the usual grindstones. Unfortunately, all practical attempts at getting this closed-cycle mill to work quickly proved fruitless. Even so, as late as 1871, an American patent attorney complained that inventors still submitted one or another variation of the idea to him each year.

1638 Edward Somerset, 2nd marquis of Worcester, built a machine that actually worked--for a while. A monstrous contraption, it had a wheel some 14 ft. across and a number of 50-lb. iron balls rolling around inside. He operated the device for Charles I, who was duly impressed when it took an hour to stop. Somerset labored over various improvements but, alas, could not get the device to keep itself going indefinitely.

1674 John Wilkins, bishop of Chester and an official of the Royal Society, suggested a number of ways to achieve perpetual motion. His most frustrating failure was a device consisting of a magnet, an iron ball, and an inclined ramp with a hole in it. The stationary magnet was to draw the ball up the ramp, where it was expected to drop through the hole and roll back to its starting position, where the process would begin again. The device failed for lack of a strong enough magnet. Two hundred years later, with the invention of stronger magnets, it would fail again. A magnet powerful enough to draw the ball up the ramp simply will not allow it to drop through the hole.

1686 Water gushing from a hole at the bottom of a tank or dam can exert tremendous force. Abbe de la Roque, editor of a French scientific journal, attempted to direct such a stream of water uphill to its starting point. He reckoned that the key lay in the shape of the underwater structure leading to the inside of the hole. He was wrong.

1712 Thomas Newcomen, a Devonshire black smith, noticed that a can full of steam was crushed by the atmosphere when the steam condensed. Using the same principle, he built a large cylindrical machine with a movable piston that was raised by a counterweight; as the piston lifted, steam was introduced through a pipe into the empty cylinder. A bucket of cold water thrown on the cylinder would then condense the steam and atmospheric pressure would push the piston into the vacuum. Several improvements quickly followed. A cold-water jet was placed directly in the cylinder to initiate the condensation. The valve controls for steam and cold water were connected, through ropes and pulleys, to the moving piston so that the machine would cycle automatically. And the moving piston was successfully connected to a lift pump used to drain a local open-pit coal mine. Newcomen called the device an "atmospheric engine" and soon became rich selling it to mine owners. Since it needed vast quantities of coal to generate the steam, the engine was anything but a perpetual-motion machine. It did, however, send the quest for perpetual motion off in a different direction. All that needed to be done was to make a very efficient Newcomen-type engine.

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