History and Quest For Perpetual Motion 1880 to 1957

About the many attempts through history in the question for perpetual motion from 1880 to 1957, information on inventors, inventions and more.

THE QUEST FOR PERPETUAL MOTION

1880 A London professor working in Washington, D.C., John Gamgee created a national commotion with his "zeromotor." Reasoning that the steam engine's flaw lay in the great quantity of energy needed to boil the water, he proposed using a substance that normally boils at a lower temperature--ammonia, for instance. In fact, since ammonia boils at 0 deg. Celsius (hence the "zeromotor"), no fuel at all should be required in the boiler as long as the outside temperature is above freezing. The ammonia was to be recycled through the traditional condenser found in all steam engines. Gamgee managed to interest B. F. Isherwood, chief engineer for the U.S. Navy, who should have realized that the device fatally violated the Second Law of Thermodynamics. Instead, he recommended it to several cabinet officers, and President Garfield himself expressed enthusiasm. With this engine lay the promise of abandoning the navy's extensive and expensive network of coaling stations abroad, and of powering the ships with the heat in the very water they floated on. The enthusiasm was short-lived, however, for a working model was found to function only with the condenser dis-connected, and then only poorly.

c. 1880 With the first commercial availability of electric motors and generators, thousands of would-be inventors independently devised the "perpetual generator." The idea was to use an electric motor to turn an electric generator, then use the electric output of the generator to power the motor. Unfortunately, it doesn't work at all.

c. 1910 R. J. Strutt, son of a Nobel Prize winner, caused a sensation by building a perpetual clock. The device used a small amount of the radioactive element radium to charge and discharge an electroscope; for years it showed no sign of slowing down, and many thought that perpetual motion had finally been achieved. Later it was discovered that radium has a natural half-life of 1,620 years and that the clock would, in fact, slow down if allowed to run long enough. Strutt had unwittingly been the first person to harness nuclear energy.

1957 On Oct. 4, the Soviets launched the first man-made satellite, Sputnik 1. The 184-lb. sphere orbited the earth once every 1.5 hours at altitudes ranging from 143 mi. to 584 mi. Some thought that this was, at last, perpetual motion. Alas, the satellite fell to earth on Jan. 4, 1958.

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