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· THE WHEEL AT GERA ( 1712 )
Collection of Clues about Bessler Wheel
Locations on Google Map

        The Report of the committee appointed by Count Karl shows that all examiners unanimously agreed that there was no fraud on the part of the inventor.  They were well convinced that they witnessed and thoroughly examined an overbalancing wheel that proved perpetual motion to them..

Certificate from Landgrave, Count Karl


The Landgrave issued the following certificate:    


“... to subject said machine to Our noble gaze in person and, when it has commenced revolving, to watch carefully over it and, in order to forestall all possible furure reservations and doubts, to board and seal up all access points through which the machine could be reached and tampered with, and as well, post a guard at each such point. Furthermore, that after the passage of an agreed suitable period of time, We should favour him, Orffyreus, with the granting of a document of princely testimony and letters of patronage thereunto relating; the which he has great need of for his own defence and for the rebuttal of unfounded criticism... from a love of truth, and from a desire to establish the true facts relating to this most important work. In pursuit of which we shall leave nothing undone... This machine emphatically confirmed the claims made for it when, to our not inconsiderable pleasure, it successfully completed the long awaited month's test, and what is more, did it twice. After the device had been observed in operation for three months by many people, of this district and from elsewhere, of high rank and of low, we finally, on the 12th November of last year, 1717, ordered it to be sealed up and left to run for a fortnight. Then, in person and accompanied by some of our ministers, we again betook ourselves, on the 26th November, to the appointed place, and there we opened the seals, which we verified were undisturbed. We carefully observed each and everything we saw and, with our own hands, we brought to rest the machine we had seen revolving at exactly its original speed. With little effort required, and without the assistance of the inventor we set the machine in motion once more. We then sealed up the machine once more, and all the windows and doors in the room and adjoining areas. Then a full six weeks after all this success, during which period no-one was able to get to the machine, namely on the 4th Day of January of the year 1718, by God's grace newly arrived, We again betook Ourselves to our castle at Weissenstein, whereupon We not only recognised Our impressed seals to be totally inviolate, but also found the Orffyrean Perpetuum Mobile to be continuing just as before in its uninterupted motion. In addition we found, neither inside the room itself, nor outside the slightest sign of anything suspicious. And so, even though the inventor willingly offered a longer period of running, notwithstanding the fact that the period demanded by his adversary, namely four weeks, had already stretched to eight, We graciously deemed that such an extension was unnecessary for the granting of Our written attention... "


            After it, Karl described numerous potential applications of his wheel: amongst other things, raising water using an Archimedean screw.  He was fully confident that as soon as Orffyreus’ machine was sold, a larger version could be constructed, which would perform with greater power, provided the inventor was offered more space and facilities for the experiments. In closing paragraph of the certificate, the Landgrave issued a royal command: “We request everyone, of whatever rank and position, but especially Our own subjects, to refrain from burdening the said inventor, Orffyreus, Our Commercial Councillor, with unjust alle­gations relating to his unique device, which has not yet become very widely known, and indeed counsel them rather to allow Orffyreus to enjoy the fruits of all such favour, protection and supportive good will as his seemly solicitations and requirements bring him. We are fully desirous of reimbursing anyone who does offer such assistance, as may befit their rank; or of our own subjects, we will graciously acknowledge their efforts in this cause."

                     “Dated Kassel, 27th May, 1718”


              After Orffyreus got this certificate, Count Karl became busy as he had to deal with his diplomatic affairs and could not give any time to Orffyreus.  He played a crucial role in formation of league of countries.  A contract of alliance of four countries was concluded among the Elector of Hanover, Czar Peter the Great of Russia, King Charles XII of Sweden, Charles VI, elected Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire and various other emissaries from Prussia, Saxony, the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth and the Polish throne.


The Year 1721: Baron Fischer Examines Orffyreus' 

Perpetual Motion Machine

Despite his book was widely circulated and Count Karl made efforts to sell the invention, no body came forward to buy his invention because of the large sum of money that he wanted.  His work on perpetual motion had no significant progress. However, in 1721 Joseph Emmanuel Fischer (1693 - 1742), an architect in court of Austria and Willem Jacob van Gravesande (1688 - 1742), physicist and friend of Newton examined his machine and were fully convinced that Orffyreus was a genuine inventor.  Their letters provide additional information and further insight into the mechanism of the machine.


Joseph Emanuel Fischer (1693- 1742) was son of the renowned Viennese architect Johan Bernhard Fischer von Erlach (1656- 1723), an architect, sculptor, and architectural historian. His Baroque style that was a synthesis of classical, Renaissance, and southern Baroque elements, shaped the tastes of the Habsburg Empire.


Joseph Emanuel Fischer von Erlach (1693- 1742) built the most valuable of Austria's countryside castles from the Baroque-Classic period. Fischer was also a good draftsman and   technician.  To understand the patent of Newcomen’s steam engine, he had worked with John Theophilus Desaguliers (1683-1744), an associate and friend of Isaac Newton so Fischer acquired good knowledge of steam engines, power machines, and physics in general.  When Fischer was 28, he was employed in services of Count Karl. After he examined and experimented with Orffyreus’ wheel in 1721, he sent the following letter to Desaguliers in England::


“I do myself the honour of writing the present letter to mark my esteem for you, and also to give you news of the Perpetual Motion at Kassel, which has so much been recommended to me since I was in London. Although I am very incredulous about things which I do not understand, yet I must assure you that I am quite persuaded that there exists no reason why this machine should not have the name Perpetual Motion given to it; and I have good reason to believe that it is one, according to the experiments which I have been allowed to make...  It is a wheel, which is twelve feet in diameter, covered with an oilcloth.  At every turn of the wheel can be heard the sound of about eight weights, which fall gently on the side toward which the wheel turns.  This wheel turns with astonishing rapidity; making twenty-six turns a minute when the axle works unrestricted.  Having tied a cord to the axle, to turn an Archimedean screw for raising water, the wheel than made twenty turns a minute.  This I noted several times by my watch, and I always found the same regularity.  I then stopped the wheel with much difficulty, holding on to the circumference with both hands.  An attempt to stop it suddenly would raise a man from the ground

“Having stopped it in this manner, it remained stationary...  I commenced the movement very gently to see if it would of itself regain its former rapidity, which I doubted, believing that it only preserved for a long time the impetus of the impulse first communicated.  But to my astonishment I observed that the rapidity of the wheel augmented little by little until it had made two turns, and then it regained its former speed, until I observed by my watch that it made the same twenty-six turns a minute as before, when acting freely; and twenty turns when it was attached to the screw to raise water.”


“This experiment, Sir, showing the rapidity of the wheel augmenting from the very slow movement I gave it, to an extraordinary rapid one, convinces me more than if I had seen the wheel moving for a whole year, which would not have persuaded me that it was a perpetual motion, because it might have diminished little by little until it ceased all together; but to gain speed instead of losing it, and to increase that speed to a certain degree in spite of the resistance of air and the friction of the axle, I do not see how anyone can doubt the truth of this action. I then turned it in the opposite direction, and the wheel produced the same effect.  I examined the bearings of the wheel to see if there was any hidden artifice; but was unable to see anything more than the two small bearings on which the wheel is suspended at its center.”

His Highness, who possesses all the qualities that a great prince should have, has always had consideration for the inventor, and will not use the machine in any way for fear of the secret being discovered before the inventor had received a reward from foreigners. His Highness, who has a perfect understanding of mathematics, assured me that the machine is so simple that a carpenter's boy could understand and make it after having seen the inside of this wheel, and that he would not risk his name in giving these attestations, if he did not have knowledge of the machine. “I said to his Highness that I had no doubt a company might be formed in London to purchase the secret. The prince would be exceedingly happy if such a company would consign into his or other hands £20,000 for the inventor, and then the machine should be examined and the secret communicated. If the movement were found to be a perpetual one, the £20,000 would be given to the inventor, and if not, the money would be returned. This would be stipulated by proper legal documents. I told His Serene Highness that no one could institute such a company better than yourself [Desaguliers], for you are always working for the instruction of the public. Consider under what obligation you would place the most enlightened nation of Europe if you procured for it the knowledge of the principle of this perpetual motion, as by that means you would discover an infinity of beautiful inventions that are now unknown. As I shall not remain here long, I must beg you to correspond with Mr. Roman, Superintendent of His Highness’ buildings. He will show all your letters to the Prince, and will come to an understanding with you concerning this matter. Which well merits your highest consideration, as it is unwise to leave this treasure buried. Will you also please communicate with your friend Sir [Isaac] Newton, and tell him of my opinion of the machine. I hope that you will soon hear from our friend Mr. Gravesande of Leiden, who I hope to see soon, as he is on a small tour and will present his compliments to His Serene Highness; His Highness has sent a letter via Mr. Roman, saying that he wishes to see him here.


         It was the time when many inventors were developing steam engine separately.  Fischer was unaware that Desaguliers had already committed himself to improve the Savery–Newcomen engine, and so promoting the Orffyreus’ machine would have conflicted with his own interests - an early example of conflict of interest in history of technology. Desaguliers was a archetypal speculative mason, among whose many achievements was his invention of the planetarium. Many Fellows of the Royal Society who became Freemasons were influenced by Desaguliers' paradigm. It was hoped that the craft would become truly universal and open to men of all faiths. . At the same time, Desaguliers demonstrated the truth of Newton's theories of physics to visiting Dutch and French natural philosophers by means of public lectures..


Willem Jacob s'gravesande (1688 - 1742)


Around the same time, attorney, Dutch mathematician, physicist and a close friend of Newton, Willem Jacob s'gravesande (1688 – 1742) published a book entitled ‘Physices elementa mathematica experimentis confirmata’ (Mathematical Elements of Natural philosophy confirmed by experiments, or an Introduction to Isaac Newton's philosophy) . It gave the first major support for Newtonian Physics in continental Europe and described various physical experiments in an interesting manner..


            Jacob van Gravesande was born in Hertsgenbosch, Holland, 26 Sep 1688. He was a practising lawyer and he is important as an exponent of Newton's philosophy in Europe. His early education was at home with a private tutor, the he studied law at Leiden writing a doctoral thesis on 'suicide'. He practiced law at The Hague. Appointed as secretary to the Dutch Embassy, he was sent to England in 1715 to congratulate George I on has accession to the throne. While in London he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society. He got to know Newton, Desaguliers and John Keill at this time and, after returning to The Hague in 1716, he continued to correspond with Keill.


                In 1717 'sGravesande became professor of mathematics and astronomy at Leiden. He became professor of philosophy at Leiden in 1734. He taught and wrote many texts on Newtonian science and Keill's contributions. Like Keill he conducted physics experiments in his lectures. 'sGravesande wrote textbooks on mathematics and philosophy. He also published and edited works of others, for example work by Huygens, Keill and Newton. 'sGravesande's book Mathematical Elements of physics was very influential.


           By the 1730s, 'sGravesande enjoyed status of being one of the most famous research scientists at the University of Leiden, which was one of the most prestigious educational institutes of the time. Gravesande’s lectures attracted hundreds of students, since he talked about physics in an informed and interesting manner. He improved experimental physics by clear demonstration tests, for example the ‘ball and ring of ‘s Gravesande’ to show the expansion of metals when heated. For his experiments and discoveries he used instruments made on his behalf by Jan van Musschenbroek. ‘s Gravesande laid the foundations for teaching experimental physics. ‘s Gravesande book also described a magic lantern, a demonstration instrument made on his behalf by  Musschenbroek. The magic lantern was equipped with an oil burning light source with four flames. Thanks to a concave mirror and an ingenious lens arrangement the image was visible at a distance of up to ten metres. The height of the lantern was, including the chimney, 187 centimetres. After his death in 1742, Leids Fysisch Kabinet (Physical Cabinet, Leiden) purchased the lantern in one hundred guilders.


Willem Jacob van Gravesande (1688 - 1742) Examines Orffyreus' Perpetual Motion Machine

Count Karl had good interest in science and he often enjoyed scientific discussions with scientist. When he learnt about Gravesande’s book, especially Magic lantern, he decided to call him from Leiden to demonstrate him his experiments.  Soon Gravesande arrived and demonstrated his experiments. Count Karl also used this opportunity for learning physicist’s views on Orffyreus perpetual motion.  So they fell into a lengthy discussion on perpetual motion – whether Orffyreus’ wheel really was a true piece of perpetual motion. The Landgrave asserted that it was, but Gravesande could not believe it.  He already had seven-year experience of exposing the tricks of fraudulent inventors.  At this instance, he also expected that he would be able to expose the trick so he eagerly desired to examine Orffyreus machine.  Count Karl ordered Orffyreus to demonstrate his machine to learned Gravesande, but without telling him who Gravesande was. Orffyreus obeyed the order and demonstrated his machine in the presence of the Landgrave. 


Gravesend took all reasonable precautions against trickery on the part of inventor.  Chandra Mohan Pradhan mentions that Gravesend suspected even a man inside the interior of the machine.  In a clever manner, he dropped some sniff into the machine. This he did probably by tearing little portion of canvass with some sharp edged tool.  He might have desired to look into the mechanism of the machine but failed as Orffyreus was also watchful.  However, no body came sneezing out from the machine.  He became sure that no opportunity existed for preparing a trick, planting apparatus to move the wheel, or concealing some person into the interior of the wheel. 

Willem Jacob van Gravesande (1688 - 1742) Reports to 

Issac Newton

Gravesande was 33 when he examined the device in Kassel.  After Grvesande was confident that there was no fraud involved in machine, he wrote a letter to Newton to know his opinion about the machine.


Gravesande wrote:


" Dr. Desaguliers has doubtless shown you the letter that Baron Fischer wrote to him recently about Orffyreus’ wheel, which the inventor asserts is a perpetual motion. The Landgrave, who is a lover of the sciences and arts, and who neglects no opportunity to encourage the several discoveries and improvements that are presented to him, was desirous of having this machine made known to the world, for the sake of public utility. To this end he engaged me to examine it, wishing that, if it should be found to answer the pretensions of the inventor, it might be made known to persons of greater abilities, who might deduce from it those services which are naturally to be expected from so singular an invention.


You will not be displeased, I presume, with a circumstantial account of my examination.  I send you therefore the details of the most particular circumstances observable on an exterior view of the machine, concerning which the sentiments of most people are greatly divided, whilst almost all the mathematicians are against it.  The majority maintains the impossibility of a perpetual motion, and hence it is, that so little attention has been paid to Orffyreus and his invention.


For my part, however, though I must confess my abilities inferior to those of many who have given demonstration of this impossibility - yet I will communicate to you the real sentiments with which I entered on examination of this machine...  It seemed to me that Leibniz was wrong in laying down the impossibility of perpetual motion as an axiom.  Notwithstanding this persuasion, however, I was far from believing Orffyreus capable of making such a discovery, looking upon it as an invention not to be made (if ever) until after many other previous discoveries.  But since I have examined the machine, it is impossible for me to sufficiently express my astonishment.

The inventor has a turn for mechanics, but is far from being a profound mathematician, and yet his machine has something in it prodigiously astounding, even though it should be an imposition.  The following is a description of the external parts of the machine, the inside of which the inventor will not allowed to be seen, lest anyone should rob him of his secret.  It is a hollow wheel or kind of drum, about fourteen inches thick and twelve feet in diameter; being very light as it consists of several cross pieces of wood framed together; the whole of which is covered over with canvas, to prevent the inside from being seen.  Through the center of this wheel or drum runs an axle of about six inches in diameter, terminated at both ends by iron bearings of about three-quarters of an inch in diameter upon which the whole thing turns.  I have examined these bearings and am firmly persuaded that nothing from without the wheel in the least contributes to its motion.  When I turned it but gently, it always stood still as soon as I took my hand away.  But when I gave it any tolerable degree of velocity, I was always obliged to stop it again by force; for when I let it go it acquired in two or three turns its greatest velocity, after which it revolved at twenty-five or twenty-six times a minute.  This motion it preserved some time ago for two months, in an apartment of the castle; the doors and windows of which were locked and sealed, so that there was no possibility of fraud. At the expiration of that time, His Serene Highness ordered the apartment to be opened, and the machine stopped, lest, as it was only a model, the parts might suffer by so much testing. The Landgrave being, himself, present during my examination of this machine, I took the liberty to ask him, as he had seen the inside of it, whether, after being in motion for a certain time, some alteration was made in the component parts; or whether one of these parts might be suspected of concealing some fraud; on which His Serene Highness assured me to the contrary, and that the machine was very simple... “You see, Sir, I have not had any absolute demonstration, that the principle of motion which the wheel uses is really a principle of perpetual motion; but at the same time it cannot be denied that I have received very good reasons to think so, which is a strong presumption in favour of the inventor. The Landgrave made Orffyreus a very handsome present to be let into the secret of the machine, under an engagement nevertheless not to reveal or make any use of it, before the inventor has procured a sufficient reward for making his discovery public. I am very well aware, Sir, that only in England are the arts and sciences so generally cultivated as to afford any prospect of the inventor’s acquiring a reward adequate to his discovery. He requires nothing more than the assurance of having it paid to him when his machine is found to be really a perpetual motion; and as he desires nothing more than this assurance till the construction of the machine be displayed and fairly examined, it cannot expected that he should submit to such an examination before such an assurance be given him. Now, Sir, as it would be conducive to public utility, as well as to the advancement of science, to discover the reality or the fraud of this invention, I conceive the relation of the above circumstances could not fail to be acceptable…” 


Newton’s Diplomatic Silence

After one month, though Gravesande’s letter was also published in Holland, it failed to elicit any response from Newton. It is unknown whether Newton ever replied to his letter.

 Probably, perpetual motion posed him, both a problem and a threat. At that time, Newton was a big authority in mechanics. He already had bitter experience of quarreling with Robert Hook on laws of Gravitation and with Leibniz on Calculus. He did not want any controversy to arise further.  Newton, the career diplomat learnt it well that to keep himself in power, it was not wrong to ignore any thing that would jeopardize his reputation.  He was aware that perpetual motion could not be fitted into his laws of motion. If Orffyreus’ machine was true then his first law of motion was not perfect.  Perpetual Motion seemed to threat his laws of motion, on which whole edifice of his mechanics rested.  He didn't give any reply to Gravesande thus Orffyreus was deliberately ignored under the usual conspiracy of silence, which is inevitable to any new invention or new thought which puts a challenge to established theory. Newton also fought with Leibniz on the priority of calculus. Since Leibniz supported Orffyreus machine, Newton did not take any interest in the device.

Deva Ramananda* remarks:

 “In his entire work on mechanics, Newton offered no theoretical speculations about the invention. Like rest of the scientist, he also failed to conceive that perpetual motion is possible. When he learnt about Orffyreus machine, he had more difficulty in integrating the perpetual motion into an agreeable conceptual system of his laws of motion.  He feared that if he gave recognition to Orffyreus’ work on perpetual motion machine it would jeopardize his reputation.  Without recourse to perpetual motion, Newton propounded celestial laws of mechanics, If Newton had gone a few steps further he would have discovered that the same principle and force, which holds our earth in space and also cause to rotate and revolve all other planets, in time and space also governs and forms basis of perpetual motion machine. It is true that Newton worked very little in his old age. In spite of it, if he wanted, he had enough time to help Orffyreus as he lived on for six more years, so the only reason why he could not do anything to promote this matter was his diplomacy.  It was a terrible mistake that the machine did not arouse Newton’s interest for the service of science, as otherwise things could have worked out very differently."

* Ramananda’s book – “Secret Doctrine of Perpetual Motion Revealed”


                                      Copyright © 2005 Dr. Ramesh Menaria all rights reserved.