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

Peter the Great 1675-1725 Tsar of Russia

Final Bargain Ends with Death of Czar

It is mentioned by few authors that stubborn inventor was only bent on getting 25000 pounds for his invention.  Whatever the case and amount might have been, Orffyreus demanded the huge money not because he had greed for money. Orffyreus commented that when the secret is revealed, he is afraid that people will complain that the idea is so simple it is not worth the asking price.*

He thought the huge amount he demanded would prove the point that his tricky invention though looking  simple was indeed great. It   required life long effort to achieve the seemingly impossible task and he must be compensated for that. It was also his greatest invention and lifelong work.  In this manner, his invention was all worth of such a huge amount!


As we have already learnt from Baron Fischer’s letter, when Fischer completed his examination of Orffyreus wheel and was fully assured that Orffyreus machine was a not a fraud, he discussed the matter with Count Karl and pointed out that it should be easy to raise the money in London. He strongly proposed that a company could be formed in London to purchase the secret.  Karl expressed his happiness about the proposal of the formation of such a  company that  would consign into his or other hands £20,000 for the inventor. The arrangement that Baron Fischer proposed was that if the movement of the wheel should prove to be "a perpetual one", then the money should be paid immediately to the inventor; if not, the money would be returned. This would be stipulated by proper legal documents.


Baron Fischer accordingly persuaded Desaguliers of Royal Society to form a company, as it was unwise, in his opinion, to leave treasure buried. Baron Fischer hoped that Orffyreus’ invention would bring untold benefits to England and its knowledge would pave the way for many other inventions..


Count Karl negotiated with Orffyreus and pursued him to sign a contract about the formation of the company that would safeguard his interests. Convinced that he was getting his desired money, Orffyreus gave his consent for it. Through Count Karl whom he had trusted, he offered to reveal the inner mechanism to anyone for the sum of twenty thousand pounds, that amount to be held in trust by the Count while the buyers reproduced the machine to convince themselves that they had a genuine perpetual motion machine. Orffyreus strongly hoped that sooner or later fortune would be his as he would be able to convince influential rulers, scientists, and bankers, that he had indeed constructed a genuine perpetual motion..


 Count Karl and Orffyreus negotiated with Royal society of London for some time and apparently, the same sum of 20000 pounds was demanded for the secret. Royal Society of London    attempted to raise the money believing that Orffyreus machine would   revolutionize the process of power generation.  With favorable reports of the committee, that Orffyreus invention was a genuine work; the deal was all set to move.. 


 Now convinced that the riddle of perpetual motion may have indeed been solved, officials tried to pay money for the wheel.  But when they learnt that Orffyreus had destroyed his wheel on the account of Gravsandes impertinent curiosity, they thought something was wrong with Orffyreus and his machine. It caused such a misunderstanding in their mind that eventually they became reluctant to buy the machine. Gartner was still operating maliciously to discredit Orffyreus.  Again, Orffyreus was accused of foul play, despite the fact that his machine fulfilled all the characteristics of true perpetual motion and passed various tests conducted by the body of the experts which comprised of learned man and distinguished scientist.  Orffyreus never saw the money.  It took him to believe that he was a victim of a conspiracy.  It was very much shocking to Orffyreus.  Knowing of the precarious state of Count Karl's finances, perhaps bankers did not care to entrust him with such a sum as Prince Karl was already faced with financial tax problems imposed upon him. 


Jan Rutowsky remarks:


“Orffyreus was left penniless unable to honor his obligation to his sponsor and Count Karl in turn could not pay the taxman.


Orffyreus thought the company was only a pretext for delaying the matter and to put whole thing in abeyance.


Promising Contract with Czar

Soon new hope appeared with the news that Tsar Peter the Great was interested in Orffyreus' wheel and was willing to pay 100 000 rubble's for the secret.  To meet Karl and Orffyreus, in 1725 he had planned a trip to Saxony but later same year he died. The czar's untimely death ruined the bargain. Let us go into the details of this last bargain..

When Peter the Great, Czar of all Russia, desired to purchase the Orffyreus’ invention. Christian Wolff and Schumacher tried to arbitrate.  Schumacher, librarian, and confidential clerk to the Czar, and Wolff, friend and collaborator of Gottfried Leibniz started the organization of the Academy of Sciences in St. Petersburg at Peter the Great’s request. In the achieves, a large number of letters, abounding in economical and financial details exist which could be quoted at length here, but to save the space I would rather focus on the Wolff’s report which expresses his opinion of the Orffyreus’ perpetual motion machine wheel to the Czar:


Letter from Christian Wolff to Johann Daniel Schumacher, 3rd July 1722


“Impartial Comments on the Orffyrean Perpetuum Mobile, prepared for his Majesty the Czar. Halle, 3rd July 1722.


1.    To begin with, it would appear to be beyond doubt that Orffyreus’ wheel is not moved by any imaginable external force, but rather its movement is due to the internal weights, which are applied in a special manner. My reasons for arriving at this conclusion are:

a)   I saw myself that the wheel began to rotate with speed and uniformity, without any appreciable external thrust or push, until it was slowed from outside. Any attempt at fraud from outside was impossible because the wheel bearings were uncovered on both sides and one could see the axle journals turning in their bearings. Upon request, the wheel was moved from its stand and put on another one.

b)   Before [re]locating the wheel, the Inventor, who was performing the test for the officially appointed Commissioners, took out the weights and permitted one of them to be touched, wrapped in a handkerchief. He did not allow the weight to be touched on its end, but lengthwise; it felt cylindrical and not very thick. One could hear the weights landing on the overbalanced side, as though they were swinging, from which one can assume that the overbalancing was caused by their impact. Furthermore there is the testimony of the Landgrave of Hesse-Kassel, who is experienced in evaluating mechanical inventions and has seen the internal mechanism of the wheel and ran it for many weeks in a locked room, keeping the keys himself, having personally locked and secured the doors and windows with his own seal. He testified both verbally and in an officially printed certificate that the movement of the wheel was caused by nothing more than the weights and that it would run continuously unless the internal structure of the wheel was altered..

2.    Since it is impossible, according to mathematical proof, for a machine to run continuously by its own force, some matter from outside must contribute to its motion. That matter cannot be perceived by any of the senses but could be made use of by people who know nature better. I suggest, therefore, that the weights on the wheel’s periphery are attached by rods in such a way that when at rest on the lighter side of the wheel, they can be lifted, but when they start to fall, after the wheel has turned, they deliver a force on impact, acquired during the fall, onto a piece of wood which is fixed to the periphery. In this way, the wheel is put into rotation by the impact of the weights, which can be heard. But the force which drives the weights, does not come from the machine itself, rather it comes from some fluid, invisible matter by which the movement of the falling weights becomes faster and faster. Orffyreus’ whole invention consists of an artful arrangement of weights, in such a way that they are lifted when at rest and acquire force during their fall, and in my opinion it is this that he keeps secret. This is also consistent with what Orffyreus says, that anyone could easily understand his invention, as soon as he is allowed to look into the wheel. [The act of copying perhaps would have been easy, but the act of understanding is another matter.]

3.    It is possible therefore, that when the internal structure of the wheel has been revealed, some mathematicians may decide that it is not a perpetual motion machine as there is an additional force involved, namely the unknown substance which applies continuous pressure to heavy bodies when they fall, and which adds to the force of their impact.

4.      Because this substance is present everywhere and exerts its effects unceasingly, the wheel can be installed anywhere. As a result, it is as if no additional force was involved, and in the end it is the same as if it were a true perpetual motion machine, and many of the mathematicians will insist that this is so, objecting to this line of reasoning.

5.    Until the internal arrangement of the wheel is understood, it will not be possible to discover whether or not its power can be appreciably increased. Perhaps its power can only be increased to a certain degree, after which it will again decease if it is made larger still. In this case, any attempt to increase its power would be counterproductive.

              6.      At present, I do not expect any special results from the machine. The one I saw had very thin journals and the axle was hollow; these two features were contributing to the fast rotation of the wheel, and so to its power when the wheel had to lift something. This would not be an acceptable feature in a wheel that was intended for serious development. Such a thin journal would quickly wear out and such a poor axle would soon break. Besides, there is considerable difference between a machine that is used continuously for work, and one that is run for a moment or a few minutes to pull or lift something..


             7.      Whoever wishes to buy Orffyreus’ machine should decide in his mind whether he wants to have it as a curiosity or for the advantages it offers for moving machinery. In the first case, everything written in notes 2 and 3 should be taken into consideration. In the second case, notes 5 and 6 should be born in mind.".”


Schumacher invited and persuaded Court Councillor, Professor Wolff to come to St. Petersburg and join services of Peter the Great.  In this connection, Schumacher wrote a letter to Wolff.  As it throws light on Peter the Great’s keen interest in the Orffyreus machine, I would like to mention a part of it::


“Item 6. Nothing has given me as much satisfaction as the positive fulfilment of my commission to persuade the Court Councillor, Professor Wolff, to enter into the services of His Imperial Highness, which he eagerly accepted. Initially, I had great trouble, as he pointed out that he does not desire much more from life. He said that he had a gracious monarch, popularity among the students, a steady job and a satisfying income. He could earn a total of 4000 Thalers a year, made up from writing books, partnerships, discussions and a salary. Most important of all, he could live in a moderate climate. Moreover, he is concerned that he might not have sufficient good fortune to please His Imperial Highness; and the nobility and the scientists might not tolerate all his beliefs; or he might become homesick within a short time; or the damage inflicted to German science by his moving to Russia might prove irreparable."


These lines suggest that Wolff was reluctant to Peter the Great’s invitation to enter his services. However, he had a desire to avail opportunity of examining the Orffyreus machine at the academy. Schumacher continues: :


“Item 7. Prior to my talks with Orffyreus, the inventor of the perpetual motion machine, I discussed the matter with Herr Professor Wolff. I declared to him Your Imperial Majesty’s noble intentions, mentioning also that although Your Majesty, for the sake of the common good, would willingly part with a considerable sum of money, you did not want to waste it. Therefore I asked him to give me his honest opinion of it. He replied, ‘There is little to be said on this matter, for although Orffyreus has made a wheel, which turns round and pulls a heavy object towards itself, it is not possible to say whether this truly is perpetual motion and will bring great utility to the populace, for it is impossible to see its internal structure’. He instructed me to discuss this with the inventor and report back to him what happened, and then he would give his written opinion..


I set off without delay, straight to Kassel and Weissenstein Castle, hoping to find Orffyreus there, but I discovered that His Serene Highness the Landgrave had sent him, together with the broken parts of his machine, to Karlshafen, which used to be known as Sieburg, about five miles from Kassel, and there a special house was allocated to him so that he could have better conditions to develop his ideas and plans - and also to get rid of such a troublesome guest. Your Imperial Majesty may be interested to learn why the inventor had broken his machine..


The above-mentioned Landgrave had invited Herr Professor Gravesande from Leiden to demonstrate to him the physico-mathematical experiments which were published in his book, and they fell into discussion about perpetual motion – whether Orffyreus’ wheel really was a true perpetual motion. The Landgrave asserted that it was, and ordered Orffyreus to demonstrate it to Herr Gravesande, but without telling him who Gravesande was. Orffyreus obeyed the order and demonstrated his machine in the presence of the Landgrave, but Gravesande asked so many questions and expressed such a keen interest in learning about its internal structure, that Orffyreus formed the opinion that they wanted to discover his secret, and therefore he refused to show them any more, and as soon as they had departed, he broke up the machine so that there would be nothing more to fear..

         After I had spent several days in Sieburg (Karlshafen) with the inventor, pretending to be his very great friend, I revealed to him Your Imperial Majesty’s noble intention, and his first question was,


Does Herr Schumacher have any money?’


I replied that there was more money available to him than he could imagine, and that Your Imperial Majesty wished to give him high favour and payment for his invention, if it passed the test.


   Of course it will pass the test, and I am prepared to lose my head if it’s not the real thing’.


To which I replied, ‘Let us take two renowned mathematicians, who will first take an oath not to reveal anything about it, then examine your machine and give it a certificate. The agreed amount of money will be put in escrow [legal custody], and with this we would be satisfied’. However, I could not obtain his agreement to this. He remained resolute in his opinion that the machine was true, that no-one could fault it except through ill-will, and that he could confide in no-one as the entire world was full of evil, malicious and vicious people whom it was impossible to trust. His last words were:


‘Herr Schumacher, you put down 100,000 Thalers on one side, and I shall put my machine on the other!’


         “I could do nothing more, even if I had spent an entire year in negotiations with him, so I returned quickly to Halle and reported to Professor Wolff on what I had done at Herr Orffyreus’. It is truly incredible what disputes the perpetual motion has caused. Herr Professor Gravesande believes that perpetual motion is not contradictory to established mathematical principles, and although it is impossible really to affirm that Orffyreus’ wheel will bring great benefits to the people, he agrees that if it were placed in the hands of skilful mathematicians, it could be brought to perfection.


“Herr Gärtner’s ‘perpetual motion machine’ which I saw in Dresden, consists of a machine in the shape of a grindstone filled with sand and covered with canvas, which turns backwards and forwards by itself, but according to its inventor cannot be made larger. The French and English mathematicians hold all these perpetual motion machines in no esteem, and say it is contrary to mathematical principles. Herr Professor Wolff gave me his opinion of them in writing, which I have thought to incorporate here word for word. It is in line with the opinions of almost all mathematicians.”


Schumacher finishes his letter to the Czar as follows:


  “Your Imperial Highness will know from what I have written, that the Orffyrean machine is still far from perfect. Subsequently, Orffyreus wrote to me that a certain Monarch wished to put up all the money he had asked for, and he intended to reveal his secret to the public once the contract was signed. Because of this, he humbly asked that Your Imperial Highness contribute some part of this recompense too.” 

Final Bargain Ends With Death of Czar

Owing to the Orffyreus’ perverse nature and lack of trust bargain took long time.  On 1st June, 1723 Wolff drafted   a temporary agreement, according to which only 90,000 Thalers were fixed   for the invention, but another 10,000 Thalers would be given  as an advance amount to Orffyreus to write his great Machinen Tracte (Treatise on Mechanics), in which he planned to include his research work on perpetual motion with descriptions of more than 300  machines and drawings which he designed in his life time.


Finally from St. Petersberg, on behalf of the Czar a Mr. Dettler Klefeker came to Kassel to purchase the invention. But unfortunately, on 28th January 1725 Peter the Great died at the age of 52. It was a tragic end to story. Later, due to Orffyreus stubbornness, negotiations failed again.  Perhaps an agreement could have been concluded if Czar had not died. His successors to the throne neither took any interest in Orffyreus’ machine nor they did show any interest in the Academy. Euler, who started his scientific career in the Academy at St. Petersburg, was thus compelled to live in a state of financial insecurity for a long time.



                                      Copyright © 2005 Dr. Ramesh Menaria all rights reserved.