· THE WHEEL AT GERA ( 1712 )
Collection of Clues about Bessler Wheel
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Orffyreus Approaches Moritz Wilhelm, The Duke of Zeitz for the Test


At the time of his exhibition of the first wheel at Gera, Orffyreus took precaution for not inviting learned man to examine his machine and answer their queries.  He was fearful that someone would steal the secret of his remarkable wheel.  He even did not entertain the queries to satisfy the lay men,instead showed an obstinate attitude to them.  On few occasions, he had turned hostile to them as if they were his enemies.  But he had to change his mind then as he found that this sort of behavior was not only damaging his popularity but also creating strong doubts in the minds of people that he was a fraudulent inventor.


Beleaguered by continuing rumors and speculation of fraud, Orffyreus went to   Moritz-Wilhelm, Duke of Zeitz and requested him to support an official examination.  This duly occurred and was big achievement in Orffyreus’ career, which could be considered “authentic”. With help of Duke, Orffyreus decided to demonstrate his overbalancing wheel to a group of qualified citizens. In particular, Bessler wanted to address allegations that the machine was driven through a hidden mechanism in the bearings. 


 The news of the upcoming test were published by the Leipziger Post Zeitungen :


“Mr. Orffyreus, the inventor of the Perpetuum Mobile, which is in Merseburg, wishes to remind us of the promise he made in an earlier edition of the Leipziger Zeitungens-Blat. He refers to the relocation of the above-mentioned machine to another place and on another support. He has found it particularly important to fulfil his promise because of the arguments that have appeared in the press recently. These have been expressed in mocking and offensive terms and call urgently for such a test. Also certain people have constructed self-moving machines that appear superficially similar to his machine and yet they do not deny that theirs are false. Mr. Orffyreus has recently recovered from a sickness and is trying to finish, as soon as possible, a Perpetuum Mobile that he has begun to build. He is absolutely committed, with God’s help, to show by sincere demonstration the reality of his invention, in the presence of certain persons and skilled craftsmen. This test is scheduled to take place on the 31st day of this month. There will be some renowned Mathematicians and Mechanicians present. At the same time, the inventor expects to receive an impartial opinion, having persuaded the Commission of the truth of his case. Because of this, he regards it unnecessary to respond to those people who have until now expressed their opposition and doubts in the press.”

Leipziger Post Zeitungen, 1715. 


Merseburg Wheel at a Glance


Diameter = 11.15 feet

Thickness = 11.15 inches

Speed = Greater than 40 RPM

Rotation = dual-directional,

required gentle push start in either direction

Axle = 6 inches diameter

(probable diameter = 1/4 ell = 5.6 inches)

Sound = banging noise at descending side of wheel

Power = ?

size in ell units: reported diameter = 6 ell = 11.15 feet;

reported thickness = 1/2 ell = 11.15 inches



Official Examination at Merseburgh

October 31, 1715 

     To ensure that test is conducted authentically and smoothly, Moritz Wilhelm, Duke of Zeitz, formed a commission.  It consisted of several people who had particular scientific talents; others were famous for their technical skills, the rest for their reliability and incorruptibility. He had chosen people appropriate for the task and delegated them a particular task to do.  He appointed two representatives to arrange the event. Julius Bernhardt Rohr and Caspar Johann Bretnuetz headed the commission.  27 years old Rohr was well versed in law, mathematics, physics, chemistry and economics. For his studies, He went to Halle University, then to Holland, and later returned to Halle. To record the demonstration, Johann Andreas Weise, the District Magistrate was also invited to attend the test. His account, the certificate issued by the chairmen on behalf of the Duke, and the certificate by Rohr speaks a lot about validity of Orffyreus machine. As already mentioned, the test purported to defend strongly charges against Orffyreus made by his enemies.  Moreover, test aimed to establish that the wheel could be moved from one stand and one set of bearings to another.  In this manner, it was possible to prove that the machine was not driven through the bearings via a secret external source..


The Merseburgh test was performed on October 31, 1715. Records preserved in the museum shows that on October 31, 1715, a group of twelve distinguished men visited Orffyreus to witness his perpetual motion wheel in action.  They conducted several types of experiment which they had devised themselves to ascertain validity of Orffyreus claim.  They unanimously agreed that Orffyreus was a genuine inventor, as they could not detect any fraud.  Impressed by the feats of the Orffyreus, they issued a report telling in it that Orffyreus had solved the riddle of the perpetual motion machine. To invalidate the accusations, the test was specifically to include a translocation of the wheel from one set of supports to another. 


A committee of 12 distinguished investigators signed a certificate stating that Bessler' wheel was a true perpetual motion, having the ability to turn in either direction, easily started but requiring great effort to stop its motion and generating enough power to raise a 70 pound box of stones. Official examination and tests were conducted on 31st October, including a translocation of the wheel to prove that posts were not hollowed-out. Official certificate of approval was finally issued. The certificate stated:

 The inventor first put in motion his six ells (~11 feet) in diameter and one foot thick machine which was still resting on the same wooden support upon which it had previously been mounted. It was stopped and restarted, turned left and right as many times as was requested by the commissaries or the spectators. The machine was started by a very light push with just two fingers and accelerated as one of the weights, hidden inside, began to fall. Gradually, within about one revolution, the machine acquired a powerful and even rotation, which continued until it was forcefully brought to a stop again; the machine preserved the same rapid motion when lifting a box filled with six whole bricks weighing together about 70 pounds. The weight was lifted by means of a rope conducted through a window by means of a pulley. The box was lifted as many times as was requested.

Furthermore the inventor, Orffyreus, in the presence of all, lifted the machine described above from its original wooden support. The timber posts were carefully examined from both top and bottom, as well as in the middle, particularly where a small cut was noticed. The same careful examination was devoted to the trunnions, the shaft, and to the bearings. During the inspection, not the slightest indication of imposture or deceit was found, rather everything was found to be right, complete, and without fault.


As further proof of its internal or inherent motive power, the machine was translocated to another support in such a way that the trunnions on both sides of the axle were laid uncovered in the open sockets. The whole assembly could see over and under, and both sides of the machine; and all present were invited to inspect the bearings, but no holes were found. All present examined them with their eyes, but no sign of fraud was seen. It was possible to translocate the machine and turn it left and right as many times as was asked by the respectable Commission. The machine regained its strong, fast, even rotation each time. The movement was accompanied by quite a loud noise that lasted until the machine was brought to a forced stop. Thus nothing suspicious happened.


Finally, it should be noted that right at the start, before the machine was subject to any testing, all rooms above, below, and on either side were examined by the Commission. It was also verified that the stamps were not hollow, and no indication of any mechanism moved by a cord was found. All that has been written above is the truth, and has been acknowledged by signatures in our own hand without any reservations..."


Signed at Merseberg, 31st October, year 1715.”


Above certificate carried signatures of twelve witnesses, but it is reported that many more people were also present during the test. They also watched the event with great enthusiasm. It is known that three members of the commission belonged to the court of August II, Elector of Saxony, and others were attached to the court of the Polish King. German philosopher Professor Christian von Wolff (1679–1754) was 36 years old when test was being conducted. He was a pupil of the philosopher and mathematician Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz.  Wolff was one of the first to use the German language instead of Latin; he systematized and popularized the doctrines of Leibniz. He studied at the Universities of Breslau, Jena and taught at Leipzig before going to a professorship at Halle (1706–23).  In 1707, he became professor of Mathematics at the University of Halle when Leibniz, his teacher recommended him to this  position  Like Leibniz, he also acted  a member of the Royal Society in London.  In 1723, his doctrines of apparent fatalism offended the Pietists who were followers of the German movement for an increase of piety in Lutheran churches. As a result of theological disputes with Pietists, he was banished and then he became professor at Marburg (1723–40) and also acted as a scientific advisor to Peter the Great (1716–25), he helped found the St. Petersburg Academy of Sciences in Russia. Recalled to Halle by Frederick the Great in 1740, he became chancellor of the university in 1743. One of Wolff's major works was Vernünftige Gedanken von Gott, der Welt, und der Seele der Menschen [rational thoughts on God, the world, and the souls of men] (1719). The Leibnizian doctrine of preestablished harmony was more prominent than the monad theory in Wolff's presentation, though both were considerably moderated. He is chiefly remembered for his broad concept of philosophy, his insistence on clarity and precision, and his devotion to the power of reason and mathematics.

Wolff produced numerous works in philosophy, theology, psychology, botany, and physics. His series of essays entitled as ‘Vernünftige Gedanken’ (“Rational Ideas”) dealt with many subjects and expounded Leibniz's theories in popular form.  Wolff emphasized that every occurrence must have an adequate reason for happening or there arises the impossible alternative that something might come out of nothing. His own philosophical system, the Wolffian philosophy was based on the rational thought of the Anglo-French Enlightenment and of Leibniz and René Descartes.  He played a crucial role in the development of Rationalism and mathematical methodology, which formed the essence of his system.  It was an important force in the development of German philosophical thought also.


         Orffyreus’ biographer J. Collins has mentioned further details about who the members of the board were and what qualifications they had, but to save the space omit that part and focus here to the evidence, according to the tests and the witnesses, the machine was genuine and was capable of doing work continuously.  It was indeed a spectacular performance. Moreover, there was no possibility of any fraud as machine could be moved from one pair of supports to another.  This specific test ruled out any possibility that machine was being operated via its bearings.  It proved that charges against Orffyreus were false. All this evidence supports the theory that Orffyreus’ perpetual motion machine could generate energy without using an external source and thus shattered the law of conservation of energy..


Let me quote here the account by Johann Weise, district Judge and member of the board:


“Firstly, the inventor showed us all around and overwhelmingly demonstrated that his perpetual motion machine had no hidden cord as was falsely alleged. The circular machine is about six ells in diameter and has a thickness of about one foot. The inventor started it with the merest little effort. As soon as just one of the internal weights began to fall, the machine started to revolve with such strength that it turned forty of more times a minute, and could only be stopped with great difficulty... the most extraordinary thing I noticed was that the machine showed the same strength and speed during the lifting and lowering of the load... A thorough examination was performed firstly by His Graces Commission, and then by me, together with the officials from the Regional Office and Court. During this examination, not the smallest cavity or defect was found. Because of this, everyone was convinced that the impulse must be maintained from within the machine. Then the machine, now on another support, was started again by an equally gentle push, as described above, and again attained the same fast acceleration. All the mathematicians and other intellectually curious people present observed this and were filled with admiration. The entire machine received the highest praise from all, and the inventor was freed of all the false accusations, suspicions and doubts.”

- Johann Weisse, Distict Magistrate, report on Merseburg wheel examination, 31st October 1715.


After test was finished and certificate was issued, Buchta and Wolff who were members of the Commission talked to Orffyreus on the behalf of Leibniz.  It appears that at this time, some misunderstanding took place between Leibniz and Orffyreus.  As evidenced by the correspondence, Leibniz tried to obtain the secret by offering something, which Orffyreus declined.  We do not know what Leibniz offered but we know that he was not transparent at this point and it was unfair and breach of trust on his part because Orffyreus had confided in him and Leibniz himself always regarded Orffyreus as his friend and promised him to help honestly.  Orffyreus complained and suspected that under the pretext of help Leibniz was going to steal the secret. Orffyreus told Buchta that he would allow Leibniz to see the interior of the machine on the condition that Leibniz would swear on oath not to rebuild it for him, and would pay 3000 Thalers. Orffyreus said that for that money Leibniz  would receive 9000 Thalers, once the machine was sold.

With a desire to clear up misunderstanding between the inventor and Leibniz, Buchta wrote to Leibniz as follows:


Mr. Orffyreus spoke very openly to me about Your Excellency. He is sorry that he did not accept what Your Excellency offered him in my presence. He told me, in confidence, that some malicious people have persuaded him to turn down your generous offer. He and his friends told me that if Your Excellency would like to visit them immediately, they would even let you see and examine the machine as much as it pleased Your Excellency, but under the condition that Your Excellency will swear on oath not to rebuild it for yourself, and will pay 3000 Thalers. They say that for that money Your Excellency will receive 9000 Thalers, once the machine is sold [on].


“I was in Merseburg last Thursday, along with Professor Wolff, Mr. Hoffman from Halle, Mr. Mencke from Leipzig, and the Council Assessor for the Court of Merseburg, Mr. von Rohr, who was designated by His Serene Highness to examine the machine.


“With my own eyes, I saw Mr. Orffyreus transport his entire machine five or six steps, taking it from one support and putting it on another support. He demonstrated it in full view, and as a result everything that has been written against him by Mr. Gärtner is considered preposterous.”


         Leibniz, however, turned down this offer, probably because he could not obtain the 3000 Thalers. He wrote:


 “I was also very pleased to hear that Orffyreus speaks better of me, because I was told that he had complained about me and how I wished to obtain his secret, but I believe that he misunderstood me. I am thinking of certain important applications, but I cannot pass judgment without knowing the secret and, consequently, what openings might arise for his invention, which does not deserve to remain buried and unused. As the inventor is in strained circumstances, he deserves to be given, as soon as possible, a worthy reward while he is still alive, so that he can enjoy the fruits of his labour.”


Leibniz also persuaded Professor Wolff to write an account of the tests.  Professor Wolff who was in Halle at that time fulfilled the request and wrote an account on 19th December 1715. His letter reads as follows:


 When Orffyreus exhibited the extraordinary machine which he had built, in order to refute the malicious rumours being spread that it was fraudulent, I deliberately attended myself. The mechanic Gärtner, in particular, who is so famous for his many celebrated mechanical inventions, has distributed in public a copper engraving on which there is a slanderous picture showing how Orffyreus’ machine is moved by means of a cord from an adjoining room. We have demonstrated that in reality Orffyreus’ wheel is far removed from any such deception. The investigation was conducted in the presence of representatives from the Duke’s Court and other guests. When the machine was ready to rotate, all adjacent rooms were opened and the bearings were uncovered completely. To prevent anyone inadvertently seeing the internal structure of the machine, he had covered it. Whilst he did this, he did not disguise the fact that the mechanism is moved by weights. Several such weights, wrapped in his handkerchief, he let us hold in our hands to estimate their weight. They were judged to be about 4 pounds (2kg) each, and their shape was definitely cylindrical. I conclude, not only from this but also from other circumstantial evidence, that the weights are attached to some movable or elastic arms on the periphery of the wheel. During rotation, one can clearly hear the weights hitting against the wooden boards. I was able to observe these boards through a slit. They are slightly curved. When he put the wheel on another support and reinstalled the weights in their previous positions, he pushed down on an iron spring that gave a loud noise as it expanded upwards. I therefore presume that there is no doubt that the wheel is moved by an internal source of power, but we cannot necessarily assume that it is perpetual. Furthermore, the machine may be of little value to the public unless it can be improved. At the moment it can lift a weight of 60 pounds (30kg), but to achieve this the pulley had to be reduced more than 4 times, making the lifting quite slow. The diameter of the wheel is about 12 feet (3.5m), and additionally the bearing was quite thin, about ¼ inch and only 1/6 of its length is subject to friction.


Leibniz was pleased at reading this precise information, and wrote back to Wolff on 23rd December 1715:

“Thank you for all you have related to me about the Orffyrean machine. I must confess, it seems to me to be wonderful. I wish some important Prince would grant the man a worthy reward and buy it. It would be worth it even if it cannot do much at present. Perhaps, once its mechanism is known, it could be improved and used to advantage. Gärtner has been praised for his inventions and I think he should be made aware that he should show more respect for those who are less well known. He has done himself no good by dishonestly insinuating that Orffyreus is a cheat.”


Thus Orffyreus’ enemies, i.e. the Gärtner gang, remain quiet for sometime. A few years passed in silence, but unfortunately without any significant step forward.


On 31st October 1715, Acta Eruditorum also published a longer article about Orffyreus machine and its test in Merseburgh. The title of the article was “An Account of the Perpetuum Mobile of Johann Ernst Elias Orffyreus”. It described briefly Orffyreus’ invention and the attack by the Gärtner gang who made allegations   that the device was set in motion from a secret chamber. The article gave an account of the inventor’s actions, his resolve to improve the wheel.  It praised the Orffyreus by showing how   he had silenced his critics by his feats and not merely words. The article mentioned the learned people taking part in the examinations and also stated that Orffyreus did not conceal the fact that the weights formed integral part of the machine and also provided motive power to it. At the end author of article drew conclusion from circumstantial evidence that the weights were pierced in the middle and attached by connecting springs.


In December 1715, Orffyreus published a small booklet entitled Grundlicher Bericht (Thorough Report).  It was meant to acquaint public about the tests of his machine.  It did not contain the description of the secret, however, Orffyreus presents twin sister design of his wheel also found in his book “Das Truimphant Perpetuum Mobile published in 1717. But we already have more information: weights were moving in the wheel, in a sloped, spiral path, and springs were also part of the structure. After looking his drawings, many readers have speculated about the structure of Orffyreus’ wheel. In fact, the structure was not very complicated, just simple* that “a carpenter boy will build it” as Landgrave of Hessa-kassel himself had remarked after watching the secret. Orffyreus maintained: “It is so well designed that it is not necessary to stop it to carry out repairs or servicing."


* As quoted above, Orffyreus claimed his machine met the simplicity requirements. See on page- 205, 208 of Collins’ book- Perpetual Motion: An Ancient Mystery Solved? or also as quoted by the Landgrave of Hesse on p. 158 of Collins’ book). 




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