"PERPETUAL MOTION" SEEKERS.
THEIR FASCINATING BUT HOPELESS PURSUIT.
With Illustrations of Machines that have been Invented Recently.
Harmsworth's Magazine - September 1898
THREE apparently hopeless quests have engaged the abilities of inventors and scientists from a very early period - the Philosopher's Stone, that should convert everything it touched into pure gold; the Elixir of Life, that once partaken of should invest the recipient with immortality on earth; and Perpetual Motion.
To the average man it is a self-evident fact that unless you put energy or force of some sort into a machine it won't work. Thus, a locomotive will not move unless you apply steam or electricity, nor a bicycle unless the muscular energy of your own body propels it. But, simple as this fact may seem, there have been, from early times, as we have indicated, men whose whole object in life has been to construct a machine that, once started, shall run for ever by its own momentum. There are such people to-day; and it is pathetic to think what an immense amount of inventive genius has been expended on projects that we may declare to be absolutely hopeless of achievement, even in these days of phonographs and wireless telegraphy.
"Why can't it be done?" says the Inventor. Many reasons to the contrary might be adduced, but the most cogent answer to the practical man lies in this great fact, that up to the present not a single perpetual motor has ever yet been seen at work - that is to say, no machine has ever yet been invented which, when once started, would work for an indefinite time without a corresponding amount of energy being given it.
Careful experiment and daily observation all point to one comprehensive principle - that you cannot get out of a machine more work than you put into it. In the locomotive, for example, the work given out when it is in operation is exactly equivalent to the energy stored up in the inert coal cast into the furnace. Although this principle in all its scientific exactitude is less than a century old, yet its truth is now so well settled, that nothing short of an actual working perpetual motor could demonstrate its falsity. The search for the Philosopher's Stone, the production of an Elixir of Life, have, like the hope of an El Dorado, been consigned to the limbo of forgotten things. Nevertheless; in spite of science, aspirations after the Perpetual Motor still burn fitfully.
Some, indeed the vast majority, of the chimerical methods for getting work for nothing, are being rediscovered day by day, and, as before, cast aside. An almost incredible amount of wasted labour and fruitless effort have been devoted to this subject. The quest, however, ever seems to be fresh and attractive, and year after year in wearying succession continues to allure, as the records of the Patent Office show, a never ending train of deluded enthusiasts.
A few of the typical methods that have been imagined for consummating the desired end are here introduced. One of the simplest methods consists in the use of a wheel, divided into a series of spoke-like boxes, each of which contains a rolling ball. Since the balls on the falling side of the wheel are farther from the centre, it is clearly seen (on paper) that the weights act with greater advantage on that side of the wheel than on the other, and, of course, will drag the wheel over, and this, as the balls roll (so far as anything is seen to the contrary by the designer), should continue indefinitely. An excellent theory - but, sad to relate, the most exquisitely constructed machine of this pattern ceases to turn after a few revolutions.
The propounder of perpetual motion theories does not always confine himself to diagrams, but sometimes deludes himself in a cloud of verbiage. Here is a sample. "Let us," says the theorist, "construct a wheel of immense dimensions. On one side of it, let there be hung a huge mass. On the opposite side suspend innumerable small weights. Then shall it be found that the wheel will continually revolve. For when the huge mass is at the top, its weight will cause it to descend. Why is this? The answer is obvious - because it is so heavy. In the meantime the innumerable small weights will reach the top, and thereupon they will descend. Why is this? The answer again is clear - because there are so many."
Most excellent word juggling perhaps, but it would scarcely impose on a child. We cannot, however, avoid a shrewd suspicion that the theorist in this instance has done no more than employ a method not altogether foreign to those sometimes utilised in much more serious, recondite, and difficult matters. Passing on, we reach an arrangement where the balls are secured to hinged arms, which, as the wheel turns round, fall open on the one side and close up on the other. Clearly the leverage is greater on one side, so that the wheel ought to revolve continually when once started, and to give out work which could be transmitted by driving bands or other devices to operate machinery. In this example, and indeed throughout this article, we have not troubled about practical details of construction. These, of course, do not affect the principles involved. Much ingenuity indeed has been shown in their production, but the perpetual motionist cannot claim in them an exclusive property.
The flopping-over arrangement just described reminds one of the "Tumbling Jack," a children's toy one often sees on sale in the streets. In this toy a series of bricks are strung together in a chain. From the ingenious way in which the bricks are joined it results, as everyone who has ever seen it will at once remember, that on holding the uppermost brick in the hand and giving it an almost imperceptible tilting movement, an apparently endless series of bricks chase each other down the chain. Each brick in succession tumbles over and imparts an impulse to the one immediately below it, which in turn does the same, and so the motion is carried from one end of the chain to the other. Why could not this everlasting tumbling-down motion, which seemingly is produced without effort, be turned to account? It only needs the chains to be sufficiently multiplied in point of size or number to furnish us with a source of power which apparently may be made as large as we desire. Considerations of this kind wear a plausible air. But it may perhaps be noticed that when this particular apparatus is working, it is always held in the hand, and that our supposition about increasing the size or number of the chains would, as a consequence, carry with it the necessity for having either an army of persons, or a giant, to work the apparatus in its complete form. No magic need be invoked to explain the working powers of an army or of a giant.
One has often heard of the miller who wished to drive his water-wheel by the water which the wheel pumped up to the "head-race," or supply conduit. Well, here is such an arrangement devised many centuries ago. On the left of the picture the water-wheel is shown receiving water raised by the "chain" pump on the right, suitable gearing transmitting the motion of the wheel to the pump.
Another class of devices for getting work out of a machine which has never been fed into it may be illustrated by what we may term the "Grindstone" paradox. Its supposed action is due to the well-known fact that articles when immersed in a liquid tend to float. Take a block of wood the shape of a grindstone and immerse one half of its mass in a vertical tank of water. The flotative power of the water will cause this half to rise continually, and to consequently keep the block constantly turning round its axle. We leave the explanation of this paradox to the reader. Sufficient is it to say here that, alas! brutal experiment proves it will not work.
Closely allied to the "Grindstone" paradox is the "Concertina" machine, where a series of weighted concertina-like chambers attached to a band passing round pulleys collapse when descending into a tank of water, but expand, and therefore become lighter, when the other side of the band is reached. The expanded chambers on the left of the picture act like a series of corks, while on the right the closed chambers act as dead weights. By this means it was anticipated continuous rotary movement would be obtained.
Another favourite scheme is to employ the well-known property of liquids to rise of their own accord against the force of gravity when in microscopic channels, such as are found in all porous bodies, this property of rising being due to what is known as "capillary attraction." For instance, it is a matter of every-day observation that oil ascends a wick, water passes up over the edge of a basin through a towel which, partially immersed in the water, hangs over the side. Some idea of the enormous power of this property of ascending is given by a celebrated French savant who has found that capillary action is capable, under favourable circumstances, of exerting a pressure four or five times as great as that of the atmosphere, and who thinks this is largely efficient in promoting the ascent of sap in plants. Consequently, if this natural uprising property of liquids could be only laid hold of, the problem of getting work for nothing, so thinks our schemer, would thereby be solved. We have selected for illustration a form of apparatus where, on the left, a bundle of flexible sheets is placed almost in contact, so that the liquid into which they are dipped rises in the microscopic spaces between them. This provides a "head" of water, which is expected to overbalance the right hand of the system, where the sheets have been separated by the wires of a grid, or other equivalent, so as to destroy the capillary action on that side.
At the present time the public mind is so greatly agitated on the subject of horseless vehicles, that an illustration of the perpetual motionist's ideas on the subject is given. Here the weight of the vehicle and its occupants bears upon water cylinders supported on the wheels. The pressure produced in the water in this way is conveyed by means of pipes to the back of the carriage, where it is employed to push the vehicle along. Such speed the inventor in this case expected to obtain, that, with great forethought, he has provided a "cow-catcher" at the front, by means of which unfortunate persons who inadvertently get in the way are to be gently waived aside. Of course, the larger the number of people carried, the greater the pressure on the water, and hence, in the inventor's mind, so much greater the speed.