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Annotated History of Perpetual Motion

Perpetual motion commonly refers to a system or machine that continually produces more energy than it consumes. The laws of physics make it unlikely that a device like this could ever exist. Despite the theory’s detractors, many prominent scientists and inventors have explored the possibility of developing perpetual motion machines.

Villand de Honnecourt

Honnecourt was a French mason and architect. His sketchbook from the 13th century shows one of the earliest drawings of a hypothetical perpetual motion machine.

Leonardo DaVinci

DaVinci’s notebooks contain a number of drawings depicting machines that might potentially work on perpetual motion. DaVinci came to believe that perpetual motion machines were an impossible dream and compared the search for it to alchemy.

Cornelis Drebbel

Before he built the first navigable submarine in 1620, this Dutch inventor built a perpetual motion clock that got the attention of the English court. Constantly changing atmospheric pressure rewound his machine.

Robert Fludd

In 1630, the English physicist, Robert Fludd developed the plans for a water pump, but like DaVinci before him, declared that such a device could never actually work outside of theory.

Johann Bessler (Orffyreus)

In 1717, Johann Bessler claimed he understood the secret of perpetual motion and published a pamphlet on the subject under the name of Orffyreus. He investigated up to 300 machines, but Bessler’s wheel was his most famous invention.

Horace Wickmam

The American, Horace Wickmam, received a patent for a machine with many balls that rotates continually.

Charles Redheffer

Redheffer’s generator was debunked in 1813. The Philadelphia con man charged people a dollar to see his device and tried to keep scientists from evaluating it. After exposure, he continued to make money off of similar schemes.

John Worrel Keely

Another con artist, John Worrel Keely had shows with his devices in 1872. He resisted scientific scrutiny and actually fooled some scientists with his machines that seemed to run on water. He bilked investors of millions of dollars before his fraud was uncovered. His machine was based on hidden air pressure tubes.

John Gamgee

In 1881, John Gamgee invented a machine that ran on liquid ammonia. It could operate at the freezing point from vaporization by radiant heat. The machine didn’t really work, because the vapor does not condense. He managed to fool the navy for a short time and they showed the device to President Garfield.

Garabed T.K. Giragossian

Giragossian announced that he invented a free energy machine in 1917. Claiming that he was the victim of a conspiracy, he delayed allowing scientists to evaluate his machine. When Woodrow Wilson signed a resolution to protect him from conspiracy theories, Giragossian unveiled his machine, which turned out to be charged with energy and could only briefly put out more energy.

Joseph Papf

In 1966, Papf was able to get a few people to invest in his alternative car engine. After someone was killed during a demonstration, Papf blamed a conspiracy to silence him. He eventually disappeared.

Joseph Newman

In 1984, Joseph Newman sued the US patent office over his free energy machine. In the 70’s, he gave a week-long demonstration of his device at the New Orleans Super Dome, but now he claims that former investors are trying to steal his designs.

Stanley Meyer

Meyer announced that he had invented the water-powered car in 1996. His Water Fuel Cell didn’t actually work and an Ohio judge found Meyer guilty of fraud for selling dealerships that allowed investors the right to do business in his Water Fuel Cell technology.

Bruce De Palma

DePalma invented a machine in 1986 that looked promising. According to one professor, it put out 4 times more energy than it took in. Unfortunately, this turned out to be an error in calculations.


CETI was a group in the late 90’s that claimed to have a device that put out small amounts of heat – possibly cold fusion. They had been given millions by investors.

For several centuries, scientists, con artists, and madmen have undertaken the quest for a device that will break the laws of physics. While it appears just as elusive today as it did in the 13th century, the pursuit of a perpetual motion machine goes on.

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