No. 521
Crime, Eccentricity, and the Sporting Life in 19th Century America.
May 10, 2021

Perpetual Motion!

The devious dream of machines that power themselves.
September 5, 2011
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Margery WrenUnder normal circumstances, one would expect that anyone who knew they were about to die as the result of a brutal attack would spend every bit of their remaining strength towards bring their murderer to justice.  However, the following case proved to be very far from normal.  An old woman’s murder, which, at first, seemed fairly simple and straightforward, soon took a puzzling turn
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Strange Company - 5/10/2021

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"Your Aunt Emmie Lu died"Artifact #84-LetterJeff Smith Collection     mma Lu "Emmie" Smith(Abt. 1867 - May 3, 1915)   My great-grandaunt, Emma Lu Smith, the oldest sister of Jefferson Randolph "Soapy" Smith, was born in Coweta County, Georgia around 1867. She was ten years old when her mother passed away in Round Rock, Texas in 1877.(l to r) Emma Lu, Maurice Gregory Moriarty, Eva
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Soapy Smith's Soap Box - 5/4/2021

A few weeks ago, Ephemeral New York put together a post about the former Czech neighborhood once centered around 72nd Street between First and Second Avenues on the Upper East Side. The post generated many comments, with readers either reminiscing about a vanished enclave they remember well or wishing Manhattan still had pockets of ethnic […]
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Ephemeral New York - 5/9/2021
Youth With Executioner by Nuremberg native Albrecht Dürer … although it’s dated to 1493, which was during a period of several years when Dürer worked abroad. November 13 [1617]. Burnt alive here a miller of Manberna, who however was lately engaged as a carrier of wine, because he and his brother, with the help of […]
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Executed Today - 11/13/2020
8-year-old Alice Sterling disappeared from the steps in front of her father’s Boston barbershop the afternoon of April 10, 1895. The three-day search for Alice ended at a shallow grave in the floor of a nearby barn. Angus Gilbert, a friend of the Sterling family especially fond of little Alice, lived in a room above the barn. Gilbert was charged with her
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Murder By Gaslight - 5/8/2021

With the advent of AI imaging now found on My Heritage and elsewhere, and free programs which will colorize old photographs, clearer details are being revealed every day. In this famous crime scene photograph of Abby Borden, the bed was removed so that Mr. Walsh, the hired photographer, could get a full body view of Abby Borden. With new techniques in cleaning up old photos, colorizing them and sharpening the details, now the sewing machine in the northwest corner of the room comes into sharper view as well as the tapestry folding camp chair. The two perfume bottles on the dresser, a vase and a framed photo can be readily seen as well as Mr. Walsh’s camera in the mirror as it stands in the doorway. The colorizing method also tinted the carpet maroon, which indeed was the color of the carpet in the guest room. But most astonishing is the dark pool of bloodstain around the head of Abby Borden which, with amplifying the contrast, shows very plainly. The bureau wood tone and burled wood panels appear clearly as well as the drawer pulls. The pattern on the carpet is somewhat distorted and elongated but the pattern is very plain to see. You can even see where the carpet has been patched in against the right wall. The sewing machine still has its cover in place which would hint at Abby never living long enough to run up those pillowcases and you can see her sewing basket on the bureau opened up. The folding camp chair has been moved from above her head, leaning against the wall to its position in this photo. Abby Borden herself was moved at least once before this photo was taken, Dr. Bowen having turned her over after the body was found around 11:35 a.m. This is a sample of a 1890 Singer machine with the cover which closely matches the one we see in this photo.
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Lizzie Borden: Warps and Wefts - 5/6/2021
[Editor’s note: Guest writer, Peter Dickson, lives in West Sussex, England and has been working with microfilm copies of The Duncan Campbell Papers from the State Library of NSW, Sydney, Australia. The following are some of his analyses of what he has discovered from reading these papers. Dickson has contributed many transcriptions to the Jamaica Family […]
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Early American Crime - 2/7/2019
Caroline Burned! | Rum on Tap.

Perpetual Motion!

Redheffer Machine

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 1812 - The Redheffer machine.[more]

The dream of perpetual motion—of a machine that powers itself—has been with us for as long as there have been machines. It almost seemed inevitable: if a machine can be used to raise a weight, and a falling weight can drive a machine, why not put the two together for a machine that drives itself? Many people tried it; attaching falling weights to wheels, or waterwheels to pumps, using siphons, magnets, inclines, and pulleys. In nineteenth-century America, when everything seemed possible, and backyard inventors were working coast-to-coast, it felt as though someone would get that wheel spinning.

But another group was also working on perpetual motion machines—con men.  They built elaborate machines that appeared to run themselves and went out in search of investors. To a public ready to believe and anxious to be part of the mechanical revolution, it was not a tough sell.


Charles Redheffer

In 1812, Charles Redheffer had set up a shop outside of Philadelphia and was charging people a fee to view his perpetual motion machine. It appeared to be a gravity-driven pendulum device that was turning a vertical shaft, without using any external power source. Redheffer was generating publicity through the Philadelphia Gazette and offered a large prize to anyone who could prove the machine was not legitimate.

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When his machine was at its height of popularity, he petitioned the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania for funds to help develop the device, which would clearly benefit the public. Pennsylvania sent some engineers to look at the machine but Redheffer forced them to view it through a barred window. Even at a distance, an astute engineer noticed that the gears of the machine were worn in the wrong direction. The machine was not driving the shaft; the shaft was driving the machine.

The engineer then built his own machine, based on Redheffer’s design, in which hidden clockwork drove a dummy machine. He invited Redheffer to a showing.  Redheffer saw that his secret was out and offered to buy the machine. When the engineer refused to sell, Redheffer fled Philadelphia for New York.

Redheffer tried the same trick in New York. Robert Fulton, inventor of the steamboat, came to a demonstration, and he noticed that the motion of the machine was not steady.  While a crowd looked on, Fulton revealed that the machine was driven by a hidden belt, which he traced to the room above where an old man was turning a crank.

John Worrell Keely

keelyvig

Also from Philadelphia, John Worrell Keely in 1873 was demonstrating a perpetual motion device he called a hydro-pneumatic-pulsating-vacu-engine. Keely was an energetic salesman and before long the Keely Moter Company had capital in excess of $5,000,000. However, by 1886 he had still not brought a product to market.

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When his business was on the verge of collapse, he caught the attention of a wealthy widow, Clara J. Moore. She saw a demonstration of Keely’s machine and, convinced he was on to something, bankrolled his operation. She pulled the plug in 1896, when Keely refused to demonstrate his device for Professor L. Lascalles Scott, an English physicist.

Keely died in 1898. Upon his death, Scott investigated Keely’s house and found evidence that all of his experiments and demonstrations had been faked. On January 29, 1899, the New York Journal ran the headline, “Keely, the Monumental Fraud of the Century!”


J. M. Aldridge

In the 1890s, in Bradford, another Pennsylvania town, J. M. Aldridge was selling interest in a perpetual motion machine.  It is assumed that Mr. Aldridge’s machine began as a sincere attempt at creating perpetual motion.  The machine consisted of falling weights attached to a wheel; each falling weight would add enough power to bring the next weight into position to fall. The device even included a rubber band loaded brake to prevent the wheel from spinning too fast. However, the machine would never need a break because, as designed, it could never overcome friction.

1899July01Front

Undeterred by failure, Aldridge secretly inserted clockwork in the base of the machine which drove the machine and gave the impression of perpetual motion. Aldridge began selling shares in the miraculous machine to enthusiastic investors. But a “too liberal discrepancy between the promise and performance of the ‘motor,’ led to the arrest of Mr. Aldridge.” Aldridge spent three or four months in jail, but there was not sufficient evidence to convict him of fraud.

After being released from jail, he continued selling shares in his machine. Aldridge prospered on these investments for another two years, until one suspicious investor got hold of a model and sent it to the U. S. Patent office. They revealed the secret of Aldridge’s machine—a concealed spring.  This ended J. M. Aldridge’s contributions to science.

 

 


Sources:

Perpetual Motion Machine of Charles Redheffer

REDHEFFER'S PMM-I

Keely, the Monumental Fraud of the Century!

Typical Perpetual Motion Fraud