Saturday, 5 February 2011

66 and still trying to invent the wheel!

I'm 66 today! They say time travels faster as you age, and my goodness, is it speeding past now! It's been fifty years since I first read about Johann Bessler and even longer since I began designing perpetual motion machines, and I thought I might have solved the problem long before now.

There is a nice succession of links in this story. I first read about Bessler in a book called "Oddities: A Book of Unexplained Facts", by Rupert T. Gould. He was a Lieutenant Commander in the British Royal Navy noted for his contributions to horology and a host of other things and was described as a polymath. He gained permission in 1920 to restore the marine chronometers of John Harrison, and this work was completed in 1933, aided no doubt by his photographic memory. Harrison was the guy who won (eventually) the British Board of Longitude's prize for establishing the longitude of a ship at sea. The prize was £20,000, a fortune in those days, and it was the publication of this prize in 1714, which it is believed was the inspiration for Johann Bessler's decision to ask the same sum for the secret of his own invention, the gravitywheel. (For more on Harrison and to see an animation of the grasshopper escapement see

John Rowley, the finest instrument-maker in England at the time, was highly praised by Harrison in each of two volumes he published. The King of England, George l, who had already recognised Rowley's expertise in mechanics, and made him "Master of Mechanics to the King", requested a special sun dial from Rowley as a gift to Karl, the Landgrave of Hesse and Bessler's patron. Rowley took it to Kassel and installed at Karl's castle and during his visit was able to meet Bessler and see a demonstration of his wheel. He came away convinced of Bessler's claims and devoted the remaining years of his life to trying to replicate what Bessler had done.

Briefly, Rowley actually witnessed the wheel, he was a friend and colleague of John Harrison whose clocks were restored by Rupert Gould who also researched and published an account of Bessler, which I subsequently read. One cannot help but speculate that Gould must have had an interest in Bessler's machine and been aware of the connections between those involved.

As someone pointed out recently, mine and Bessler's obsession with the number 55 even includes my birthdate. 5th Feb 1945. There is a five and a two, so writing two fives makes 55 and then 1 and 9 is 10 plus 45 is 55 again! Amazing (not)!

Being the optimist that I am I am still convinced that Bessler's gravitywheel will be replicated and it can't happen a moment too soon. Time is, as I said, whizzing past at great speed and the need for this machine is growing at an alarming rate. Sticking to the 55 theme, I think I should have discovered the secret when I was fifty-five however I didn't and neither did anyone else. Maybe this year as I'm sixty-six and Bessler first exhibited his machine on the 6th June 1712, (six and six) someone will do it then, but of course next year, being the 300th anniversary since then, it would be even better.

No 'wheeling' for me today - just relaxing, being waited on - and the company of my very patient family. (patiently awaiting a working wheel!) But tomorrow I return to the task.



  1. Happy birthday John! and all the best for the future. Being 69yrs I understand your sentiments.

  2. Happy birthday Johann, err, John! :-)
    Have a wonderful day with friends and family. Enjoy!

  3. Have a great birthday John! May you have many more.

    Signed, Justsomeone

  4. Hi John and happy birthday!

    I was 49 last week and oh, how I can vouch for time slipping by at a great rate of knots. I fear that if I blink, another week will have gone past and nothing to show for it!


  5. Reminder: it is time to update the "ABOUT ME" section on this page.

    I find that my age (61) gives me a great historical perspective, but doesn't seem to improve my mechanical skills.

    John, please remember first rule of a good carpenter: Always leave the workshop with
    the same number of fingers attached as when
    you went in.

    Happy BD and all that.

    Bill Mothershead

  6. Thanks guys. Your comments are much appreciated. Yes I must update the 'about me' section Bill.

    You're 69 Trevor? I thought I was the oldest one around here.

    Only 49 JonnyD? - lucky fella! Yes, don't let old age creep on you, it does that quickly and without you noticing.


  7. I've just realised this blog will be one year old on the 9th Feb! I wsn't sure it'd last that long. This next year it will have more stuff about my wheels on it.


  8. JC sir...hope I am not left behind in wishing you...and, as a memento on this birthday of yours, I am hereby offering you a very vital clue of the ever occurring No 5....the contours of this digit resembles the path taken by the weights in bessler wheel!!!

  9. Bill Mothershead6 February 2011 at 16:56

    "...time slipping by at a great rate of knots. I fear that if I blink, another week will have gone past..."

    The term my family uses (in jest) for this is
    "The Quickening" (with reference to the
    Highlander SF/fantasy movies etc.)

    There is a famous poem about this (I forget
    all relevant information, like title/author).
    If your canoe is being pushed along by the
    gentle current of the river, all is peaceful
    and calm. But then you see and hear the river
    about to go over a giant waterfall up ahead,
    time will seem to accelerate.

    Enjoy each day (and birthday).

  10. Happy Birthday to you John, somewhat belatedly.
    66 is the new 55, isn't that what they say about birthdays now?
    Happy Birthday to your blog on Wednesday. But isn't it 2 years old? 2009?


  11. Thanks Doug, and you're right it has been two years. I don't know where the time has gone but I better get a move on if I'm ever going to get this latest design finished! Two years already - phewww!!


  12. Yes,..Who said retirement would be boring!

  13. Sorry my wheel is taking so long. I am just grappling with a mechanical inter-connectivity problem.
    It could easily be solved using fluid mechanics or even linear motor servos and I am tempted but I know the sceptics will say it's not really perpetual motion and I would have to prove over-unity.
    I would rather go the total mechanical route even though it takes a bit longer.No wonder Bessler said his critics would never find it.The interacting mechanism is quite involved.


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