Thursday, 20 October 2011

Johann Bessler's Hydrostatic balance.

In 1720 Johann Bessler is recorded as having made a hydrostatic balance for Johann Adam Cass. I have included a picture of it, as it still exists in the Landesmuseum in Kassel. I don't know how much of the whole instrument was down to Bessler, but looks well made.

This picture is from a book written by Henri Michel, called "Scientific Instruments in Art and History" Viking 1967.  He writes:-
"The balance shown here was made in 1720, by Johann Ernst Elias Bessler (1680- 1745), (known as Orffyreus, and notorious for his "Wheel" or perpetual motion machine) for the military engineer Johann Adam Cass of Kassel".

There is also a picture of the same instrument in "Die Naturwissenschaftlich-Technischesammlung" by Ludolf Von Mackensen (Kassel: George Wenderloth Verlag, 1991).

It will be recalled that Johann Adam Cass was a witness and one of the signatories and chief examiner of the Gera wheel. It seems that he moved to Kassel shortly after Bessler, to be in charge of military engineering there there.

In 1720 Cass published a book called "Neu verbesserter Ingenieur" which means "New Advanced Engineering", In 1722 he published "Nouveau corrige ou par des demostrations guide de l'ingenieur à la veritable mathematique",meaning "New or corrected by demonstration, Engineering Guide to mathematical truth". These publications were sponsored by Karl, the Landgrave.

The hydrostatic balance was a frequent component of perpetual motion designs and is still sometimes introduced as part of the mechanism.  Bessler seems to have included them in some of his Maschinen Tractate designs

I have also included the concept in my own designs from time to time but in the end I prefer the simplicity of weights, but are we denying the potential benefits of a the hydrostatic balance?  I don't think so.



  1. I think this clearly proves that Bessler was very skilled and experienced. This is obviously not the work of a charlatan, but instead the work of a master craftsman - clearly a precision instrument, probably designed and built to the highest standards and tolerances as was possible in those days.

    And a man such as Cass certainly wouldn't have accepted shoddy work. Again, I am convinced that we are not giving Bessler the credit -in terms of craftsmanship, skills and theoretical and practical knowledge- he so clearly deserves.

    The design of the wheel may have been characterized as "simple" by Karl (well-known to be quite knowledgeable in mechanics) but it must have been pure genius. And probably far more complex and advanced than we think.

  2. Thanks for bringing this exquisite piece of craftsmanship to our attention, John. I'm sure a private collector would pay a small fortune to own something like this despite the parts that are missing from it.

    It demonstrates just how skilled Bessler was when it came to carving wood. It's more than a mere measuring instrument. It's a true work of art.

    I dabbled with a few hydrostatic designs in my time and eventually realized that they offer no real advantage over a weighted OB wheel. They're just a lot messier to work with! Splash, splash!

  3. In case anyone out there is actually building wheels rather than just discussing them, I found an excellent package for designing and printing templates for gearwheels. As the practical people know, designing cogs is rather difficult, and takes a long time to prepare the (hopefully accurate) drawings.
    Have a look at:

    There's a downloadable demo, which allows you to try out the package, but to be able to actually print the templates, you have to part with money; fortunately this is a pittance.


  4. Interesting site, GB

    I'm still not convinced that Bessler's wheels used gears, but for those who are, this site could save them alot of trouble. Properly meshing gear teeth are designed using a complex formula and its nice to have a program that will take care of that.

  5. For those that use Linux (or even DOS) there are some interesting tools for gear design:


  6. Wow! After seeing this, I am with Andre, I am pretty convinced that the mechanism of the wheel was not that simple! Bessler felt that it was simple, because he was a master mechanic. We are dealing with a man who worked on mechanics for tens of years. Trying to build a gravity wheel just for hobby is just not enough. What we need is a pure dedication...well it needs time which unfortunately we don't have since we all have jobs.

  7. What an interesting blog, introduced by a thought-provoking photo. The unusual wall painting of the dwellings is also a strangely modern interpretation. Something like this hieroglyphic view of a park by Swiss painter Paul Klee,
    The image can be seen at who can supply you with a canvas print of it.

  8. Another view on this balance:

    The author claims that he doesn't know if the balance was built by Cass or Bessler as they together offered it for sale; but as the marvellous device could distiguish good wine from bad better than a human tongue and even show the proportion of blended qualities, it is obviously a typical Besslerian product ;-)


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