Saturday, 16 February 2013
Was Bessler's sales strategy wrong?
When Johann Bessler 'read that a thing to be prized more than a ton of gold would be the invention of a wheel which could turn of its own accord', it was after having spent a considerable amount of time and effort learning about all the different trades and crafts of his time. He had travelled through Saxony, into England, Ireland and Scotland before returning to his homeland.
He had dabbled in treasure hunting, watch-making and medicine before comitting himself to the search for a solution to perpetual motion. It seems to me that he sought wealth and fame from the very beginning but having found the solution to the perpetual motion machine, went about profiting from it in the wrong way.
Thomas Newcomen, who invented the first practicall steam engine just a couple ot years before Bessler exhibited his first wheel, took a different approach to selling his invention. He kept the secret within the membership of his family and they went around Europe building and installing their machines. 75 of them were in operation by the time he died.
That Bessler wanted riches is beyond doubt but his problem was the his machine required little more than standard ability to build and run, whereas Newcomen's was a far more complex machine requiring expertise and the training of its operators to function properly. Even so Newcomen's engine cost about £1200 to buy - a huge cost in those days but compared to Bessler's request for £20,000 - a much better deal.
I think that Bessler could have offered his wheel at a much lower price and built and installed them himself. If Newcomen, with the help of his family, was able to build and install 75 of his engines, before his death, I'm sure Bessler could have built even more than that and made a good living doing a similar service for people at quarter of the cost of a Newcomen engine.
Of course people would have copied them and built their own but I think the celebrity of having the original inventor build and install his machine would have generated enough sales to reach, say, 75 wheels at £250 each before he retired, and he would have earned money close to his desired £20,000. John Rowley, Master of Mechanics to King George I, sold his Orreries for more than £500 each. Asking princes to commit to buying such an expensive machine as Bessler's was, with no chance to examine it's workings first was too much of a gamble for them.
Bessler was a born salesman, theatrical, passionate. and convincing. I'm certain he could have succeeded and we would have the descendants of that machine with us today.
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