Sunday, 31 March 2013
Could Bessler have found a better path in which to successfully sell his machine?
I was musing on the problems Bessler must have contemplated once he had first completed his wheel. Considering his lowly position on the social ladder, he faced an uphill task to attract the right kind of attention to his new machine in order to find a potential buyer. I cannot think of any other avenue which might lead to success other than the one he took, which was to display the wheel turning.
The reactions to this event were predictable, but he did not work out how to improve the effect, until he met Gottfried Leibniz, who visited him on two occasions and I imagine the discussions were roughly of this nature.
During the first meeting, having throughly examined the wheel and asked many questions and probably not received the politest of responses, Leibniz left to continue his journey, but returned subsequently with some helpful advice. I say this about the second visit because there was no other reason for Leibniz's return. He had completed his examination of the machine during his first visit and there was nothing more to be done other than to repeat the same tests.
I think that the old man first told Bessler that showing a wheel turning, but not doing anything other than move some stampers wasn't convincing and he had to show it doing proper work, such as raising a heavy weight or turning an archimedes screw. People had to relate the wheel's use to something who's value they could easily appreciate.
Secondly he told Bessler that having the wheel mounted on two sets of supports and demonstrating the wheel on first one then the other, while allowing examination of both sets before and after, would greatly improve people's trust in his claim that there was no trickery involved.
Thirdly he asked if Bessler could build a wheel which could turn in either direction, that would make the suggestion that it was driven by clockwork harder to make stick.
Fourthly, he suggested that an endurance test of several days, during which the machine was made to run continuously, would convince those who still doubted that it was worth the money being asked. This arrangement would be best carried out in a princely castle where proper scrutiny could be arranged. This was suggested by Leibniz to Moritz-Wilhelm, Duke of Zeitz, a cousin of Karl of Hesse-Kassel, and a regular correspondent of Leibniz. His exact words to one member of the Court, "I advised him [Bessler] to arrange a test in which his machine would be run for several weeks with all possible precautions taken to exclude any suspicion of fraud."
Moritz-Wilhelm was unwilling to commit himself to overseeing an endurance test lasting some weeks but did agree to carry out an official examination of the wheel including three of Liebniz's suggestions. Many important people were invited to the demonstration including Liebniz's former pupil, professor Christian Wolff. This examination did expand the inventor's fame and eventually resulted in his move to Kassel where he came under the protection of Karl the Landgrave of Hesse.
I believe it that Liebniz's final suggestion was the most important one, which created the new situation. He told Bessler that if he really wanted to be taken seriously he must allow an important prince to examine the interior of the wheel so that he could state unequivocally, "this machine is genuine and I have seen it and tested it and I say so with all the authority of my position and rank". This prince, Liebniz said, had to have a reputation of complete honesty and be independently wealth, thus be beyond bribery. He suggested Karl was the ideal candidate.
It becomes clear that Bessler followed the advice given him by Gottfrried Leibniz. He designed the demonstration so as to rule out every possible accusation of cheating; made it run both ways to rule out clockwork mechanisms, had a second set of supports so that peope could examine each set; made it do proper work rather than just making it spin, by lifting a heavy weight, and turn an archimedes screw; and finally make it managed to arrange an endurance test certified by an honest host.
I can see parallels in Bessler's life which might apply today. Even if someone succeeds in reconstructing Bessler's wheel if he or she wishes to patent the device they are in effect sharing that information with an honest broker, just as Bessler did with Karl. Of course if you don't wish to go the patent route - and myself and some others would prefer not to have to patent - then there is no problem with sharing your secret.
Was there anything Bessler could have done differently, given his low status and lack of funds, which might have helped him on to success?
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