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Perpetual Motion Machines ARE Possible!

by Kenneth W. Behrendt

It was in a high school physics class that I first learned about "perpetual motion machines". We had been studying the various laws of thermodynamics, particularly the First Law which basically states that, in ALL physical processes, energy must be conserved. That is, if one considers any physical system such as a machine, chemical reaction, or living organism, then the amount of energy going into this system must EXACTLY equal the amount that comes out of it regardless of the different ways in which the system loses the energy initially put into it.

For example, if one winds a mechanical clock, the energy put into its mainspring (derived from the release of chemical energy in the person's arm and finger muscles) must exactly equal the energy lost as the clock runs down. This lost energy moves the clock's hands about its dial at a controlled rate, but ultimately, via the friction and impacting of its internal parts, causes the air surrounding the clock to heat up ever so slightly. The heated air is, of course, due to an increase in the velocity of motion of the air atoms and molecules surrounding the clock. Ordinarily, this heating effect, as the clock's mainspring unwinds, is so slight that we are totally unaware of it.

However, IF it was possible to somehow collect this heat energy and reuse it with 100% efficiency, then it could be used to rewind the clock's mainspring to exactly the same tension that its initial winding gave it and we would find that NONE of the mainspring's initial energy was unaccounted for. We would see that, between the initial winding of the mainspring and the final recovery of all of the energy lost by the clock, that none of the mainspring's initial energy had mysteriously disappeared. We would also find that we never had more energy at the final recovery than was initially put into the mainspring and, thus, we would find that energy (which is loosely defined as the "capacity" to do work) never mysteriously appeared out of nowhere to power our clock.

In my early high school physics class, we also studied the Second Law of Thermodynamics which states that a quantity known as "entropy" is always increasing in a closed system. Entropy is a measure of the total disorder of a system as a whole. The Second Law states that systems have a natural tendency to go from a state of high order (or low entropy) and high energy DIFFERENCES between their parts to a state of low order (or high entropy) and low energy differences between their parts. Thus, in a closed system whose parts are in motion, entropy is always increasing as all energy levels within the system approach an average value. The Second Law manifests itself when we consider such things as the expansion and cooling of gases, the flow of water downhill, the cooling off of hot bodies, and various chemical processes such as rusting or oxidation. The Second Law is the reason why things wear out and get messy with age whether the system considered is our possessions or even our own bodies!

I learned that Perpetual motion machines are of two distinct types. Perpetual motion machines of the First Type are devices which, when in operation, violate the First Law of Thermodynamics and perpetual motion machines of the Second Type, when in operation, violate the Second Law of Thermodynamics. For the purposes of this article, however, I want to confine the treatment to device's of the First Type since these are far more common and easier to understand than those of the Second Type. I will just briefly mention that devices of the Second Type are intended to restore the original entropy of some system to the state it had before it performed some external work. The device will then, in theory, continually perform work without requiring additional fuel or power.

In principle, a perpetual motion machine of the First Type is a device that mysteriously creates energy as it functions. It may require no energy to start up and simply immediately produce energy that is sufficient to not only keep the device in operation, but to also do useful EXTERNAL work. Or, the machine may require some external energy for startup, but then produce more than enough energy to replace the initial amount it received, maintain its operation, and, again, do useful external work.

In my physics class, a few examples of each type of perpetual motion machine were given along with the reasons why it would not operate. The devices presented were all very clever designs that, at first glance, looked like quite plausible solutions to the problem of achieving such motion. Yet, EVERY single device presented had been carefully constructed (often in DOZENS of variations over the centuries by many different inventors) and NONE had worked. From the discussion of the subject in that class several decades ago, I got the impression that any attempt to build such a device was doomed to utter failure and that anybody who even contemplated such a project most likely was either ignorant of or confused about the basic laws of physics. While their motivation to construct such a device to provide the world with unlimited FREE energy would certainly be noble, they were only wasting time and effort that might be better spend in other pursuits.

Still, however, I could not get the concept of such a device out of my mind. As I studied more of the principles of mechanics, I began to keep a notebook and slowly filled it with designs for various devices that "looked promising". In the course of several years, I must have personally designed hundreds of machines on paper that utilized probably every known principle of physics to produce a device that would run without the need for external power and which, in operation, would be able to do useful external work. In each case, I subjected the final design to a rigorous mathematical analysis to see if any movement it produced would be sustained once the device was started. In 99 out of 100 such analyses, my calculations would show that the device would not work and I would immediately discard its design and try to come up with a variation that corrected the problems of the previous device which had rendered it useless.

In about 1 out of 100 of my designs, I was not able to disqualify it via mathematical analysis alone usually because the computations involved began to exceed the capabilities of my early LED display pocket scientific calculator. In these cases I would usually attempt to construct the device as best I could using simple hand tools and parts obtained from local hardware stores. None of these models I built ever worked. With most of these failures it would inevitably become apparent to me why the design was useless. In a very few models, however, I was not sure whether it was my design that was flawed or if the model I had constructed was so crudely executed that it would not work even if I had a workable design!

These many early failures did not deter me from my interest in this subject, however, and I continued to read about it whenever possible. Most of the authors who treated the topic would do so in an effort to debunk the subject and provided detailed accounts of some of the more notorious cases of fraud involving inventors who claimed to have perfected such machines. Other writers, to impress the reader with the ultimate futility of pursuing such a device, would provide a sampling of the various designs from each century and merely state that the device was inoperable.

I remember on one of my many visits to the Main Public Library in Elizabeth, New Jersey that I found a title on the subject of perpetual motion that I had not previously read, but which I had seen used as a reference by several authors. The book was titled Perpetuum Mobile: the Search for Self-Motive Power in the 17th, 18th, and 19th Centuries by Henry Dircks (published in London in 1861). Upon trying to check it out of the library, however, I discovered that they only had it available on a "microfiche" card. This was a new technology at the time (late 1960's) that used a special photographic process to put an entire book on a small clear plastic card. Reading the book required one to place the card in a special reader that was actually a projecting microscope.

I then found that while my library had the book in this compact format, they did not have the special device needed to read the microscopic pages on the card! Fortunately, I was able to obtain permission from one of the head librarians to take the book's microfiche card home with me. Over the next two weeks I proceeded to read this incredible compendium of information on perpetual motion devices on my own monocular microscope with its lenses set for 100X magnification. It was an effort to read a book this way...especially one that is almost 800 pages in length!

Dircks treatise covers, literally, hundreds of such devices over a three century time period and is heavily illustrated. As an engineer, he had a keen eye for technical detail and provided detailed drawings (usually derived from patents) whenever possible. I found myself literally overwhelmed by the variety of approaches to this problem of producing such a device...a variety that made my own private efforts pale into insignificance by comparison! I was stunned to learn, that by the middle of the 19th century, the U.S. Patent Office had granted tens of thousands patents for perpetual motion machines (to put a stop to granting such patents, the Patent Office now requires that inventors present a WORKING model along with a patent application claiming perpetual motion. This change occurred in the beginning of the twentieth century which is why such patents disappeared around that time). It also amazed me when I learned that practically all of the modern engineering sciences we recognize today were the direct byproduct of humanity's centuries long, futile quest for perpetual motion. Although these many efforts were futile, they, in essence, were the experiments that forged the laws of thermodynamics and have helped shaped every facet of our modern world!

In my research into this fascinating topic, it was not long before I learned about a single inventor out of many thousands who actually DID SUCCEED in building WORKING perpetual motion machines of the First Type. If the reader is a serious student in this topic, then he will, no doubt, already know to whom I am referring. For those new to the subject, I will now briefly summarize the historical details of this remarkable individual and what he was able to achieve. I will then give my analysis of his devices in the hope that this may aid future inventors who attempt to duplicate his machines.

The inventor's name was Johann Ernest Elias Bessler who was born in Zittau, Saxony in the year 1680. As a young man he had a thirst for knowledge and did studies in fields as diverse as medicine, painting, and theology. Eventually, in his early twenties, he became fascinated by things such as clocks, watches, and the then rapidly developing branch of physics known as mechanics which deals with the transmission of forces and energy through various types of machinery. As was the fashion of his day in the sciences, he took the Latin name of "Orffyreus" which he derived by arranging the letters of the alphabet in a circle and then selecting the letters that were diametrically opposite to the letters in his surname "Bessler". This yielded the word "Orffyre" which he then Latinized by adding the ending "-us".

Sometime around the year 1712 Bessler began to present various self-moving wheels which he had constructed. While he would demonstrate the operation of these drum-shaped devices openly, he always kept their internal parts concealed by opaque, tightly fitted cloth coverings attached to the sides of each drum that revolved with them. Bessler would explain to the curious that it had taken him about ten years to discover the secret of perpetual motion and that the coverings were to prevent anyone from stealing his secret. He hoped that one day he would be able to sell his secret for a huge sum of money.

There are four known wheels that he constructed that have been cited in the sparse literature that is devoted to Bessler.

The first and smallest was presented in the town of Gera in the province of Reuss in the year 1712. It was only about three feet in diameter and 4 inches thick. It would start spontaneously and slowly build up to a rotation rate of about 70 to 80 revolutions per minute and would, thereafter, maintain this rate of motion unless forcibly stopped. When a cord was attached to its axle, it could raise a weight of several pounds as it slowed to a stop.

His second self-moving wheel was built in the town of Draschwitz near the city of Leipzig in 1713. This was, again, a self-starting wheel that was about 5 feet in diameter and 6 inches thick. It would reach a rotation rate of only 50 revolutions per minute and, when a rope was attached to its axle, it could raise a 40 pound weight as it slowed to a stop during a braking test of the machine. With this device as with the prior model, Bessler had to use physical restraints to prevent these small wheels from starting up by themselves and running continuously. He would simply use a small length of rope that was attached to the floor beneath the wheel at one end and to the wheel with a pad lock at its other end to prevent movement of the wheel.

After moving to the town of Merseburg, he began the construction of his third known wheel. It was 6 feet in diameter and now had an proportionately larger thickness of 12 inches. This device now seemed to have an enhanced power output and could do more then just keep itself in motion. It was able to perform some degree of continuous external work and amazed everybody to whom he demonstrated it. On October 31st of the year 1715 this machine was examined and tested by a committe of "learned men" from the area, all of whom on December 4th of that year signed and presented to Bessler an official certificate that stated that they considered his invention to be a GENUINE "perpetual motion...having the property to move right and left, easily moved, but requiring great effort to stay its movement; with the power of raising...a box of stones weighing 70 pounds 8 ells (author's note: a local unit of length) high perpendicularly...". Although the committe of experts was allowed to examine the device, they were not allowed to view its internal mechanism which was, as usual, concealed by cloth casings to prevent its secret from being disclosed.

The above illustration is taken from an engraving that appeared in a pamphlet that Bessler published in 1715. The engraving shows two views of the device: a side view on the left portion and a view looking along the wheel's axle from its front side on the right portion. We see that the drum and its axle are supported off of the floor by two wooden planks that are wedged between the room's floor and ceiling. The short length of rope and pad lock for securing the device when rotation was to be prevented are visible. The rope that is wound around the axle is shown to be guided by a floor mounted pulley as the rope is drawn in through an open window to raise a box of stones.

Many modern commentators of Bessler's inventions state that this illustration shows the third known wheel that he constructed in Merseburg. However, in order to be the Merseburg wheel, it would have to have a diameter to thickness ratio of 6:1. Its actual ratio is about 12:1 which is closer to that of the Draschwitz wheel. A careful examination of the illustration indicates that to operate the trip hammers, the wheel must rotate counterclockwise as viewed from the front side shown on the right portion of the engraving. Yet, to lift the box of weights, the wheel must rotate clockwise as viewed from the front side of the wheel in order to wind the rope onto the machine's axle. I believe that this was an error introducted into the illustration by its engraver which Bessler let stand because it creates confusion about the manner in which his invention worked. Further evidence that it is either the Draschwitz wheel or yet ANOTHER unknown wheel that he constructed during the year 1714 in Merseburg is provided by the short piece of rope attached to the drum's periphery by a pad lock. This indicates that the wheel is the self-starting type that must be restrained when not in use. The Merseburg wheel had to be manually started and was capable of motion in both directions.

There are two additional features present in this illustration which have only been occasionally mentioned by other researchers of Bessler's work. They are the pair of swinging compound pendulums and the four trip hammers that are activated by the rear section of axle. It has been determined that the natural period of oscillation of the two pendulums (i.e., the number of complete back and forth swings per minute each would make) is, because of the ratio of the length of each pendulum arm to the wheel diameter, approximately equal to the maximum rotation rates of the wheels of various diameters. It is also interesting to note that both pendulums are attached by COUNTERPOISED cranks to the axle. This arrangement seems to allow them to function as a kind of governor or speed control on the wheel. However, because the two pendulums apply torques to the axle that are opposed to each other (one torque tending to rotate it clockwise and the other torque tending to rotate it counterclockwise), they in no way add to or remove any energy from the wheel! I suspect that the four trip hammers powered by pegs located in the rear part of the axle served a dual purpose.

Firstly, the operation of these trip hammers demonstrates that the machine could produce a continuous output of energy IN EXCESS of that needed to maintain its own motion by overcoming any friction or air resistance of its internal and external parts. In this case, the excess energy is used to lift the wooden trip hammers and then drop them on a box to produce a rhythmic pounding sound.

Secondly, these trip hammers served, most likely, to produce noise intended to mask the sounds being produced by the internal mechanism of the wheel itself. From studying the illustration under magnification, it is possible to discern TWO pegs for each trip hammer. This means that for each revolution of the wheel, each trip hammer would strike the box twice so that each revolution of the wheel would produce eight pounding sounds. I believe that we can safely assume that the wheel also contained eight weights that would strike stops within the machine's hollow drum during each of its rotations. Obviously, Bessler realized that the sounds issuing from the wheel during each rotation were an important clue to its mode of operation and he wanted to confuse any witness of one of his demonstrations from keeping accurate track of the number of sounds issuing from his invention.

By the end of the year 1716 or early 1717, Bessler settled in the town of Hesse-Cassel where his inventions soon drew the attention of the local landgrave or count whose name was Karl (sometimes refered to as "Carolus" in the literature on Bessler). Count Karl was a fairly wealthy man, a highly regarded gentleman, and a proficient mathematician. He had financially back other inventors, but he had never seen anything the like of what Bessler was producing. He had Bessler appointed as the town councillor and invited him to work on his inventions at the count's Weissenstein castle. There Bessler had access to the tools and materials he needed and he agreed to build his largest wheel to date for Karl as a sign of his gratitude and affection for his new benefactor.

Before the end of 1717, Bessler had constructed his fourth and largest wheel. It was constructed in a room dedicated to it in the castle which was referred to as the "machine room". Later, as part of his exhibition of the invention, Bessler had the device moved to another room in the castle. This translocation of the wheel was intended to provide additional proof to those that examined it that it was genuine and not dependent on its surroundings for its operation.

This wheel was a full 12 feet in diameter and 14 inches thick! It was not self-starting, but required a fairly strong push IN EITHER DIRECTION to start it whereupon it would rapidly accelerate until it reached a steady rotational rate of 26 revolutions per minute. It produced more excess energy than Bessler's earlier, smaller versions and could, when properly connected, run an ancient water pumping device known as an "Archimedean screw". When connected to run this water pump, however, the wheel's rate of rotation would decrease to only 20 revolutions per minute. This important clue indicates that Bessler's wheels were only capable of delivering excess EXTERNAL energy at a FIXED rate and thus produced a CONSTANT excess power output. Since the amount of power needed to overcome the wheel's various bearing frictions and aerodynamic drag was only a very small percentage of the device's total power output, any use of the wheel's available fixed external power output to perform external tasks would cause it to slow. We can imagine that there was a maximum external load that could be put on the wheel that would cause it to come to a stop.

At each rotation of this enormous wheel, investigators could hear the sound of eight weights gently falling on whatever side of the drum was the descending side. Once the wheel was at its maximum rotation rate of 26 revolutions per minute, trying to stop the ascending side of the drum by grabbing it with both hands would raise a man several feet off of the floor!

Bessler made no secret of the fact that his machines were powered the shifting of weights inside of the hollow drums. On October 31st, 1717, the wheel was dissembled and transported to another room in the castle. An interesting incident occurred as the weights were being reinstalled in the drum in the second room that, again, gives a clue to its mode of operation. Bessler let some of the assembled witnesses handle one of the wheel's internal weights which he had wrapped in a hankerchief. According to a letter later written by one of the people to handle this weight, it weighed about 4 pounds and was cylindrical in shape. In other words, it was very similar to a common sledge hammer head. Bessler then opened the oiled cloth on the side of the machine facing away from the investigators in order to place the weight back into the machine prior to another demonstation. At this point, Bessler seemed to be struggling to attach the weight and suddenly there was a sharp snapping sound as though he had lost his grip on some spring loaded structure that had then slapped loudly against the inside of the drum. To those present, it was obvious that the eight weights were attached to the periphery of the drum and their shape indicated that they were mounted on the ends of either wooden or metal rods. Most likely, these rods were attached to springs and as Bessler struggled to move one of the rods so that he could place its weight back on it, that rod slipped out of his hand and was then slapped against the inside of the drum by the stretched spring attached to it to produce the noise that everybody had heard.

On November 12th, 1717, this fourth 12 foot diameter wheel was started up in the second room into which it had been installed after a very intensive examination of the bearings that its drum's axle rested on and all of the inside surfaces of the room to elimate the possibility of any hidden power sources or secret passages. Then the only door leading into the room was closed and had hot wax placed across its crevices into which the various seals of the invention's investigators were impressed. This was to absolutely guarantee that no one would be able to enter the room without detection during the test period that ensued. Two weeks later, on December 26th, the seals were broken and the room was entered by the original investigators who had sealed it. They found the large wheel to be rotating at exactly the same rate as when they had initially sealed the room! The room was again sealed as an extra precaution and was finally opened again on January 4th, 1718 to reveal that the wheel was still in motion.

Count Karl gave Bessler an official certificate that was dated May 27th, 1718 and which states that the results of all of the recent testing of his machine had completely eliminated any "hint or suspicion" that his invention was not a genuine perpetual motion machine. It is also important to note here that, aside from Bessler, Count Karl was the only other human being to ever be allowed to view the internal mechanism of one of these marvelous self-moving wheels because he was Bessler's sponsor and, perhaps, the only person Bessler ever trusted. The count had given his sacred word that he would not reveal the secret that Bessler had struggled so long to obtain and the count kept that promise for the rest of his life. However, when pressured for assurance by his associates that Bessler's machine was not a fraud, the count did make a few statements concerning it. He is quoted as saying that the wheel was "very simple that a carpenter's boy could understand and make it after having seen the interior".

Sometime during the year 1718, one of the investigators of the fourth wheel who represented a group of investors interested in raising the money needed to buy its secret, had angered Bessler by continuing to suggest that his wheel had to have a hidden power source. There may have also been attempts by this person to gain unauthorized access to the wheel so that he could view its internal mechanism. In any event, this so infuriated Bessler that, in a fit of rage, he took an axe and smashed the large wheel into pieces. There was some discussion of constructing another wheel in the future and of greater security on any future machines, but, apparently, aside from one of his early small wheels that he kept at his house, no other wheels were ever built by Bessler. In the second half of his life, the inventor produced several more pamphlets and treatises on mechanics that were intended to reveal the secret of his wheel to those who were gifted enough to be able to unravel the cryptic descriptions Bessler provided of the wheel's secret mechanism. Finally, in November of the year 1745, at the age of 65, Bessler died. He had been constructing a three story high windmill for a local monarch and had fallen from its top story to his death.

A year after the destruction of his last known wheel, Bessler, at the insistance of Count Karl, decided to produce a pamphlet to reveal the secret of his inventions so that it should not be lost in the event that anything happened to him. This pamphlet, titled "The Triumphant Orffyrean Perpetual Motion", was published in Cassel in October of 1719 and is now only available for viewing at the rare book research facilities of a few European libraries. It is a long work written in both Latin and German. Approximately one third of the text is used by Bessler to praise God for having allowed the inventor to discover the secret of perpetual motion (a feat that took him about ten years and hundreds of attempts to achieve), another third of the text is filled with praise for Count Karl who had the wisdom to see the value of Bessler's work and to financially support it, and the remaining third of the pamphlet deals with the secret of his self-moving wheels. Of course, he never really revealed this secret in sufficient detail for it to be replicated and there are no engravings of the internal mechanism in the pamphlet so it is virtually useless for future researchers wishing to duplicate his devices.

However, we are given a few tantalizing hints about the internal mechanism that he used. For example, after translating the text into English, he writes:

"The internal structure of the machine is of a nature according to the laws of mechanical perpetual motion, so arranged that certain disposed weights, once in rotation, gain force from their own swinging, and must continue this movement as long as their structure does not lose its position.

"...these weights, on the contrary, are the essential parts, and constitute the perpetual motion itself; since from them is received the universal movement which they must exercise so long as they remain out of the center of gravity; and when they come to be placed together, and so arranged one against another that they can never obtain equilibrium, or the punctum quietus which they unceasingly seek in their wonderfully speedy flight, one or the other of them must apply its weight at right angles to the axis, which in its turn must also move."

We see from this description that Bessler was using a simple "overbalancing" wheel design. Many attempts had been made down through the centuries prior to Bessler's effort to make self-moving wheels that use this principle and none, until Bessler's, had ever been successful. These devices usually contain metal weights attached to spoke-like arms within a wheel that are supposed to swing or slide around in such a way that the center of gravity of the weights, regardless of how the wheel rotates, is ALWAYS located on one side of the wheel's axle. This continuously overbalanced condition should then make the wheel rotate and perform useful external work in addition to keeping itself in motion. In actual practice, however, what always happens, with the exception of Bessler's design, is that, as such a wheel begins to rotate, its center of gravity drops and then begins oscillating back and forth below the axle until it comes to rest at the lowest point it can directly below the axle (this is the point Bessler referred to as the punctum quietus in his pamphlet of 1719). When this occurs, the wheel will stop moving.

Over the years I have personally made about a dozen attempts to duplicate Bessler's invention. Lacking machine shop facilities, my wheels were crudely constructed of scrap box parts and materials from local hardware stores. Only within the last few years did I discover that Bessler also utilized SPRINGS in his secret design (recall the incident of the snapping noise witnesses heard). Practically none of the other attempts to build overbalanced wheels use springs and I am convinced that this component is CRITICAL to the operation of such a device. My most recent attempts are beginning to incorporate springs into the design and I believe that I am now closer to duplicating Bessler's device than ever before. Although I am not going to release the exact design that I am pursuing at this time, I will, like Bessler, give the astute reader sufficient information to steer him in the right direction should he also be pursuing the duplication of these unusual devices.

Count Karl is said to have told several of the people that examined Bessler's self-moving wheels that they were VERY simple in construction and that he (the count) was amazed that no one had discovered the secret before. I am of the opinion that it is the very simplicity of Bessler's secret design that has prevented other inventors from duplicating his inventions! Most inventors or engineers automatically tend to think that such a device must be very complicated if it is to do something as dramatic as produce energy out of nowhere, so they tend to pursue designs that are complex in nature. This is a trap that I also fell into for several decades...all it did was waste my time and effort and slowly develop a belief in me that the whole Bessler affair was just a hoax of some sort. Only in really devoting some serious thinking to the whole story recently have I been able to not only visualize the internal mechanism of a Bessler wheel, but I can also suggest the exact manner in which the device creates "excess" energy!

It is obvious from eyewitness accounts that Bessler's wheels each used eight weights inside of their hollow drums. He also produced TWO distinct types of machine: the earlier smaller ones which were self-starting and could only rotate in one direction and the later larger ones which were not self-starting but could rotate in either direction once they were given a slight push. The change over between these two designs seems to take place as he moves from the Draschwitz wheel to the Merseburg wheel.

Actually, the Merseburg wheel is almost the same diameter as the Draschwitz wheel, but the Merseburg wheel is nearly DOUBLE the thickness of the Draschwitz wheel. This suggests to me that the Merseburg wheel design simply incorporated TWO of the internal mechanisms used in the Draschwitz wheel which were placed back to back inside of the same drum. Since the mechanism used in the Draschwitz wheel is permanently overbalanced, placing two of these mechanisms inside of the same drum so that they counter balance each other would produce a single wheel that was not self-starting.

Then we can imagine that, regardless of which way this new composite wheel mechanism was rotated, one of its internal mechanisms would be forced to rotate in a direction opposite to the one that it would naturally tend to rotate it. This forced rotation against its natural direction of rotation would then cause the center of gravity of that mechanism to move to a point below the axle of the wheel and stay there where it would supply no torque to accelerate the wheel. The remaining mechanism which was, however, rotating in the direction that it naturally was inclined to move in would then provide all of the torque that accelerated the drum and would also be responsible for the excess energy such a wheel could produce.

So, in order the understand how one of Bessler's bi-directional wheels operated, we only need to understand how his earlier self-starting designs worked. From what fragmentary descriptions still exist, we can safely assume that the self-starting wheels used eight weights which were attached by SHORT arms to the periphery of the device's drum. For symmetry and balance, these "weight arms" would be attached to the outer rim of the wheel at precise angular intervals of 45 degrees. Furthermore, in order to allow the weights to "swing" as Bessler said they did in his pamphlet, each weight arm would be attached to the drum by a hinged joint. All we need to finally do, in order to know what the secret design he used was, is to complete the design by attaching springs between the weight arms and the periphery of the wheel is such a way that the resulting mechanism will have the center of gravity of its eight weights ALWAYS located to one side of the axle as the wheel turns and accelerates up to its maximum rotation rate. I will leave it as an exercise for the reader to decide just how these critically necessary springs will need to be attached to produce a fully operational Bessler wheel...

Understanding the basic mode of operation of one of Bessler's one directional self-moving wheels is now fairly simple. As we consider the weights on what will be the ASCENDING side of the wheel when it is in rotation, we see that, if no springs are present that connect the weight arms to the drum's periphery, the weights and their arms go from lying almost flat against the drum's periphery near the 6 o'clock position to an orientation at the 12 o'clock position that points them straight down toward the central axle. However, when springs are used to connect the weight arms to the wheel's periphery, the situation changes. When springs are used, a weight and its arm at the 12 o'clock position (its "zenith" position) will not hang straight down and point toward the axle, but, rather, the arm will, if its spring is somewhat stiff, only slump down a short distance away from the drum's outer surface. This slumping of weights toward the axle will not just start at the 12 o'clock position, but will probably begin for the WEIGHTS somewhere near the 9 o'clock position. One of the effects of this slumping action of the weights, as we follow their placement upward along what will be the ascending side of the wheel when it is in rotation, is that they will tend to shift the center of gravity of all eight weights to the other side of the axle or toward the DESCENDING side of the drum. Another effect of the slumping action of the ascending side weights is that, as they swing toward the axle as they approach the 12 o'clock position, they will each LOSE a small amount of their gravitational potential energy which will be used to stretch the spring that attaches their pivoted arm to the drum's outer surface.

Next, we must consider the weights and their arms as they move from the wheel's 12 o'clock position back down along what will be the wheel's descending side when in rotation to the wheel's 6 o'clock position again. Because a weight and its arm are attached to the drum's periphery at the 12 o'clock position by a STRETCHED spring, this spring will tend to pull the weight back almost flat against the periphery as the weight moves down on the descending side of the wheel. It is critical to note here that this action RETURNS the spring's energy back to the weight and ADDS back the gravitational potential energy that the weight lost due to slumping on the ascending side of the wheel. More importantly, the action of a contracting attached spring on the descending side of the drum tends to, again, shift the center of gravity of all eight weights toward what will be the DESCENDING side of the wheel when it is in rotation.

If the reader has followed the above desciption carefully, then he will understand why Bessler's smaller wheels were self-starting. Even when at rest, they were always overbalanced which simply means that the center of gravity of their eight weights was always on one side of their drum's axle. This side would then become the descending side of the machine when it was finally allowed to rotate. It is important to realize that his design is unique because, as the wheel turns, the springs on its ascending side will stretch on weight arms approaching the 12 o'clock position while the springs on weight arms on its descending side will contract as they leave the 12 o'clock position. This action is automatic and will CONSTANTLY maintain the center of gravity of all eight weights on one side of the wheel's axle.

Now we can finally explain just how such a unique design can APPEAR to "create" energy out of nothing and thereby violate the First Law of Thermodynamics.

I can begin by stating that I do NOT believe that Bessler's wheels did, in fact, violate any of the laws of thermodynamics. Rather, I believe that his design was, perhaps, one of the very few that has the ability to CONTINUOUSLY convert the energy associateed with the mass of its weights into kinetic energy which can then be used to perform useful external work.

For example, we now know from Relativity Theory that the reason a weight dropping in a gravity field accelerates is because, as it moves toward the source of a gravity field, it LOSES a very minute amount of its mass which is converted into energy that then shows up as an increase in the kinetic energy of the weight. With increased kinetic energy the weight will then move at greater velocity and as this process continues, the weight will constantly increase its velocity or be said to "accelerate". Such a process, however, is not continuous because, eventually, the weight will stop when it strikes the surface of the planetary body that is creating the gravity field.

Bessler's wheels, however, were able to get around this restriction on the extraction of the energy associated with the mass of a weight and they thereby allowed for the CONTINUOUS extraction of this mass energy. (Note: a weight that is thrown upward against the pull of a gravity field then loses its upward velocity because its kinetic energy is drained to very slightly increase its mass. This process, too, must stop when the object has loss all of its kinetic energy and the velocity associated with it whereupon the weight will momentarily stop before begining to drop in the gravity field.)

Bessler's unique design forced the center of gravity of each wheel's eight weights to always be on the descending side of a wheel and this action would, of course, make the wheel rotate toward its descending side. It is the arrangement of weights, arms, and springs, however, that allows the center of gravity to remain fairly stationary as the wheel rotates and not sink down to a punctum quietus below the axle. Because the weighted arms stretch the springs on the ascending side of the wheel, the weights there do not rise as far as they would if they were somehow fixed directly to the periphery of the drum. As the weighted arms begin their fall on the descending side of the wheel, they are then pulled up to a slightly higher elevation by the stretched springs attached to them as these springs begin to contract. It is these two simple actions working together which are the true secret of Bessler's wheels. We see that with each rotation of the wheel a weight on its descending side will actually fall a GREATER distance than it will rise when it moves around the wheel's ascending side!

Thus, as a weight rises from the 6 o'clock position of a rotating Bessler wheel, the weight will lose a slight amount of kinetic energy and gain a slight amount of mass. On the descending side of the wheel the weight will drop a greater distance than it rose on the ascending side and, thus, lose a LARGER amount of mass than it gained on the ascending side. This slight DISCREPANCY between mass gained by the weights on the ascending side and mass lost by the weights on the descending side of a Bessler wheel causes there to be a slight net LOSS of mass of EACH of the eight weights as it completes one revolution around the axle of the wheel. This slight continuous net loss of mass per weight per revolution translates into a slight continuous increase in the kinetic energy of the weights and the wheel's other moving structures with each rotation. In effect, Bessler's wheels were actually just simple machines that allowed the energy associated with the mass of a set of weights to slowly and continuously be converted into kinetic energy which could then be used to maintain the motion of his wheels while also performing useful external mechanical work.

Bessler's wheels, therefore, do not violate any of the laws of thermodynamics. However, even without an understanding of elementary relativity theory, an early 18th century scientist, IF ALLOWED TO EXAMINE THEIR INTERNAL MECHANISM, would still have been able to rationalize their operation in terms of a discrepancy between the gain of gravitational potential energy on the wheel's ascending side and the loss of gravitational potential energy on it's descending side. He would see that there was a net LOSS of gravitational potential energy per weight per rotation which then added to the overall kinetic energy of the rotating wheel.

However, none of the other witnesses of Bessler's wheels, with the sole exception of Count Karl, were ever allowed to see their internal mechanism which would have allowed these people to understand its mode of operation. All other witnesses saw only a cloaked drum that apparently violated the First Law of Thermodynamics as it mysteriously appeared to produce energy from nothing. Under these circumstances, the most logical conclusion that they would tend to reach would be that Bessler's wheels had to be fraudulent. In order to eventually agree to issue written certificates attesting to the genuine nature of these machines, we can only assume that these investigators would have subjected each wheel to the most intensive and rigorous examination possible to rule out any possibility of a hidden external power source being used by Bessler during any testing of his machines.

In actual operation, I am of the opinion that Bessler's wheels only displaced the center of gravity of their eight weights a little bit to the side of their drum's axle. Even in his largest 12 foot model (which probably used sixteen weights each weighing about four pounds), the center of gravity of its eight weights would have been within a foot of the axle. This small displacement, even for such a large wheel, indicates that the amount of power that it could deliver would be very small compared to that which might be delivered by a water driven wheel of similar size.

The design that produces the perpetual motion that Bessler harnessed seems to have a somewhat severe limit which is imposed on it by the internal geometry of the wheel itself. Bessler tried to get around this frustrating limitation by constantly building wheels of greater thickness to hold heavier weights and of greater diameter to move the center of gravity of those weights farther from the axle. In spite of all this effort, his largest wheel was probably producing external work at the rate of about a hundreth of a horse power which, if used to drive an electrical generator, would have been enough to light one ten watt lightbulb! This is not too impressive when we consider that a standard lawn mower engine puts out about 3.5 horsepower and is far smaller in size.

Such a low power output for his devices represents yet another challenge for the inventor attempting to duplicate a Bessler wheel. Any prototype model that is small in diameter will need to be constructed with great precision so that it is nearly perfectly balanced and friction free. As a clockmaker, this manner of construction would not have been a hinderance for Bessler, but it can be a great challenge to an amateur inventor who is limited to working with hand tools. Even if such an amateur has the correct design that should work, the imperfections in his model's construction may be enough to prevent it from producing the desired perpetual motion.

Despite these limitations, the fact remains that Bessler DID manage to obtain the long sought secret of building a working perpetual motion machine. If his design can be successfully replicated using our modern materials and engineering science, then it may be possible to greatly increase the power that can be obtained from them. For example, I can envision wheels that are the size of a Ferris wheel that might contain dozens of weights each weighing in the tons. We could have "wheel farms" where such wheels could be mechanically coupled together and made to drive large electrical generators to meet our ever growing demand for this form of pollution free power. In time, this new means of generating electricity could entirely replace our present ones that rely mostly on fossil fuels and potentially disasterous nuclear power.

As the huge weights in these wheel farm machines convert their mass energies into kinetic energy to then drive electrical generators, their weights will slowly, over time, lose most of their mass. As this happens, the weights will also experience a decrease in their gravitational and inertial properties. Although all of the atoms in a weight will still be physically present, they will weigh less and have less inertia. What the consequences of this will be are anybody's guess. These weights might start to develop unusual physical, chemical, electrical, magnetic, or radiological properties that could, in time, make them hazardous.

Or, as the weights yield up their mass energies, these mass energies might somehow be replaced by an, as yet, unknown physical process that allows the weights to draw mass energy from their surroundings or from the body of the Earth itself. Obviously, to eliminate any unpleasant and expensive surprises from developing after a large investment has been made in the construction of the wheel farm power generation system, it would be prudent to perform much testing and experimentation on smaller scale farms first. While no hazardous effects of exposure to Bessler's wheels were reported by witnesses in the early 18th century, this might be because his machines only operated for no more than a few weeks at a time so that their weights only lost a minute fraction of a percent of their normal rest masses. This situation might change considerably if his wheels had been allowed to run continuously while performing external work for several decades.

This writer intends to continue his own attempts to successfully construct a working Bessler wheel and encourages others to attempt building their own machines. Bessler has shown that such machines ARE possible and I suspect that other devices of unique design using electrical and magnetic effects may also allow for the continuous conversion of mass energy into mechanical energy for external work. I predict that by the end of this, the twenty-first century, a significant percentage of Earth's electrical power needs will be met by such remarkable devices.

(Note: this article completed October 21st, 2003)

(Postscript: the author is indebted to Mr. John Collins for some of the historical and technical details mentioned in the above article. Mr. Collins is probably the world's leading expert on the life and work of Johann Bessler. His website,, is well worth a visit by anybody with a serious interest in Bessler and his invention.)