When it comes to perpetual motion machines, the one invented by Redheffer is historically quite well known. In 1812, the invention enthralled both Philadelphia as well as New York. Charles Redheffer, an American inventor, made a claim of having invented the perpetual motion machine. While many believed in Charles and considered him to be a visionary inventor, others believed him to be a fraud. Let’s dive into the history of Charles Redheffer and the machine invented by him, and explore whether he was actually an inventor or a fraud.
Personal Life of Charles Redheffer
According to historians, very little is known about the personal life of Charles Redheffer. He first appears in Philadelphia in the year 1812, when he took a house near Schuylkill River in order to show people his miracle machine. Records also show that, when his fraud was discovered, he again disappeared from the view of the public. Where he came from, where he went, and his ultimate fate still remains a mystery.
Redheffer in Philadelphia
In 1812, Charles Redheffer appeared for the first time in Philadelphia. He claimed that he had invented a miracle perpetual motion machine that did not require any kind of energy source to run. He put up that machine for public display, and it brought him a great deal of popularity. He took an admission fee from people who were interested in viewing the perpetual motion machine. While some sources state that he charged $5 per person, others say that he only charged $1. Other sources state that it was women who were charged $1, or allowed free of any charge.
Redheffer’s machine was built on the assumed principle that when an inclined plane receives continuous downward force, it can produce a corresponding horizontal force. The machine created a sensation in Philadelphia, and Redheffer was able to make thousands of dollars. He even applied for government funds in order to develop a larger version of the perpetual motion machine.
The Fraud is Uncovered
On the 21st of January, 1813, Redheffer was visited by eight city commissioners for the inspection of the perpetual motion machine. The main aim of the commissioners was to determine whether the machine deserved funding from the government. Charles Redheffer was quite smart and prevented the commissioners from getting close to the machine. However, one of the inspectors was able to identify that something was indeed strange about the machine.
According to Redheffer, the perpetual motion machine provided energy for powering another machine via its interlocking gears. However, the inspector could see the gears were in reality set up in reverse, and identified that the perpetual motion machine was actually getting power from the other machine. Even though the commissioners knew the truth, they did not challenge Redheffer directly but chose to reveal his fraud in a subtle way.
Isaiah Lukens, a local engineer, was asked to build the same machine using the same principle as Redheffer’s, but with the power source hidden. After building the machine, it was displayed to Redheffer. This took Redheffer by surprise as he was unsure how the fake machine was actually running. He even offered to Lukens in order to buy it to discover how it worked. However, later Redheffer realized that his secret was revealed. He quickly left Philadelphia and moved to the city of New York.
Redheffer in New York
As news traveled at a slow pace back at that time, no one in New York was aware of the scam of Charles Redheffer. He started displaying his machine to the public in New York City and gained a lot of attention. However one day a mechanical engineer, Robert Fulton, went to see the perpetual motion machine of Redheffer.
Fulton noticed the uneven sound and speed of the machine. From his keen observation, he identified that a hidden hand-crank was the power source of the machine. When accused by Fulton, Redheffer insisted that the machine was really capable of perpetual motion.
Fulton offered a challenge to Redheffer. According to the challenge, Fulton said that he was quite confident that he could expose the hidden power source of the perpetual motion machine of Redheffer. However, in case Fulton failed to expose it, he was ready to bear all the cost of damages caused to the machine.
Redheffer accepted the challenge mainly due to the pressure that came from the crowd of visitors. Immediately, Fulton started to remove some of the boards from a neighboring wall of the perpetual motion machine. This revealed a long, hidden cord made of catgut. The cord ran up to the upper floor.
Fulton went up the stairs, and there he saw an old man sitting and eating bread in one hand, and turning a hand-crank with the other hand. Redheffer used to give the poor old fellow some bread and water and forced him to keep turning the crank drive throughout the day.
The visitors who came to see the machine became furious, realizing that they had been cheated by Charles Redheffer. They destroyed the perpetual motion machine right on the spot out of anger. Redheffer, having no way out, fled New York City immediately.
Later Appearances of Charles Redheffer
In 1816, it was said that Charles Redheffer had invented yet another machine. The intention behind building the machine was to demonstrate it to a group of people, including the Chief Justice and Mayor of Philadelphia. However, despite a number of meetings, Redheffer was not willing to demonstrate the machine to the group of men. Despite this, on the 11th of July, 1820, a patent was granted to Charles Redheffer by the U.S. Patent Office, for a device known as “machinery for the purpose of gaining power.”
While the laws of physics state that it is impossible to create perpetual motion machines, many other people have tried inventing them. Different inventors have different goals behind inventing the machine. However, none have been conclusively proven to be a reality.
Top Image: Redheffer was eventually exposed as a fraud. Source: Maya Kruchancova / Adobe Stock.
By Bipin Dimri
Mr Redheffer’s perpetual motion machine (2015). Available at: https://www.marc-yeats.com/mr-redheffers-perpetual-motion-machine-2015/
No. 438: REDHEFFER’S PMM-I. Available at: https://www.uh.edu/engines/epi438.htm
Perpetual Motion Machine Remains Elusive Prize. Available at: https://www.farmcollector.com/farm-life/perpetual-motion-zmlz19julzhur/