In 1712, Johann Bessler exhibited a machine which he claimed was “Perpetual Motion”. Despite nearly twenty years of the most stringent tests, examinations and public trials, not the slightest sign of deception was ever found. Bessler died 33 years later, in poverty, still maintaining that his machine was genuine and there was no convincing evidence to the contrary.
He had a number of supporters as well as enemies, and among his champions were some of the most respected men of the day. These men, included Gottfried Leibniz and Christian Wolff, top scientists of the calibre of Newton.
Bessler wanted to sell his machine for the sum of £20,000, a fortune in those days, equivalent to well over a million dollars today. Despite the apparent stupidity of asking such a large sum of money, it was not unique and in fact Bessler based the sum on the one offered by the British Board of Longitude, which, at the same time, was offering £20,000 to the first person to discover a means of locating the exact position of a ship at sea, longitudinally. John Harrison eventually won the money, although it took him and his son many years to get all of it from a reluctant British government.
Bessler failed to sell his machine, not for a lack of potential buyers, but because he refused to allow access to his secret until he had the money in his possession. Among those showing interest were the British Royal Society and Peter the Great, Czar of Russia. He offered his head to the axe man if he should be found to have deceived his prospective clients. But his determination not to risk being cheated defeated all negotiations. He died in harrowing circumstances years later, building Europe’s first horizontal windmill to his own design of course. In mid-winter, starving, weak and in debt, he fell to his death. The massive base of the mill still stands, decaying, weatherworn and utterly neglected, in a small town in Germany.
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