John Ernst Worrell Keely


A short Biography compiled by Mark Baker

The inventor John Worrell Keely was a carpenter by trade, born in Philadelphia on September 3rd 1837 and who died there on November 18th 1898. Though not a highly educated man, he was a competent mechanic and a very clever talker.

Keely's parents died in an epidemic when he was still a boy and he was raised by grandparents. His grandfather Ernst had been a composer who led the Baden-Baden orchestra in Germany before immigrating to Philadelphia. Ernst quickly found that his grandson was a prodigy on the violin and gave him much help in learning the fundamentals of music.

A musical career did not appeal to the adventuresome genius as he found the science of vibrations upon which music is based a much greater attraction. Keely was particularly intrigued with the famous statement by Paganini that he could, given the mass chord of a bridge, destroy it by playing the mass chord on his violin.

He built his first free-energy motor while still a young boy. It was a series of 17 conch shells, 8 of them affixed to a small wheel forming the rotor. The stator consisted of 9 conches affixed around the outer periphery of the wheel but not attached to the rotating wheel. Keely had ground the shells so that they were all attuned to the same frequency. When the "motor" was put together the wheel slowly rotated on its axis, clunking and clicking because of imbalances, but nevertheless self-operative. Keely's enterprising nature led him to the idea of putting the entire assembly into a box and charging his neighbours and friends a penny to look inside to see the wheel turning.

While yet a young man, Keely learned carpentry and used his income to pursue his experiments in sound vibrations. About 1866 while he was pursuing a line of experimentation in sonic vibrations, he discovered a hitherto unknown energy. He was subjecting water to sonic vibrations and had an explosion which wrecked his apparatus. Six years of intensive experiments passed before he was able to produce this energy at will. He found that 42,800 vibrations per second would vaporise water instantly into energy. He named this energy Etheric Force and the process of changing the substance of water into etheric force Dissociation.

With this claim to have discovered a new force in mechanics which was to work wonders, he succeeded in inducing a dozen engineers and venture capitalists to organize a Keely Motor Company in New York in 1872, and to subscribe ten thousand dollars to begin the construction of the motor. He immediately applied this money to the purchase of material and the construction of machinery, setting up a laboratory at 1420 North Twentieth Street in Philadelphia. On 10th November 1874 he gave a demonstration of the motor before a small company of prominent citizens of Philadelphia.

At the first demonstration of the machine in 1874, or so much of it as was exhibited, it was called a "vibratory-generator"; in a later demonstration it was referred to as a "hydro-pneumatic-pulsating-vacuum-engine". Equally 'flexible' was Keely's technical jargon for describing how his machine worked: the New Science Review for April 1895 has an article discussing the action of the motor, entitled "The Operation of the Vibratory Circuit", by Mr. Keely himself. It is an almost incredible jumble of technical terms: 'molecular vibration', 'sympathetic equilibrium', 'oscillation of the atom', 'etheric disintegration','quadruple negative harmonics', 'atomic triplets'.

What did remain constant was Keely's method for activating the device. Understanding the power of showmanship, he would run a tuning fork across the strings of a violin to generate the right acoustic resonance to fire the motor.

He anchored his analysis of nature to a fundamental "trinity." Every force and practically everything else was "triune." For him the sacred number was not seven but three. The basic idea of Keely's theory was that if one could catch and impose upon matter, by sympathetic vibration, the extremely rapid vibration that characterises every atom and molecule, then, by the resonance of atoms, he could effect a recombination that would liberate an incalculable amount of energy.

Keely declared that with one quart of water, he would be able to send a train of cars from Philadelphia to San Francisco, and that to propel a steamship from New York to Liverpool and return would require just about one gallon of the same." (Julius Moritzen, in the The Cosmopolitan for April 1899.) One spectator at a demonstration said that a pint of water poured into a cylinder seemed to work great wonders. " The gauge showed a pressure of more than fifty thousand pounds to the square inch. Great ropes were torn apart, iron bars broken in two or twisted out of shape, bullets discharged through twelve inch planks, by a force which could not be determined.

Throught the twenty-seven years that he ran the company, John Keely was dogged by legal problems with his investors and accusations of fraud. As Mr. Park Benjamin wrote in 1886, "a power-creating machine of no known form or mode of operation, when based on notions upset eighty years ago, is a wonderful thing. To the confusion of the skeptics, the Keely motor is here, that is, not here but to be here three weeks hence. It has been going to be here three hence for twelve years." ("The Persistence of the Keely Motor", by Park Benjamin, The Forum for June 1886.)

Quite how fraud was being performed was a matter for much conjecture: the New York Times and Electricity magazine believed that his demonstrations were really pneumatic or electrical effects respectively. There were even stories of sorcery being involved in his demonstrations. It has been suggested that John Keely was a prominent member of the Theosophic Society founded by the spiritualist Madame Blavatsky in 1875. In the mid 1890's it was speculated that he was the mahatma (or master) of the Philadelphia lodge.

While Keely had his detractors, he had supporters as well. Major Ricarde-Seaver, Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, went to visit Keely in Philadelphia to convince himself as to the real nature of Keely's accomplishments. After thoroughly examining his system Ricarde-Seaver returned to England saying that "Keely was working with, and had apparent command over forces, the nature, or even the very existence of which, was absolutely unknown to him, and so far as he is aware to modern science."

Other supporters of distinction included Professor Joseph M. Leidy, M.D., of Pennsylvania University, awarded Lyell Medal in 1884 when in London and the Cuvier Award in 1888 from the French Academy of Science when in France. Also James M. Wilcox, M.D., author of Rational Cosmology". They witnessed Keely's demonstrations of sending etheric force through wires of gold, silver, and platinum.

When the inventor's funds began to run low, he succeeded in keeping afloat financially with further investments of capital from his most ardent supporter, Mrs. Clara Jessup Bloomfield-Moore, widow of a wealthy paper manufacturer and writer. By 1890 Keely declared he was on the eve of success; he had arrived at that crucial stage, lacking just the one slight adjustment.

He never achieved that final adjustment: John Worrell Keely died in Philadelphia in 1898 after being knocked down by a streetcar. After his death the motor was taken to Boston and set up, but it failed to exhibit any "etheric force" when subjected to any vibratory influence, after its removal form the laboratory in Philadelphia.