Following the Footsteps of Keely.

I decided to try a different approach and suddenly things started to pay off.

Having studied Keely in great detail from available literature I believe I have a fair measure of him, both as a man and as a researcher. Keely did not chase rainbows. He had solid reasons for dedicating his life to his researches and his machines in spite of massive hardships along the way. I reasoned that the only thing that would set him on this path was that he had very early on a workable device (i.e. a functioning motor), albeit in a crude form and of low power. The fact that he continually spoke of "perfecting" his motor seems to indicate this.

I started off with the following assumptions:

1). Keely had a working motor early in life.

2). The motor was of low power, just enough to move, but not enough to do actual work.

3). No man creates something in total isolation. There had to be parallels in research to be found in the work of contemporary experimenters in the field.

4). Someone, somewhere had invented a similar device, only to be brushed aside with a convenient explanation why it could not be developed to do actual work. Such device could possibly still be found tucked away as a scientific curiosity in some museum somewhere. (Like the Crook's tube)

5). The device induced rotation in a tangible body through the medium of sound waves.

All my assumptions proved to be true and verifiable.

The device exists, it works and at least one such device is in the collection of early scientific research instruments in a Toronto museum, though there must be others, as they were used during Keely's time in universities all over the world in scientific demonstrations and were in fact manufactured by at least one scientific instrument maker for sale to universities and other research establishments.

But back to my research.

I started researching the work of Chladni and Helmholtz, knowing that Keely's devices relied heavily on principles discovered by those two eminent scientists.

While researching Helmholtz I came across Rudolph Koenig, a German violin builder who had turned scientific instrument maker and had built a number of Helmholtz devices in conjunction with Helmholtz that were sold to universities and other establishments who were conducting research into acoustics.

I became very excited when I read Koenig's biography and found that he was a contemporary of Keely and that the two must have known each other since Koenig had an exhibit at the 1876 World Exhibition in Philadelphia where Keely was demonstrating his motor.

Koenig manufactured exclusively apparatus used in acoustic research in his workshop in Paris and is, amongst other things, the inventor of the manometric flame (called sensitive flame nowadays), an instrument where a stream of gas is passed through a chamber containing a diaphragm that regulates the flame by regulating the amount of gas feeding it on being excited by acoustic vibrations. These vibrations become visible in the behaviour of the flame and this instrument was invaluable in the research of sound. Undoubtedly Keely had one of the instruments in his workshop.

It is reasonable to assume that both men had visited each other's exhibits and talked at length about their areas of research.

Here was a link worth following up in detail.

Luckily most, if not all, of Koenig's instruments are in excellent condition in collections all over the world. Many are in American institutions having been purchased at the Philadelphia exhibition. Among the instruments are tuning forks, organ pipes, flutes, the above mentioned manometric flame, vibration microscopes and an instrument for Fourier analysis and synthesis which, though stationary and not designed to do any work, exhibits curious parallels to Keely's motor.

All except one.

Amongst his machines is a small device called an acoustic turbine, which is listed in his 1889 catalogue an item No 75 and sold for 60 Franks. (about $15).

The Acoustic Turbine

Alfred M. Mayer (1836-1897) was a faculty member at Lehigh University from 1867 to 1871, and then spent the remainder of his life as a professor of physics at Stephens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, New Jersey. "He invented the sound-wheel in 1876, but very graciously yielded precedence to the Austrian, V. Dvorak, who, it was found later, had quite independently made the same device a few months earlier. This little instrument consists of four small tuned resonators attached to a small cross and balanced on a pivot. When placed near a source of continuous sound of the pitch to which the resonators are tuned, such as an electrically driven tuning fork, the reaction against the closed end by the stationary wave formed inside of each resonator causes the wheel to rotate "backwards." From Dayton Clarence Miller, Anecdotal History of the Science of Sound, (The MacMillan Company, New York, 1935), pg 73.

Acoustic Turbine

The example at the left is at the
University of Toronto, and is
almost surely some of the apparatus
that Koenig brought to Philadelphia
for the 1876 Centennial Exposition.


Thomas B. Greenslade, Jr.
Professor Emeritus of Physics
Kenyon College, Gambier, Ohio 43022

O.K. here is a device that confirms some of Keely's claims. But what has that to do with Keely since he would have seen the device at the 1876 exhibition when he was already demonstrating his motor.

Here I will quote Dan A. Davidson, who in his book "A Breakthrough to New Free Energy Resources" writes:

One interesting (but unverified) story about Keely concerns the time he built his first free-energy motor--while still a young boy. It was a series of 17 conch shells, 8 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. John 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. John's enterprising nature led him to the idea of putting the entire assembly into a box and charging his neighbour friends a penny to look inside to see the wheel turning. Impossible you say?--well a research scientist in Los Angeles, Dr. Ruth Drown, has claimed that a special log spiral (the same curve in a conch shell) gives off a strange energy emanation.

Here we have a detailed and accurate description of a working acoustic turbine. The outside resonators are simply an arrangement to excite the resonators mounted on the wheel. Needless to say they would have required excitation themselves by means of a tuning fork, a musical instrument or some other sound of the correct pitch. The wheel would have had to turn.

In other words the boy's motor worked. Nothing esoteric about its modus operandi. As to the use of the conch shells, they were simply an available source of cavity resonator, easily ground on a sheet of sand paper to the correct pitch. Beer bottles suitably ground would have worked equally well. As to Dr. Ruth Drown (of Radionics fame) who allegedly discovered some mysterious force in log spirals by using her trusty pendulum, that is utter nonsense of course.

What is noteworthy here is the time when Keely built his device. Keely was born in 1827. Assuming he was about 13 when he built this thing, that would make it about 1840, some 36 years earlier than the first description of the device! If that does not give credibility to Keely's integrity and honest pursuit of an, in his eyes, achievable goal nothing will. All other things followed from there in a methodical and organised manner.

Keely had no secrets.

Keely explained his devices and his researches in great detail. He built and demonstrated his machines. He opened them up for inspection to anyone who was interested, he even allowed people to photograph the equipment in assembled and disassembled states.

How much more open and less secretive can you possibly be?

But the world did not understand.

All Keely ever did was to work on ways to improve his original acoustic turbine by experimenting with different resonators and resonator arrangements. He used media other than air in his resonators, i.e. Water vapour, Hydrogen etc, all in an effort to improve the performance of the device. He even repeatedly talked about this. In his pursuits he discovered a number of phenomena as unknown to science as was his first acoustic turbine at the time he invented it.

Much of what he discovered is still unknown today because the science of acoustics had taken a different road from the one that Keely was following and never came across the phenomena Keely did.

Keely was an inventor and by the look of his machines a superb craftsman. A theoretical physicist he was not! He tried to squeeze his discoveries into a metaphysical model of the world as proposed by theosophists. That put a lot of people off and attracted an audience that was more interested in finding in Keely's work credibility for their own fanciful ideas of how the universe works.

That is still the case today. Serious researchers with adequate scientific knowledge unencumbered by offbeat religious ideas are rare and hard to find.

The key to unravelling Keely, in my view, is to find out how his machines worked , not in philosophical pontifications as to why! We can do this by studying without preconceptions, metaphysical or otherwise, his machines and descriptions of their construction and the underlying researches that led to it.

The rest will follow.

Next Chapter:


Hans von Lieven, copyright 2007