The New Motive Power

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Stephen Pearl Andrews

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To the Editor:

There is an article in the August number of your journal, which I am convinced was written by you upon first impressions, and not as the result of investigation of the particular project which you have, I think, erroneously confounded with a class of proposed inventions which have proved failures as a necessary consequence of their conflict with the very laws of nature upon which they were based. I refer to your comments on Sawyer & Gwinne's proposed new static pressure engine. Allow me to call your attention to the point of difference between it and the various projects along with which you have so unceremoniously classed it. All of these projects involve the attempt to cheat gravity or leverage by merely shifting the point of application of the power, and hence until water will run up by its own gravity, or until a man can lift himself by his own waistbands, or until some other violent reversal of known laws—known and admitted equally by these would-be inventors and held as the basis of their operations—their projects must fail. But now for the difference. The basis of Mr. Sawyer's proposed engine is entirely distinct He does not attempt to defraud any of the known mechanical laws, or to persuade them into any action different from their known propensities and settled habits; but on the contrary he announces the supposed discovery of a new mechanical law, of an additional or auxiliary force to those hitherto known and used, and he simply affirms that by the aid of this new law and new force, coupled with and reinforcing the old mechanical laws and forces, acting precisely in the old way, he can accomplish mechanical results which were never accomplished before. I am certain that you have unintentionally, and I will add, very naturally misapprehended him, and that you will be glad to have your attention directed to the real point in question, and that you will permit me as the friend and advocate of the inventors, to make this word of explanation in your columns.

It is obvious, under this statement, that there is, before any judgment can be formed upon this subject, a previous question to be settled. Has Mr. Sawyer pointed out, and clearly demonstrated the existence of, and does he propose to use a new or hitherto unobserved mechanical law and mechanical force? Does such a force exist in nature as he asserts, acting as he asserts it does?

If so, then all the old criticisms upon attempts to produce results similar to those he proposes are obsolete and must be abandoned as entirely out of place. If not, then the true point of attack is to show that it is not so, that he is wrong in his philosophy so far as that philosophy is new. This brings us back to the real first point at issue. Mr. Sawyer announces, as the result of both theory and experiment—experiment of the most prolonged, exact, and varied nature—that centrifugal force—that force which breaks up a wheel when rapidly rotatal, is not, as heretofore supposed, merely a mode of the exhibition of the circular momentum of the wheel; that it is not in any exact sense the result of the power applied to rotate the wheel, but that it is really and truly a new and independent force, exhibited by nature only under the condition of rotation, it is true, but still not due mechanically to the power that causes the rotation; that it is no tack on that power; that it can be used itself as a mechanical power, just as independent of the original power applied to rotate the wheel as gravity is; that herein is a grand mechanical and philosophical discovery which lifts the world at once into an entirely new mechanical sphere, and is going to enable us to perform, daily, miracles in mechanics, which under the old laws of mechanics, those hitherto known, acknowledged and worked upon, were simply absurd. I have examined Mr. Sawyer's models and experiments, and listened to his reasonings upon the subject, and am thoroughly convinced that he has made a genuine discovery of one of the laws of nature, which is going to unlock another storehouse of mechanical results, a thousand times richer and more varied than all that has been given us before. I believe if you will examine the subject you will be forced, against all your prejudices, to come to the same conclusion.

The following list of propositions will place the matter in a clearer light.

1. Centrifugal force increases in the ratio of the square of the velocity, as stated in all the books.

2. The rotation which evolves or demonstrates the centrifugal force is very nearly doubled by double the power applied. If the moving power be doubled, with a slight addition to overcome additional friction and atmospheric resistance, it will be found that in moving through the same space in the same lime, it will give twice the former velocity.

3. Consequently, that under a high ratio of velocity the centrifugal force must be, and actually is, twenty, thirty, fifty and one hundred times as great as the power applied.

4. That force or pressure, without motion is power restrained, and that force or pressure which acts or produces motion or overcomes restraint is power.

5. Consequently, that if centrifugal force can be applied to produce motion. it then becomes a mechanical power, and may be used as such.

6. That centrifugal force can be applied as a power in throwing fluid off from a centre, as when water is whirled m a pail.

7. That by throwing fluid off from a centre in a vessel closed above and below, a vacuum can be created and maintained as long as the rotation is continued.

8. That centrifugal force is no tax upon rotation, that it is no retarding cause, as inertia and friction are.

9. Consequently, that the power gained by centrifugal force is a pure donation of Nature, costing nothing; that is, that it is no subtraction from the circular momentum, which last, with the friction, accounts fully for all the power applied.

10. Consequently, that centrifugal force is an independent law of Nature, as much so as gravity, exhibiting itself only under the condition of rotation, but not being chargeable upon the power applied to cause the rotation.

11. That, consequently again, a vacuum can be constituted and maintained by a power—centrifugal force rendered active Dy applying it to a liquid—which costs nothing mechanically, which Nature bestows gratuitously—the mechanical properties of the. wheel rotated being just as great in the ordinary manner when the vacuum is created as when it is not.

12. That wherever and whenever a vacuum is made and maintained, the atmosphere outside can then be made to force a fluid into the vacuum—which vacuum is constantly renewed by the rotation; and the current of fluid thus put in motion by the atmospheric pressure, acting on a screw, or otherwise applied, can be used to propel machinery

13. That the motive power thus obtained can be augmented to an extent only limited by the strength of the material, by compressing the atmosphere, while the power required to be applied to cause the rotation remains the same.

There are some other points which remain to be stated in another article. One word in conclusion, with regard to the gross injustice which your remarks are calculated to do to Mr. Sawyer, in relation to his effort to raise, on the strength of his ideas, the means of testing the correctness of those ideas in the form of a working engine. You entirely misapprehend him when you class him among reckless speculators seeking to fleece the public, and in inflict on him a wrong deeper I am certain than you contemplated when you penned your article. Whatever may be the validity of his supposed discovery and invention, he is himself a genuine devotee to mechanical science and discovery, and in my opinion the profoundest investigator in the particular direction he has chosen, whom the world has yet seen. He has spent years of time and a liberal fortune in presenting an immense range of experiment. He has exhausted his means just at the time when he believes that he has arrived at a discovery of immense magnitude. Can you tell me now, what course a man, honestly believing, profoundly convinced that he has in his possession an idea of immense value to the world, which only waits to be clothed in wood and iron to be visible to mankind, and without the m^ans of so clothing it, can proceed with propriety!

Is there any more honorable course than for him to lay his supposed discoveries and inventions fully and fairly open before the world, and to invite the criticisms of science, and challenge the test of experiment? Is there any felony committed in his offering to such capitalists as will enable him to build an engine, a participation in the fruits of success? Ought the man who is driven by necessity, a necessity brought on him by his devotion to science, to avail himself of such an appeal to the generosity or the cupidity of the world to be met by the abuse (if you will allow me the term) of the very organs of that science, and of that branch of science which he is seeking to advance? Well assured that there was no malicious intention in your comments, and that you only fell into the natural error of classification, where a broad distinction really exists. I shall not prosecute a current of remarks which wounded sensibility of an enthusiastic discoverer, or the sympathising feelings of a personal friend of such person would prompt.

Stephen Pearl Andrews.

We give place to the above communication, perhaps of but little value to many of our readers, but as it embodies the principle upon which the "newly discovered law of nature" exists, it may not be wholly without interest.

The discussion of this new law can only result in good; for of our own knowledge, its promulgation has induced an examination and study of central forces by many who would have otherwise passed the subject by as one fully understood, and therefore but little likely to afford any new results.

There is no known law of nature, the study of which will not rep:iy all that may be expended upon it, and this one of the central forces, like many others' is not too well understood. But in order to examine the laws of combustion it is not necessary to burn your fingers—you may learn all the truths connected with centrifugal motion without purchasing the right to use it; and such would be our advice.

  • Stephen Pearl Andrews, “The New Motive Power,” Appleton’s Mechanics’ Magazine and Engineers’ Journal 1, no. 9 (September 1, 1851): 567-569.