In Philadelphia in 1874, inventor John Worrell Keely demonstrated before a stunned audience his amazing new engine that promised to change the world’s approach to energy production forever. As the crowd watched, Keely blew into a nozzle for a full thirty seconds, poured five gallons of water from a tap into that same nozzle, and pointed to a pressure gauge reading 10,000 PSI to indicate that the water had been disintegrated and had released a newly discovered vapor with enough power to send a steam ship from New York to Liverpool and back five times over.
I imagine the audience may have had some questions, and Keely probably answered them. He certainly did so on a number of occasions. His invention, he said, was a “vibratory engine,” or if he were feeling particularly fancy, a “hydro-pneumatic pulsating vacuo-engine.”
Based on observations of a tuning fork in all its vibratory glory, Keely’s motor made use of etheric energy. And if you don’t know what that is, then I’m afraid I can’t help you. The best I can figure is that it’s kind of like an aura? Maybe? This is why I’m a writer and not an expert on sympathetic vibratory physics.
But Keely was an expert and he spent a lot of time explaining the alleged science behind his miraculous engine to potential investors, and some actual investors to the tune of $6 million of capital used for establishing his Keely Motor Company.
The biggest and most determined investor in Keely’s crypto-engine was a wealthy widow named Clara S. J. Bloomfield-Moore, who funded the company’s research for $100,000 plus a salary for Keely himself of $2,500 per month. I’m not a financial expert either, but I bet I don’t have to work hard to convince you that in the 1870s this was a whole lot of money.
And it probably would have been a worthwhile investment had there been anything to the hydro-pneumatic pulsating vacuo-engine. I certainly wish there had been. I keep reading reports of gas prices on the rise and the potential for shortages this summer as people begin to scratch the itch to get out of the house and into a post-pandemic world of summer fun. It would be nice to be able to travel the country fueled by nothing more than a bucket of water.
The anticipated shortages come primarily from a rise in demand that follows on the heels of a steep reduction in demand amid lockdowns and travel restrictions. During that same time period, training programs for new tanker truck drivers shut down or limited operations and many more experienced drivers, finding less work, decided to go ahead and retire. Apparently, tanker truck drivers are the new toilet paper.
So, when my 13-year-old son finishes this final week of what has been the “longest, most awful eighth grade year of [his] life” (his words, because he’s funny), and says he wants to “take all the vacations,” I find myself wishing Keely had been on the up-and-up.
He definitely wasn’t. For all the fancy explanations and big words Keely had to offer when asked, he was consistently reluctant to allow engineers and physicists to study his equipment. The opportunity for a thorough examination didn’t arrive until after his death in November of 1898. That’s when investigators uncovered a laboratory full of a great deal of piping, mechanical belts, pneumatic switches, and a large water-powered motor hidden in the basement.
He never did get his tuning fork engine to work. He did, however, manage to become a pretty successful humbug, skillfully attracting and putting off investors for more than twenty years with shady business practices akin to including the phrase “investing in crypto” in the title of a blog post about vibration and imaginary vapor. My hero.
He also coined the term “hydro-pneumatic pulsating vacuo-engine,” which has the potential to make you sound really smart at your next cocktail party, and maybe even raise some ill-gotten funds, as long as you are prepared to answer a few follow-up questions.