The Keely Motor Humbug




NYT - 6/8/1885 - Among the party that witnessed the operations of Keely and his little motor at Philadelphia on Saturday, which were described in THE TIMES yesterday, was an elderly man from this city. He is put down in the directory as an engineer. He was on very familiar terms with the stockholders and officers of the Keely Motor Company, and volunteered explanation when Keely was "stumped." About a week or 10 days ago he endeavored to have inserted in divers New-York newspapers a glowing account of the success of the Keely motor at a trial purporting to have been made several days previously. At Saturday's trials this spokesman talked learnedly about forces being entirely independent of matter, and he insisted before the newspaper reporters that the results shown by Keely could not be the work of compressed air.

On the way back to this city, the same man offered to bet $5,000 that will what Keely had done could not be done by any other person living with the aid of any known power. A gentleman who overheard him promptly offered to take up the wager and suggested 2 P. M. to-day would be a good time to put up the money. At hearing this the bugleman for Keely declined to pursue the subject any further. He had taken occasion, however, early in the day, to deny most vehemently that he had a dollar of stock in the Keely Company or that he had been promised any consideration for his efforts. His motive in taking railroad rides, paying fares, &c., was simply philantropic, and he preferred that others should - by investing their money in Keely Motor stock - reap the great rewards which he was sure would come.

When THE TIMES's reporter who witnessed Keely's bungling attempts at dealing with machinery suggested that certain portions of the apparatus should be taken apart this engineer was strenuous among the objectors, and added his voice to the chorus of stockholders in insisting that the results should be shown rather than that there should be an examination of the apparatus for producing them. Keely himself, however, as was stated in THE TIMES, was the strongest objector to permitting an examination. To show how necessary it was to have this inquiry thorough it will be of use to call attention to the main portions of the apparatus used.

A fanciful contrivance, supported by rods and open at the sides like a bird cage, was built up by Keely with great care. It was armed with tuning forks, metallic rings with steel wires in side projecting toward the centres, and some other attachments. This much was openly shown. On top, was placed a very strong and heavy metallic globe having five apertures. From these apertures strong tubes run which were connected with very solid-looking cylinders. Keely was asked to open the globe, which, as far as appearances went, might well have contained compartments in which compressed air was stored of might have been a valve for regulating the pressure obtained from compressed air contained in the cylinders. He refused to open the globe, refused to open the cylinders, and refused to open his primitive form of pressure gauge so as to show the area of the plunger on which the force acted. It was apparent very soon in the performances that, although Keely made much ado about rubbing a greasy violin bow across a tuning fork and thrumming two smaller tuning forks connected with the bird cage arrangement, the whole of these things had nothing whatever to do with the results produced. Toward the end, indeed, of the experiments Keely forgot himself so far as not even to touch his musical implements, and still there was no difference in the effects. The revolving globe which Keely calls his engine went on rotating just as well without the musical accompaniment as with it. This showed, as was indeed apparent from the construction of the bird cage structure, that the latter was simply a device to withdraw attention from the really effective portions of the apparatus-to wit, the globe and cylinder.

The globe and cylinder were undoubtedly charged with some vapor which was at a high pressure. The receptacles were exceedingly strong and would bear as much of a bursting strain as a large gun. Just before any effect was produced Keely and his assistants opened up cocks on these cylinders and on the globe, and when they did so there was a rush of escaping vapor from one receptacle to another. Several times Keely tried to remove the pressure which he had obtained. When he did so a lot of vapor rushed out into the air. He pretended that this vapor was without substance and was pure force. Any one who is curious in the matter may easily test this. By collecting it in a jar over water, just as chemists collect gases, the vapor may be taken and examined. The usual chemical tests may be applied, and Keely will know - if he does not already - exactly what kind of gas is liberated after serving its purpose in his machine. The entire expense of making the test and doing it conclusively will be only a very few dollars, and not much of an expert will be required to perform it. At a pinch, and on proper representations, the students at the School of Mines of the Stevens Institute might be induced to make the test for nothing. It would serve as good practice for beginners in chemistry.

Keely says this vapor is a mystery - that it is absolutely without substance. The collecting-jar test is an easy way of disposing of his pretension and of showing, analytically, just what it is. An extra inducement for making the test is that will not "take a week," as Keely suggested it would do, to open up his entire apparatus. The whole matter can be settled in five minutes.

In rotating the globe which he calls his engine, Keely was unconsciously very amusing. Before starting the thing he did much fixing and fussing. He had added a new cylinder to his collection of reservoir of force, and, while he pretended to adjust nuts and tubes, the rush of escaping vapor was distinctly noticed. It sounded just like the charging of a compressed air chamber, and it took about half an hour or so for its accomplishment. The globe required hardly any force to remove it. The TIMES'S reporter tested this by causing it to revolve quickly by simply pressing a finger on it. Its revolution by Keely's force was remarkable simply because of the unsteady manner in which it was done. For a minute or two it revolved very rapidly, and by means of a pulley and belting the force was transmitted to a band saw which cut through a few inches of planking. It was soon stopped, however, and the revolutions were only resumed at the earnest solicitation of the reporter. Who asked to have it work a half an hour. The thing was started again amid impatient remarks from the Keely motor stockholders, and the engine did absolutely no work except revolve. No pulley or belting was connected with it. Thus lightened the globe revolved 12 minutes and a few seconds. Its power was, however, perceptibly waning, and Keely stopped it of his own accord.

In firing off the gun which he has Keely connected a new and large cylinder with the gun. He refused to open the gun and show its parts, saying they were soldered together - which most ordnance experts will admit is a new and unusual way of making a gun. The vapor - presumably air - was admitted by a strong tube connected with the part that would, in any ordinary gun, be the powder chamber, and the firing was done by the turning of an iron handle outside. The force developed was slight and was not measured. A soft leaden bullet 1 1/8 inches in diameter was shot forward about eight feet against an iron target. The ball flattened against the iron plate and fell. This experiment was repeated.

Keely was careful throughout to allow as little of his vapor to escape as possible. He turned it off at once as soon as a result was accomplished, evidently in order not to waste his power. The entire period during which his apparatus was at work was about 20 minutes, although the time consumed in preliminaries and in meddling with the apparatus brought up the session to a duration of about three hours and a half. A very small gas engine would have done much mere work, including the sawing, &c., than was shown by Keely's entire apparatus.

A well-known mechanical engineer who witnessed the tests at the instance of a wealthy gentleman of this city freely commented on the exhibition as a fraud. [(The New York Times)]

See Also

Was Keely a Fraud

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