James Madison Papers

To James Madison from an Unidentified Correspondent, 5 January 1813 (Abstract)

§ From an Unidentified Correspondent

5 January 1813, Walpole, New Hampshire. Writes to communicate to JM “the principle of a long desired discovery …, that of perpetual motion.” Uses the example of waterwheels to demonstrate the usefulness of force. Because he does “not think it right to sell the efforts of reason in discoveries,” he will “make a present of it” to his country.1 Does not “even think proper at present to reveal” his name but may do so “in time”: “it will be known by the producing the piece of paper cut from this and the original.”

RC (DLC). 2 pp.; marked “Duplicate”; signature clipped; docketed by JM, “perpetual motion / 1813.”

1Many “inventors” of perpetual motion machines sought to make a fortune by charging admission to demonstrations of their contraptions. In 1812 Charles Redheffer set up a machine in Philadelphia that many people flocked to observe. The Philadelphia Aurora General Advertiser became a clearinghouse for the ongoing battle between the advocates and detractors of perpetual motion. William Duane, editor of the Aurora, reported on 9 Jan. 1813 that “some unknown person” brought an advertisement to be inserted into his paper about the perpetual motion machine and “when asked by whose order, or to whose account,” answered only, “on account of the proprietors of the machine.” (For a more detailed account, see Arthur W. J. G. Ord-Hume, Perpetual Motion: The History of an Obsession [New York, 1977], 125–33.)

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