Technology and Culture
URL with Digital Object Identifier
In Philadelphia in the 1870s, John Worrell Keely announced the invention of a fantastic new motor that could, he promised, drive locomotives, power factories, and even defy gravity without fuel or heat. The Keely Motor became the most notorious perpetual motion scheme of the nineteenth century, attracting believers and investors for nearly thirty years. This article explores the “work” the motor performed for Keely, his supporters, and his critics—not physical work, but financial, cultural, and psychological. To investors, the Keely Motor represented a dream of riches without effort. To Keely’s critics, the motor offered an opportunity to defend the legitimacy of the new industrial economy. And to Keely’s staunchest supporters, including the author and heiress Clara Moore, the motor was a rebuke to the laws of thermodynamics and the parsimonious political economy, the pessimistic theology, and the anti-feminist psychiatry those laws were alleged to support.
Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 4.0 License