7. Selling the Revolutionary Engine
As John Keely explained it when describing his engine to listeners, atoms are in a state of constant vibration, and by harnessing and channeling water’s vibrations in his engine, people could tap into limitless energy. By getting the water’s atoms to vibrate in unison in accordance with the principles of the luminiferous ether – a substance supposedly filling all space – one could use its “etheric force” to power motors. Put another way, the Keely Engine was a perpetual motion machine – an impossibility under the basic laws of physics, because it would violate the first or second laws of thermodynamics. Keely demonstrated a prototype to guests in his workshop by pouring water into its engine, then playing a harmonica, violin, flute, or other musical instrument to activate the machine with sound vibrations. Soon, the device would start gurgling, rumbling, then come alive, providing pressures of up to 50,000 psi on display gauges.
Harnessing that power, Keely arranged demonstrations in which thick ropes were ripped apart, iron bars were bent, twisted, and snapped in two, and bullets were driven through twelve inch wooden planks. Keely made up science-y sounding terminology to describe the principles of his invention. He began by describing his engine as a “vibratory generator”. Then he started telling observers that they were witnessing “quadruple negative harmonics”. At other times, he told gullible investors that he was going to make them filthy rich with his “hydro pneumatic pulsating vacu-engine”. And whenever a listener sounded a note of skepticism, he drowned it with yet more science-y sounding phrases such as “etheric disintegration”, “vibratory negatives”, “atomic triplets”, and “atomic ether vibrations”.