Francis Henry Otto

From Kook Science

Perpetual Motion Otto
Born Francis Henry Otto
between 1837-1849
Died 9 (or 11) May 1915 (67-77)
Racine, Wisconsin
Known for Claims to have invented a perpetual motion machine

Francis Henry Otto, also known as Perpetual Motion Otto (or simply Perpetual Otto), was an American farmer and inventor who worked for decades on the problem of perpetual motion, building some fifteen machines during that time, and going as far as to offer stock to finance some of his later schemes that reputedly drew hundreds of investors. In his later years, Otto was adjudged insane by the Wisconsin courts, held for a time at the State Hospital for the Insane (Mendota) and then transferred to the Racine County Insane Asylum, where he remained until his death.

Press Coverage

Wheel within a wheel.

"Solution" of 1885

Failure of 1899

  • "Kenosha People Held Many Shares In The Perpetual Motion Machine", Weekly Wisconsin (Milwaukee, WI): 2, 25 Nov. 1899,, "The failure of the invention of F. H. Otto of Somers, commonly known as 'Perpetual Motion' Otto, has created a great deal of interest in this city, on account of the fact that nearly all the shares in the long-worked-on perpetual-motion machine were held by citizens of the city, and could the amount be expressed by the amount represented in the shares in the invention now outstanding, the loss will amount to many hundred thousand dollars. Since the failure of the old man's cherished dream has been announced many people have been found who are holders of the shares in the invention. Some of them have large amounts, and one man has been found who has paper of the inventor to the sum of over $10,000. But no one blames the old man and no one has ever questioned his sincerity. He never forced anyone to buy the shares in the proposed machine, but always certain that the machine would prove the greatest invention of the century, he held that the people were highly favored when he permitted them to hold the stock in the invention which had caused him so many years of work and worry. 'Perpetual Motion' Otto was one of the most peculiar characters that have ever lived in Kenosha county. He was one of tbe earliest settlers in the town of Somers, and as long as the oldest settler can remember he has always been engaged in the manufacture of his wonderful machine which was to make a revolution in the world of mechanics. At the time of the war he was reputed to be wealthy. He lived alone in his little home on a farm, but the labors of the farm held little interest for him, and most of his time was spent a little workshop in which he toiled over the plans of his invention. It is asserted by those who know the old man that the first parts of the machine, which he has acknowledged to be a failure, were made over fifty years ago. All his life since that time has been spent in revising plans and pieces. His fortune was soon spent in his work. The invention became known to the world about three years ago when Otto moved to Kenosha and rented a little room in one of the second-class hotels in the city. At the dead of night the machine was carried from his home in Somers to the city and set up in a little alcove of the room. When the announcement of the invention was made everyone suspected that the old man was at unsound mind, but he never intruded in the provinces of others and seemed content to work at the wonderful invention. He was very enthusiastic over the invention and the enthusiasm was catching. The shares of stock went rapidly. Everybody bought them as men at a race course purchase pools on a long shot. At last, with the assistance of money secured in this manner, the invention was completed and notices were sent out tn the shareholders that it would be started on its never-ending run. The little room of the inventor was crowded with the holders of shares in the machine. It was the triumph of his life, and as he started the wheels to moving on the memorable occasion there were few in the crowd of people about who thought the invention was not only a success, but that it was a practical success. Tbe wheels ran and day after day passed. The old man was the hero of the hour. But the dream ended, the wheels stopped again, and with all his patience and hard work the old inventors was never able to get them started. Finally he gave up and a short time later he moved the machine back to the cottage on the farm. But the old man is not alone disappointed, for there are hundreds of people all over southern Wisconsin who had a share or two in the invention to whom the announcement of the failure will come as a blast to long-cherished hopes. One of the shareholders in speaking of the matter said that at least half a million dollars worth of shares had been sold in the invention. Otto has not [lost?] his inventive mind on account of the failure, but now announces that he is working on a plan to develop functional power which will not be a failure." 
Perpetual Motion Otto - Daily Sentinel (Grand Junction, OH) - 1901-05-25, p. 1.jpg

"Solution" of 1901

  • "Perpetual Motion Machine Shares", Watertown Republican (Watertown, WI): 2, 13 Feb. 1900,, "Kenosha, Wis., Feb. 9. — Francis Henry Otto, 'Perpetual Motion Otto,' who has been living in Somers attempting to perfect his machine, is in Kenosha trying to dispose of stock in his new venture. For $1 he offers to sell $1000 worth of stock and to pay 6 per cent. on the investment." 
  • "REVIVES PERPETUAL MOTION - Wisconsin Man Announces That He Has Solved Impossible Problem", Daily Sentinel (Grand Junction, OH): 1, 25 May 1901, "Somers, Wis., May 22. — After a year of seclusion William Otto, known throughout southern Wisconsin as 'Perpetual Motion Otto,' has come before the people again and announces that he is working on a machine which will serve the long sought secret of perpetual motion. The machine has not been seen by any one but it is said that in the last two months it has been in constant operation. Many years ago Otto was a prosperous farmer in the town of Somers. He conceived the idea of solving the question of perpetual motion, and his fortune has vanished. His enthusiasm over his invention has been contagious, and he has sold thousands of shares in a company which is to place his invention on the market when it is completed. The old man now says that success is in sight and promises to give a public exhibition of the machine which will represent the results of his labors for the last ten years. For over thirty years he has been laboring with the machine and no doubt will die while searching for the sure problem." 

Adjucation to the Asylum (1909)

  • "Adjudged Insane", Post-Crescent (Appleton, WI): 2, 10 Aug. 1909,, "'Perpetual Motion' Otto, who has sold stock to hundreds of persons who believed in his inventive genius, has been adjudged insane, and, with his uncompleted machine, has been taken to the asylum at Madison. One of his perpetual motion machines once ran a month without stopping. He has spent a lifetime on the problem." 
  • "Letter from Otto", Post-Crescent (Appleton, WI): 2, 13 July 1910,, "Judge Clifford E. Randall has received a letter from Frank 'Perpetual Motion' Otto who is in the state hospital for the insane in Mendota, demanding that steps be taken to secure his release from that institution. Otto insists that he is sane." 

Obituaries (1915)

Frank Otto, known the world over as "Perpetual Otto," because of his incessant efforts to discover perpetual motion, and, no doubt, one of the most noted characters in Wisconsin, died at the Racine county asylum for the insane and with him passed to the unknown the life of a man of more than ordinary education and ability.

Frank Otto was born in Germany 77 years ago. When a young man he came to America and later became a resident of Kenosha county. Purchasing land he became a prosperous farmer, acquired considerable wealth and was considered in comfortable circumstances.

More than twenty-five years ago Otto became interested in the problem of perpetual motion. All of his time was spent in that direction and finally he invented several machines and spent much money to perfect them; in fact, his farm and lands were absorbed by his efforts.

He worked night and day and soon become known as a crank on the subject and was named "Perpetual Otto." From his farm in Kenosha he came to Racine and built a machine at the old A. P. Dickey factory.

Calling upon the writer, who knew him well, Otto invited him to the shop to see the machine work. The machine was certainly a remarkable one. There were more than fifty wheels, gears, cylinders and weights and when started it would run for a short time and then stop.

Days, weeks and months Otto labored in an effort to perfect the motion only to fail. Suddenly he would disappear, return to the Kenosha farms, work a whole year, earning money and studying the subject.

Then he would return and every time with the claim: "I have got it at last."

But failure met him every time. Possibly fifteen straight years he came regularly, but his hopes never were realized.

He probably invented a dozen different machines and sold considerable stock at one time to apply on his work to get his last machine right.

Finally his mind gave way entirely and he was adjudged insane and committed to the Racine county asylum six or seven years ago. He was completely lost without his machine to work on and it was decided to take it to the asylum. A room in the basement was set aside for him and the hundreds of visitors to the institution would always see him bending over the machine as he file away at the parts and adjusted them. He seldom spoke to any one and some times refused to eat his meals.

To the very last he worked on his pet hobby and was sure that he would soon be heralded to the world as the most famous inventor ever known and that his name would go down into history.

Advices from the asylum state that he had been ailing for about a week and that he died last Sunday. He has relatives living in Kenosha county. The funeral was held yesterday and he was buried in the asylum cemetery.