John Worrell Keely

From Kook Science

John Worrell Keely
Born 3 September 1837(1837-09-03)
Chester, Delaware Co., Pennsylvania
Died 18 November 1898 (61)
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Affiliations Keely Motor Company; Keely Manufacturing Company of Pennsylvania

John Ernest Worrell Keely (September 3, 1837 - November 18, 1898) was an American mechanic and inventor who claimed to have discovered means of exploiting an etheric force to convert minute quantities of air and water into motive force, as a form of virtual perpetual motion, which he claimed to demonstrate using machines he constructed that were variously called vibratory-generators and hydro-pneumatic-pulsating-vacuo-engines. Keely was also, late in his life, linked to claims regarding an anti-gravity force called apergy, which certain of his defenders as well as sensationalist press accounts related he had discovered.

Selected Bibliography

Selected Patents

  • US118022A. "Improvement in Fly-Wheels." 15 Aug. 1871.


19th Century

20th-21st Century

  • Fort, Charles (1932), "CHAPTER THIRTY-TWO", Wild Talents, New York: Claude Kendall, p. 338-343 

    In November, 1874, John Worrell Keely exhibited, to a dozen well-known Philadelphians, his motor. They were hard-headed business men — as far as hard heads go — which isn't very far — but they were not dupes and gulls of the most plastic degree. They saw, or thought they saw, this motor operate, though connected in no way with any conventionally recognized source of power. Some of these witnesses considered the motor worth backing. Keely, too, explained that something outside himself was the moving force, but nobody has ever been able to explain his explanations. Unlike Hendershot's simple contrivance, Keely's motor was a large and complicated structure. The name of it was formidable. When spoken of familiarly, it was a vibratory generator, but the full name of the monster was the Hydro-pneumatic-pulsating-vacue-engine. A company was organized, and, after that, everything was very unsatisfactory, except to Keely. There was something human about this engine—just as any monist, of course thinks there is to everything—such as rats and trees and people. It was like so many promising young men, who arrive at middle age, still promising, and go to their graves, having, just before dying, promised something or another. It can't be said that the engine worked. The human-like thing had talents, and was capable of sensational stunts, but it couldn't earn a dollar. That is, at an honest day's toil, it could not, but with its promises it brought tens of thousands of dollars to Keely. It is said that, though he lived well, he spent much of this money in experiments.

    Here, too, just what I suspect—though don't have it that I think I'm the only one who has had this idea—was just what was not asserted. That his motor moved responsively to a wizardry of his own, was just what Keely never said. It could be that it was a motivation of his own, but that he did not know it. Mesmer, in his earlier phases, believed that he wrought cures with magnets, and he elaborated very terminological theories, in terms of magnets, until he either conceived, or admitted, that his effects were wrought by his own magic.

    I should like to have an opinion upon fuel-less engines, from an official of General Motors, to compare with what the doctors of Vienna and Paris thought of Mesmer.

    For eight years there was faith: but then (December, 1882), there was a meeting of disappointed stockholders of the Keely Motor Co. In the midst of protests and accusations, Keely announced that, though he would not publicly divulge the secret of his motor, he would tell everything to any representative of the dissatisfied ones. A stockholder named Boekel was agreed upon. Boekel's report was that it would be improper to describe the principle of the mechanism, but that "Mr. Keely had discovered all that he had claimed." There is no way of inquiring into how Mr. Boekel was convinced. Considering the billions of human beings who have been "convinced" by bombardments of words and phrases beyond their comprehension, I think that Mr. Boekel was reduced to a state of mental helplessness by flows of a hydro-pneumatic-pulsating-vacue terminology; and that faithfully he kept his promise not to explain, because he had not more than the slightest comprehension of what it was that had convinced him.

    But I do not think that any character of Mr. Keely's general abilities has ever practiced successfully without the aid of religion. Be good for a little while, and you shall have everlasting reward. Keely was religious in preaching his doctrine of goodness: benefits to mankind, releases from enslavement, spare time for the cultivation of the best that is in everybody, promised by his motor — and in six months the stock will be quoted at several times its present value. I haven't a notion that John Worrell Keely, with a need for business, and a throb for suffering humanity, was any less sincere than was General Booth, for instance.

    In November, 1898, Keely died. Clarence B. Moore, son of his patron, Mrs. Bloomfield Moore — short tens of thousands of dollars in his inheritance, because of Keely and his promises — rented Keely's house, and investigated. According to his findings, Keely was "an unadulterated rascal."

    This is too definite to suit my notions of us phenomena. The unadulterated, whether of food we eat, or the air we breathe, or of idealism, or of villainy, is unfindable. Even adultery is adulterated. There are qualms and other mixtures.

    Moore said that he had found the evidences of rascality. The motor was not the isolated mechanism that, according to him, the stockholders of the Keely Motor Co. had been deceived into thinking it was: he had found an iron pipe and other tubes, and wires that led from the motor to the cellar. Here was a large, spherical, metallic object. There were ashes.

    Imposture exposed — the motor had been run by a compressed air engine, in the cellar.

    Anybody who has ever tried to keep a secret twenty-four hours, will marvel at this story of an impostor who, against all the forces of revelation, such as gas men, and coal men, and other persons who get into cellars — against inquisitive neighbors, and, if possible, even more inquisitive newspaper men — against disappointed stockholders and outraged conventionalists — kept secret, for twenty-four years, his engine in the cellar.

    It made no difference what else came out. Taboo had, or pretended it had, something to base on. Almost all people of all eras are hypnotics. Their beliefs are induced beliefs. The proper authorities saw to it that the proper belief should be induced, and people believed properly.

    Stockholders said that they knew of the spherical object, or the alleged compressed air engine in the cellar, because Keely had made no secret of it. Nobody demonstrated that by means of this object, the motor could be run. But beliefs can be run. So meaningless, in any sense of organization, were the wires and tubes, that I think of Hendershot's statement that he had complicated his motor with "leads," as he called them.

    Stones that have fallen in houses where people were dying — the rambles of a pan of soft soap — chairs that have moved about in the presence of poltergeist girls —

    But, in the presence of John Worrell Keely, there were disciplined motions of a motor. For twenty-four years there were demonstrations, and though there was much of a stir-up of accusations, never was Keely caught helping out a little. There was no red light, nor semi-darkness. The motor stood in no cabinet. Keely's stockholders were of a superior intelligence, as stockholders go, inasmuch as many of them investigated, somewhat, before speculating. They saw this solemn, big contrivance go around and around. Sometimes they saw sensational stunts. The thing tore thick ropes apart, broke iron bars, and shot bullets through a twelve-inch plank. I conceive that the motivation of this thing was a wild talent — an uncultivated, rude, and unreliable power, such as is all genius in its infancy —

    That Keely operated his motor by a development of mere "willing," or visualizing, whether consciously; or not knowing how he got his effects — succeeding spasmodically sometimes, failing often, according to the experience of all pioneers — impostor and messiah.

    Justifying himself, in the midst of promises that came to nothing, because he could say to himself something that Galileo should have said, but did not say — "Nevertheless it does move!"

  • Paijmans, Theo (2004), Free Energy Pioneer: John Worrell Keely, Kempton, IL: Adventures Unlimited 

Press Coverage




  1. Colville and Keely were friends, and Colville made reference to Keely's hypotheses in his own writings, including in his 1894 book Dashed Against the Rock, a Romance of the Coming Age (Boston: Colby & Rich). Colville was one of eulogists at Keely's funeral on 23 November 1898.