A Successful Story of Faking It Until You Make it: John Keely and the Keely Motor

We have all been there, a challenging calculus problem, a summary due on a book you read the first page of, or maybe even a presentation that you totally forgot about. Whatever the case, each of us can relate to faking it until we made it. Now my fast thinking may have earned me an A on a couple of unprepared assignments, but it never made me millions of dollars. John Keely’s did. His “invention” of the Keely motor, a machine said to harness power from “etheric force”, astonished the world and led wealthy investors to finance his endeavors. Keely appeared to work on his creation for most of his life, trying to “perfect” it year after year. However, the engine was never released for a slew of excuses and as more time passed the credibility of John Keely diminished. He is arguably one of the most successful con men in history.

Setting the Scene

John Keely was born on September 3, 1837 in Philadelphia Pennsylvania.  He was an orphan who spent his life as a young man working a variety of jobs. His interests spanned from painting, orchestra, carpentry and he even worked as a mechanic. After nearly 40 years of odd end jobs, he announced his discovery of a life changing machine in 1872. His machine alleged an ability to produce an exponential amount of power using only water and vibrations. 

The “Science” Behind the Discovery

Keely’s invention was said to be able to harness power from water atoms to generate perpetual motion. It was a known fact by this time that molecules are constantly in motion. With this in mind, Keely’s theory was that if you could generate random vibrations in the water atoms, that you would be able to produce unlimited energy. Then if you could get a bunch of atoms to vibrate in unison, their “etheric force” could power a motor.

Like any good bullshitter knows, you need confidence and support to back up your claim. To gain this, John Keely went on a tour speaking on this life altering revelation. He was frequently asked how he discovered such a thing. He always claimed it just came to him one day while he was playing his violin.

Big Apple, Big Money

After his tour, Keely began looking for investors. He traveled to New York City where he invited wealthy potential investors to his hotel to discuss his plans. John paid for an expensive room with velvet chairs, really playing into the role of a smart and wealthy entrepreneur. Bankers, lawyers, and other rich fold from all around went to his suite and began investing in what they thought would be the idea to make them millions.  

Soon after he reached the one-million-dollar mark Keely formed his company, the Keely Motor company. The business grew to five million rather quickly and no one saw any reason not to trust the brainiac man. 

A Performance of a Lifetime

On November 10, 1874 Keely showed off the first full scale version of his machine. Eventually he would refer to his creation as the “hydro-pneumatic pulsating vacuo-motor machine”. Investors traveled from all over to Keely’s factory in Philadelphia, where they were able to see the magical invention in person. One spectator described the power of the Keely motor as “Great ropes were torn apart, iron bars broken in two or twisted out of shape, bullets discharged through twelve-inch planks, by a force which could not be determined.” Needless to say, the performance left investors star struck.

Even though he racked in the cash, Keely’s company showed no profit and paid no dividends. Instead, any money made was put into further research of the motor. During the 1880’s and 1890’s more inventions like the Graham Bell telephone began to surface. Even though these advancements became the new big breakthroughs, Keely continued to work on his product.

Fact or Fraud

Keely’s invention had people on both sides of the argument of whether this man was really valid. The Scientific American were amongst those skeptical of his work. They were a scientific news outlet who ran an article saying that it was compressed air and not etheric force that made his machine operational. Keely chalked their claims up to envy and kept his investors in the process. A huge supporter of John was a wealthy widow, Mrs. Bloomfield- Moore. She not only believed in the Keely Motor but provided John with a personal salary of 2,000 dollars. Until his death in 1898 Keely continued to make promises with no results. He never patented his invention and never left a blueprint. This has led so many to wonder was it even real?  Maybe in the next lifetime we can find the answer from the only man who  knows the real truth.

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