Elaborate Mechanism Works and Works to Do Nothing Well (Feb, 1954)

Elaborate Mechanism Works and Works to Do Nothing Well

We all know someone who works harder doing nothing than most of us work doing something, but we can’t possibly know anything that works harder at nothing than a machine built by a California hobbyist. The machine has over 700 working parts that rotate, twist, oscillate and reciprocate—all for no purpose except movement. It is the brainstorm of Lawrence Wahlstrom, a landscape artist, who calls it a flying-saucer detector. The machine not only accomplishes nothing, it is never completed—it has been under construction seven years. Each year Wahlstrom adds 50 or more moving parts to it so it can do nothing more efficiently!

13 comments
  1. Stannous says: April 23, 200710:23 am

    This was featured in newsreels, LIFE and Time mags and even commented on as a sign of our spiritual-less times in Catholic Digest in 1953.
    I was hoping to find a copy of the newsreel on youtube but no luck.

  2. jayessell says: April 24, 20073:16 pm

    It went ‘zing’ when it moved, ‘bop’ when it stopped, ‘whirr’ when it stood still; I never knew just what it was, and I guess I never will.

  3. Chainsaw Fencing Champ says: December 3, 20079:29 pm

    Hey, it’s like the internet.

  4. Davies Family says: February 22, 20089:25 pm

    This is our grandfather. He also appeared on a popular TV show “I’ve got a secret” in 1953 or 54. We were hoping to find a copy of the TV appearance or information about the machine’s whereabouts.

  5. [...] the idea of technology that serves absolutely no useful purpose. So, I was happy to stumble upon this thing, an “Elaborate Mechanism Works and Works to do Nothing Well”, from 1954. Awesome. And [...]

  6. Axel says: May 9, 20085:41 pm

    It reminds me of a “Perpetuum mobile sculpture” made by norwegian artist Reidar Finsrud, it has a circular ball track similar to this one, suspended by som peldulum arangement. He claims it has been running continuously since april 1996. http://www.galleri-fins… has some pics and a video clip, there are also some links but many of them are dead.

    I’ve never seen a good explanation of it, I wonder if it’s based on some “Foucaults pendulum” principle. Like that the earth’s rotation causes the pendulums to precess (change direction of swing), and that the machine is able to absorb a tiny amount of energy from this to keep the ball rolling. But you have to remember that he presents it as a work of art rather than an actual perpetuum mobile, it may be some tricks involved.

  7. jayessell says: May 9, 20086:24 pm

    I don’t think it was meant to be a Perpetual Motion Machine.
    It’s what we would call Kinetic Art.

    One of the Dr. Who episodes (Tom Baker era?) suggested tapping
    The kinetic energy of the planet.
    Was there a crackpot plan to build huge gyroscopes
    at the equator to capture the power of its’ spin?

  8. Firebrand38 says: March 22, 20104:30 pm

    For Stannous: I located where you can purchase the newsreel on DVD just go here

  9. Firebrand38 says: March 22, 20104:40 pm

    Also another article displaying the designer along with his design

  10. Prime Evil says: August 25, 201012:13 pm

    RE: Jayessell

    You might be thinking of “The Deadly Assassin,” but I’m not sure. If that’s the case, then it’s not what you’re thinking of.

    In “TDA,” the Doctor’s homeworld of Gallifrey had a black hole set against the mass of the planet in an eternally dynamic equation, which is WHAT MAKES TIME-TRAVEL POSSIBLE, at least for the Doctor. The Master, the Doctor’s archnemesis, wanted to tap that energy for himself. He’d destroy the planet in the process, but hey, at least he’d get a new lease on life.

    As for the thing itself, it looks like something I’d want for my own room. I *love* things with millions of gears clicking away.

  11. jayessell says: August 26, 20105:00 am

    Re: Prime Evil

    I think it was someguy on someplanet who was doing something
    to generate energy but IT WENT HORRIBLY WRONG and the
    The Doctor arrived in the nick of time*** and stopped it.
    At the end of the last chapter of that episode, in order for the guy not to threaten
    the planet/galaxy/universe again, The Doctor suggests he look into capturing
    the kinetic (he called it ‘kynetic’) energy of the planets.
    Not sure if he meant ‘rotating on axis’ or ‘orbiting the sun’.
    As Earth weighs 6 septillion tons (including people) math should
    tell us if that’s a million years of 1980s world energy consumption
    without making the days too long.

    ***Had he attended the pre-production meeting and explained WHY it would
    GO HORRIBLY WRONG I guess it wouldn’t have been a good episode.

  12. Timothy McCoy says: January 18, 20118:14 pm

    There use to be an club here in silicon Valley, California called the “Zitzenclopper Society.” Their avowed purpose was to make some sort of mechanical or electro-mechanical machines that did absolutely nothing. They had a yearly meeting usually at some engineering trade show, where they would display their current projects.
    I think this machine is an early example of their work, or possibly the machine that started it all.
    I don’t know if they still exist, but seeing everything is now electronic it is sort of moot.

  13. Paul says: July 21, 20115:57 pm

    It’s mechanical and does nothing. Kinda like a robot politician.

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