PHILADELPHIA, Nov. 18, 1898 - John Ernest Worrell Keely, the inventor of the Keely motor, died to-day at his home in this city from pneumonia. He was taken ill on Saturday last, and continued to grow steadily worse until his death. Mr. Keely was sixty-one years of age, and leaves a widow.
More than thirty years ago John Ernest Worrell Keely first announced that he had discovered a mysterious power of immense capabilities of industrial application, and ever since that time he has been more or less prominent in the public eye. Diffident at first with regard to this illimitable force he professed to have revealed, of late years he has claimed to possess the mastery over it. For over a generation scientific men, engineers and the laity heard at repeated intervals of the wonders of the discovery, but Keely died before he had given satisfactory demonstrations that his idea could be successfully adapted to commercial use.
He was born in the old town of Chester, Penn., and for some time was a member of a theatrical orchestra, and later a decorative painter. The news that this previously unknown man had invented a motor of tremendous power that was evolved from less than a quart of water was first made known in Philadelphia, and at first received with ridicule, though the cleverness of the supposed discoverer gained a degree of credence. It may be honestly said of Keely's devices that hundreds of theoretical scientists, as well as practical mechanical experts, attended exhibitions of the wonderful power, and no matter how sceptical regarding the motive power of what was seen, were able to claim that Mr. Keely's assertions were fraudulent. That he did exhibit a machine that ran was beyond dispute.
Considerable capital was soon found to invest in the new invention, and a company was incorporated. The stock was eagerly sought in this country, and much of it was taken abroad. But Mr. Keely successively claimed he saw possibilities of far better results in improved devices for applying the mysterious force, and began dilatory tactics that disgusted the stockholders, until they were glad to dispose of their stock if a buyer so adventurous as to take it was found. For twenty-five years Keely was at work upon his improved apparatus, and during that time the stock of the company fluctuated from $500 to 10 cents a share.
It was not until about 1896 that it was decided Keely should construct the engine to demonstrate his theories. This step was not even then taken until after a careful consideration by the principals, and upon the advice of distinguished foreign mechanical experts. Within a year he completed an engine, or motor, and exhibited it in Philadelphia.
The motor was inspected by W. J. Franzioli, the General Manager of the Manhattan Elevated Railway, Chief Electrical Engineer Brown of the Western Union Telegraph Company, and Mechanical Engineer Pierson and Assistant Engineer Sterrett of the Metropolitan Street Railway Company. They were much impressed and declared that the force was a new one. Keely's apparent inability to apply his power to existing machinery, however, always was the stumbling block.
A description of one of the Keely exhibitions that was recognized as characteristic of nearly all was written some months ago by Julian Hawthorne, who was a professional engineer before he became a novelist.
"Movements took place for which there were no visible or hitherto recognized means of accounting," he said. "A heavy metallic sphere revolved at great speed. An isolated compass did the same. Weights immersed in a tall glass jar filled with water rose upward or sank again or remained midway. All that Mr. Keely did was to tinker with a stringed musical machine fitted with singular appliances and to blow upon a small mouth organ at intervals. The assumption appeared to be that musical notes produced vibrations which affected the 'chords of mass' of the things operated upon, and the 'polar currents' were in some manner induced to participate in the strange results."
Keely was remarkable in that he never cared to display any manifestations of his discovery except to men of mechanical and scientific attainments. In the early days most of his stockholders were of that class, but they soon lost patience and complained that Keely seemed incompetent to understand or develop a power hitherto unknown upon which he had probably stumbled.