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What did Kulibin invent?
What did Kulibin invent?

Everyone knows that Kulibin is a great Russian inventor, mechanic and engineer. His surname has long become a common noun in Russian. But, as shown by a recent survey, only five percent of respondents can name at least one of his inventions. How so? We decided to conduct a small educational program: so, what did Ivan Petrovich Kulibin invent?

Ivan Petrovich, who was born in the Podnovye settlement near Nizhny Novgorod in 1735, was an incredibly talented person. Mechanics, engineering, watchmaking, shipbuilding - everything was arguing in the skillful hands of a Russian self-taught. He was successful and was close to the empress, but at the same time none of his projects, which could make life easier for ordinary people and contribute to progress, were neither properly funded, nor implemented by the state. Whereas entertainment mechanisms - funny automatons, palace clocks, self-propelled guns - were funded with great joy.

Navigable ship

At the end of the 18th century, the most common method of lifting cargo on ships against the current was burlak labor - hard, but relatively inexpensive. There were also alternatives: for example, engine-driven ships propelled by oxen. The structure of the machine vessel was as follows: it had two anchors, the ropes of which were attached to a special shaft. One of the anchors on a boat or along the shore was delivered forward 800-1000 m and secured. The oxen working on the ship rotated the shaft and twisted the anchor rope, pulling the ship to the anchor against the current. At the same time, another boat was carrying the second anchor forward - this was how the continuity of movement was ensured.


Kulibin came up with the idea of ​​how to do without oxen. His idea was to use two paddle wheels. The current, rotating the wheels, transferred energy to the shaft - the anchor rope was wound, and the ship pulled itself to the anchor using the energy of the water. In the process of work, Kulibin was constantly distracted by orders for toys for the royal offspring, but he managed to get funding for the manufacture and installation of his system on a small ship. In 1782, loaded with almost 65 tons (!) Of sand, it proved to be reliable and much faster than a ship powered by oxen or burlats.

In 1804, in Nizhny Novgorod, Kulibin built a second waterway, which was twice as fast as the burlak embroidery. Nevertheless, the department of water communications under Alexander I rejected the idea and banned funding - the waterways did not spread. Much later, capstans appeared in Europe and the United States - ships that pulled themselves to the anchor using the energy of a steam engine.


Screw elevator

The most common elevator system today is a winched cab. Winch lifts were created long before Otis' patents in the mid-19th century - similar structures were in operation in ancient Egypt, they were set in motion by draft animals or slave power.In the mid-1790s, the aging and overweight Catherine II commissioned Kulibin to develop a convenient elevator for moving between floors Of the Winter Palace. She certainly wanted a lift-chair, and an interesting technical problem arose before Kulibin. It was impossible to attach a winch to such an elevator, open from above, and if you “pick up” the chair with a winch from below, it would cause inconvenience to the passenger. Kulibin solved the question wittily: the base of the chair was attached to a long axis-screw and moved along it like a nut.Catherine sat on her mobile throne, the servant twisted the handle, the rotation was transmitted to the axle, and she lifted the chair to the gallery on the second floor. Kulibin's screw lift was completed in 1793, while Elisha Otis built the second such mechanism in history in New York only in 1859. After the death of Catherine, the elevator was used by the courtiers for entertainment, and then it was bricked up. Today, drawings and remains of the lifting mechanism have been preserved.

Theory and practice of bridge building

From the 1770s until the early 1800s, Kulibin worked on the creation of a single-span stationary bridge across the Neva. He made a working model, on which he calculated the forces and stresses in various parts of the bridge - despite the fact that the theory of bridge construction did not yet exist at that time! Empirically, Kulibin predicted and formulated a number of laws of resistance to materials, which were confirmed much later. At first, the inventor developed the bridge at his own expense, but Count Potemkin allocated money for the final layout. The 1:10 scale model reached a length of 30 m.

All bridge calculations were presented to the Academy of Sciences and verified by the famous mathematician Leonard Euler. It turned out that the calculations were correct, and the tests of the model showed that the bridge had a huge margin of safety; its height allowed sailing ships to pass without any special operations. Despite the Academy's approval, the government has not allocated funds for the construction of the bridge. Kulibin was awarded a medal and received a prize, by 1804 the third model had completely rotted away, and the first permanent bridge across the Neva (Blagoveshchensky) was built only in 1850.

In the 1810s, Kulibin was engaged in the development of iron bridges. Before us is the project of a three-arch bridge across the Neva with a suspended carriageway (1814). Later, the inventor created a project for a more complex four-arch bridge.

In 1936, an experimental calculation of the Kulibinsky bridge was carried out using modern methods, and it turned out that the Russian self-taught did not make a single mistake, although at his time most of the laws of strength of materials were unknown. The method of making a model and testing it for the purpose of the strength calculation of the bridge structure subsequently became widespread; various engineers came to it at different times independently. Kulibin was also the first to propose the use of lattice trusses in the construction of the bridge - 30 years before the American architect Itiel Town who patented this system.

Over the bridge across the Neva

Despite the fact that not a single serious invention of Kulibin was truly appreciated, he was much more fortunate than many other Russian self-taught, who were either not allowed even on the threshold of the Academy of Sciences, or were sent home with 100 rubles of a prize and a recommendation no longer to meddle in their own business.

The famous single-span bridge across the Neva - what it might look like if it had been built. Kulibin performed his calculation on models, including on a scale of 1:10.

Self-run stroller and other stories

Often Kulibin, in addition to the designs he really invented, is credited with many others, which he really improved, but was not the first. For example, Kulibin is very often credited with the invention of the pedal scooter (the prototype of the velomobile), while such a system was created 40 years earlier by another Russian self-taught engineer, and Kulibin was the second. Let's look at some of the common misconceptions.


Kulibin's self-running stroller was distinguished by a complex drive system and required significant efforts from the driver. It was the second velomobile in history.

So, in 1791, Kulibin built and presented to the Academy of Sciences a self-propelled carriage, a "self-running sidecar", which in fact was the predecessor of the velomobile. It was designed for one passenger, and the car was driven by a servant standing on the heels and alternately pressing on the pedals.The self-run carriage served as an attraction for the nobility for some time, and then it got lost in history; only her drawings have survived. Kulibin was not the inventor of the velomobile - 40 years before him, another self-taught inventor Leonty Shamshurenkov (known in particular for the development of the Tsar Bell lifting system, which was never used for its intended purpose), built a self-taught wheelchair of a similar design in St. Petersburg. Shamshurenkov's design was two-seater; in later drawings, the inventor planned to build a self-propelled sled with a verstometer (a prototype of a speedometer), but, alas, did not receive adequate funding. Like Kulibin's scooter, Shamshurenkov's scooter has not survived to this day.


The famous egg clock, worked by Kulibin in 1764-1767 and presented to Catherine II for Easter 1769. Largely thanks to this gift, Kulibin headed the workshops at the St. Petersburg Academy of Sciences. They are now kept in the Hermitage.

Leg prosthesis

At the turn of the 18th-19th centuries, Kulibin presented to the St. Petersburg Medical-Surgical Academy several projects of "mechanical legs" - prostheses of the lower extremities that were very perfect at that time, capable of simulating a leg lost above the knee (!). The "tester" of the first version of the prosthesis, made in 1791, was Sergei Vasilyevich Nepeitsyn - at that time a lieutenant who lost his leg during the storming of Ochakov. Subsequently, Nepeitsyn rose to the rank of major general and received the nickname Iron Leg from the soldiers; he led a full life, and not everyone guessed why the general limped slightly. The Kulibin system prosthesis, despite favorable reviews from St. Petersburg doctors headed by Professor Ivan Fedorovich Bush, was rejected by the military department, and the serial production of mechanical prostheses that mimic the shape of the leg later began in France.



In 1779, Kulibin, who was fond of optical devices, presented his invention to the St. Petersburg public - a searchlight. Systems of reflective mirrors existed before him (in particular, they were used on lighthouses), but Kulibin's design was much closer to a modern searchlight: a single candle, reflecting from mirror reflectors placed in a concave hemisphere, gave a strong and directional stream of light. The "Wonderful Lantern" was positively received by the Academy of Sciences, praised in the press, approved by the empress, but it remained only an entertainment and was not used to illuminate the streets, as Kulibin initially believed. The master himself subsequently made a number of searchlights for individual orders of shipowners, and also made a compact lantern for a carriage on the basis of the same system - this brought him a certain income. The masters were let down by the lack of copyright protection - other masters began to make large-scale carriage "Kulibin lanterns", which greatly devalued the invention.

The searchlight, created in 1779, has remained a technical gimmick. In everyday life, only smaller versions were used as lanterns on carriages.

What else did Kulibin do?

- He established the work of workshops at the St. Petersburg Academy of Sciences, where he was engaged in the manufacture of microscopes, barometers, thermometers, telescopes, scales, telescopes and many other laboratory instruments. - Repaired the planetarium of the St. Petersburg Academy of Sciences. - He came up with an original system for launching ships into the water. - Created the first optical telegraph in Russia (1794), sent to the Kunst-camera as a curiosity. - Developed the first in Russia project of an iron bridge (across the Volga). - Constructed a seed drill providing uniform seeding (not built). - Arranged fireworks, created mechanical toys and automatons for the entertainment of the nobility. - Repaired and independently assembled many clocks of different layouts - wall, floor, tower.

Perpetual motion machine

Much has been written about the inventions of Ivan Kulibin himself.But biographers have always tried to ignore his work on a perpetual motion machine, which, it seemed, does not paint a brilliant mechanic.

The idea to start inventing a miracle engine originated in Kulibin in the early 70s of the 18th century, when he served as a mechanic at the St. Petersburg Academy of Sciences. Experiments on a perpetual motion machine took away from him not only time and effort, but also considerable personal funds, forcing him to get into debt.

In those days, the law of conservation of energy was not yet precisely substantiated. Kulibin did not have a solid education, and it was difficult for him, a self-taught mechanic, to understand this difficult issue. The people around him could not help either. Some did not know how to clearly explain his delusion. Others themselves were not convinced that energy does not come from nothing and does not disappear anywhere. Finally, others themselves believed that a perpetual motion machine was possible, and encouraged Kulibin to continue searching.

The latter included, for example, the famous writer and journalist Pavel Svinin. In his book about Kulibin, published in 1819, a year after the death of Ivan Petrovich, he, referring to the Kulibin perpetual motion machine, wrote: “It's a pity that he did not manage to finish this important invention. Perhaps he would have been happier than his predecessors, who stopped at this stumbling block; maybe he would have proved that perpetual motion is not a chimera of mechanics …"

Surprisingly, even the great Leonard Euler supported Kulibin's work on the invention of a perpetual motion machine. ' “It is curious to note,” wrote Svinin, “that Kulibin was encouraged to this discovery by the famous mathematician Euler, who, when asked what he thought about perpetual motion, replied that he considered it to exist in nature and thought that it would be found in some happy way. like revelations previously considered impossible. " And Kulibin always turned to the authority of Euler when he had to defend the idea of ​​a perpetual motion machine from critics.

The Izvestia Academy published an article entitled "Council to those who dream of inventing perpetual or endless motion." It said: “It is completely impossible to invent continuous movement … These useless studies are extremely harmful because most of all (especially) because they ruined many families and many skillful mechanics who could provide great services to society with their knowledge, lost, reaching the solution of this problem, all their possessions, time and labors."

Nobody knows whether Kulibin has read this article. It is only known that, despite the opinion of the Academy of Sciences, he continued to work on a perpetual motion machine with his characteristic stubbornness with the confidence that even this problem would sooner or later be solved.

Kulibin has developed a number of models of his car. He took as a basis an old idea, known since the time of Leonardo da Vinci, namely: a wheel with weights moving inside it. The latter were supposed to occupy a position that disturbed the balance all the time, and cause a seemingly non-stop rotation of the wheel.

Abroad, they also worked on the creation of a perpetual motion machine. Kulibin closely followed these works according to the messages that reached him. And once, in 1796, according to the order of Catherine II, he even had a chance to consider and evaluate one of such foreign projects. It was the perpetual motion machine of the German mechanic Johann Friedrich Heinle.

Ivan Petrovich not only "with the utmost care and diligence" studied the drawing and description of the foreign perpetuum mobile, but also made its model. It consisted of two crossed tubes with bellows filled with liquid. With the rotation of such a cross, the liquid would flow through the tubes from one bellows to others. Equilibrium, according to the inventor, should have been lost, and the whole system should have been in perpetual motion.

The Heinle engine model, of course, turned out to be inoperative. Conducting experiments with her, Kulibin, as he wrote, "did not find what he wanted in that success." But this did not in the least shake his faith in the very principle of perpetual motion.

In the fall of 1801, Ivan Petrovich returned from St. Petersburg to his homeland, to Nizhny Novgorod. Even here he did not abandon his unsuccessful search for perpetual motion. Much time passed, the year 1817 came. And then one day in the capital's newspaper "Russian Invalid" for September 22, Kulibin read an article that sounded like thunder to him. The note reported that a certain mechanic named Petere from Mainz "finally invented the so-called perpetuum mobile, which has been in vain for many centuries."


Further, the engine itself was described, which had the form of a wheel with a diameter of 8 feet and a thickness of 2 feet: “It moves by its own force and without any help from springs, mercury, fire, electric or galvanic force. Its speed exceeds the likelihood. If you attach it to a road carriage or wheelchair, you can travel 100 French miles in 12 hours, climbing the steepest mountains."

This news (of course, false) made the old inventor incredible excitement. It seemed to him that Peter had appropriated his ideas, stolen his beloved brainchild, to which he, Kulibin, had given many decades of hard work. With feverish haste, he began to appeal to all who had power and influence, including Tsar Alexander I.

Then caution was put aside, secrecy was forgotten. Now Kulibin frankly wrote that he had been working on the creation of a "machine of perpetual motion" for a long time, that he was not far from solving this problem, but he needed funds to continue the final experiments. In the "petitioning notes", he recalled his previous merits and expressed a desire to return to service in the capital in order to build an iron bridge across the Neva, and most importantly, to continue the creation of a perpetual motion machine.

Kulibin's request for permission to return to St. Petersburg was delicately rejected. The construction of the iron bridge was considered too expensive. They kept silent about the perpetual motion machine.

Until the last days of Ivan Petrovich, his dear dream of a "machine of perpetual motion", a tyrant dream, as one of Kulibin's biographers called it, did not leave him. Diseases overwhelmed him more and more. I was tormented by shortness of breath and "other unhealthy". He rarely went outside now. But even in bed, in pillows, he asked to put drawings of the "machine of perpetual motion" next to him. Even at night, in insomnia, the inventor again and again returned to this fatal machine, made some corrections in old drawings, drew new ones.

Ivan Petrovich Kulibin died on July 30 (old style), 1818 at the age of 83, died quietly, as if asleep. His family remained in extreme poverty. To bury her husband, the widow had to sell a wall clock, and her old friend Alexei Pyaterikov added a small amount. This money was used to bury the great inventor.

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