Seattle Now & Then: Peter Ivanoff's Perpetual Motion Machine

Built for the manufacture of a fantastic engine that did not make it beyond its model, the Fremont factory’s second owner, Carlos Flohr, used it to build vacuum chambers for protecting telescope lenses.  Thirty feet across and made from stainless steel the lens holders were often mistaken for flying saucers.  (photo courtesy Kvichak marine Industries.)
Originally built for the manufacture of a fantastic engine that did not make it beyond its model, the Fremont factory’s second owner, Carlos Flohr, used it to build vacuum chambers for protecting telescope lenses. Thirty feet across and made from stainless steel the lens holders were often mistaken for flying saucers. (photo courtesy Kvichak marine Industries.)
Still easily identified, the factory is part of Kvichak Marine Industries expanded plant for the construction of elaborate aluminum boats. pd
Still easily identified, the factory is part of Kvichak Marine Industries expanded plant for the construction of elaborate aluminum boats. pd

The well-windowed Fremont factory surviving here is located on Bowdoin Place a few blocks west of “The Center of the Universe,” the other name for Fremont’s business district at the south end of its namesake bascule bridge.

Here Bulgarian immigrant Peter Ivanoff compared himself with Newton and Edison. (See Ivanoff’s obit at the bottom.) With floors polished smooth enough for ballet and potted plants decorating every lathe, Ivanoff built in his bright factory what he called his Co-Motional Motion Power Engine. His invention, he claimed, could run anything from a wristwatch to an ocean liner. After a minimal assisted start-up, his CMMPE would be forever on its own producing more power than it used. That is, it kept itself running and much more.

Here enters the Outlook, the long-lived newspaper the Stapp family ran out of their Wallingford home. Son Arthur, the paper’s reporter, learned from The Fremont Times, a rival weekly, about Ivanoff’s upcoming April 1, 1931 factory presentation of his machine. An enthusiast for both science and technology, Art attended the opening acting as a potential investor, and in the following day’s Outlook gave Ivanoff’s machine the name the inventor himself was, perhaps, careful not to use. The CMMPE was that impossibility, another “perpetual motion machine.” Stapp warned readers that investors were “april fools.”

But was Ivanoff also the “fake” that Art Stapp called his machine? The Seattle Times picked up the Stapp story; Ivanoff was investigated by the state and audited too. He lost investors and returned to unextraordinary machine work including making parts for Boeing during World War Two. When he died in1946 he left a trust for research into “co-motional power.” Peter Ivanoff, it would seem, was both industrious and a self-deceived true believer.

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Darius Kinsey took the photographs used here of Ivanoff’s Fremont factory in 1940.  The now-then factory interior repeat above is an “approximation.”  You can see the beams in both and the camera’s are aimed in the same direction.  That’s it.

Ivanoff died in 1946 and his Seattle Times obituary follows.  It gently touches on the perpetual motion episode.  It is followed by a short clip on the direction of his estate, in part, to continue his research.  Although we have no idea what became of it, $200,000 to continue research in “co-motional power” could be given desk space for quite a long time, although not perpetually.

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One thought on “Seattle Now & Then: Peter Ivanoff's Perpetual Motion Machine”

  1. I Googled Peter Ivanoff because my Mum (92) was telling me about how in the 1930′s her family, who lived in East London (England), invested in his venture – apparently he sent a representative to the UK to get people to buy in. She knew they lost their money but wasn’t sure what actually happened. Thanks to you I can tell her!

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