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the seventeenth century the use of water-wheels, to drain the mines using pumps
was long established in German mining. As an alternative to this system Leibniz
conceived the use of wind power to operate pumps in the Harz mining district.
At the outset (about 1680) he carried out experiments with a vertical windmill
to power the piston rods. In the course of these trials at the St. Catharina
pit at least 14 pumps were in operation for a time; however, a long-term continuous
draining of the mines could not be achieved in this way. Later (about 1684)
he had a horizontal windmill constructed as a prime mover of a worm-gear, or
Archimedes' screw, with which he carried out trials. With wind turbines of this
kind it was possible to raise water from a pond into a channel at a higher elevation.Leibniz
designed a water circulation project, by means of which the spent water from
the pits could be raised in stages into an elevated pond using wind power;through
channels, waterourses and conduits it would then be directed once again to the
In this way a reliable and fully-functional water management system using pump-storage
reservoirs was to be created for the pits of the Burgstatt lode. Horizontal
windmills could certainly have been implemented with success for continuous
use if it had not been for the opposition of the mining officials and miners.
In 1685 duke Ernst August ordered all trials with the windmills to be terminated.
Furthermore, Leibniz occupied himself with the solution of a series of technical
engineering problems in the Harz mining district. He strove to improve techniques
in which horse whims, or horse mills, were used to lift ore from the mines.
A particular problem here was the constant entanglement of the winding chains.
In 1685 and 1686 he carried out trials at a pit of the Rosenhof lode using an
endless or continuous rope attached to the bottom of the conveyor skip giving
complete counterbalance. A further attempt to improve the horse whim powered
winding machinery from the year 1694 was based on the introduction of a conical
spiral winding drum without a balance rope which provided better rope guidance
in lifting ore. The conical spiral winding drum replaced the common cylindrical
winding drum on the vertical shaft of the horse mill.
A multitude of technical sketches and designs by Leibniz are extant which,
though founded on practical experience in mining engineering, were incapable
of being executed or put into practice at the time. Two examples from the (modern)
field of automatic control engineering stand out above others. These are his
drawings of a device to automatically and continuously turn the sails of a windmill
into the direction of the wind, and his conception of an automatic braking mechanism
to control the speed of rotation of the wind-shaft of a vertical or standard
Further reading: 1. J. Gottschalk, "Theorie und Praxis bei
Leibniz im Bereich der Technik, dargestellt am Beispiel der Wasserwirtschaft
des Oberharzer Bergbaues", in: Studia Leibnitiana. Supplementa, 22 (Stuttgart,
1982), pp. 46-57;
2. J. Gottschalk, "Proposals for engineering improvements in mining in the Harz
mountains", in: K. Popp, E. Stein (eds.): Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz. The
work of the geat universal scholar as Philosopher, Mathematician, Physicist,
Engineer (Hannover, 2000), pp. 109-124.
back to: Leibniz´ life and work
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