Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Victorian Steampunk Wimshurst Electrostatic Generator by Casavitus

Or, “It’s alive, ALIVE!” 

Electricity:  philosophers debated it, alchemists expounded upon it, enlightenment experimenters played with it, Victorian scientists tamed it.  From ancient Greeks, to Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein, electricity was one step away from magic and godhood with Zeus hurling thunderbolts at poor mortals.  Amazingly over the  centuries, nobody made the connection between static electricity, which known by the ancients for its attracting power with amber, to static shock, or lightening, to machines to amuse at parties or medical quack cures. 

Early experiments eventually found that electricity was natural, dangerous, and somehow interwoven with life itself.  Eventually, electro-chemical electricity (wet cell batteries), and static electricity generators became dwarfed with huge power plants, first run by steam engine, then by falling water, filling energy.  Now electricity is taken for granted, but there was a time when it was rare and magical and that time was only 150 years ago.

Casavitus Design gives us this magnificent recreation of a static electric generator in a beautiful 19th century mode of design.  Fully operational and aesthetically mid-Victorian, this machine generates a powerful electric spark that jumps between two metal rods in a dazzling display of simple electric power.  Don’t be deceived by the size of the portable design, the twin Leyden jars can store a very powerful jolt and cannot be treated as a toy, beware! 

Casavitus has kindly allowed me to showcase this artistic work here on my blog.  You will find photos of the finished work here as well as the materials he used to scratch-build the machine.  Additionally he provided a short YouTube video.  His text is a follows:  

Dear Ladies & Gentlemen,

    Let me introduce you to a small Wimshurst machine that I recently built. To be honest with you, my knowledge about electro-magnetism is extremely limited. It was more the naive fascination with the Wimshurst machine, that looks so much like it is straight out of an H. G. Wells story, which drove me to this project. I wanted to build a small machine with an functional design.

    There are uncounted instructions, explanations, examples, & whatever about Wimshurst machines in the aethernet, so there was no need to worry about that.  If you are curious & want to know more about electrostatic machines, or are crazy enough to also built one, I can recommend you this page where you find all information you need.

    What worried me much more was the first sketch I made. The electricity-lady & some other details where much too catchy to delete, but how to get all this parts? It looked like an insane amount of labor.  I tried to bury the sketch in a drawer & forget about it. It did not work. Finally I decided to give it a try with casting, to, at least, be able to produce not only a single machine & resigned myself to my fate. Like expected, it proofed to be an even more insane amount of labor then expected, but in the end the whole construction really worked!

    The discs have a diameter of 24 cm; the Leyden jars have a diameter of 4 cm & are 17 cm high. Both are made of acrylic. The frame & bottom is made of beech wood.  The figure of the classical woman, the tops & bottoms of the Leyden jars, the handles and decoration of the shafts are made of super hard cast acrylic gypsum.  The main wheel for the crank is steel and was made for model steam engines, the other wheels are aluminum and made by my self.  The terminal gap can be adjusted by pushing or pulling the insulated handles. This machine produces constant sparks when adjusted to a gap of 6.5 cm length, but is limited at 7.5 cm maximum spacing to produce sparks.


I am always pleased to host such works of industrial and Victorian aesthetic art here on my blog.  Casavius Designs is the brainchild of an artist and craftsperson living in Munich Germany.  Be sure to click on his name to find some of his art.  Also you might note, composes and did the music on his YouTube video above.  I expect to see many more fine works from the workshop of Herr Casavitus.

I had always suspected that the big wheel on the back of the time machine was a powerful electrostatic generator.  Casavitus’ efforts show clearly with a practical demonstration of steampunk ethos of uniting history, science and science fiction.  H. G. Welles would have been proud as well as Ray Harryhausen with this functional Wimhurst electrostatic generator.  Well done!

Let me again caution people making or using these static generator machines that they are not child’s play and safeguard the machines from misuse or the curious finger while demonstrating.  They can cause serious injury and worse.


  1. @ Brian Hemby: There are a number of tutorials on making your own Wimhurst generator on YouTube. Mr. Casavitus is not selling a kit, to my knowledge, but ha only shown the molds to give you an idea how to make an embellished generator in the high Victorian style. I have to say I do admire his work myself.