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On 26th February 1881 Professor John Gamgee filed a patent application. Gamgee called his invention the ‘Zeromotor’ and he had convinced the Chief Engineer of the US Navy that it would enable ships to operate without fuel, drawing energy from the sea instead. It was the first and last time the United States Patent Office granted a patent for a perpetual motion machine.
The career path of this maverick inventor would be impossible today. Born and raised in Florence, he was initially an outspoken and forward thinking veterinarian. He ran his own college and organised the first ever international veterinary conference. During the Cattle Plague of 1865 his controversial opinions on contagion and germ theory made him the target of nationwide abuse and ridicule. Although ultimately proven correct he was financially broken and after bankruptcy went to America to begin a new career in engineering.
At times extremely persuasive, Gamgee had a personality that inspired admiration and hatred in equal measure. After the creation of the Zeromotor, his life entered a slow downward curve, with his later years marked by involvement in forgery, suicide, a libel case and a second bankruptcy.

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