- Johann Ernst Elias Bessler was born in the German town of Zittau in the Kingdom of Saxony.Early in life, Bessler assumed the name Orffyreus. He arranged the letters of the alphabet in a circle and transposed each letter in his name ('Bessler') with the letter directly across the circle. This resulted in 'Orffyre,' or 'Orffyreus' when latinized.
- Bessler displayed his first "self-moving" wheel in Gera, province of Reuss. The machine was in the form of a spinning drum, 2½ Leipzig ells or 5 Leipzig feet in diameter and about 4 Leipzig inches thick (modern measurements: about 4.6 feet or 1.4 metres in diameter and 3.7 inches or 9 centimetres thick). It turned on a horizontal axle and accelerated to a fixed maximum speed of 60 revolutions per minute. With a rope tied around the axle, the wheel lifted a weight of several pounds. In October the wheel passed its first official inspection. Bessler offered to reveal the secret for 100,000 German thalers (about $2.5 million today).
- Bessler displayed his second wheel in Draschwitz, Germany. The new wheel was 5 Leipzig ells or 10 Leipzig feet in diameter and about 6 Leipzig inches thick (modern measurements: about 9.3 feet or 2.8 metres in diameter and 5.5 inches or 14 centimetres thick). This model accelerated to a maximum speed of 50 revolutions per minute, and lifted a weight of 40 pounds.
- Bessler displayed his third wheel in Merseberg, Germany. This wheel was 6 ells in diameter (about 11 feet) and about 11 inches wide and turned at a 42 revolutions per minute.
- Official examination at Merseburg. A committee of 12 distinguished investigators signed a certificate stating that Bessler' wheel was a true perpetual motion, having the ability to turn in either direction, easily started but requiring great effort to stop its motion and generating enough power to raise a 70 pound box of stones.
- Prince Karl of Hesse-Kassel, a semi-independent German state, takes Orffyreus under his patronage. To receive patronage and protection, Orffyreus must prove his wheel is genuine by revealing the secret to Karl. In return, Karl agrees to give Bessler 4000 Thalers and promises not to use or disclose the secret until a successful sale is made. After seeing inside the wheel, Karl is convinced that the wheel is genuine. He assigns Bessler to the government post 'town councilor,' and provides him with the resources to build his largest wheel.
- Bessler's last and largest wheel was completed at Castle Weissenstein. It was 6½ ells in diameter (about 12 feet), about 18 inches wide, and turned at 26 revolutions per minute. It continuously lifted heavy stamps for printing and raised water with an Archimedean screw.
- Prince Karl arranged the most rigorous official test of Bessler's wheel at Castle Weissenstein. Participants included the Court Architect of the Austrian Emperor Baron Fischer and Professor Willem 'sGravesande - a close friend of Isaac Newton. The machine underwent a 54 day test in a locked and sealed room, during which time the examiners were allowed spontaneous entry. At all times the machine was found to be turning at its regular 26 revolutions per minute. The investigators publicly certified that the wheel was genuine and that no sign of fraud could be found.
- Bessler's maid, Anne Rosine Mauersbergerin, testified to authorities that Bessler's wheel had been turned manually from the beginning at Gera. Bessler, his wife, his brother Gottfried, and her had taken turns to rotate the machine. She alleged the turning was carried out by a small crank in an adjoining room. She claimed that the posts had been hollowed out and contained a long thin piece of iron with a barb at the bottom which was attached to the shaft journal.
- Professor Willem 'sGravesande responded to the maid's allegations:
- "...They say that a servant under oath, turned Orffyreus' machine, she being in an adjoining room. I know perfectly well that Orffyreus is mad, but I have no reason to think him an imposter... This I know, as certainly as anything in the world, that if the servant says the above, she tells a great falsehood... [During the examination,] I ordered the machine be dismounted from its supports, and we saw the bearings uncovered. I examined the bearings on which the journals rested and there did not appear any trace of communication with the adjoining room. I remember very distinctly the whole set of circumstances regarding that investigation..."
- During official tests, hundreds of highly respected and impartial people carefully examined the bearings and attested to the fact that no sign of fraud could be found, even when the wheel was moved from one set of supports to another. Regardless, the maid's testimony forever tarnished Bessler's reputation.
- Still trying to sell his discovery under new guises, Bessler announced three new inventions:
- a fountain which leapt continuously from still waters
- a large musical organ which played by itself
- an "Orffyrean ship," or special preservation device which could save lives and goods after a shipwreck
- Bessler began construction of a 4½ story windmill in Fürstenburg, Germany, working under the auspices of Karl I, King of Prussia.
- Bessler, age 65, fell to his death while working on the Fürstenburg windmill.