Have you seen that little bizarre toy that looks like a little box with a switch? When you turn it on, a little hand or the paw of a toy cat comes out and turns it off. It is often regarded as the most useless machine in the world. However, it is just a lazy attempt at creating it. The real “Do Nothing” machine looks much more impressive and actually does even less.
Lawrence Wahlstrom was a retired clock maker and a landscape gardener when in 1948 he stumbled across a surplus WWII bombsight which had lots of different gears. Wahlstrom had a soft spot for gears and was fascinated with the mechanism. He started fixing and playing with it, adding more and more gears – this bizarre hobby resulted in a 15-year-long work, producing an impressive machine, which really does absolutely nothing.
Wahlstrom just kept adding gears to the thing. He used components from old clocks, a Packard car, an old Italian organ and other things. People are not even sure how many gears does this thing have – some say 744, while others count 764.When the machine was still relatively new it showed a weird yet fluid motion. People could not believe that a thing that does nothing was built with such precision. Meanwhile, Wahlstrom knew that people are more keen in getting entertained than in getting educated, so he was not surprised about the attention his creation was receiving.
The “Do Nothing” machine got also a fair share of media attention. Articles about it were published in Life (1953), Popular Mechanics (1954), Mechanix Illustrated (1955) and other popular magazines. Wahlstrom was happy to showcase his creation in various fairs and exhibitions. After his death, the work was carried on by another enthusiast, Earl Wolf. Nowadays, the “Do Nothing” machine is a popular attraction in the Miniature Engineering Craftsmanship Museum in Carlsbad, California. Some of the parts stopped spinning – 60 years of service did take a toll on the machine that does nothing really really well.
So what is it? It has so many moving parts and it looks so busy, yet accomplishes nothing, except attracting attention. Maybe it is a piece of art? Or maybe it is a symbol of the business we sometimes pride ourselves with? We can only hope that the “Do Nothing” machine continues to entertain people despite the fact that its gears are slowly wearing away.