Russian Personalities

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Ivan Kulibin – Russian inventor

Ivan Kulibin
Ivan Kulibin was a talented Russian self-taught mechanic and inventor.
Kulibin was born on April 21, 1735 in Nizhny Novgorod. Even in childhood, little Vanya, was interested in the inner essence of things. “How does it work?” – In search of an answer, he deconstructed everything that falls into his hands. Talented kid could repair not only clocks but also a factory machine. His realizations as well as his prolific imagination inspired the work of many.

Ivan became really famous in 1764 when he went to St. Petersburg to present Catherine II with egg-shaped clock. There was a secret there, complex automatic mechanism: every hour the door was opened and miniature people started to dance to the music. The Empress was delighted and assigned Kulibin to be in charge of the mechanical workshop in the Academy of Sciences of Saint Petersburg.

Egg-shaped clock

Egg-shaped clock

The inventor built a “planetary” pocket-clock, which showed not only the current time, but also the month, day of the week, the season and the moon phase. Kulibin also designed projects for tower clocks, miniature “clock-in-a-ring” types and others.

Ivan designed three projects for wooden and three projects for metallic bridges over the Neva river.
In 1779, he built a lantern that increased the power of light of one candle by 500 times. This invention was used industrially for lighting workshops, lighthouses, ships, etc.

In 1791, Kulibin constructed a push-cycle cart, in which he used a flywheel, a brake, a gearbox and roller bearing. The cart was operated by a man pressing pedals. This invention is remarkably similar to the car by Karl Benz invented a hundred years later.

push-cycle cart

push-cycle cart

Kulibin designed “mechanical legs”, a prosthetic device, for the officer who lost his leg in The Siege of Ochakov. Later it was used by a French entrepreneur.

In 1793, Kulibin constructed an elevator for the Empress that lifted a cabin using screw mechanisms.
In 1794, he created an optical telegraph for transmitting signals over distance.

Kulibin built a Vodokhod, the ship which sailed upstream. He had started to design it back in 1782.

In 1801 Kulibin was fired from the academy and returned to Nizhny Novgorod.
The inventor had projects on using steam engines to move cargo ships, on creating salt mining machines, different kinds of mills, pianos and other projects.

The Russian genius was indifferent to money and he gave his inventions away to people.
Later, after his death, cunning foreigners hunted for the master’s drawings and appropriated many of his inventions.

Kulibin died on August 11, 1818 in utter poverty because he spent everything he had on futile attempts to invent a perpetual motion machine.

The International Astronomical Union’s Minor Planet Center has named an asteroid in Kulibin’s honor: 5809 Kulibin.

Ivan Kulibin – Russian inventor