Dog Power and The Dog Engine.>
Updated: 11 June 2008
Feldt engine added
This page deals with a power source that is now long gone- animal power. In earier times horses and oxen walked in circles to grind corn, and a donkey in a giant hamster-wheel was used to draw water from the well in Dover castle. Dog-power, however, has always been limited in its application by the limited horsepower of the average dog.
Dogs were used in smaller hamster-wheels to turn roasting spits in Britain. There was even a special breed, called not unreasonably "the turnspit" for the purpose, but so far as I can discover at present this was the only British application of dogpower. However, the French journal Nature in the late 1880's, carried at least one article on the use of dogs to drive sewing machines.
THE RICHARDS DOG-ENGINE
Left: The Richards Dog Engine.
This machine was originated by a M. Richards of Paris, who employed a large number of sewing-machines to make military uniforms. It could apparently power four heavy sewing machines, working intermittently; I would have thought this would require a pretty heavy and active dog. Unfortunately the engraving gives no scale, so it is hard to guess how big dog and machine were.
The description given is very sketchy, but it seems the dog walked on the wide belt that runs round the large and small rollers. The power is taken off from the small roller, and judging by the angle of the belting running off to the right, is further geared up to drive the sewing machinery. This seems like further evidence of the need for a pretty heavy dog. The Rottweiller would seem to be a possibility; however, the aftermath of the Franco-Prussian war was probably not a good time to introduce German breeds to France.
The dog in the illustration is definitely not a Rottweiller.
It is only fair to add that Nature was not hell-bent on exploiting our four-legged friends. They said "This method always arouses grave objections, from the point of view of humanity as well as mechanics." They went on to emphasise that sewing-machine work was intermittent, giving the poor dog frequent rests.
Some information on the turnspit breed, which sadly appears to be extinct:
www.martycrisp.com/turnspit.htm (external link}
www.gtj.org.uk/en/item1/7809 (external link}
THE FELDT DOG-ENGINE
Left: The Feldt Dog Engine: 1888
This dog-engine to drive a sewing machine was patented by Heinrich Feldt of Hamburg.
At the top left there is a brake shoe held down by a weight, which can be lifted by a string attached to the sewing-machine treadle, to control the flow of dog-power. This rather crude approach has not discouraged Fido, who from his expression remains determinedly optimistic about his job.
From The Middle Ages of the Internal Combustion Engine by Horst O Hardenberg