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Ivan Kulibin - Bursting with Inventions
March 6, 2008 10:54

Ivan Kulibin

Ivan Petrovich Kulibin, famous Russian self-taught engineer and inventor, was born in the Podnovye village near Nizhniy Novgorod. His father was a petty trader. Since babyhood Ivan Kulibin showed exceptional abilities for making various mechanisms. Ivan studied how to deal with wood, metals and other materials. Clock-making became his hobby, and in 1767 Kulibin created unique egg-shaped clocks – a complex automatic mechanism. These clocks contained a striking mechanism, a music mechanism with several melodies and a small theatre with little moving figures. Kulibin presented his clocks to the Empress Catherine the Great, who appointed him a head of mechanical workshop of St. Petersburg’s Academy of Sciences in 1769. The clocks are now in the Hermitage.


The workshop became his shelter – here Kulibin created “planetary” pocket watch with a new type of compensating device – in addition to the mechanisms showed months, week days, seasons and phases of the Moon. Kulibin invented tower clocks, tiny “clocks in ring” and etc. Kulibin headed the mechanical workshop for 30 years, during which he supervised machine production, as well as physical, astronomical and navigation devices and instruments. Ivan Petrovich developed new techniques for polishing glasses for microscopes, telescopes and other optical devices.

In 1770s Ivan Petrovich designed a wooden single-arch truss bridge with 298-m long span across the Neva River (bridges had only 50-60-m long spans before). Kulibin was the first scientist to show that bridge models were a great help to builders. In 1776 bridge model (1:10) was tested by a special commission of the Academy and got high mark of Leonard Euler, however, the bridge was never built. Kulibin designed several more bridges, however, despite full technical feasibility of the projects.

In 1779 Ivan Petrovich Kulibin built his famous lantern (a floodlight), which gave bright light fed by a low-energy source. The essence on the lantern was in a system of mirrors, united in a parabolic reflector. This invention went into practice – Kulibin’s lanterns illuminated workshops, ships, beacons and etc. In 1791 Kulibin created a carriage with pedal drive and “mechanical legs” – artificial limbs, which later helped many people after the War of 1812. In 1793 Kulibin built an elevator, working on screw-type mechanisms. Tireless inventor created optical telegraph for broadcasting code signals in 1794.


In 1801 Ivan Petrovich Kulibin was fired from the Academy and returned to Nizhniy Novgorod, where he developed a technology for ship upstream movement. In 1804 the inventor built a “water-walker”. Tests showed feasibility and efficiency of such ships, however, no one was interested and model ships were sold for scrap. Kulibin invented and developed tens of various mechanisms, which could be used nowadays, but none of them found use.

Ivan Petrovich Kulibin never smoked, drank alcohol or played cards. The genius wrote poetry and was fond of guest nights, where he showed his good sense of humour. Ivan Kulibin has three wives and 12 children – last time he married, when he turned 70, and had three daughters in this marriage. He gave education for all his sons.

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Kizilova Anna

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