The incredible Patent Impulsoria

The Illustrated London News for 22 June 1850 explains how this extraordinary invention works:

‘This ingenious means of applying animal power to the working of railways, so as to supersede the costly locomotive engine, has lately been invented in Italy, and exhibited experimentally upon the South-Western Railway. It consists in introducing the animals into a kind of coach, called Impulsoria, by which they transmit their acting power to the leading wheels … The horse being thus introduced into the Impulsoria, is placed upon a perfect rectilinear, artificial ground, or platform, turning so easily, that the animal, which is yoked to the shafts, when it walks, does not itself advance; but, what amounts to the same thing, the platform itself is pushed backward. By this artificial ground platform, called by the patentee pedivella, is moved a tree, armed with a pulley, from which, by means of a rope, the motion is conveyed to the axle-tree of the leading wheels. The varying proportions between the diameters of the pulleys give different degrees of speed. The horses are to be worked always at their usual pace, whilst the new locomotive will be able to run at any requisite speed, even at sixty miles an hour, without ever altering the usual walking pace of the horses …


‘The new machine, whose inventor is Signor Clemente Masserano, has been brought from Italy to England, and deposited at the Nine-elms terminus of the South-Western Railway, where it may be seen working on the line. It has been made for two horses only, and they work it very well on the pedivella. More than thirty wagons have already been drawn by it up the very inclined line of the station … In the experiment to be made on the great line, it is expected to gain a speed of from fifteen to twenty miles an hour; and it is calculated that an engine of two horses more will run at a speed superior to that of a steam engine …

‘By the simple manner in which the horses exercise their moving power on the new machine, they can work easily the usual time (commonly about eight hours a day). During these eight hours, the Impulsoria can run at least over thirty miles eight times; and as four horses do not cost much more than two shillings each per day, it would be an expense of eight shillings only, instead of £6 on account of coke only, the cost of which is sixpence each mile run …

‘The principal advantage of the new machine will be to afford very cheap locomotion on all branch lines, thus extending the advantage of the railway to localities hitherto impracticable from the expensive moving power.

About Terence Sackett

I am a writer and designer. I live in Nether Stowey, which is on the borders of the Quantock hills. I am a committee member of the Friends of Coleridge, and wrote and designed the booklet/visitor guide for the National Trust’s Coleridge Cottage. I look after the website for the Friends ( My novel about Siamese twins titled ‘Riven is now on Kindle. It can be read with a free downloaded Kindle app for an iPad, smartphone, tablet, or computer. The book is available from Amazon. What’s it about? Brief blurb below: It is the story of the Victorian painter Thomas Tait Genoa and his desperate flight through the West Country to save his conjoined twin daughters from the surgeon’s knife. This was before the era of anaesthetics. A 5-start bAmazon review: 'A masterpiece, truly deserving of the five star rating I have given it. The very human experience described so eloquently could not fail to tug at the heart of any parent who has ever gazed on a poorly child in the dark hours of the night and anguished over what to do for the best. This novel might be set in a very particular time and space but the heartfelt emotions of the protagonists are timeless, I have no hesitation in recommending this wonderful work to anyone who has a heart.
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