When you bring up the history of anything, you are talking about its origins and its evolution. Dates and locations, naturally, play a role but, history is about the individuals and the actions they took. This page begins in earnest by recounting the actual history of the Work Energy Theorem without any editorial comments. On the next page, the mistakes of the past are revealed, mistakes that are very real and would not be permitted today.

Please note that the history of the Work Energy Theorem cannot be fully understood unless one begins with momentum. It had a hand in the development of the Work Energy Theorem. Then there is the fact that many physics instructors mathematically derive the Work Energy Theorem from momentum. See "Deriving the Work Energy Theorem" for a simple example of how this can be done.

We start with French scientist, mathematician, and philosopher Rene
Descartes (1596 - 1650). He developed momentum while living in Holland.
Descartes located there after hearing of Galileo Galilee’s (1564 - 1642)
difficulties with the Church. Galileo's problems began after
writing a book that supported
a sun-centered universe. It happened to conflict with Catholic Doctrine and
so, he
was subsequently charged with heresy. And to avoid any
chance of a similar fate,
Descartes thought it best to move in Holland. Although it was primarily
a Catholic nation, it also had a large Protestant population and thus
was a relatively safe haven for anyone whose views might conflict with
Catholic Doctrine.

One
of Descartes’ interests involved motion. He was hoping to describe in
mathematical terms how objects moved. His benchmark for success was
simple and it began with the supposition that motion was a conserved
aspect of the universe. He reasoned that if two objects were to collide,
the amount of motion before they met would be the same as the amount
after the event.

Unfortunately, precise measurements were more of a dream than a reality
some four hundred years ago. Descartes could judge speed but not very
accurately. He could however measure weight reasonably well and thus was
able to know how much mass an object had. Descartes’ first attempt to
describe motion began with the product of weight (mass) and speed. It is
not very difficult to get the idea that motion might very well be
represented by how much stuff there was in an object and how fast it is
moving. As so often occurs in life, his initial results were rather
disappointing. The product of mass and speed failed horribly for
inelastic collisions. The values he calculated before such collisions
bore no resemblance to the values he calculated after the event. Elastic
collisions were an entirely different situation; Descartes’ observations
and calculations seemed to indicate there might be some hope if he could
only make the right adjustments.

Around the time Descartes was pondering how to proceed further, he was
tutoring the son of an acquaintance. The young man’s name was Christian
Huygens (1629 - 1695) and it was he who offered an interesting
observation into Descartes’ motion problem. Descartes listened to and
embraced the young student’s thoughts
— the addition of direction. Descartes went on to modify his initial
mathematical model ever so slightly from the product of mass and speed
to the product of mass (*m*) and velocity (* v*). The addition
of a directional component, changing
speed to velocity, worked perfectly for both elastic and inelastic
collisions. He went on to name his creation “momentum” from a Latin word
of identical spelling, a word that had the meaning of “moving power”.

In
1687, English mathematician and scientist Isaac Newton (1642 - 1727)
published the first edition of his seminal work, “The Principia”. In
England, the Catholic Church’s influence over scientific matters was
virtually nonexistent. This was due in large part to the rifts created
with the Church by Henry VIII (1491- 1547) to circumvent Catholic rules
regarding divorce. Also by this time and extending throughout the rest
of Europe, the Catholic Church had eased their scientific restrictions.
However, despite this increased scientific freedom, a religious
influence still existed within the European scientific community if only
based on a fear of the afterlife. Newton, for one, referred to the
“Almighty” in his book, not once but several times.

*m v*). A few pages later, Newton pens a
section entitled, “Axioms, or Laws of Motion”. When Newton’s now famous
Three Laws of Motion are combined, they describe the Law of Conservation
of Momentum. This was the basis upon which Descartes had developed
momentum — his original supposition.

*
living force *and he believed it to be a far more important
scientific concept than momentum. He gave Vis Viva the mathematical form
*m v^{2}*, an expression that his mentor —
Huygens — had been among the first to investigate. And like

*m v^{2
}*representing Vis Viva, a positive value always
manifests. With more gunpowder, the amount of Vis Viva increases; with
less, Vis Viva diminishes.

*m v *would be a far
better mathematical choice for Vis Viva. Leibniz did not take kindly to
this and ridiculed Newton by stating if Vis Viva had the form

At
the time, Leibniz’s proposal was so radical that many scholars had great
difficulty grasping it. Thinking in terms of energy is commonplace
today; before acceptance of Leibniz’s hypothesis, scientists thought
only in terms of individual phenomenon with no known means of unifying
them. The arguments of the time were centered on religious and
philosophic notions; there was no known or widely accepted experimental
evidence to suggest *m v^{2
}*was a better expression for Vis Viva than

*m v *and

Years later, scientists began to re-consider the value of Vis Viva. The
transient nature of Leibniz’s hypothesis started to make sense and they
began using *m v^{2
}*to represent Vis Viva. By this time, scientists were
universally able to grasp that

Today's Work Energy Theorem

As the nineteenth century began, English
scientist, Thomas Young (1773 - 1829) renamed Vis Viva with his
introduction of a new term – *energy*. In his famous series of
lectures, circa 1805, Young explained energy’s relationship to height.
He pointed out that an object that falls from a height twice as great as
another identical object has a value of energy twice as great. This
relationship between height and energy had the effect of aligning *m v^{2
}*with the modern understanding of force acting through a
distance (displacement). In these lectures, Young did not modify Vis
Viva’s original mathematical form but the stage was set. In 1829, French
scientist and engineer Gaspard Gustave De Coriolis (1792-1843) publishes
a Paper, "On the Calculation of Mechanical Action", in which he changes

**The Obvious Conclusion**

NOTE: This website is under construction. There will be more information in the next few weeks, all of which can be verified independently and add to the woes of the Work Energy Theorem.

For Comments, Questions, or to report any errors I may have made please email me at SurprisedOwl@gmail.com.