An Uplifting Textbook

Jacob Leupold, Theatrum Machinarium, Oder: Schau-Platz der Heb-Zeuge.

Published in Leipzig, 1725


It was knowledge about simplicity that the engineer Jacob Leupold (1674-1727) wanted to convey. His colleagues filled books with their visionary apparatuses that could not be realized (yet), whereas the mechanicus from Saxony had both feet on the ground. As a trained craftsman and inventor, he knew what his fellow craftsmen needed in order to work well: solid knowledge of mechanics and applied physics.

A portrait of Jacob Leupold

Following an apprenticeship as a craftsman, Leupold studied because he was too weak for hard physical labor. He realized that machines made many things easier. Yes, there were books that introduced such apparatuses, so-called “theatra machinarum”, meaning “theatres of machines”. But the authors had tested themselves on noble large-scale projects such as palaces or pleasure gardens; they made an impression with their elaborate and expensive equipment. As simple, efficient and useful as possible, these were the criteria Leupold adhered to. In academia, however, he did not make friends. Yet the quality of his work convinced Emperor Charles VI, August the Strong, and the Academy of Sciences. They funded a major project for the engineer, the first comprehensive handbook of technology in German language ever! In this encyclopedia, “all the rules, laws and benefits that serve not only as inventions, but also for the production, assessment and use of machines and instruments and are necessary to know should be taught.”



In 1724 the first volume of Leupold’s “Theatrum Machinarum” was published, in 1725 the fourth volume presented here that focuses on the “Heb-Zeuge” (hoist). Since his writing did not address erudite couch potatoes, Leupold had written it in German, only stating commonly known technical terms in Latin as well. Table XXXIV, for example, illustrates what makes Leupold’s work special. It features a functional, but very complex crane by Jacques Besson. Right next to it, Leupold puts his own simple machine that achieved the same result. In these plates, the device takes center stage, plain and without decorative accessories. Leupold offers his readers didactically useful, true to scale technical projection drawings with details highlighted. These are not blueprints, but templates. Leupold considered it important that the builders adjusted their equipment to local conditions and not just copied ideal types.


But who were the readers? The “Theatrum Machinarum” consisted of more than twenty volumes, of which Leupold was only able to publish seven before he died. If nothing else, the many plates raised the price so much that no ordinary craftsman could have added this gem to his workshop. But it probably inspired his commissioners who then made it available to their engineers and equipment makers as a do-it-yourself compendium. That way, they saved both working time and material in the best case.

The editors had initially considered an edition in French and Latin, attractive for the international market. But that was not necessary at all: Interested readers could simply learn German! Just like the famous English engineer and inventor James Watt, who only learned German for expanding his knowledge of practical physics through Leupold’s work – and to use this newly gained knowledge to develop his steam engine.