What is the oldest (still working) piece of machinery

Just curious, what the oldest man made piece of machinary still in use today would be?

I’m looking for specific examples (ie the clock works in Big Ben, etc).

I’m curious to know if something built toda would last as long.


The clock works in Big Ben is a comparative youngster ( mid 19th century ) there are much older clocks around . From memory there is one in Wells Cathedral that dates from the 14th century.

I don’t know specifics, but I imagine either some wind or water mill.

If you take the strict definition of ‘machine’ (the one that includes ‘inclined plane’), then the oldest machine is going to be some stone ramp somewhere.

Or, if all the talk about them being astronomical calendars, monuments such as Stonehenge might fit the bill.

Were you specifically looking for something with integral moving parts?

I’ll have to look it up but I imagine someArchimedes Screws in Egypt and the Middle East go back pretty far.

This lightbulb has been burning for 100 years, it seems. That might make it one of the oldest electrical machines, at least.

Do Aquaducts count as “machines”? Some Roman ones are still in use, today.

Here’s a railcar that was apparently in use for 80 years.

When the last B-52 bombers are retired in the 2040s, some of the airframes will be over 75 years old. And the design will be nearly 100.

The question is a bit complicated by the various definitions of ‘machine’. Here are a few examples from the OED online:

I. A structure regarded as functioning as an independent body, without mechanical involvement.

II. A material structure designed for a specific purpose, and related uses.
3. A military engine or siege-tower.

III. A mechanical or other structure used for transportation or conveyance.

IV. An apparatus constructed to perform a task or for some other purpose; also in derived senses.
a. In general use: an apparatus, device, instrument, or implement
b. A complex device, consisting of a number of interrelated parts, each having a definite function, together applying, using, or generating mechanical or (later) electrical power to perform a certain kind of work (often specified by a preceding verbal noun).
7. Mech. Anything that transmits force or directs its application.

And so on. There are any number of examples of the first definition. The second definition has a number of examples - such as greek torsion catapults and the lated roman variants, though none that are still functioning, so far as I know. (Incidentally, the advent and development of siege engines is an interesting topic, and I’d recommend looking into it if you’re interested in ancient machines.) Similarly, there are lots of machines conforming to definition three, but again, none that still work. Viking boats leap immediately to mind, for example.

Definition four is closer to what I think you were getting at, but even there we have considerable variation. For 6a, Egyptian polished bronze mirrors still work as well as they ever did, as do obsidian spearheads. For 6b, John Harrison’s surviving clocks (the earliest from 1713) still keep time. Or how about an astrolabe?

For my money, though, I’d go with any kind stone cutting edge; but if you want to omit the stone age, I’d go with a bronze knife or chisel.

Let’s not forget the UFOs that seeded the earth with human life. While their serviceable life in linear years is fairly short (47.6 years on average) their time travel feature can put them easily within a few minutes of The Big Bang making them not only the oldest machines, but among the oldest *objects * in the universe. And as they are manufactured by (or rather for) a sub-species of homo sapiens they can be considered “man-made.”

Where did I put that mustard…

Yeah, it’s gonna be hard to define.

Some other suggestions for devices with articulated parts that are likely to have survived in working form might include:

Clothing and particularly armour. Any riveted piece on clothing or armour is a functional fulcrum and thus a machine and I’m fairly sure we’ve got such pieces of Roman armour at least. Even buttons and bootlaces are quite properly described as machines and we have functional examples going back to the bronze age.

Doors are articulated machines and I’m sure there are some ancient buildings with functioning doors.

Lids. Given the propensity of ancient cultures to bury pottery I’m sure there must be some old examples of jars with lids still in place.

Wheels. There are wheeled models and even full sized chariots found in functioning order in tombs all over the place.

Spear throwers. I’m not sure what the oldest functioning example of a spear thrower is but it seems like they wouldn’t be prone to stopping working until they rot.

Given those examples I’m fairly confident the earliest working machine will be in thousands of years old rather than hundreds.

How about a spear? Some are thousands of years old and could still kill someone today.

If you’re will to stretch the definition that far, stone cutting tools aren’t going much further. You could probably find some stone tools in Olduvai Gorge that were shaped a million or two years back and still work.

How about a sundial? Two moving parts, the earth and the sun, making it the most efficient machine ever devised by man.

Going along with the clock theme, what about Stonehenge? Not sure if that meets your definition of “machinery,” but it *does * have some practical uses…

Besides that, there’s also the Astronomical Clock (Staromestska Radnice) in Prague which has been around for over six centuries: http://user.intop.net/~jhollis/clock.htm

My son, and I mean this in a gentle & friendly way, it isn’t about where you put the mustard.

It’s about where we’re gonna put that mustard, to repay you for the balance of your thread. :slight_smile:

Oh come on guys. Let’s not be so po-faced. Yes, we can include ramps, spears… Heck, a million year-old rock could kill somebody today if you lobbed it at their noggin.

How about "what’s the oldest machine in the fun everyday sense of it, that a little boy would think of when you said the word “machine”. It’s gotta have gears or pulleys and such. What’s the oldest one of those?

I quickly googled for old clocks and found:

-The oldest astronomical clock in Lyons, France (1393)

-The oldest clock in Comayagua, Honduras (made by the moors, donated by the king of Spain, 800 years old)
I stopped there, first because I suspected that I would find a lot of “oldest clock in the world” (a quick glance shows there are at least two of them in France alone), but more importantly because I found a reference to something which has a chance of be the oldest clock which could still be used. A 3500 y.o. clepsydrae kept in the Cairo museum. But I suspect it isn’t what you’d call a “machine”.

Besides, I think the jury is waaaaay out still on whether Stonehenge had any actual astronomical or time-telling purpose. IIRC the opinions of most non-Fortean experts is “impossible to tell”.

Well, Tony Randall fathered a child at the age of 78…

HA! A 100-year-old light bulb? A mere pup, I tell you.

Behold! Singer’s “Perpetual Chime” (ca 1840)

I recall reading about a water wheel in Syria that’s been in operation since the middle ages. However, it reminds me of the man who held up a brand new hatchet and said “this is the same hatchet that George Washington used to cut down the cherry tree. Oh sure, the handle’s been replaced a dozen times and the head three or four times, but still…”

How about the Baghdad Battery? It still works.

Of course, it might not have been designed as a battery at all…maybe it was just a pencil holder.

Well, it was definitely used to mark Summer Solstice, though everything else is a bit iffy. Certainly, we can find plenty of other alignments; the problem is that we don’t know what dates were important to the builders, so we can’t say which (if any) of the other alignments are significant.