Nikola Tesla Articles
An Analysis of Tesla's Work
Some Non-Technical Views and a Response by Tesla Describing His Efforts in Several Fields of Work.
The articles published below are taken from the New York Sun, a journal that is conservatively and ably conducted in all its scientific discussions. We consider its editorial review of Tesla’s efforts and ambitions the best that has appeared, and Tesla's letter that follows will be read with interest by every one acquainted with modern electrical work. It is the first communication of this kind ever sent to the lay press by Tesla, who has been the victim of probably more forged interviews and sensational articles appearing without authority than any other inventor.
The Sun editorial is as follows:
Nikola Tesla and His Quest.
[From The Sun, New York, November 13, 1898]
Nikola Tesla has just made public some facts about an invention intended to make war too terrible to be prosecuted, and thus to insure peace between nations. The war with Spain drew Mr. Tesla's mind aside for the time from the line of studies which has engaged him for years. Inspired and fired by patriotism, he has applied to a war engine some of the principles which he discovered in following his inquiries into new methods of applying energy to the purposes of peace.
The success or failure of Mr. Tesla’s latest invention will not turn him away from the great project which has possessed his mind for years. This, as he puts it, is to harness the sun’s power to do the work of mankind. He does not mean to catch the power of the sun’s rays directly. but to utilize that enormous portion of their power which is expended upon the earth’s surface in sucking from sea and lake waters which are afterward precipitated upon the higher parts of the land.
That there are waterfalls upon the earth which are capable of producing all the energy which mankind uses for power, heat and light is well known. The use of water-powers, however, is limited within narrow margins, partly because of the investment cost of installment, but chiefly because the great waterfalls are remote from the seats of population and trade. Before Mr. Tesla began his researches there was no method known by which the power generated at a remote place could be transmitted to where it was wanted except at a loss of efficiency which was prohibitory. Since that time, by the use of currents of from 10,000 to 20,000 volts, it has become possible to send electric power successfully over wires for 35 miles or more, and one plant is now building to transmit power 85 miles.
But to utilize the great water-powers of the world, the transmittal of energy for a distance of from 50 to 100 miles is hardly more useful than a reach of eight or ten miles. Mr. Tesla designs to annihilate space. He would take the power of a Niagara, transform it into an electric current, and send this without appreciable loss to any place on earth where it was needed for use. Mr. Tesla has, accordingly, devised an electric oscillator which will receive the electric current from its source and give it an intensity which, as the inventor calculates, would enable a copper thread to carry 50,000 horsepower across the ocean. Mr. Tesla claims to have discovered, furthermore, that at an altitude easily reached by balloons the rarefied air has a conductivity equal to copper, while the denser layer of air below is a nonconductor. He proposes to suspend one pole of his electric circuit in the air at Niagara Falls and the other at Paris, and to forward his current through the upper air to France, whence it shall return through the earth when its active energy has been expended in work. He believes that he will be able to make this demonstration in 1900 as an exhibit at the coming world’s fair at Paris, and to drive all the machinery at that exposition with the power from our great waterfall. The significance of his success would be that coal would become a convenience instead of a necessity, and waterpower and electricity would replace coal and steam for the work of the world.
Another great quest which Mr. Tesla has been conducting side by side with this - and, in fact, leading along the same lines - is for the means of producing light from electricity without heat. It was well known when Tesla began his studies that a Crookes vacuum tube could be made to glow by passing through it currents of electricity at a high tension, but no electrician could evolve from these tubes more than a phosphorescent glow. To turn this into a white light which should shine like the face of the sun itself was the problem to be solved. All his investigations led Mr. Tesla to conclude that the thing which was needed was to be able to give to electrical currents voltages enormously beyond an which had ever been produced, and then to be able to handle and control the currents thus transformed. From this need grew his electrical oscillator, with which Mr. Tesla proposes to produce a current with an intensity of 800,000 volts, capable of transmission across the Atlantic. In Mr. Tesla’s laboratory the vacuum tubes glow like sunshine, and their introduction for use is waiting only for a reduction of the cost of their light to a commercial basis, a reduction which he says is near at hand.
Since Mr. Tesla began investigating the possibilities of such high-tension currents as he produces by means of his oscillator he has made some startling announcements, such as that of his ability to use the whole earth as a conductor, and to telegraph to any part of its surface from any other part, sending messages jointly to many stations, or separately to each, at will. Perhaps because none of these late triumphs of Mr. Tesla’s genius have yet been brought into practical use, there are many persons who declare that he is a visionary and impractical. It must be remembered that his discovery of the rotating electric field was of as great importance in its day as are his later discoveries now. That was announced in 1882, yet it was nearly 10 years before its value was fully recognized.
The personality of Nikola Tesla is as interesting as are the results of his scientific labors. His ways of work differ radically from the methods of those who study by experiment and elimination. Tesla seldom experiments, and when he does it is to prove a theory, not to form one. In 11 years, he says, only one of his experiments has failed. His processes are mental, and at times, he declares, his mind reaches out into fields so vast that he is afraid, and recalls it. He verifies his conclusions afterward by figures and experiments.
No other great scientific genius ever turned aside from his work to devise means for putting an end to war. Others have invented guns, armor, explosives and other accessories of war, but even in these cases the inventions were in a line with work in which the inventors were already engaged. Mr. Tesla's first design was to apply his method of control to such engines as automible torpedoes, and to use these to destroy the Spanish fleets, but as he went on, the broader idea came to him to make his war machine so irresistible as to render war itself improbable.
Tesla Describes His Efforts in Various Fields of Work.
[From The Sun, New York, November 21, 1898]
To the Editor of The Sun – Sir: Had it not been for other urgent duties, I would before this have acknowledged your highly appreciative editorial of November 13. Such earnest comments and the frequent evidences of the highest appreciation of my labors by men who are the recognized leaders of this day in scientific speculation, discovery and invention are a powerful stimulus, and I am thankful for them. There is nothing that gives me so much strength and courage as the feeling that those who are competent to judge have faith in me.
Permit me on this occasion to make a few statements which will define my position in the various fields of investigation you have touched upon.
I can not but gratefully acknowledge my indebtedness to earlier workers, as Dr. Hertz and Dr. Lodge, in my efforts to produce a practical and economical lighting system on the lines which I first disclosed in a lecture at Columbia College in 1891. There exists a popular error in regard to this light, inasmuch as it is believed that it can be obtained without generation of heat. The enthusiasm of Dr. Lodge is probably responsible for this error, which I have pointed out early by showing the impossibility of reaching a high vibration without going through the lower or fundamental tones. On purely theoretical grounds such a result is thinkable, but it would imply a device for starting the vibrations of unattainable qualities, inasmuch as it would have to be entirely devoid of inertia and other properties of matter. Though I have conceptions in this regard, I dismiss for the present this proposition as being impossible. We can not produce light without heat, but we can surely produce a more efficient light than that obtained in the incandescent lamp, which, though a beautiful invention, is sadly lacking in the feature of efficiency. As the first step toward this realization, I have found it necessary to invent some method for transforming economically the ordinary currents as furnished from the lighting circuits into electrical vibrations of great rapidity. This was a difficult problem, and it was only recently that I was able to announce its practical and thoroughly satisfactory solution. But this was not the only requirement in a system of this kind. It was necessary also to increase the intensity of the light, which at first was very feeble. In this direction, too, I met with complete success, so that at present I am producing a thoroughly serviceable and economical light of any desired intensity. I do not mean to say that this system will revolutionize those in use at present, which have resulted from the cooperation of many able men. I am only sure that it will have its fields of usefulness.
As to the idea of rendering the energy of the sun available for industrial purposes, it fascinated me early but I must admit it was only long after I discovered the rotating magnetic field that it took a firm hold upon my mind. In assailing the problem I found two possible ways of solving it. Either power was to be developed on the spot by converting the energy of the sun’s radiations or the energy of vast reservoirs was to be transmitted economically to any distance. Though there were other possible sources of economical power, only the two solutions mentioned offer the ideal feature of power being obtained without any consumption of material. After long thought I finally arrived at two solutions, but on the first of these, namely, that referring to the development of power in any locality from the sun’s radiations, I can not dwell at present. The system of power transmission without wires, in the form in which I have described it recently, originated in this manner. Starting from two facts that the earth was a conductor insulated in space, and that a body can not be charged without causing an equivalent displacement of electricity in the earth, I undertook to construct a machine suited for creating as large a displacement as possible of the earth’s electricity.
This machine was simply to charge and discharge in rapid succession a body insulated in space, thus altering periodically the amount of electricity in the earth, and consequently the pressure all over its surface. It was nothing but what in mechanics is a pump, forcing water from a large reservoir into a small one and back again. Primarily I contemplated only the sending of messages to great distances in this manner, and I described the scheme in detail, pointing out on that occasion the importance of ascertaining certain electrical conditions of the earth. The attractive feature of this plan was that the intensity of the signals should diminish very little with the distance, and, in fact, should not diminish at all, if it were not for certain losses occurring, chiefly in the atmosphere. As all my previous ideas, this one, too, received the treatment of Marsyas, but it forms, nevertheless, the basis of what is now known as “wireless telegraphy.” This statement will bear rigorous examination, but it is not made with the intent of detracting from the merit of others. On the contrary, it is with great pleasure that I acknowledge the early work of Dr. Lodge, the brilliant experiments of Marconi, and of a later experimenter in this line, Dr. Slaby, of Berlin. Now, this idea I extended to a system of power transmission, and I submitted it to Helmholtz on the occasion of his visit to this country. He unhesitatingly said that power could certainly be transmitted in this manner, but he doubted that I could ever produce an apparatus capable of creating the high pressures of a number of million volts, which were required to attack the problem with any chance of success, and that I could overcome the difficulties of insulation. Impossible as this problem seemed at first, I was fortunate to master it in a comparatively short time, and it was in perfecting this apparatus that I came to a turning point in the development of this idea. I, namely, at once observed that the air, which is a perfect insulator for currents produced by ordinary apparatus, was easily traversed by currents furnished by my improved machine, giving a tension of something like 2,500,000 volts. A further investigation in this direction led to another valuable fact; namely, that the conductivity of the air for these currents increased very rapidly with its degree of rarefaction, and at once the transmission of energy through the upper strata of air, which, without such results as I have obtained, would be nothing more than a dream, became easily realizable. This appears all the more certain, as I found it quite practicable to transmit, under conditions such as exist in heights well explored, electrical energy in large amounts. I have thus overcome all the chief obstacles which originally stood in the way, and the success of my system now rests merely on engineering skill.
Referring to my latest invention, I wish to bring out a point which has been overlooked. I arrived, as has been stated, at the idea through entirely abstract speculations on the human organism, which I conceived to be a self-propelling machine, the motions of which are governed by impressions received through the eye. Endeavoring to construct a mechanical model resembling in its essential, material features the human body, I was led to combine a controlling device, or organ sensitive to certain waves, with a body provided with propelling and directing mechanism, and the rest naturally followed. Originally the idea interested me only from the scientific point of view, but soon I saw that I had made a departure which sooner or later must produce a profound change in things and conditions presently existing. I hope this change will be for the good only, for, if it were otherwise, I wish that I had never made the invention. The future may or may not bear out my present convictions, but I can not refrain from saying that it is difficult for me to see at present how, with such a principle brought to great perfection, as it undoubtedly will be in the course of time, guns can maintain themselves as weapons. We shall be able, by availing ourselves of this advance, to send a projectile at much greater distance, it will not be limited in any way by weight or amount of explosive charge, we shall be able to submerge it at command, to arrest it in its flight, and call it back, and to send it out again and explode it at will, and, more than this, it will never make a miss, since all chance in this regard, if hitting the object of attack were at all required, is eliminated. But the chief feature of such a weapon is still to be told; namely, it may be made to respond only to a certain note or tune, it may be endowed with selective power. Directly such an arm is produced, it becomes almost impossible to meet it with a corresponding development. It is this feature, perhaps, more than in its power of destruction, that its tendency to arrest the development of arms and to stop warfare will reside. With renewed thanks, I remain,
Very truly, yours,
New York, November 19.