Newspaper and magazine articles related to Nikola Tesla

Nikola Tesla Articles

Newspaper and magazine articles related to Nikola Tesla

Colorado Let Tesla's Genius Grow

January 17th, 1965

Colorado was for a short while the home of Nikola Tesla, the Yugoslav eccentric who gave the world alternating electric current and many other revolutionary inventions. His genius blossomed after he broke with Thomas A. Edison and established a research laboratory on the outskirts of Colorado Springs, where he created lightning.

Unknown or forgotten, Tesla belongs to the world. After his death in New York on Jan. 4, 1943, his ashes were scattered to the elements with which he wrestled during a lifetime that started 87 years before in the village of Smiljan. Just before his final heart attack he watched from his window a midwinter electrical storm, and commented, "I have made better lightning than that."

All of the drama and eccenticities in the long life of Nikola Tesla have been pieced together in the unusually interesting biography just completed by Inez Hunt and Wanetta W. Draper and published by Alan Swallow's Sage Books in Denver. These Colorado Springs authors appropriately have called their life story of Nikola Tesla "Lightning in His Hand."

Tesla seemed destined to go through a life of contrasts, contradictions and conflicts. He was born in Croatia, which was predominantly Roman Catholic, but his father, the Rev. Milutin Tesla, was a priest of the Serbian Orthodox faith. Tesla's funeral services were held in the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York at the request of the Serbian Orthodox Church because the Serbian Cathedral was not completed. At the time there was tremendous emotoinal conflict between the Serbians and the Utashi, an organization of Croatian Nationalists who desired separation from Yugoslavia. The Serb and Croats sat on opposite sides of the church to pay final tribute to a genius both groups admired despite a controversial life.


He was born during an electrical storm. The midwife who delivered him predicted he would have a stormy life. He came into this world in candlelight, and he left it that way.

Yet his greatest contribution to the world was providing it with light-electricity from alternating current.

His European childhood was filled with inventive dreams that brought Nikola into conflict with his father. The priest had promised Nikola to the ministry, but the youngster dreamed of being a scientist. The boy could instill magic into wood, wire and water. His inventions were not understood by anyone else, especially members of his family, who rebuked him for wasting his time. In an old book he saw an engraving of the mighty Niagara Falls, and he told his uncle that some day he would go to America and harness the waters of Niagara. Thirty years later he stood at Niagara and saw his idea carried out, and even he marveled at the mystery of the human mind.

Because he came from a family ever hungry for knowledge, Tesla had a wide range of educational background when he entered Polytechnic School at Gratz. In a fever of gratitude to his parents for finally allowing him to dedicate his life to science, Nikola set about to develop a superhuman display of scholarship.

When he returned home with top honors in all subjects, Nikola was discouraged because his parents showed no interest in his achievement. He did not know that the professors had written his father that unless separated from his studies Nikola would kill himself with overwork. With some adjustments, Tesla returned to the university with a slower pace, but undiminished concern.


Thomas Edison already had excited the world with a process that had the capability of turning night into day. The school had obtained a Gramme Dynamo for the physics laboratory.

"The innocent-appearing dynamo which so stirred the students' excitement had the horseshoe form of a laminated field magnet and a wire-wound armature with a commutator," write authors Hunt and Draper, "As Prof. Poeschl demonstrated the machine, the brushes sparked badly. Tesla, the young perfectionist, was quick to point out the flaws and observed that it might be possible to operate it without the commutator. In an illuminating flash of understanding, it came to Tesla that the solution was to involve an alternating flow of current, thus eliminating the necessity for commutators. This was not an entirely new idea; it was one which had never found practical application. But in this moment the embryonic solution burst upon him with such Saul-visioned intensity that he threw caution to the winds and divulged his convictions to the astonished professor and his scoffing classmates.

"With Edison's discoveries in the field of electrical distribution by direct current, such heresy was shocking an unthinkable. Tsla's criticism stunned the classroom into silence by such blasphemy from a fellow student.

"Professor Poeschl, unaccustomed to such rank insubordination on the part of his worshipful class, was not about to yield his chair to a neophyle. He was quick to inform them that Herr Tesla's suggestions were impossible, impractical and completely out of order-that such a scheme would be the equivalent of perpetual motion."

Tesla was plagued with recurring absorption over alternating current, but kept his thoughts to himself until he was graduated from Polytechnic. In the meantime he fathered more eccentricities. In the quest for relaxation he turned to card games, chess and billiards, which appealed to his mathematical mind. Almost always he won money from his classmates, but desiring only the recreation, he returned his gains to the fellow students.


One night the stakes were high. Nikola wagered everything he had, including his tuition. His luck ran out. The winners did not return anything to him. Obviously his father would not give him money to recoup his losses, but his loving mother gave him a roll of currency and said, "Go and enjoy yourself. The sooner you lose all we possess the better it will be. I know that you will get over it."

With the last of his family's savings he returned to the gaming tables. The stakes soared. The boys were reckless because Nikola always had returned his winnings. This time he won heavily and kept everything. He vowed never to gamble again, and from a deep-seated lesson in self-discipline, Tesla conquered his mania for gambling. Out of school and in need of money, Tesla obtained employment with the American Telephone Co., which had started to install the amazing new telephone in Budapest. He invented a telephone repeater, the grandfather of today's loudspeaker. His failure to patent this device meant the failure to amass millions.

Mental and physical complexities overwhelmed Tesla as he tried to find his niche in a world emerging into the age of inventions. It seemed doubtful for a long time that he could survive. All his senses were accelerated. A watch ticking three rooms away prevented him from sleeping. A fly, lighting on a table, sounded like a thud. A locomotive whistle 20 miles away was unbearable. He could not walk under a bridge without a feeling of crushing pressure.

The physical stress sent his pulse to 260 beats a minute. His body twitched and shook with tremors. His determination. to live, and an athletic training program suggested by a former college classmate, gradually pulled him toward normality.


While walking in the dusk with his athletic friend, the solution to development of an alternating current motor came to him in a vision. The principle of the rotating magnetic field became clear. He hurriedly sketched some diagrams - the same ones he used six years. later in addressing the American Institute of Electrical Engineers.

Now there was every reason to live.

The owner of the Budapest Telephone Exchange took Tesla to Paris in 1883 and got him an association with the Societe Continentale Edison of France. The manager was Charles Batchellor, who had been in Edison's electrical equipment factory in the United States. Batchellor's laboratory brought together many technicians and engineers-men who were to become famous, as Tesla did later. Tesla was sent throughout France and Germany by his company to supervise installations and solve problems.

Within a year Tesla was on his way to America, the land of golden opportunity. He was robbed, or lost all of his belongings, and arrived in New York with four cents in his pockets. The only thing he had left was a letter of introduction from Batchellor to Edison. With money earned in an electrical shop, Tesla reached Edison.

Edison gave Tesla a job, but almost from the beginning the two were in conflict. Edison, the inventive genius who had no academic background, had on his hands a brilliant scholar with a wide array of talents. Both men worked almost around the clock, requiring little sleep. Edison, of course had no interest in an alternating current motor, and put Tesla to work trying to increase the output, lower the cost and decrease the maintenance cost of the Edison dynamo.

Tesla was unable to communicate his ideas to Edison and his associates and for two years he was alternately riding high or in the depths of depression. There was little opportunity in his field outside the area dominated by Edison.


At last Tesla met A. K. Brown of Western Union Telegraph Co., who took him to George Westinghouse Jr., then a successful young inventor who had gained fame by devising the air brake for railroad. trains. Westinghouse recognized Tesla as an inspired genius. He already had paid $50,000 for the patent rights of Lucien Gaulard and John Gibbs for the idea of an alternating current transformer. The transformer system was successful in 1886 in Great Barrington, Mass., which was the first city to be lighted by alternating current.

In May of 1888 Tesla, with the aid of Westinghouse, received patents on his alternating current motor and the associated method of transmitting power by polyphase currents. This instituted the battle between the Edison companies and Westinghouse and Tesla. Tesla accepted Westinghouse's offer of a million dollars for his patents, plus a dollar per horsepower royalty.

Tesla soon found himself in disagreement with the Westinghouse engineers. He demanded 60 cycles as standard frequency for alternating current. The engineers wanted 133 cycles. Tesla left the Westinghouse plant, but the engineers soon learned. they had to adopt Tesla's 60-cycle idea.

The Thomson-Houston Co. merged with Edison to form the General Electric Co. to do battle with Westinghouse. Edison warned America that Westinghouse, Tesla and their associates were producing dangerous equipment that would kill many people.


New York was considering replacing the hangman's noose with electrocution in capital of fense cases. Edison equipped a laboratory in which animals were electrocuted with Tesla's alternating current intending to prove the dangerous exposure of Americans to death if they used alternating current. Westinghouse established that meat could be roasted in two minutes on Edison's 220-volt, unprotected overhead transmission wires.

The power battle pushed Westinghouse toward financial disaster. He told Tesla that unless Tesla surrendered his horsepower royalties the Westinghouse company could not have the money to win the fight with Edison. It was a hard decision to make, but Tesla tore up the contract-after all, Westinghouse had been the only friend willing to back his dream alternating cĂ rrent. Later it was estimated that the royalty contract would have been worth $12 million to Tesla during the rest of his lifetime.

Tesla then began a period of working in his own New York laboratory, expanding his social circles and undertaking new idiosyncrasies. He loved coffee, but decided it was not good for him. For 10 years he ordered coffee regularly, enjoyed the aroma but never drank it. He gave up smoking and put moderation into his drinking.

It was at this point in Tesla's life that the hand of fate guided him to Colorado, where he lived for a short while and was able to establish many theories and prove his inventions. This portion of the story of Nikola Tesla will be related next week.


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