Several years ago, in the course of a discussion, a well-known journalist asked me whom I considered at present the world’s greatest inventor. I said: “If you mean the man who really invented, in other words, originated and discovered — not merely improved what had already been invented by others, then without a shade of doubt, Nikola Tesla is the world’s greatest inventor, not only at present, but in all history.”
My friend was much surprised and voiced his astonishment. “Surely,” said he, “you do not mean to place Tesla ahead of such great men as Archimedes, Faraday or Edison?”
“That is exactly what I mean,” I replied, “and before twenty-five years have elapsed the world at large will echo my opinion.”
“But listen,” persisted my friend, “who on earth is this man Tesla anyway? What are his wonderful inventions, what great thing has he ever done? How is it that the world at large does not know him?”
“To begin with, and the better to impress you,” I replied, “Tesla has secured more than one hundred patents on inventions, many of which have proved revolutionary. Science accords to him over 75 original discoveries, not mere mechanical improvements. Tesla is an originator in the sense that Faraday was an originator. Like the latter he is a pioneer blazing the trail; aside from this he is a discoverer of the very highest order.”
“Ninety percent of the entire electrical industry pays tribute to his genius. All electrical machinery using or generating alternating current is due to Tesla. High tension current transmission without which our long distance trolley cars, our electrified lines, our subways would be impossible, are due to the genius of Tesla.The Tesla Induction Motor, the Tesla Rotary Converter, the Tesla Phase System of Power Transmission, the Tesla Steam and Gas Turbine and the Tesla Coil and Oscillation Transformer are perhaps his better known inventions.
“As to your last question, namely, why the world at large does not know Tesla, it is answered best by stating that he has committed the unpardonable crime of not having a permanent press agent to shout his greatness from the housetops. Then, too, most of Tesla’s inventions, at least to the public mind, are more or less intangible on account of the fact that they are very technical and, therefore, do not catch the popular imagination, as, for instance, wireless, the X-ray, the airplane, or the telephone.”
The trouble with Nikola Tesla is that he lives a century ahead of his time. He has often been denounced as a dreamer even by well informed men. He has been called crazy by others who ought to know better. For Tesla talks in a language that most of us do not as yet understand. But as the years roll on Science more and more appreciates his greatness, and begins to pay him tribute more and more.
In 1893 three years prior to the earliest attempts in Hertz wave telegraphy Tesla first described his wireless system and took out patents on a number of novel devices which were then but imperfectly understood. Even the electrical world at large laughed at these patents. But large wireless interests had to pay him tribute in the form of real money, because his “fool” patents were recognized to be fundamental. He actually antedated every important wireless invention.
A few weeks ago the world read thru news dispatches of a great wireless discovery — the static eliminator. But Tesla had not only patented systems overcoming this and other forms of interference but had actually constructed and successfully operated devices years ago in Colorado, under conditions where static interference was troublesome to an extraordinary degree. A photograph of one form of his apparatus is published with a note from him for the first time elsewhere in this issue of the Electrical Experimenter. And so it goes. The world smiles an unbelieving smile, but Tesla’s master mind invariably sets the world aright.
I first read about Tesla in a well-known German weekly publication when I was less than 15 years old. The Editor of that publication reproduced his picture on a full page and paid high tribute to Tesla, hailing him as the world’s coming greatest electrician.
H. W. Buck, Chief Engineer, President of the American Institute of Electrical Engineers, among others, said: “The work of Nikola Tesla in his great conception of his rotary field seems to me one of the greatest feats of imagination which has ever been attained by human mind.”
Lord Kelvin, before the British Association, commenting upon the Tesla Transformer exhibited, said: “This is a wonderful development of the induction coil destined to be of great importance.”
Electrical Review, commenting upon the wireless: “Mr. Tesla’s researches in this field have attracted world-wide attention, and his is undoubtedly the master mind.”
Der Electro-Technische Anzeiger, Berlin, and Elektrizität, Leipzig, Germany, (commenting on Tesla’s work): “It is a combination of the grandest power of technical performance with the most vivid imagination, such as has never before manifested itself in human mind.”
Brigadier Allen, of the United States War Department (commenting upon Tesla’s Turbine): “Something new in the world. Officers are greatly impressed with it.”
While studying abroad I read every scrap of his work I could lay my hands on. I performed most of his high frequency experiments, and the more I saw of his work the more imprest I became, Some years ago as Editor of Modern Electrics, I met him in a New York shop where his famous turbine models were first built. I was fascinated with the tall, gaunt man, then about 50 years old, but looking less than 30. His extraordinary face, with his deep set blue eyes, proclaimed the intense thinker — the philosopher. A few minutes’ chat with him left me more than ever convinced of his greatness.
Further contacts during the past few years still enhanced my opinion or him. Tesla is a man of extraordinary knowledge. He is remarkably well read and has a photographic memory whereby it is possible for him to recite page after page of nearly every classical work, be it Goethe, Voltaire or Shakespeare. He speaks and writes twelve languages. He is an accomplished calculator, who has little use for tables and text-books and holds the sliding rule in contempt. Tesla has received numerous honors and distinctions of all kinds. He is a knight of several orders, holder of many titles and diplomas. Some time ago he was awarded the Elliott Cresson gold medal by the Franklin Institute and last year the Edison medal by the American Institute of Electrical Engineers. Many extraordinary distinctions have been offered to him which he has declined. As of timely interest one instance may be mentioned. At the announcement of Tesla’s high frequency discoveries, while the former Emperor of Germany was all-powerful and great men were eager for his favors, Tesla received an invitation from him and the Empress to repeat his celebrated experiments at the Royal Palace in Berlin. He forgot all about it and did not answer for one year, when he politely apologized for his inability to avail himself fr the honor. Later the invitation was renewed and nearly two years past before Tesla answered to the same effect. After a lapse of time, however, upon the announcement of another important invention, he received the invitation for the third time, with the assurance that an altogether unusual honor was reserved for him. “Well, boys,” said Tesla to his assistants after he laid the invitation which he never answered aside, “the Emperor must be a great man. I do not think that I would be capable of acting in this way if I were in his place.” Perhaps the most remarkable tribute was paid to him when he made his famous experiments in Colorado in 1899. It was by J. Pierpont Morgan, the elder, who donated $150,000, which enabled Tesla to produce artificial lightning and incidentally to electrify the entire earth.
Some of Tesla’s inventions have been of far-reaching importance in the War. The resources and productive powers of the country have been greatly increased thru extended use of his system of alternating current transmission and transformation of energy. Nearly ten million horsepower of water falls have been harnest by this means, thus saving forty percent of the entire coal output of the United States, The railroads have been electrified and his induction motor has revolutionized the steel industry and operation of factories. His electric drive has been adopted on the largest cruisers and battleships as the most perfect means of propulsion. His wireless inventions have proved indispensable and his oscillatory apparatus has been or inestimable service in chirurgical and therapeutic treatment in the field.
The technical prints abound with his work, his inventions, his discoveries. The following is only a partial list of terms now adopted and published in text books and technical works:
The other night the Editors of the Experimenter had the opportunity of passing an evening with Tesla. We talked about many things, so interesting, that I will reserve them for another article — but mostly, of course, the conversation centered about Tesla himself.
“Dr.Tesla,” I said to him, “you are aware of our great admiration for you, which may or may not be important. But the great public knows little of your mark. Even many of those technically educated — excuse the frankness — think that you are either a dreamer or, worse yet, crazy. The fact is the world does not understand you because you live in the next century. Moses was a great man, but the Bible teaches us that he was “heavy of tongue” and could not make himself understood. His brother therefore always spoke in his stead, announcing to his hearers what Moses had to say. Why not let the EXPERIMENTER be your brother? Why not let us translate your work into a language that the man in the street can readily understand? We have the knowledge and the technical training to do your inventions justice by means of graphic illustrations and wash drawings. The public does not want patent drawings or patent language. It wants pictures and plain English. You are a great inventor, but your 21st Century training prevents you from making yourself understood to a 20th Century public. My plan is to run one of your inventions every month, in plain English fully illustrated. That means that it will probably take over two years to deal with all of your more important inventions. At the end of this period the articles can be published in book form, a thing that does not exist at present. The plan is two-fold. First, the world at large will at last understand the highly important work you have accomplished and will fully recognize you. Second, it will be of greatest benefit to Science, to whom your inventions will then not be the scaled book they are today.”
Knowing that Tesla had in the past continuously refused similar offers of dozens of great publishers of this country as well as abroad, I was not at all sanguine of my own plan. Great was my surprise therefore, that he not only gave his consent, but he actually agreed to prepare each article personally with the Editors’ collaboration.
Dr. Tesla wants it expressly understood that he is undertaking this great work chiefly to educate the young generation. He felt that he could not possibly reach such a large electrically trained young manhood, save thru the medium of the ELECTRICAL EXPERIMENTER. With its circulation above 100,000, all enthusiastic experimenters, Tesla feels that his greatest mission in life, namely, to assist our rising generation, will come near fulfillment.
Nikola Tesla’s articles will therefore run serially every month in the ELECTRICAL EXPERIMENTER. The articles will be entitled: “My Inventions” — by Nikola Tesla. Every article will be entirely original; each will be illustrated with our own new illustrations and with such wash drawings as made this journal so successful. The first article will appear in our February number.
We wish to congratulate EXPERIMENTER readers for having obtained for them probably the greatest technical news feature of a generation. I caution you: Expect much!