Nikola Tesla Articles
Nikola Tesla - Father of Invention
Let the future tell the truth and evaluate each one according to his work and accomplishments. The present is theirs, the future, for which I really worked, is mine. - Nikola Tesla
You might imagine that the producers of the television series SIGHTINGS, which regularly explores such topics as UFO sightings, alien abduction, hauntings, paranormal phenomena and psychic detectives, would be eager to do a story about an inventor who may have accidentally triggered the Tunguska blast. After all, the cause remains a mystery. All we can say for certain is that on the morning of June 30, 1908, an explosion ripped a hole in the sky above Siberia with a force 2,000 times greater than the atomic bomb that destroyed Hiroshima. If it was some kind of experiment gone awry, could we pin it on Tesla? It sounded like an entertaining idea. Science writer Oliver Nichelson had published an article that offered circumstantial evidence linking Tesla to Tunguska. We had some vague notion of Tesla as a colorful if obscure inventor, a minor mad-scientist type celebrated for his coil. In short, all the ingredients for a fun, speculative segment. All that remained was to flesh out the story with some personal and historical detail. But as we began to research Tesla’s life and achievements we were surprised to discover a version of history so totally at odds with the textbook view that we began to think that Nikola Tesla was just too, well, unbelievable - even for SIGHTINGS.
Nikola Tesla - Photo taken of Tesla using a new type of lighting he invented. This the only photo he considered worth keeping for posterity.
We know all about Eli Whitney’s cotton gin, Robert Fulton’s steam engine, Henry Ford’s automobile assembly line and Thomas Edison’s light bulb. How could the textbooks have failed to mention that it was Tesla - not Edison - who lit the world with an electrical power system so revolutionary that it baffled the Wizard of Menlo Park? And if he had as much (if not more) to do with inventing radio than anyone else, how come we know so much about Marconi and so little about Tesla. Here’s a man who created half a dozen new technologies; accurately predicted half a dozen more; probably provided the theoretical basis for star wars technology; and still found time to talk to pigeons and yet we never learned about him in elementary school. If his only accomplishment had been to conceive the rotating magnetic field and alternating induction motor, he would still deserve to be remembered as a genius who transformed the world. After all, AC banished darkness from cities and sparked a world-wide technological revolution. And the idea apparently came to him in a flash while he was reciting a line from Goethe’s Faust (“Ah, that no wing can lift me from the soil/Upon it track to follow soaring, soaring!”). Tesla has also been credited with inspiring (if not inventing outright) x-rays, the electron microscope, microwave transmission, guided missiles, computers, television, vertical take-off and landing aircraft, radar, particle beam technology, and radio (in 1943, six months after his death, the Supreme Court ruled it was Tesla - not Marconi - who developed the radio frequency tuner). And all we remember is a coil?
Tesla’s Colorado Springs Laboratory - Tesla performed many of his most controversial experiments concerning the wireless transmission of power. It has been stated that he pushed 250-watts 26 miles using the Colorado Springs coil. The Printer’s Home in the background is still standing today.
Perhaps the most plausible explanation for the neglect Tesla’s reputation has suffered is that he simply outlived his genius. In his later years during the thirties and early forties he was depicted in the popular press as a sort of lurid sci-fi prophet. He could always be depended upon for a dramatic headline when he issued his annual birthday address. In stiff, oracular prose he would describe miraculous future technologies based on his current, vaguely defined research. Occasionally he would hint at weapons of mass destruction that could wipe out whole cities. His laboratory in Greenwich Village was a popular curiosity that inspired the design of the monster’s lab in the first Frankenstein movies. Cartoonist Max Fleischer based his prototype Mad Scientist character on Tesla. Odd personal habits, particularly a Howard Hughes-like germophobia, made him a particularly easy target for Fleischer. All of this made it easy to scoff when he talked about plasma physics or cyclotrons or solar-powered spacecraft. In this way an unflattering popular portrait emerged - a caricature difficult to take seriously and easy to forget.
Photographic View of Coils Responding to Electrical Oscillations
The picture shows a number of coils, differently attuned and responding to the vibrations transmitted to them through the earth from an electrical oscillator. The large coil on the right, discharging strongly, is tuned to the fundamental vibration which is fifty thousand per second; the two larger vertical coils to twice that number; the smaller white wire coil to four times that number, and the remaining small coils to higher tones. The vibrations produced by the oscillator were so intense that they affected perceptibly a small coil tuned to the twenty-sixth higher tone.
Death... and Destruction - This is the Tunguska region shortly after the event occurred on the morning of June 30, 1908 at about 7AM. In Volume 4 of UFOs and ExtraTerrestrials in History by Yves Naud, it states that an electrical sound was heard an instant prior to the explosion itself.
A darker explanation is that Tesla was the victim of a deliberate campaign designed to undermine his credibility. Tesla’s great unfinished work was his design to broadcast electrical energy that could be used by anyone with an antenna. J.P. Morgan, then Tesla’s primary backer, was horrified. How could you get people to pay for something you couldn’t put a meter on? He withdrew his support and Tesla began a long slide into financial ruin from which he would never recover.
The break with Morgan couldn’t have come at a worse moment for Tesla. In 1907, the first of his great towers was nearing completion at Wardenclyffe, Long Island. It is just possible that Tesla could have scraped together enough equipment to make the facility at least partially operational by the summer of 1908. With the creditors closing in, Tesla may have been tempted to use the enormous power generating capacity of the tower to create a dramatic demonstration that could win him new backers. He had used such public displays in the past and they had always worked. It would perfectly in character for him to do so now. But if he did try something of the sort, he did it secretly - perhaps because he couldn’t predict how well his untried instrument would work.
Path of Destruction - If Tesla had been trying to reach Ellesmere Island (near Peary’s location), then he may have miscalculated and overshot his target.
Wardenclyffe Property Installation (1960)...
Located in Shoreham on Long Island, Tesla’s tower was located on this site.
Credit: Leland Anderson
On a June day in 1908 the sky above Tunguska cracked open with such force that the shock waves traveled twice around the planet. The explosion was felt tens of thousands of miles away. If Tesla had blown up a big chunk of Russian wilderness, that would be a fact the federal government would most likely not wish to make known.
Government documents released years after Tesla’s death in 1943 revealed that one of Tesla’s closest confidantes was an undercover agent working for the FBI. Government agents removed papers from Tesla’s safe and from a Manhattan storage facility. Did they contain secrets worth preserving? How long had the government been spying on Tesla? Nikola Tesla had not been taken seriously in the eyes of the world for more than a decade - yet someone in the government was still interested in his research. Perhaps Tesla didn’t outlive his genius. Perhaps the research he somehow always found funds to support had potential applications that interested the federal government. Perhaps some government agency thought it best to discourage the interest of others - an attitude likely shared with J.P. Morgan and other industrialists who had killed the broadcast energy project and wanted to make sure it stayed dead.
The SIGHTINGS director assigned to the Tesla story fell ill the day before he was scheduled to fly to New York to interview Tad Wise, author of a fictionalized version of Tesla’s life story, and Ellen Sherman, one of the key organizers of an effort to preserve what remains of Tesla’s Wardenclyffe lab. Another director who was unfamiliar with the Tesla story was sent in his place and supplied with a thick file of background material to read on the plane. He called the office as soon as soon as he reached his New York Hotel. “I can’t believe how angry I am,” he said, “How could I have never learned all this stuff about Tesla? It’s unbelievable!”