Newspaper and magazine articles related to Nikola Tesla

Nikola Tesla Articles

Newspaper and magazine articles related to Nikola Tesla

Nikola Tesla: The Lost Wizard

January, 2006
Page number(s):
Figure 1. Nikola Tesla sending 500,000 volts through his body to illuminate a vacuum lamp in a multiple exposure photo [circa 1896].

Abstract: Tesla died a forgotten man for a number of reasons including psychoanalytic variables in his character, peer jealousy and natural decay over time. However, two central events in 1901, appear to override other factors. The first involved Tesla’s extraordinary claims of possible contact with extraterrestrial beings, the second, a business arrangement with J. Pierpont Morgan and bitter rivalry with Guglielmo Marconi. This article will trace Tesla’s genius with regards to these events, and also seek to establish with graphological support that Tesla suffered a nervous breakdown in 1906. Due to his failure with Morgan, as well as society’s failure to support a man who had contributed so much, the inventor’s plans for a spectacular world-wide wireless system broadcasting light, power and information never materialized.


Nikola Tesla was one of the greatest electrical inventors of modern times whose fundamental work including the invention of the induction motor, alternating current polyphase system, fluorescent lights, remote control and artificial intelligence, lies at the heart of our technological society; yet few people have heard of him. Even during the inventor’s lifetime one author admitted that when Tesla’s name was suggested as the greatest living Yugoslavian American, he “remained embarrassingly silent... The name was not even vaguely familiar” [8].

Although Tesla biographers have written their biographies so that “Tesla may not be forgotten by a forgetful world”[15], the world has forgotten and there are definite reasons why. William Terbo, Tesla’s nephew, head of the Tesla Society, has stated that one major reason for the nonrecognition of his uncle’s name is that no corporation is closely identified with it. Although a contributing factor, this insight does not fully answer the question because no corporation is closely tied to other comparable inventors that we remember such as the Wright brothers, Cyrus McCormick or Eli Whitney.

In a name recognition survey I conducted in 1983 with 80 incoming general college students at Bristol Community College, MA, 43 electrical engineering upper classmen at the University of Rhode Island and 46 night school engineering students at Nassau Community College, Long Island, NY, out of the total of 169 participants only 28, (17%) recognized Tesla’s name, whereas 49 students, (28%) correctly identified Marconi and 159 students (91%) knew Edison. Where 24 students, (55%) of the URI electrical engineering group knew who Tesla was, not one non-engineering student recognized his name [37].

Further, in a review of 13 textbooks devoted to the history of invention (listed in the bibliography), although Edison appeared in all of them and Marconi in most, Tesla’s name only appeared in 5, and of these only 3, (23%) explained his contribution in any clear way [37,4,5,7, 8, 12, 13, 17, 18, 20, 24, 26, 45, 48].

Where most treatises on Tesla accept his obscure status as a given, no full-bodied attempt has been made to delineate specific reasons why. This article attempts to analyze major contributing factors.


Figure 2. The letterhead on Tesla's stationary highlighted many of his achievements.

In 1888, Tesla presented to the world his brilliant creation of the AC polyphase system. Before Tesla’s invention, the naturally flowing alternating current was converted into one direction by means of an inefficient device called the commutator (a series of wire brushes). This loss of energy was enormous, and because of it, generators could only transport electricity about a mile, and then only to illuminate homes.

After Tesla’s invention, electrical power as well as mere energy for lighting homes could be transported hundreds of miles; for the inventor had conceived of a way to organize two (or more) currents out of phase with each other in such a way that they generated a single electromagnetic field that rotated in space. A receiving magnet placed within this field could now turn a motor without the use of a commutator. He also explained the effect mathematically. Virtually over night, Tesla’s invention created a quantum leap in the electrical arts.

A few years earlier, Tesla had offered the new system to Thomas Edison, whom he had worked for after emigrating to America. Unfortunately, Edison was a DC man and wary of working with what he perceived to be the contrary and dangerous high frequencies of AC. However, George Westinghouse, an Edison competitor [33] and dabbler in AC devices realized the importance of Tesla’s creation and thereupon purchased the invention for a reported million dollars plus royalties.

Westinghouse did not merely acquire a device which did away with a commutator, he obtained the rights to an entire power system which was so complex that it had to be broken down into seven major inventions and 40 patents! Included in this package were such inventions as:

  • a. the Tesla coil.
  • b. the alternating current generator and dynamo.
  • c. synchronous and load dependent induction motors.
  • d. the rotating magnetic field, an entirely new principle behind the polyphase system.

By 1895 Tesla’s invention was successfully utilized in Switzerland, Germany and England, at the Chicago World’s Fair and Niagara Falls. It was also the means for the creation of the electric railway system. Today, virtually every electrical power station on the planet owes its existence to Tesla, as his creation has remained unchanged a full century after its conceptualization. As a single individual, Tesla altered the course of history in a dramatic way.

Although he was a highly visible figure throughout the Gilded Age, a front page headliner of The New York Times, Review of Reviews, Colliers, Electrical World & Engineer and The Century, Tesla died in obscurity. Ironically, most of his friends and colleagues are still well recognized historical figures. These notables included Mark Twain, who was photographed in Tesla’s laboratory in 1894, George Westinghouse, Thomas Edison, Rudyard Kipling, John Jacob Astor, who financially supported Tesla and maintained a residence for him at the Waldorf Astoria, Stanford White, famous architect and designer of Tesla’s ill-fated Long Island transmission tower, and J. Pierpont Morgan, Tesla’s business partner in 1901, and also the richest and most powerful man of his day. Tesla was not an obscure hermit inventor; he was a bon-vivant of the Gay Nineties’ social elite.

Figure 3. Tesla's polyphase electrical system was used to illuminate the Chicago World's Fair of 1893... an incredibly popular and immensely influential social and cultural event. Millions of Americans experienced the Fair during its six months of existence on the shores of Lake Michigan, and millions more have lived with its legacy throughout the twentieth century and into the twenty-first.

The story of the decline of the fame of Nikola Tesla is a psychohistorical quest [32], [34], [37]; for it would seem that given that he was the undisputed author of the electrical system utilized today, and that also his other inventions included wireless communication (e.g., the radio), neon and fluorescent lamps, remote control, and the robot, one would think that every child growing up would know Tesla’s name, just as they know Newton’s, Galileo’s, Edison’s, Henry Ford’s or Marconi’s.

Figure 4. The high tension current being passed through the body before it excites the lamps to incandescence. The loop is held over the resonating coil by Mr. Clemens (Mark Twain). From April 1895 Century Magazine.

One would also think that every electrical engineer would also know who Tesla was, and yet many do not. To explain why this is so, two major events shall be discussed, both culminating in the year 1901: the Tesla/Morgan relationship and the inventor’s belief in the possibility of interplanetary communication. Both are intrinsically related to the demise of this great inventor.

Tesla/Morgan Relationship Chronology

In 1884 Tesla arrived in America to work for Thomas Edison. By this time Morgan had already been financially involved with the “Wizard of Menlo Park” for over four years. In fact, Morgan was the first private citizen in history to have electrical lighting placed in his home. [29]. In 1891 Morgan literally shoved Edison out of his Edison Electric company as the inventor had managed to pile up a 3.5 million dollar debt [16]. By combining the company with the Thomson-Houston concern, General Electric was born.

There was only one problem: GE needed the Tesla polyphase system. In the long run Morgan’s engineers such as Steinmetz and Thomson knew that they could not survive with their primitive Edison DC generators. Therefore Morgan approached Westinghouse in the mid 1890’s to trade rights of their Vanderpoel trolley patents for the Tesla polyphase system [27]. Due to restrictions on Tesla’s contract with Westinghouse, the inventor received no direct benefit from this huge financial trade-off.

At about this same time, in 1898, Tesla invented and displayed his spectacular remote control torpedo boat at the Electrical Show at Madison Square Garden, a magnificent building financed by Morgan and designed and managed by the flamboyant architect Stanford White. This machine, which Tesla called the teleautomaton, contained all of the principles of the radio, electrical action at a distance and also the robot. The press billed the creation as a “torpedo boat without a crew” [38].

Figure 5. The first practical telautomaton. A machine having all its bodily or translatory movements and the operations of the interior mechanism controlled from a distance without wires. Tesla demonstrated this in 1898 in Madison Square Gardens!

In 1899, after moving to Colorado Springs to build a trial wireless transmission laboratory in order to send impulses around the globe, Tesla mailed his fantastic electrical photographs (on October 29) to his backer, John Jacob Astor, his closest friends R.U. Johnson, editor of The Century and his wife Kathryn and to Stanford White [42/Scherf]. As Morgan was working with McKim of the architectural firm of McKim, Mead & White, on the construction of the Morgan Library at the time, and as both Morgan and White were the principles in the Garden, it is also quite likely that White showed these photos to Morgan.

However, while Tesla was out west and out of touch with New York, Marconi was beginning to make a worldwide reputation. During the very months of Tesla’s most spectacular experiments including the creation of 100 foot lightning bolts, the young Italian inventor had captured the front page of The New York Times with his wireless coverage of the America’s Cup yacht races. Tesla was well aware of the coincidence as his secretary/manager George Scherff, who was minding the New York City laboratory at the time, writes to him on October 2, 1899 that “The New York Herald continues to boom Marconi” [42].

Morgan, as a member of the New York Yacht Association, was no doubt impressed by Marconi’s success, and one could say, in retrospect, that the event also fore shadowed the ultimate defeat of Tesla in the race for the wireless. Thus, Tesla’s return to New York a few months later in January of 1900, was received with mixed emotions. Morgan’s concern regarding a possible liaison with Tesla was extremely complex as Tesla was a rather complex fellow. As far back as April of 1894, Tesla was described by one author as a dreamer and yet also as “a phenomenal inventor from the Eastern World, from whom is expected little less than if he carried Alladin’s lamp in his hand” [25].

Figure 6. Tesla appears to be sitting calmly by his 12-million volt coil in Colorado Springs... actually this is a double exposure (a technique Tesla used extensively in his research).

Certainly, one could say that Tesla himself supported and in truth conceived of this persona as his spectacular lectures and photographs testify. Tesla was not beyond utilizing trick photography, e.g., multiple exposures, and extraordinary claims in support of his cause. Nevertheless, first and foremost Tesla was a disciplined engineer. While in Colorado the inventor was able to experimentally establish that he could traverse the globe with electrical pulsations; he also reported that he illuminated lightbulbs by means of wireless transmission at distances of 25 miles from his experimental laboratory. Tesla’s work and ultimate plans were all published in an extraordinary 25,000 word treatise in The Century in June of 1900 entitled “The problem of increasing human energy” [39].

Figure 7. Tesla's high altitude laboratory in Colorado Springs. Much of Tesla's controversial work including initial tests for the transmission of wireless power was performed here.

If Morgan was able to plow through 10,000 to 15,000 words of philosophizing, he would have read in this piece about the principle of resonance (the secret behind tuned circuits), the teleautomaton and also Tesla’s brilliant concepts regarding how he was going to distribute electricity from his magnifying transmitter. Stated rather briefly, Tesla planned to erect a large electrical tower with a round-topped surface adorned with many pointed terminals to store the energy. The height of the tower was precisely determined by its harmonic relationship to the size and electrical properties of the earth.

The actual tower at Wardenclyffe rose to a height of 187 feet and to a depth of 120 feet, so that total length of the apparatus was 307 feet [1], [6], [9], [19]. Along the main center of the tower was a primary and a secondary coil and condensers which stepped up electrical vibrations to many millions of volts. Tesla’s device involved the transmission of intense electrical vibrations into the earth and its reception by similar receiving towers distributed at any remote point on the globe.

Liquid air at temperatures of -197° Celcius [44; US Patent 685,012], created by Tesla’s mechanical oscillators [44; US Patent 514,168], would be used to create a “sink hole” [39] to attract transmitted standing waves; and at the same time, the extremely low temperatures would extraordinarily augment the intensity, magnification and duration of captured oscillations. It’s not inconceivable that Tesla also utilized the principle of superconductivity which would have dramatically transformed the nature of incoming energies as work in this area has been traced back to the early 1900’s [3].

Figure 8. The top signature which Tesla signed shortly after his triumphant return from Colorado Springs reveals flights of fancy and a touch of ego-mania. The bottom signature appears more serious minded, written after Tesla becomes aware that Marnoni has patented his ideas.

Propagated impulses, mathematically tuned to a resonant frequency or telluric current of the earth would “rebound...from the remote boundaries of the earth” and surge up receiving towers where the energy could be stored in the bulbous crest or transmitted to mechanical devices in a variety of ways including the propagation of energy in straight lines through space, by means of wires, by setting up alternations between the ground and the elevated terminal or by transforming the energies to higher frequencies and distributing them through the natural medium [44; US Patent 685956].

It appears from pages 199-205 of The Century article [39], that Tesla planned to pump energy from the earth by converting it into another form. He gives as an anology the idea of using electrolysis to change water into hydrogen and oxygen as it flows into a tank (placed at the bottom of a lake). If the system were perfect, the tank would never be filled up and the inflowing water, which could be harnessed, would virtually run forever (or until the supply were exhausted). Tesla stated explicitly that this ideal situation could not be achieved. The principle, however, appears sound, resonant devices and extreme cold (and perhaps superconductivity) would attract the energy and the magnifying transmitter would convert it for distribution.

Notwithstanding some doubts, Morgan was impressed, and in the last months of 1900 Tesla was invited to the Morgan home on Madison Avenue where he entertained the family, showing them interesting static electricity and wireless devices, met with his friend Ann, Morgan’s daughter, and discussed a potential partnership with the great financier. Coincidentally, a few months before Tesla finalized pecuniary arrangements with Morgan, right after his triumphant return from Colorado, Tesla’s handwriting and signature began to display curious frills to it.

Worldwide System of Power and Light

Figure 9. The Tesla Magnifying Transmitter and laboratory at Wardenclyffe, Long Island was designed by Stanford White.

Tesla’s dream, which he revealed to Katheryn Johnson on April 19, 1907, was to create a ‘radio city’ (current terminology), a central broadcasting center on Long Island interconnected to upwards of 30 other towers [43], all which would dispense power, light, music and pictures by wireless means. This vision was also discussed with Stanford White, no doubt in 1898 when they worked together at Madison Square Garden in designing a room of artificial illuminescence for the electrical show. For a fee of ~ $950, White donated his time and talents in drafting the blueprints for a mammoth 15 story edifice and an accompanying laboratory. Both were later erected at Shoreham, Long Island, 65 miles from New York City. It was called Wardenclyffe.

The Tesla/Morgan Encounter

When John O’Neill wrote his classic biography of Tesla in 1944 [23], he did not have access to microfilm letters from Tesla’s files, and therefore O’Neill incorrectly attributed Morgan’s contribution to the venture as philanthropic in nature. This information most likely came directly from Tesla, who O’Neill interviewed extensively for his book.

By the time Hunt and Draper wrote their biography in 1964 [15], they had access to these letters [42] and correctly revealed the details of the Tesla/Morgan partnership (discussed below). However, neither this second biography or the new Cheney biography [6] explained exactly why Tesla was unable to complete the tower, nor the specific reasons why his relationship failed with Morgan.

After a detailed study of these letters and comparison with historical data from the lives of Tesla and Morgan, the foregoing analysis was created in order to explain in more vivid terms the exact nature of this event. To begin with, it is clear that right from the start Morgan was hesitant in his belief in Tesla’s abilities.

On December 10, 1900, Tesla writes Morgan to explain why he had withdrawn rather “hastily” the previous Friday evening. Morgan had made a “casual remark” regarding newspaper reports attributing the invention of the wireless and also the AC system to other individuals. A newsclipping from Professor Slaby, a well respected German electrical engineer, was included which stated that Tesla was “father of the wireless ...[which he had] founded in such a clear and precise manner” [42].

The full range of Tesla’s credibility was being attacked on all fronts. For example, in response to Tesla’s June 1900 The Century article, Popular Science Monthly wrote a critique entitled “Science and Fiction”:

The [editors of The Century] evidently often do not know science from rubbish and apparently seldom make any effort to find out the difference [between] fraudulent medicines, bogus inventors and nonsensical enterprises. [47]

Tesla assures Morgan of his previous priorities in alternating current as well as in wireless and further notes in this same extensive letter that he “has secured broad rights on the fundamental features ... in wireless transmission ... which offer unprecedented chances in commercial exploitation that deserve your fullest attention.” And then as a finale, Tesla boldly challenges the great J. Pierpont Morgan:

Before going further, permit me to remind you that had there been only faint-hearted and close-fisted people in the world, nothing great would ever have been accomplished. Raphael could not have created his marvels, Columbus could not have discovered America, the Atlantic cable could not have been laid. You of all should be the man to embark on this enterprise... [which will be] an art of inestimable value to mankind.

Figure 10. By 1901, J Pierpont Morgan assumed the title of "The Most Powerful Economic Force On The Planet"!

Tesla had approached Morgan with a plan to send wireless messages to Europe. His real goal, however, was the transmission of power as well as information. For various reasons including the seeming impossibility of the task, Tesla did not reveal this overriding objective.

At their first meeting Morgan had offered an even split, but Tesla insisted that Morgan retain “the larger share” because he wanted Morgan to control the company, and also, in a psychoanalytic sense, because Tesla was probably seeking a father/older brother surrogate who would look after his “son” in much the same way any philanthropist would support a protege [34], [37].

The contract was agreed upon in February of 1901 and signed in March. Tesla was to receive a total of $150,000 ($50,000 more than he had initially asked for), and in return Morgan received 51% of the company and also 51% of all present and future patents in wireless transmission and artificial daylight. This was not to Tesla’s liking as he had proposed Morgan only take a percentage of the company, not the patents. Tesla “said nothing for fear of offending you” [41; 10/13/1404].

Although not completely won over, Morgan expected Tesla to succeed, to report yacht races while the financier was across the seas in London, and also to send wireless messages to ocean steamers. That was the extent of their contract. There was no mention of distributing power or light.

On February 12, 1901, Tesla wrote a thank you note:

How can I begin to thank you in the name of my profession and my own great generous man! My work will proclaim loudly your name to the world. You will soon see that not only am I capable of appreciating deeply the nobility of your action, but also of making ~our primarily philanthropic investment [emphasis added] worth a hundred times the sum you have put at my disposal in such a magnanimous and princely way!

As designer for the changing evolution of human life, Tesla took liberties in his perception of his business dealings with Morgan. However, from the financier’s point of view, the arrangement was quite straightforward. This was in no way a philanthropic investment.

The Billion Dollar Trust

Figure 11. John Pierpont Morgan (1837-1913) began his career in 1857 as an accountant and became a partner in Drexel, Morgan and Company in 1871! By the early 1900s, Morgan was the main force behind the Trusts, controlling virtually all the basic American industries.

Nevertheless, Morgan was in an enterprising spirit. The very months Tesla worked out the details of his partnership, Morgan was also organizing a huge steel trust which would be capitalized at one and one-half billion dollars. By March of 1901 Morgan controlled the steel, electrical, shipping, mining and power industries; he also had a large paw in the telephone, railroad and insurance conglomerates. The new potentials in wireless was a small side bet for Pierpont.

In reaction to ‘Morganization’, anarchy started to become a viable political alternative; also labor continued to strike against the robber barons; Morgan therefore wanted very much to secure a stable economic climate. However, the financier was to have his troubles with the steel monopoly, partly because of market problems and mostly because of labor disputes.

Figure 12. J.P. Morgan's signature on the 1901 contract with Nikola Tesla regarding the development of wireless communication.

To offset the possibility of this great conglomerate folding, and to raise the potential for additional revenues, Morgan ‘enlisted’ the famous stock manipulator James Keene to create an artificial interest. Keene bought and sold large blocks of US Steel to dummy investors in order to create the illusion of bullish interest [47]. The sham worked and within a few weeks the Big Board experienced the most active trading days in the history of the stock exchange. A month later Morgan sailed on his yearly sojourn to Europe. He hoped, by the time of his return that his steel company would be stabilized and his wireless operations would be transmitting transatlantic messages. Times looked good.

Interplanetary Communication

Figure 13. This front page of the New York Times article was yet another 'scientific' confirmation of life on Mars.

Unfortunately for Tesla, even before the March contract was signed, the inventor was having his difficulties. Much of it had to do with his spectacular interplanetary statements. Influenced by the Harvard astronomer Percival Lowell, who discussed his analysis of the ‘canals of Mars’ and his belief of intelligent life there, and by science fiction writings about Martians by H.G. Wells and George DuMaurier (Daphne’s grandfather) [35], Tesla announced to the world that he may have received pulsed frequencies from outerspace, most likely Venus or Mars.

Talking with the Planets
Nikola Tesla

....I had perfected the apparatus referred to so far that from my laboratory in the Colorado mountains [1899] I could feel the pulse of the globe as it were, noting every electrical change that occurred in a radius of 1100 miles .... I can never forget the first sensations I experienced when it dawned upon me that I had observed something possibly of incalculable consequences to mankind.... My first observations positively terrified me, as there was present in them something mysterious, not to say supernatural.... The feeling is constantly growing on me that I had been the first to hear the greeting of one planet to another

Numerous critics attacked Tesla’s credibility. I think it is fair to say in terms of fame and acceptance, Tesla has never recovered, even today, 60 years after his death and over 100 years after the articles began. His name fell from grace, lost for years in occult circles and on dusty book shelves [31], [35], [36]. A mysterious Mr. X from one periodical:

warned ... all readers... [that] Mr.Tesla’s recently published utterances discredited him in the eyes of competent judges.... His vivid writings must be read with extreme caution. His electrical experiments being directed towards commercial uses must be judged by proved commercial success. His speculations on science are so reckless as to lose any interest. His philosophizing so ignorant as to be worthless [49].

Figure 14. Percival Lowell (1855-1916) is shown here at his world renowned observatory near Flagstaff. His writings on Mars fueled much speculation in scientific circles at the turn of the 20th Century!

The attack, however, was not monolithic. The Electrical World & Engineer, a much more prestigious and honorable magazine simply reported Tesla’s interplanetary claims. Having reported Lowell’s ‘canals of Mars’ discoveries as well (for the past 7 years), the electrical community was not as horror struck as factions of the popular press.

Hunt and Draper suggest that Tesla may have picked up impulses from a quasar [15]; whereas I hypothesize that Tesla may have intercepted Marconi’s European experiments or the impulses of some other dabbler in wireless transmission [34], [36].

Morgan, no doubt, was perturbed by the press attacks and by Tesla’s outlandish claims. However, the financier could not complain too loudly as his top engineer for General Electric, Elihu Thomson, was showing the ‘canals of Mars’ to all of his workers through the new telescope he had just purchased! [45].

Figure 15. A steelworkers' strike severely threatens Morgan's billion dollar trust.

Shortly thereafter, even before Morgan sailed for Europe, Tesla set out (inadvertently) to do the very thing he promised not to do. He deceived his benefactor; Morgan would never forgive him. The die was cast after Tesla read an article by Marconi on his new wireless patents which were endorsed by consulting engineers Pupin and Edison:

I [Marconi] first conducted an arrangement ... in which is included the primary of what may be called a Tesla coil, the secondary of which was connected to the earth or aerial conductor.... [191].

Tesla refers to the event in a letter to Morgan which was written three years later:

When I discovered, rather accidentally, that others, who openly cast ridicule on what I had undertaken and discredited my apparatus were secretly employing it, evidently bent on the same task, I found myself confronted with wholly unforeseen conditions .... Your [Morgan’s] participation called for a careful revision of my plans.

I could not develop the business slowly in grocery shop fashion. I could not report yacht races or signal incoming steamers. There was no money in this.

This was no business for a man of your position and importance. Perhaps you have never fully appreciated the sense of this obligation [42; 10/13/19041].

In this passage Tesla displays a complete misunderstanding of Morgan’s personality, because, unlike the inventor whose ideas existed in abstract and futuristic places, Morgan’s mind was on the present. He loved sailing and yacht races, and would resent another suggesting what a man in his position should do or not do.

Tesla tells Morgan in this letter that he had to change his plans. Due to the “advantage of shrewd competitors,” Tesla decided to construct a huge tower instead of the two smaller transmitters he had originally proposed. Paradoxically for the altruistic Tesla, his greed was also a strong motivational force as his goal was simply to bury the opposition and create a business “commensurate with your [Morgan’s] position in life and mine as a pioneer in this art, who has originated all essential principles [42; 10/13/1904].

Tesla had reached the pinnacle of humanity. His ego rose with the occasion, for the wizard had conceived of a telecommunications system which would dwarf not only the existing cable and telephone industries, but also the news wire service, lighting and power distribution enterprises. This world-wide wireless system would distribute not only simple Morse coded messages, which was all Marconi had ever planned, but also international telephone conversations, pictures and newspaper articles to sailing vessels, power to run London trams, and light for the world. Tesla’s ultimate vision even included the creation of rain in the deserts, artificial daylight in the skies to illuminate shipping lanes at night, and also interplanetary communication!

Having achieved cosmic consciousness, Tesla had offered this creation to the financial king of the world, and the monarch had accepted. To the inventor, it was a detail that this vision was not in agreement with the specifics of the contract, (or that if he had succeeded, Morgan and the rest of the financial community would have had to revolutionize their power, lighting and communication systems). And even if, by some fluke of misfortune Morgan should not supply additional funds, Tesla still had his own money and the personality to attract additional investors.

Panic on Wall Street

As one of the most fantastic twists of fate in recorded history, the inadvertent culprit for the economic demise of Tesla - the one man responsible for a Wall Street panic and overnight inflation - was none other than Tesla’s benefactor, J. Pierpont Morgan! Tesla referred back to these events occurring in the Spring of 1901, two years later in yet another letter to Morgan:

You have raised great waves in the industrial world and some have struck my little boat. Prices have gone up in consequence, twice, perhaps three times higher than they were and then there were expensive delays, mostly a result of the activities you excited [42; 4/8/1903].

This note refers to May of 1901, specifically to May 10th, when the stock market crashed; and to the days leading up to the 10th. It was just 60 days since Tesla had signed his contract with Morgan, 30 days after Morgan sailed for Europe; yet already Tesla had irreversibly changed his plans. Having been a gambler and pool player in college and in his early days in New York City, these old tendencies resurfaced after Tesla hooked on to the biggest fish on Wall Street. He had calculated the odds based upon certain assumptions about the stability of the economy and the quickness of his access to Morgan’s $150,000, and he proceeded boldly and confidently with the completion of the masterpiece.

The collapse of the stock market in May of 1901 occurred because of a bitter rivalry that existed between J. Pierpont Morgan, controller of the Northern Pacific Railroad, and a man he detested for outwitting him a decade earlier, Ned Harriman, chairman of the Union Pacific. Before leaving for Europe, Morgan had secured control of a third competing line, the Chicago Burlington, which stretched its tracks from the East coast to Chicago and down the Mississippi to New Orleans.

While Morgan was in Europe, Harriman, with the help of his broker, Schiff, instead of trying to wrestle the Chicago Burlington, boldly decided to purchase the Northern Pacific instead. It would take close to $100 million in the sale of new bonds to raise the capital, but by the time Morgan found out while with his mistress in France, Harriman already had more than 50% of the ‘Nipper’, but less than 50% of the common stock voting shares. Morgan cabled to his Wall Street office to buy his company back at any price. On May 9th, the stock rose from 150 to 1000 dollars per share!!

The greatest general panic that Wall Street has ever known came upon the stock market yesterday, with the result that before it was checked many fortunes had been swept away [22].

Even Morgan’s precious US Steel dropped from a high of 46 at one point, to a low of 8 dollars a share [14]! Numerous investors were financially ruined and some even purportedly committed suicide.

This economic upheaval created financial burdens on Tesla that he could not have anticipated. Coupled with his change of plans, ie, his attempts to create a more powerful magnifying transmitter, Tesla could not meet his bills. Businesses, besides upping their prices, were now demanding immediate payment.

Morgan was also tight on money at this time and so was late in delivering funds he still owed the inventor. On top of this the government wanted Morgan to return stocks to original investors at original prices. In response, Morgan was quoted as saying that it would be quite a feat to “unscramble the eggs and return them to their original hens!”

Tesla, as one of any number of innocent casualties, was now in a difficult situation. The economy had collapsed out from underneath him ironically due to the very man he required more capital from. This was not a good time for Tesla to meet with Morgan, to explain his change of plans, request the balance of the initial $150,000 and ask for additional funds. Headlines such as the following rattled the soul of the family minded mighty financier:

Rich Denounced by Socialist Labor
Thousands at Cooper Union cheer wordy assaults on Capital.
J.P. Morgan accused of trying to ‘trustify the Earth’.

“This is the century,” said chairman Lucien Sanial, “in which there is going to be social revolution.Whoop went the audiences waving hats and yelling madly for a minute or so.... Charles Knoll [followed and] said he favored the adoption of such resolutions as would “chill and make to shiver the spinal columns of the capitalists” [21].

Figure 16. These series of signatures display the versatility of Tesla's self image over a 10 year period. Not the extremely small capital N in the 8/21/1899 sample created at the height of his creative ability while in Colorado. At times, Tesla had a rather small self image. Inner contradiction is revealed by the vast size changes in the first initial. Note how the structure of the handwriting disintegrates in 1906.

Throughout July of 1901 Morgan lived aboard his 300 foot long yacht the Corsair, which was docked at a pier near his Wall Street office [30]. During this month Tesla met with him to explain to Morgan that he had changed their agreement in order to build a more powerful transmitter. He softens the blow by stating that the larger plan will not only destroy competition, but also it will yield larger profits. Morgan, however, remains unmoved and demands a clearer accounting of where all the money already assigned has gone. Tesla, having already blundered, makes things worse by stating that:

  1. He is in need of more funds because of the financial panic which “you” (Morgan) had initiated.
  2. Tesla tells Morgan that if he had built the plant at Niagara Falls, as was Rankine’s suggestion (a partner in the Tesla Electric Company and head of the Niagara Power Company) it would be operable by now [29], [42, 1/13/1904; 10/17/19041.]

Morgan is appalled. Tesla had not only reminded Morgan that he is responsible for the upheaval on Wall Street, but also, Tesla had, in effect, breached his contract.

In September, Morgan’s ally, President McKinley was shot by an anarchist. During the week that he lay dying, and at a time Morgan stated was the most unhappy moment in his life [30]. Tesla wrote another plea for additional capital. His timing is atrocious; however, Morgan still owed Tesla money on the original agreement and Tesla was facing foreclosure even before construction on the tower had begun [42; letter to White, 9/13/1901].

We start on a proposition, everything duly calculated, it is financially frail. You engage in impossible operations, you make me pay double, yes, make me wait 10 months for machinery. On top of that you produce a panic. When, after putting in all I could scrape together I come to show you that I have done the best that could be done, you fire me out like an office boy and roar so that you are heard six blocks away; not a cent; it is spread all over town. I am discredited, the laughing stock of my enemies [42; 1/14/1904].

Figure 17. The top sample, typical of Tesla's script through the years displays clarity and inner strength. The bottom sample shows a disintegration of the writing trail... indicating a mental collapse.

In November, Tesla regroups and sends Morgan legal documents including patents on various crucial aspects of his wireless machinery. He promises once again to beat Marconi in the race for the wireless. Morgan acknowledges receipt of the patents in a letter from his secretary to Tesla on November 11, 1901. However, in December, Marconi successfully transmits the letter S (dot/dot/dot - the same 3 impulses Tesla said he received from outerspace while he was in Colorado in 1899 [37]) from England to Canada. The coffin was shut on Tesla’s relationship with Morgan, and Marconi gained the crown as the world’s greatest inventor in wireless.

Debilitating Stress

Unfortunately for Tesla and due to a variety of psychological reasons, he refused to give Morgan up, writing him over 50 letters throughout the next 5 years alternately pleading and demanding additional funds to complete the project. With courage, foresight for the transcendent picture, perseverance and also a sense of destiny behind him, Tesla continued his project for another 9 months, preceding publically as if all were well. The tower was raised to its full 187 feet, with elaborate bulbous top some time in the latter half of 1902. Surely when Mr. Morgan saw; surely when Mr. Morgan comprehended, and understood how far the inventor had come with such inadequate funds, the noble philanthropist and church going nobleman would relent, change his mind and help once again his protege of the electrical arts; for Morgan was Tesla’s protege as well. Driven by ego-mania, a neurotic dependency and irreconcilable need to change Morgan’s opinion, the inventor was unrelentless in his pleas and sends another barrage of letters:

“If this is a good thing why does not Morgan see you through?” “Morgan is the last man to let a good thing go.” So it has been going for two years. I advance, but how? Like a man swimming against a stream that carries him down.

Will you not listen to anything at all? Are you to let me perhaps succumb, lose an immortal crown. Will you let a property of immense value be depreciated, let it be said that your judgment was defective, simply because you had once said no. Can now I make you a new proposition to overcome the difficulty? I tell you I shall return your money a hundred fold [42; 10/17/19041].

Figure 18. This photograph of a model shows how the Tesla Tower built on Long Island in 1901 would have looked completed. From its appearance nobody would infer that it was to be used for great purposes which far exceeded "wireless" communications.

Ready to give the world the greatest invention of all times, Tesla is on the verge of collapse. He even tells Morgan as much at the end of a 1500 word letter reproduced in part throughout this text:

....Since a year, Mr. Morgan, there has been hardly a night when my pillow is not bathed in tears, but you must not think me a weak man for that. I am perfectly sure to finish my task, come what may. I am only sorry that after.... acquiring a special knowledge and ability which I now alone possess, and which, if applied effectively would advance the world a century, I must see my work delayed [42; 10/13/1904].

Tesla tries everything to make Morgan transcend the petty material plane from which their business arrangement had been fashioned. As he writes, his $200,000 magnifying transmitter and laboratory stand as a giant, yet impotent shadow of awesome potentiality.

Morgan finally replies through his secretary on October 14, 1904, that “it will be impossible for [me/Morgan] to do anything in the matter”. Tesla had purposely written to Morgan when the financier was meeting with the Archbishop of Canterbury [30], trying to appeal to his Christain spirit. It is a last stance, a final try to tap into Morgan’s higher centers, but the great inventor is about to crumble:



....I knew that you could refuse.... What chance have I to land the biggest Wall Street monster with the soul’s spider thread....

I came to you to enlist your genius and power not because of money. You should know that I have honored you in so doing as much as I have honored myself. You are a big man, but your work is wrought in passing form, mine is immortal. I came to you with the greatest invention of all times. I have more original creations named after me than any other man that has gone before me not excepting Archimedes and Galileo - the giants of invention. Six thousand million dollars are invested in enterprises based upon my discoveries in the United States today. I could draw on you on sight for a million dollars if you were the Pierpont Morgan of old....

Tesla had pulled out all stops. One can not help but be moved by reading through these letters. Naturally Tesla was negotiating with other potential investors including Henry Clay Frick, Jacob Schiff and Thomas Fortune Ryan, three of the richest men in the world; however, due to an insurance scandal involving these individuals, as well as various stumbling blocks Morgan placed on the situation (such as requiring reimbursement of his initial investment), Tesla was unable to gain another backer.

My own opinion is that this is one of the most important stories of the century, for had Tesla succeeded in his plans, the evolution of our technological society - would have been substantially different than it was. For one thing, mass communication would have arrived at least 20 years earlier.

The final psychological blow for Tesla occurred in 1906 after the deaths of Rankine (of a heart attack) and Stanford White (who was murdered in an infamous love scandal with model Evelyn Nesbitt). Tesla was all but alone now. He could not face his friends such as the Johnsons, nor could he face his failure any longer, and suffered a nervous breakdown [34], [37]. Due to my work in graphology, I have discovered a complete disintegration in his handwriting in that year [32]. His secretary George Scherff confirms my hypothesis:

Wardenclyffe, 4/10/1906
Dear Mr. Tesla:
I have received your letter and am very glad to know that you are vanquishing your illness. I have scarcely ever seen you so out of sorts as last Sunday; and I was frightened [42].


Tesla’s story is one of great triumph. A genius whose inventions of the polyphase system, fluorescent lights, the induction motor, the radio, remote control and artificial intelligence is unparalleled in the annals of creative achievement. One could look to his ego-mania and unrelentless tunnel vision regarding the psychoanalytic need to turn Morgan back his way for his ultimate failure at Wardenclyffe, or to Morgan’s insensitivity. However, it took incredible wit, courage and strategic planning not only to land a deal with Morgan in the first place, but to erect the laboratory and 187 foot tower after his falling out with the Wall Street tycoon.

With all of Tesla’s faults, phobias and compulsions, it took him over 3 years to realize that Morgan could not be swayed. Having given humanity inventions that are still the backbone of our technological existence, Tesla was incapable of comprehending that a man as powerful as Morgan lacked the ability to transcend the limits of their written agreement. Morgan, as a man of principle, saw a breach of contract, and that was that.

Another major factor involved with the demise of Tesla, besides the collapse of the economy in May of 1901, and the abandonment of Tesla by society itself, was, of course, his extraordinary claims of interplanetary communication. Nevertheless, Tesla was by no means alone in his belief of intelligent life beyond the Earth. Other proponents included Lord Kelvin, Elihu Thomson and Percival Lowell, the Harvard astronomer [35]. Even as late as 1956 Werner von Braun voiced the likelihood that Mars was inhabited by vast stretches of vegetation [46].

However, this claim, which Tesla clung to ardently for the next 40 years was the ‘icing on the cake’ that served to confirm Tesla’s supposed lack of practical ability, and at the same time cause his name to be buried in occult circles. Nevertheless, the phenomena involved with the eventual placement of his achievement underground and the virtual removal of his name from many history books has only been partly explained. Other variables include: vindictive jealousy among his peers, the removal of his name from the Westinghouse motor, the trauma of the intervening world wars and natural decay over time.

Although the obfuscation of Tesla’s true contribution to society is a multi-determined event, nevertheless it is an astounding example of mass repression based for the most part on a tendency to scorn one who ‘falls from grace’. Tesla had placed his trust in society - he had proven himself in the past in an extraordinary way - and society had failed him.

Fear of transcendent potentialities, denial of previously cherished beliefs (such as life on Mars) and a strong need to simplify the nature of existence were also factors. Marconi, with his wireless beep machine was a lot easier to comprehend.


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  2. L. Anderson and J. Ratzlaff, Dr. Nikola Tesla: Bibliography, Palo Alto, CA: Ragusan Press, 1979.
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  10. M. Freedman, “Famed inventor, mystery tunnels linked,” Newsday 3/16/1979, p. 19.
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  14. E. Hoyt The House of Morgan. New York: Dodd, Mead & Co., 1966, pp. 237-257.
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  18. F. Klemm, The History of Western Technology. New York: Macmillan Publ., 1959. [No/Tesla]
  19. G. Marconi, “Syntonic wireless telegraphy,” Electrical Review, 6/22/1901, p. 783.
  20. J. Meyer, World Book of Inventors. New York: World Publ. Co., 1956. [Yes/Tesla]
  21. New York Times, “The rich denounced,” 5/2/1901, p. 7 col 1.
  22. New York Times, “Fear and ruin in a falling market,” 5/10/1901, p. 1, col 6.
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  25. F. J. Patten, “Nikola Tesla and his work,” Electrical World, 4/14/1894, pp. 496-499


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