Nikola Tesla Articles
Tesla: Shunned Genius
While listening on my cosmic phone
I caught words from the Olympus blown.
A newcomer was shown around;
That much I could guess, aided by sound.
“There’s Archimedes with his lever
Still busy on problems as ever.
Below, on Earth, they work at full blast
And news are coming in thick and fast.
The latest tells of a cosmic gun.
To be pelted is very poor fun.
We are wary with so much at stake,
Those beggars are a pest - no mistake.
Too bad, Sir Isaac, they dimmed your renown
And turned your great science upside down.
Now a long haired crank, Einstein by name,
Puts on your high teaching all the blame.
Says: matter and force are transmutable
And wrong the laws you thought immutable.”
“I am much too ignorant, my son,
For grasping schemes so finely spun.
My followers are of stronger mind
And I am content to stay behind,
Perhaps I failed, but I did my best,
These masters of mine may do the rest.
Come, Kelvin, I have finished my cup.
When is your friend Tesla coming up?”
“Oh, quoth Kelvin, he is always late,
It would be useless to remonstrate.”
Then silence - shuffle of soft slippered feet -
I knock and - the bedlam of the street.
Nikola Tesla, Novice
Even A Poet...
This is the only known poem of the shunned genius. This is Nikola Tesla, a great master of electricity, of whom I write. He was awarded many U.S. patents; however, to this day, many of our textbooks do not rightfully credit Tesla for his radio patent. Tesla was rewarded very little monetarily, though masterminding some of the greatest feats around the turn of the century. He was a great showman, creating much buzz in his audiences. War technology was something that he pondered and speculated a great deal about. Nikola Tesla was a great visionary at the turn of the century, imagining technology that we now enjoy.
Appropriately, Tesla was born during a lightning storm. It was at midnight between July 9 and July 10, 1856, that he saw light and lightning for the very first time. He was born in what is now Croatia to Serbian Orthodox parents. His father was actually a priest and his mother, the daughter of a priest.2 He had an older brother, Dane, and three older sisters, Milka, Angelina, and Marica.3
When Tesla was five years of age his brother, Dane, passed away in a terrible horse-riding accident. From this time on obsessive-compulsive behavior grew within Tesla. He felt terrible about his parents loss, and later stated, “Anything I did that was creditable merely caused my parents to feel their loss more keenly. So I grew up with little confidence in myself.”
At a young age, Tesla witness the inventiveness of his mother who would devise various mechanisms for making her daily chores more manageable. One such item that Tesla remembers is a mechanical eggbeater. Of this Tesla later wrote, “...I must trace to my mother’s influence whatever inventiveness I possess.” His father also trained Tesla in his memory usage in, “guessing one another’s thoughts, discovering the defects of some form or expression, repeating long sentences, or performing mental calculations.”4
Successful inventors learn at an early age that impossibility is merely the lack of bringing the future to your command. At the age of twenty (1876), Tesla began attending the physics lectures of Jacob Poeschl. During one of these lectures, Tesla made a startling suggestion to his professor. Poeschl was attempting to coerce the sparking of a DC motor’s copper commutator to cease sparking. Tesla, much to the annoyance of Poeschl suggested a motor without a commutator. The duration of the class concerned the impossibility of Tesla’s novel idea. However, Tesla was in no way discouraged and continued to consider his idea for years to come.5
Inventor of Polyphase AC Motors
The standard AC current which we enjoy today is a direct result of Tesla’s work. Forty of his most important patents were filed in 1887, a mere ten years after the discouraging words of professor Jacob Poeschl. They were in the field of polyphase AC motors and power transmission. Edison, a rival of Tesla, favored DC current. Edison’s company had spent much effort in making DC current the standard. One of the main reasons why DC current eventually lost out was due to the vast amount of copper wire that was required to transfer electricity.
In 1893, bids to supply power to the Chicago World Fair were being accepted. At the time, J.P. Morgan had purchased Edison’s company and made it a part of his new General Electric Company (GE). GE placed a bid of one million dollars to power the fair, but they were outbid by Westinghouse (Tesla’s employer). Westinghouse provided the power at nearly half the cost by using AC current. The cost of copper wire had a large impact on GE’s bid amount. By this time it was apparent that AC current would quickly become the standard. Having beforetimes mentioned to Edison his dislike for AC current, it was the success of AC current at the Chicago World Fair that converted Lord Kelvin to favoring AC current.6
Oddly enough, the Smithsonian Institute gives the credit for AC current to Edison. The Institute takes an obvious pro-Edison/anti-Tesla approach. There is currently an article available from the Institute titled “The Beginning of the Electrical Age”. In this article Dr. Finn, the writer, names forty-three contributors to the electrical age. He mentions Edison quite frequently, while never once mentioning Tesla. Nearing the end of the article one sees a picture of Tesla’s AC generators at the Niagara Falls power station, yet there is no mention of him. The author obviously attempts to suggest Edison as the man behind this effort in this nearby sentence -
When the Niagara Falls power station began operating in 1895, it signaled the final major act in the revolutionary drama that began in Menlo Park in the fall of 1879.
Dr. Finn takes a very subjective standpoint towards Tesla in the following lines
Tesla was a loner. He had difficulty working with other engineers - whether in explaining his ideas to them or in considering their criticisms. The unfortunate aspect of this was that his impact on practical technical development was severely impaired... we should be careful in what we claim were the consequences of his activities.
Can you believe this man’s audacity? He is actually trying to portray this amazing inventor as an insignificant factor in the electrical revolution.7
Battle of the Currents ... AC vs DC
It is even more amazing to hear of the techniques that Edison attempted to destroy AC current’s success. Death by electrocution was the result of this squabble of methods of power transportation. Edison hired a man by the name of Brown to turn people against AC current. Brown employed scare tactics to do so. He would go from city to city putting on presentations in which he would electrocute animals with AC current in order to frighten people into believing only in DC current.
The ultimate example was a human being. As a result of Brown’s scheme, a capital punishment law was passed in 1889 to allow for electrocution instead of hanging. In 1890, a 2,000 volt Westinghouse alternator was used to execute the first prisoner ever to be electrocuted. It was indeed a frightening event in which the prisoner’s spinal cord burst into flames. Brown attempted to promote the term “Westinghousing” in place of the more familiar “electrocution”.8
The greatest use of Tesla’s work during his time was that of harnessing the power of Niagara Falls and engineering the transportation of its power. In 1725, the first use of the power of Niagara Falls was a sawmill. In 1890, the ultimate project of harnessing of the Falls’ power would be underway. During Tesla’s time the daily potential energy released by the Falls was equivalent to all the coal mined each day in the world. Many inventors before Tesla had devised primitive methods of harnessing small quantities of Niagara’s potential energy.
The largest difficulty lay in the method of power transmission. Of the seventeen plans submitted, only six proposed methods of transmission. Of these six methods only one proposed use of AC current. Interestingly enough, the international committee commissioned to review the submissions was chaired by Lord Kelvin, who was now a strong supporter of AC current. In the end, Westinghouse was awarded a contract to build the power plant at the Falls, while General Electric was awarded a contract to build the transmission lines to Buffalo, New York. Not surprisingly, this meant that General Electric would have to license certain of Tesla’s patents for the project.9
At midnight, November 16, 1896, the first transmission of power from Niagara Falls surged into Buffalo. The headline of the Niagara Falls Gazette read, “The turning of a switch in the big powerhouse at Niagara completed a circuit which caused the Niagara River to flow uphill.” This great event was even heralded by a twenty-one-gun “national” salute by the Ninth Ward Polish-American gun squad. Within a few years all ten generators were installed at the Niagara Falls power plant.10
The Columbian Exposition opened on May 1,1893. That evening, President Grover Cleveland pushed a button and a hundred thousand incandescent lamps illuminated the fairground’s neoclassical buildings.
This “City of Light” was the work of Tesla, Westinghouse and twelve new 1000HP AC generation units located in the Hall of Machinery. In the Great Hall of Electricity, the Tesla polyphase system of alternating current power generation and transmission was proudly displayed. For the twenty-seven million people who attended the fair, it was dramatically dear that the power of the future was AC. The age of light that Tesla did so much to bring about was exemplified in this scene. At nightfall, “stopper” (or Sawyer-Man) lamps by Westinghouse provided the most spectacular lighting display the world had ever seen.
Remote Control Vehicles
As summer arrives, the young and old alike take up the enjoyable hobby of remote-controlled vehicles - cars, boats, and planes. Without Tesla’s work, they would be off fishing instead. Tesla was awarded his patent for the “Method of and Apparatus for Controlling Mechanism of Moving Vessels or Vehicles” in 1898. He was only awarded the patent once the Examiner-in-Chief himself came to New York to see this marvel. One month later, Tesla astounded his audience at the Electrical Exhibition in Madison Square Garden. In his autobiography he would later write, “When first shown... it created a sensation such as no other invention of mine has ever produced.”11
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. The crewless boat shown in the photograph contains its own motive power, propelling- and steering- machinery, and numerous other accessories, all of which are controlled by transmitting from a distance, without wires, electrical oscillations to a circuit carried by the boat and adjusted to respond only to these oscillations.
The Tesla turbine was patented in 1913. There had previously been turbines invented; however, Tesla, up to his usual tricks, improved them quite impressively.
High-velocity fluid entered the casing at a tangent and was directed around the outer perimeter of the disks and cylinder wall. In accordance with principles of fluid mechanics, gases and steam literally adhered to the disks and propelled them forward at a high rate of speed. The path of the fluid is an inward spiral. Arriving at the inner region of the disks, spent fluid finally flows out of the turbine through cutouts near the center.12
As incredible as this invention was, it was met with strong resistance from two key players - General Electric and Westinghouse. These two companies had already invested millions into two different bladed turbines and were not about to enter the “war of the turbines”. To this day, the Tesla turbine has not been fully tested with the use of current engineering and newly available materials. For the twenty years of life expended on its development it is not as much in use as Tesla proposed it to be.13
Concerning his last patented invention, Tesla wrote, “You should not be at all surprised if some day you see me fly from New York to Colorado Springs in a contrivance which will resemble a gas stove and weigh almost as much.”14
Tesla’s final U.S. patent, number 6,555,114, “Apparatus for Aerial Transportation”, was received in 1928. The idea was that the blade would first act as a helicopter blade to lift the device off the ground, then pitch forward to act as a plane propeller. This idea was the precursor concept to the U.S. military’s Harrier jet which can “takeoff and fly like regular jets and also takeoff, hover and land like helicopters”15. Although unable to produce a prototype, he presumed it would sell for one thousand dollars and be available for both military and consumer use.
Radio... Another Tesla Breakthrough
These previous patents were a few of the outstanding achievements of Nikola Tesla. However, there is one patent that took years to be rightfully given to Tesla - the radio patent. To this day the Smithsonian Institute still claims that Marcheses Guglielmo Marconi is the inventor of the radio. On June 21, 1943, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of Tesla as being the original inventor of the radio. It was apparent that Tesla’s four-tuned circuits schematic predated the two-tuned circuits schematic presented by Marconi. In fact, Marconi’s work was merely a representation of work done by Heinrich Hertz.
Unfortunately, for the legend of Tesla, textbooks falsely claim Marconi to be the original inventor of the radio. Their evidence is supported by the erroneous information of the Smithsonian Institute. Perhaps the Smithsonian Institute was frustrated with Tesla for his habitual lateness of subscription payments.16
The members of the Chicago Commercial Club filled the auditorium to hear a lecture by the famous Nikola Tesla. As they filed in they saw a large man-made lake in the center of the auditorium. In the middle of this lake sat a six-foot boot. As the crowd became still, the boat began to move across the water as if following its own orders. Soon, the crowd realized it was following the orders given to it by Tesla from the side of the lake via a controlling device. To them, it was odd that there were no wires connected to the boat from the device. The boat was controlled wirelessly. This was the first use of radio waves for remote control. Tesla, a man with many ideas about the future of war, suggested that boats just like his could be loaded with explosives, sent to an enemy’s ship, and detonated. The concept was that of a guided missile!17
It is not uncommon for inventors to die with little more than the honor received for their inventions. Why are inventors so ill-funded? It appears that they seek acknowledgment of their work more than liberal rewards.
Shortly after the completion of the Niagara Falls project, Westinghouse and General Electric had become financially unstable due to the war of the currents. In an incredibly unselfish gesture, Tesla tore up his contract with Westinghouse freeing them of their debt of royalties owed to him.18 This is a very common trait of the great inventors.
In 1899, Tesla moved to Colorado Springs to begin experiments on the conduction of power by wireless means. He had made discoveries that led him to believe that by breaking down the upper stratum of the air one could transmit electricity through the air by conduction. Tesla’s Colorado Springs laboratory was built near pikes peak. Leonard E. Curtis, one of Tesla’s supporters, was able to supply power to Tesla for free because he held interest in the local City Power Plant. Curtis also arranged for Tesla to have use of land for free. Much of Tesla’s work at Colorado Springs remains a mystery to this day, but it is for certain that his experiments there aided his future discoveries.19
Wardenclyffe Tower, located on Shoreham, Long Island, was the embodiment of Tesla’s long-lived desire to transmit power wirelessly. Of course, Tesla concealed this desire by saying the tower was for worldwide wireless communication. When J.P. Morgan heard that Tesla was desirous to build such a contraption he realized the value in it and contacted Tesla immediately. Morgan envisioned communicating with stock exchanges and banks of the world in a swift and secure manner. He gave Tesla $150,000 to begin the project. Stanford White, a famous designer and architect, and W.D. Crow, a famous engineer, joined Tesla in his new-found venture. The architectural plans included a powerhouse, a transmitting tower, as well as a housing development named “Radio City” to house the many workers that Tesla envisioned operating this first broadcast facility.
Wardenclyffe tower was 187 feet tall. Upon its top sat a giant fifty-five-tone steel sphere serving as a great capacitor to store and release energy as needed. Iron pipes were driven 420 feet below the tower for the use of power transmission. Tesla was nearing completion of his tower, but funds were diminishing. In 1905, Tesla was forced to close his Wardenclyffe laboratory. Tesla owed $20,000 in hotel bills to the Waldorf-Astoria, and gave his two mortgages to its owner, George C. Boldt.20
An Unseemly Death
The Yugoslav Monarchy in Exile was summoned to visit Tesla in the fall of 1942. However, Charlotte Muzar, a secretary, paid Tesla the visit. From his condition upon her arrival she felt as though he may not live through the night. Another friend of Tesla’s, Kenneth Swezey visited him during this time and noted that he was existing on warm milk and Nabisco crackers alone. It was apparent that Tesla was nearing the end of his time. By late December of 1942, Tesla began meeting with two U.S. government agents in order to share some of his most sensitive discoveries. These men carried away many of his documents for microfilming.
On January 4, 1943, Tesla’s faithful assistant, George Scherff, visited Tesla for the last time.21 Tesla was found deceased in his hotel room on the morning of January 8,1943.22 He had passed away between those four days since Scherff’s visit. This shows how little he was cared for. A man of such great stature rarely can go four days without being visited by many prominent individuals.
Following Tesla’s Death the United States Office of Alien Property, under the instructions of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, confiscated all of Tesla’s papers and property. This was an interesting maneuver considering that Tesla was a United States citizen. The Federal Bureau of Investigation believed Tesla was working on designs for what is commonly called the death ray weapon.23 And so began the race between the US and the USSR to build this death ray weapon.
Several projects in the United States were begun and abandoned with much mystery. In 1980, the U.S. had satellite images revealing what was possibly Soviet death ray machinery. This eventually initiated Ronald Reagan’s Star Wars program on March 23, 1983. Reagan requested that scientists, “turn their great talents now to the cause of mankind and world peace, to give us the means of rendering these nuclear weapons impotent and obsolete.” Many claim Tesla to be the father of the Strategic Defense Initiative. To this day no one has successfully built a death ray weapon.24
At the close of his life, Tesla held many degrees, honors, achievements, awards, and recognition throughout the world. He received four baccalaureate degrees at the Austrian Polytechnic Institute - physics, mathematics, mechanical engineering, and electrical engineering. He completed graduate studies in physics at the University of Prague. Alongside these degrees, Tesla received honorary doctoral degrees from various places around the world - Columbia University, Graz Polytechnic Institute, Polytechnic Institute of Bucharest, University of Belgrade, University of Brno, University of Grenoble, University of Paris, University de Poitiers, University of Prague, University of Sofia, University of Zagreb, Vienna Polytechnic Institute, and Yale University. Tesla was also fluent in eight languages including Serbian and English.
He became a fellow of IEEE, receiving their most prestigious award - the Edison Medal. The IEEE eventually created a new award in his honor - the Nikola Tesla Award. He was also a member of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the American Philosophical Society, the Serbian Academy of Sciences and Arts, and the American ElectroTherapeutic Association.
The Tesla (SI unit of measurement for magnetic flux) is named in honor of him. One of the moon’s craters is named after Tesla as well as a minor planet (2244 Tesla). The Electric Power Industry of Serbia has named two of its coal fired power stations after Tesla (TPP Nikola Tesla A and TPP Nikola Tesla B). A very popular wireless phone manufacturer is named to honor Tesla - Ericsson Nikola Tesla D.D.
However, it was not recognition that Tesla needed later in life. It was money. Having his face on the current Yugoslavian/Serbian currency did nothing to aid the financial distress Tesla was in at his death. Although having sold his AC e patents, Tesla died with significant debts.25
If Tesla were alive today he would be regarded highly in the world of science as a great innovator. He desired to bridge the gap of physical distance and thereby induce friendly international relationships. He did so by enabling better communications, effective transportation, and transmission of energy. Tesla considered his U.S. citizenship to be his greatest achievement in life. We, as fellow U.S. citizens should promote the work or Tesla for future generations and allow all to see Tesla as he really was - a genius!
- Carlson, W. Bernard. “Inventor of Dreams”. Scientific American; Mar2005, Vol. 292 Issue 3,78-85.
- Cheney, Margaret, and Robert Uth. Tesla Master of Lightning.: Barnes & Noble, 1999.
- “How Harriers Hover.” 2 Jan 1998. Gulture Enterprises. 08 Dec. 2005 <www.gulture.com/jetpilot/ hover.htm>.
- “Nikola Tesla.” Wikipedia. 08 Dec. 2005 <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nikola_Tesla>.
- Raimer, Mark A. “Semantic Sabotage at the Smithsonian Institute: A Head Test.” ETC: A Review of General Semantics: Winter 1999-2000 (Vol. 56 Issue 4), p405
- 1 Cheney, Margaret, and Robert Uth. Tesla Master of Lightning (NY: Barnes & Noble Books, 1999) 138-139
- 2 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nikola_Tesla
- 3 Cheney & Uth, 3
- 4 Cheney & Uth, 4
- 5 Carlson, W. Bernard. “Inventor of Dreams”. Scientific American; Mar2005, Vol. 292 Issue 3,78-85.
- 6 Cheney & Uth, 22-33
- 7 Raimer, Mark A. “Semantic Sabotage at the Smithsonian Institute: A Head Test.” ETC: A Review of General Semantics: Winter 1999-2000 (V56 4), p405
- 8 Cheney & Uth, 23-28
- 9 Ibid, 55-58
- 10 Ibid, 61
- 11 Ibid, 79
- 12 Ibid, 111
- 13 Ibid
- 14 Ibid, 139
- 15 http://www.gulture.com/jetpilot/hover.htm
- 16 Raimer
- 17 Carlson, W. Bernard
- 18 Cheney & Uth, 63
- 19 Cheney & Uth, 85-95
- 20 Cheney & Uth, 97-107
- 21 Cheney & Uth, 153-155
- 22 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nikola_Tesla
- 23 Ibid
- 24 Cheney & Uth, 161-165
- 25 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nikola_Tesla