Newspaper and magazine articles related to Nikola Tesla

Nikola Tesla Articles

Newspaper and magazine articles related to Nikola Tesla

Tesla's New Alternating Motors

September 24th, 1890
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I hope you will allow me the privilege to say in the columns of your esteemed journal a few words in regard to an article which appeared in Industries of August 22, to which my attention has been called. In this article an attempt is made to criticize some of my inventions, notably those which you have described in your issue of August 6, 1890.

The writer begins by stating: “The motor depends on a shifting of the poles under certain conditions, a principle which has been already1 employed by Mr. A. Wright in his alternating current meter.” This is no surprise to me. It would rather have surprised me to learn that Mr. Wright has not yet employed the principle in his meter, considering what, before its appearance, was known of my work on motors, and more particularly of that of Schallenberger on meters. It has cost me years of thought to arrive at certain results, by many believed to be unattainable, for which there are now numerous claimants, and the number of these is rapidly increasing, like that of the colonels in the South after the war.

The writer then good-naturedly explains the theory of action of the motive device in Wright’s meter, which has greatly benefited me, for it is so long since I have arrived at this, and similar theories, that I had almost forgotten it. He then says: “Mr. Tesla has worked out some more or less complicated motors on this principle, but the curious point is that he has completely misunderstood the theory of the phenomena, and has got hold of the old fallacy of screening.” This may be curious, but how much more curious it is to find that the writer in Industries has completely misunderstood everything himself. I like nothing better than just criticism of my work, even if it be severe, but when the critic assumes a certain “l’état c’est moi” air of unquestioned competency I want him to know what he is writing about. How little the writer in Industries seems to know about the matter is painfully apparent when he connects the phenomenon in Wright’s meter with the subject he has under consideration. His further remark, “He (Mr. Tesla) winds his secondary of iron instead of copper and thinks the effect is produced magnetically,” is illustrative of the care with which he has perused the description of the devices contained in the issue of The Electrical Engineer above referred to.

I take a motor having, say eight poles, and wrap the exciting coils of four alternate cores with fine insulated iron wire. When the current is started in these coils it encounters the effect of the closed magnetic circuit and is retarded. The magnetic lines set up at the start close to the iron wire around the coils and no free poles appear at first at the ends of the four cores. As the current rises in the coils more lines are set up, which crowd more and more in the fine iron wire until finally the same becomes saturated, or nearly so, when the shielding action of the iron wire ceases and free poles appear at the ends of the four protected cores. The effect of the iron wire, as will be seen, is two-fold. First, it retards the energizing current; and second, it delays the appearance of the free poles. To produce a still greater difference of phase in the magnetization of the protected and unprotected cores, I connect the iron wire surrounding the coils of the former in series with the coils of the latter, in which case, of course, the iron wire is preferably wound or connected differentially, after the fashion of the resistance coils in a bridge, so as to have no appreciable self-induction. In other cases I obtain the desired retardation in the appearance of the free poles on one set of cores by a magnetic shunt, which produces a greater retardation of the current and takes up at the start a certain number of the lines set up, but becomes saturated when the current in the exciting coils reaches a predetermined strength.

In the transformer the same principle of shielding is utilized. A primary conductor is surrounded with a fine layer of laminated iron, consisting of fine iron wire or plates properly insulated and interrupted. As long as the current in the primary conductor is so small that the iron enclosure can carry all the lines of force set up by the current, there is very little action exerted upon a secondary conductor placed in vicinity to the first; but just as soon as the iron enclosure becomes saturated, or nearly so, it loses the virtue of protecting the secondary and the inducing action of the primary practically begins. What, may I ask, has all this to do with the “old fallacy of screening?”

With certain objects in view — the enumeration of which would lead me too far — an arrangement was shown in The Electrical Engineer, about which the writer in Industries says: “A ring of laminated iron is wound with a secondary. It is then encased in iron laminated in the wrong direction and the primary is wound outside of this. The layer of iron between the primary and secondary is supposed to screen the coil. Of course it cannot do so, such a thing is unthinkable.” This reminds me of the man who had committed some offense and engaged the services of an attorney. “They cannot commit you to prison for that,” said the attorney. Finally the man was imprisoned. He sent for the attorney. “Sir,” said the latter, “I tell you they cannot imprison you for that.” “But, sir,” retorted the prisoner, “they have imprisoned me.” It may not screen, in the opinion of the writer in Industries, but just the same it does. According to the arrangement the principal effect of the screen may be either a retardation of the action of the primary current upon the secondary circuit or a deformation of the secondary current wave with similar results for the purposes intended. In the arrangement referred to by the writer in Industries he seems to be certain that the iron layer acts like a choking coil; there again he is mistaken; it does not act like a choking coil, for then its capacity for maintaining constant current would be very limited. But it acts more like a magnetic shunt in constant current transformers and dynamos, as, in my opinion, it ought to act.

There are a good many more things to be said about the remarks contained in Industries. In regard to the magnetic time lag the writer says: “If a bar of iron has a coil at one end, and if the core is perfectly laminated, on starting a current in the coil the induction all along the iron corresponds to the excitation at that instant, unless there is a microscopic time lag, of which there is no evidence.” Yet a motor was described, the very operation of which is dependent on the time lag of magnetization of the different parts of a core. It is true the writer uses the term “perfectly laminated” (which, by the way, I would like him to explain), but if he intends to make such a “perfectly laminated” core I venture to say there is trouble in store for him. From his remarks I see that the writer completely overlooks the importance of the size of the core and of the number of the alternations pointed out; he fails to see the stress laid on the saturation of the screen, or shunt, in some of the cases described; he does not seem to recognize the fact that in the cases considered the formation of current is reduced as far as practicable in the screen, and that the same, therefore, so far as its quality of screening is concerned, has no role to perform as a conductor. I also see that he would want considerable information about the time lag in the magnetization of the different parts of a core, and an explanation why, in the transformer he refers to, the screen is laminated in the wrong direction, etc. — but the elucidation of all these points would require more time than I am able to devote to the subject. It is distressing to find all this in the columns of a leading technical journal.

In conclusion, the writer shows his true colors by making the following withering remarks: “It is questionable whether the Tesla motor will ever be a success. Such motors will go round, of course, and will give outputs, but their efficiency is doubtful; and if they need three-wire circuits and special generators there is no object in using them, as a direct current motor can be run instead with advantage.”

No man of broad views will feel certain of the success of any invention, however good and original, in this period of feverish activity, when every day may bring new and unforeseen development. At the pace we are progressing the permanence of all our apparatus it its present forms becomes more and more problematical. It is impossible to foretell what type of motor will crystalize out of the united efforts of many able men; but it is my conviction that at no distant time a motor having commutator and brushes will be looked upon as an antiquated piece of mechanism. Just how much the last quoted remarks of the writer of Industries — considering the present state of the art — are justified, I will endeavor to show in a few lines.

First, take the transmission of power in isolated places. A case frequently occurring in practice and attracting more and more the attention of engineers is the transmission of large powers at considerable distances. In such a case the power is very likely to be cheap, and the cardinal requirements are then the reduction of the cost of the leads, cheapness of construction and maintenance of machinery and constant speed of the motors. Suppose a loss of only 25 percent, in the leads, at full load, be allowed. If a direct current motor be used, there will be, besides other difficulties, considerable variation in the speed of the motor — even if the current is supplied from a series dynamo — so much so that the motor may not be well adapted for many purposes, for instance, in cases where direct current transformation is contemplated with the object of running lights or other devices at constant potential. It is true that the condition may be bettered by employing proper regulating devices, but these will only further complicate the already complex system, and in all probability fail to secure such perfection as will be desired. In using an ordinary single-circuit alternate current motor the disadvantage is that the motor has no starting torque and that, for equal weight, its output and efficiency are more or less below that of a direct current motor. If, on the contrary, the armature of any alternator or direct current machine — large, low-speed, two-pole machines will give the best results — is wound with two circuits, a motor is at once obtained which possesses sufficient torque to start under considerable load: it runs in absolute synchronism with the generator — an advantage much desired and hardly ever to be attained with regulating devices; it takes current in proportion to the load, and its plant efficiency within a few percent is equal to that of a direct current motor of the same size. It will be able, however, to perform more work than a direct current motor of the same size, first, because there will be no change of speed, even if the load be doubled or tripled, within the limits of available generator power; and, second, because it can be run at a higher electromotive force, the commutator and the complication and difficulties it involves in the construction and operation of the generators and motors being eliminated from the system. Such a system will, of course, require three leads, but since the plant efficiency is practically equal to that of the direct current system, it will require the same amount of copper which would be required in the latter system, and the disadvantage of the third lead will be comparatively small, if any, for three leads of smaller size may perhaps be more convenient to place than two larger leads. When more machines have to be used there may be no disadvantage whatever connected with the third wire; however, since the simplicity of the generators and motors allows the use of higher electromotive forces, the cost of the leads may be reduced below the figure practicable with the direct current system.

Considering all the practical advantages offered by such an alternating system, I am of an opinion quite contrary to that of the author of the article in Industries, and think that it can quite successfully stand the competition of any direct current system, and this the more, the larger the machines built and the greater the distances.

Another case frequently occurring in practice is the transmission of small powers in numerous isolated places, such as mines, etc. In many of these cases simplicity and reliability of the apparatus are the principal objects. I believe that in many places of this kind my motor has so far proved a perfect success. In such cases a type of motor is used possessing great starting torque, requiring for its operation only alternating current and having no sliding contacts whatever on the armature, this advantage over other types of motors being highly valued in such places. The plant efficiency of this form of motor is, in the present state of perfection, inferior to that of the former form, but I am confident that improvements will be made in that direction. Besides, plant efficiency is in these cases of secondary importance, and in cases of transmission at considerable distances, it is no drawback, since the electromotive force may be raised as high as practicable on converters. I can not lay enough stress on this advantageous feature of my motors, and should think that it ought to be fully appreciated by engineers, for to high electromotive forces we are surely coming, and if they must be used, then the fittest apparatus will be employed. I believe that in the transmission of power with such commutatorless machines, 10,000 volts, and even more, may be used, and I would be glad to see Mr. Ferranti’s enterprise succeed. His work is in the right direction, and, in my opinion, it will be of great value for the advancement of the art.

As regards the supply of power from large central stations in cities or centers of manufacture, the above arguments are applicable, and I see no reason why the three-wire motor system should not be successful. In putting up such a station, the third wire would be but a very slight drawback, and the system possesses enough advantages to over-balance this and any other disadvantage. But this question will be settled in the future, for as yet comparatively little has been done in that direction, even with the direct current system. The plant efficiency of such a three-wire system would be increased by using, in connection with the ordinary type of my motor, other types which act more like inert resistances. The plant efficiency of the whole system would, in all cases, be greater than that of each individual motor — if like motors are used — owing to the fact that they would possess different self-induction, according to the load.

The supply or power from lighting mains is, I believe, in the opinion of most engineers, limited to comparatively small powers, for obvious reasons. As the present systems are built on the two-wire plan, an efficient two-wire motor without commutator is required for this purpose, and also for traction purposes. A large number or those motors, embodying new principles, have been devised by me and are being constantly perfected. On lighting stations, however, my three-wire system may be advantageously carried out. A third wire may be run for motors and the old connections left undisturbed. The armatures of the generator may be rewound, whereby the output of the machines will be increased about 35 percent, or even more in machines with cast iron field magnets. If the machines are worked at the same capacity, this means an increased efficiency. If power is available at the station, the gain in current may be used in motors. Those who object to the third wire, may remember that the old two-wire direct system is almost entirely superseded by the three-wire system, yet my three-wire system offers to the alternating system relatively greater advantages, than the three-wire direct possesses over the two-wire. Perhaps, if the writer in Industries would have taken all this in consideration, he would have been less hasty in his conclusions.

Nikola Tesla,
New York, Sept. 17, 1890

[1] All italics are mine. — N.T.


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