Tesla’s Big Plans!…
As soon as [the Wardenclyffe plant is] completed, it will be possible for a business man in New York to dictate instructions, and have them instantly appear in type at his office in London or elsewhere. He will be able to call up, from his desk, and talk to any telephone subscriber on the globe, without any change whatever in the existing equipment. An inexpensive instrument, not bigger than a watch, will enable its bearer to hear anywhere, on sea or land, music or song, the speech of a political leader, the address of all eminent man of science, or the sermon of an eloquent clergyman, delivered in some other place, however distant. In the same manner any picture, character, drawing, or print can be transferred from one to another place…
- Nikola Tesla comments on Wardenclyffe
What might have happened if Nikola Tesla were able to finish his World Wireless Project?
On July 23, 1901 at Shoreham, Long Island, NY, ground was broken on a most ambitious project, Wardenclyffe. The primary function of Wardenclyffe was for the global transmission of intelligence, such as telephone and telegraphic communications. This venture was to make telephone communications a worldwide reality, but not by the conventional means of stringing copper wires everywhere. The secondary purpose was of power transmission.
To Tesla’s dismay, Wardenclyffe was never finished due to lack of adequate funds! For many years, my opinion was:
What a shame. What a loss to mankind that Tesla was not able to finish his world wireless project.
Recently I have changed my mind!
If history is an indicator of the future, then it would be easy to predict than had this wireless technology been completely developed and working — then by legal, financial, or some other means Tesla’s life work and greatest invention would have been taken away from him.
Technically, we have no way to know for certain if Wardenclyffe would have worked. What we do know is that Wardenclyffe was a highly engineered complex consisting of one building and one transmitting tower. Tesla spent in excess of $100,000 at Colorado Springs for preliminary research and development, and then another $750,000 to build the facility at Shoreham Long Island. For the purpose of this paper, let’s say that after its completion, Tesla’s apparatus and system for the wireless transmission of power worked perfectly.
Wardenclyffe was going to put the entire earth online and transform our planet into one giant conductor and inductor into a logical circuit, to usher in the age of the Internet before World War I. Essentially, Tesla was going to use the earth and its atmosphere as the conducting medium by making the earth part of the circuit. He would do this as opposed to the traditional method of running copper lines along the surface of the earth for communication and long distance power transmissions.
What an engineering feat it would be, to make the earth part of a circuit, using its size and properties to an electrical advantage. Even before the year 1900, it was known that the earth is literally alive with electrical currents. It is believed that Tesla was planning to tap into the earth’s natural electrical currents by first pumping into the ground a 100 Hp worth of a special stationary electrical wave that was intended to vibrate the earth into a highly conductive resonate state.
With an electrical oscillator activity of 10 million horsepower, at voltages over 100 million, Nikola Tesla had big plans. However, for Tesla to have successfully used the earth and atmosphere as a conducting medium, he would have needed other supporting technologies to monitor its effect around the world. Tesla would have needed another form of global communications to verify that his system was working correctly. At the tum of the 20th century that technology was not available. Wardenclyffe was just too far ahead of its time!
Under Perfect Conditions What Could Have Happened…
A World of Electrical Wonders
The grand opening of Wardenclyffe station would have been a weeklong grand event with much publicity and fanfare with the Transmitting Tower for World Telegraphy springing to life when Nikola Tesla spoke the “magic words.” At night, the inside of the Central Power Plant and the grounds surrounding Wardenclyffe would have been brightly lit up without light bulbs or other physical apparatus.
Tesla was a showman and Wardenclyffe’s premier would have been an affair to remember with many famous scientists, businessmen, politicians, members of the military, foreign dignitaries and celebrities present. In short, the guest list would have been a virtual who’s who of the rich and powerful at the tum of the 20th century! Besides conducting tours of the facilities, Tesla would have conducted electrical demonstrations that would have been both exciting and educational.
Every night there would have been an electrical light show comparable to a modem fireworks display. The electrical pyrotechnics would have been easily seen from New York City. Tesla would have put on the breath taking electrical shows every 4th of July, as well as other holidays and special events. One such special event would be the annual introduction of new services and or products.
Tesla believed that Wardenclyffe would evolve into the first industrial park employing some 2000 workers. Wardenclyffe was approximately 60 miles away from New York City, so apartments or other housing would have to be built. A small town or suburb would have been built close to Wardenclyffe.
Wardenclyffe on the waterfront would have been more than just the world headquarters for wireless communications and power. It would have evolved and grown to resemble a major college campus and separated into different areas much like Disney World. Wardenclyffe’s Welcome Center would have branches out to the Transmitting Tower, a state of the art manufacturing center, area for communication broadcasts (telegraph, telephone, world time, etc.), a global positioning building, an electro-medical research building, a business/financial section, an area for performing artists, and a restricted government area. A five star hotel may have even been built for all the visiting VIP’s. Perhaps movies could have been filmed there. Who knows… it could have even turned into a “Tesla World”?
With all the stock tickers interconnected there is the real possibility that J. P. Morgan would have used Wardenclyffe to create his own wireless stock market. What an advantage it would have had over the other financial markets and brokerage houses with a tremendous profit potential. With the world’s population able to participate in buying and selling stocks and bonds, who knows what growth and stabilizing effect it would have had on our economy. A global cash flow combined with a more diverse investing clientele, would have created a more stable economy. The crash of 1929 and the depression may have been less severe or averted entirely.
Wireless Power Distribution
I think most cities’ power distribution would have been wired approximately the same way they are today. The system of grid-based power transmission using stepup and stepdown transformers wired to homes and small businesses was already developed. The use of a power meter might have been the only way J. P. Morgan and the other investors would have allowed Wardenclyffe to transmit massive amounts of power.
Instead of seeing electrical substations scattered around, there would have been receiving towers that would dispense the power to homes and small businesses with ordinary equipment and wires. Factories, large buildings, stadiums, colleges and other self contained facilities that use great amounts of power would have had their own towers, customized for their needs, to receive power, as well as to transmit and receive data.
For rural areas… farms, ranches, outposts or even survival shacks located so far from cities that stringing conventional power lines would be far too expensive… power receiving units would have been available. Imagine the possibilities of being able to get a small 20-50 amp (or larger) power receiver to be put anywhere you needed to pump water. It would be possible to irrigate any plot of land where there is a nearby water source. With global population and hunger increasing, I believe that this would have been a great global benefit.
Rural residents would have had a sealed tamper proof unit installed just outside their house or barn, probably attached to a cement slab (for safety and security). Small portable units would have been available for campers, world travelers and explorers. Practically anywhere on earth, electrical power for survival could have been available. Global wireless power distribution would have been no less than a godsend.
Multi-Frequency Power Distribution
Another advantage to Tesla’s wireless power system would have been multiple frequency power distribution. The ability to match your usage to the proper voltage, phase and frequency is the essence, advantage, and proper usage of alternating current. Tesla’s wireless power units would have been able to receive different frequencies and/or phases so that subscribers would have been able to pick and choose the type of alternating current which suited their needs best.
Single frequency power units each tuned to a different frequency probably would have been necessary at first. Later models probably would have been developed with different voltages/frequencies phases. Perhaps advanced units would have even included rectifiers to supply direct current. For example:
- Single Phase — high frequency 30,000 cycles; lighting, electronics, DC power
- Three Phase — low frequency 25 cycles; industrial motors, etc.
- Single Phase — low frequency 25 cycles; general, light industrial
Although high frequency electrical current is very user friendly to electronics, there are many other advantages to its use. High frequency fluorescent lighting is much brighter and more efficient. Other lighting, such as Tesla’s carbon button bulbs, could also be used with high frequency currents. A carbon button bulb is similar to an incandescent bulb, except it uses a small piece of carbon instead of a filament. The carbon excites the gas inside the bulb so much it creates light. Higher frequencies, when rectified, create a truer and smoother DC current.
The Air-Ground Connection
To properly supply the world’s need for power, it would have taken a series of transmitting towers. The towers’ ground connection is absolutely critical, so there’s a good chance that the majority of the towers would be close to large quantities of salt water. Coastlines and islands such as Hawaii, the British Isles and similar places would have been ideal locations.
Other suitable locations rich in conducting minerals would undoubtedly have been found. Sites of old abandoned copper; silver, gold and mercury mines could have been converted into tower sites. In some cases, steel rails for the ore carts to roll on would have been left in place. They could have been used for additional grounding. Other possible locations include areas abundant with salt such as: Salt Lake City, Bonneville, The Dead Sea, New Orleans and Detroit, Michigan.
Tesla believed that the upper portions of the atmosphere were very conductive for high voltage electricity. It is speculated that Tesla planned to use a high voltage ionizing beam, aided by ultra violet light, to serve as an electrical conduit to the upper regions of the stratosphere. Airplanes and other airships could then draw the necessary current to power their motors. This would have been ideal for zeppelins and blimps. They would have less weight because they would carry little or no fuel. In addition, they would use dependable and light weight electrical motors instead of the heavier and more complicated fuel powered engines.
Good sized ships, yachts and ocean going vessels could have the necessary equipment/apparatus to send up its own ionizing (probably aided by a laser beam) ray to plug into the power grid in the sky.
Tesla on the Future
We are confronted with portentous problems which can not be solved just by providing for our material existence, however abundantly. On the contrary, progress in this direction is fraught with hazards and perils not less menacing than those born from want and suffering. If we were to release the energy of the atoms or discover some other way of developing cheap and unlimited power at any point of the globe this accomplishment, instead of being a blessing, might bring disaster to mankind…
The greatest good will come from the technical improvements tending to unification and harmony, and my wireless transmitter is preeminently such. By its means the human voice and likeness will be reproduced everywhere and factories driven thousands of miles from waterfalls furnishing the power; aerial machines will be propelled around the earth without a stop and the sun’s energy controlled to create lakes and rivers for motive purposes and transformation of arid deserts into fertile land…
Tesla speculated about many other possible applications that Wardenclyffe could accomplish. The list of possible application included converting atmospheric nitrogen into fertilizer, a new type of refrigeration to very low temperatures, interplanetary communications, cars and planes and ships powered by wireless, lighting oceans at night.
Tesla even talked about developing a cosmic ray motor to generate electricity and being able to send power to predetermined locations. That has many implied applications and possibilities. In addition to some of the uses Tesla actually spoke of, I believe Tesla had many other uses in mind that he didn’t mention! Who knows what other futuristic inventions Tesla could have created if he had the resources to properly develop them?
Possible Financial Resources
Tesla encountered severe financial difficulties once Morgan withheld support. Had he been further along in the Wardenclyffe project, other sources of revenue could have been developed. For instance, the Navy and major shipping companies may have been interested in sponsoring the development of a global positioning system for use with ships. By 1915, the fledgling Army Air Corps probably would have been very interested in a system of accurate positioning for their pilots other than “dead reckoning”.
Insurance companies could have been approached to sponsor the development and operating costs of the Terrestrial Night Light (Exotic Research Report V2N2, Apr/May/Jun 1999). Tesla believed he could eliminate much of the dangers of traveling over the oceans by literally causing the sky to light up. Perhaps smaller units could have been developed for small areas so work and play could be done at night instead of during the heat of the day.
People would have had the option of several types of portable appliances, from timepieces to radios or even telephones. It may even have been possible to keep tabs on the stock exchange while you were out and about. At home, a person may have been able to purchase a larger unit with many options to choose from. Receivers would have been adapted for automobiles, trains, planes and boats.
Three different models (land, sea and air) for the global positioning receiver would have been developed. It would have been an incredible benefit for any ship to pinpoint its exact longitude and latitude at any given time. Just for this option alone it seems that insurance companies would have invested in Wardenclyffe. Just how many shipwrecks could have been avoided if the captains knew their exact location? Just how many lives could have been saved and billions of dollars that would not have been paid out in claims?
Had Wardenclyffe been completed, many additional honors and awards would have been bestowed on Tesla, including the Nobel Prize in more than one category. Many more articles and books would have been written about Nikola Tesla about his life, work, and theories. Today Tesla’s name and accomplishments would be even more well known to the world.
What Most Probably Would Have Happened!
The Sherman Anti-Trust Act of 1890 prohibited combinations and monopolies in the form of trusts. Many companies, such as Standard Oil Company and the American Tobacco Company, were tried in court and found to be trusts. Other companies reached agreements with the government to avoid a trial. I am convinced that the Sherman Anti-Trust Act would not have caused any problem. By 1905, the “trust busting” days were over and Wardenclyffe was just starting out. Besides, there were many other power companies providing competition.
Tesla was sworn in as a citizen of the United States in 1891. He was keenly aware that he was still a foreigner. It is uncertain how Washington would react to and monitor a communication and power center under the control of a quite often difficult, eccentric, lone wolf foreign inventor.
Nikola Tesla and J. Pierpont Morgan had entirely different ideas concerning money and industry. When Tesla originally went to Morgan for money to build Wardenclyffe, Morgan was very clear he wanted his involvement with the project to be held in the strictest confidence. Once Wardenclyffe was working and making a profit, future loans would be necessary for improvements and additional towers. The association would have undoubtedly leaked out.
I believe that Tesla would have had his hands full with trying to run and develop his new wireless wonders without interfering with Morgan’s current and future business dealings. I think their relationship would have been similar to George Steinbrenner and Billy Martin. Had Wardenclyffe been completed, it is a very real possibility that Morgan would have used his power to limit Tesla’s influence to matters of engineering, while inserting one of his trusted managers to run Wardenclyffe.
If Wardenclyffe had become a successful and profitable enterprise, undoubtedly there would have been competition and other wireless plants would have been built. Predictably, there would have been litigation. However, with Morgan’s name attached to Wardenclyffe, that alone would have stopped many lawsuits. Still, too much time and energy would have been spent dealing with legalities.
In 1913, J. P. Morgan died. If Tesla were still involved with Wardenclyffe, he would have gained new freedom to run Wardenclyffe. The new liberation would have come at the price of lesser protection. The year 1914 was a sad year for Tesla. George Westinghouse, Tesla’s old friend and business partner died.
Had Wardenclyffe been successful, 1914 would have also been problematic since the Sherman Act was “beefed up” with two additional laws. One created the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). The other law was the Clayton Act. It dealt with local price discrimination and further restricted holding companies and interlocking directories. I have no way of knowing what its effect on Wardenclyffe would have been; I am sure however, it would not have helped.
Misplaced Patriotic Fervor
By far the biggest blow to Tesla and the Wardenclyffe dream occurred on June 28, 1914. That was the date that a Serbian nationalist assassinated Archduke Ferdinand. This has been recorded as the flash point that started World War I. On July 28th Austria declared war on Serbia. Tesla was of Serbian-Croatian decent, born in the village of Smiljan, province of Lika, Croatia. Tesla’s homeland was at war, and it definitely worked against him and Wardenclyffe.
On May 7th 1915, “Fateful Friday”, a German U-boat torpedoed the RMS Lusitania. Twenty-one minutes later it sank and 1201 American passengers died. A scapegoat had to be found and the Captain of the Lusitania was that logical person. However, Tesla acquired many powerful enemies, so there was always the possibility that they might want to shift the blame towards Tesla.
Tesla, who was European and spoke several languages, may have been a better and easier person to frame. To make matters worse, one of Tesla’s employees was a German electrical engineer named Fritz Lowenstein. Fritz was at Colorado Springs for a few months and later worked at the Wardenclyffe plant. Lowenstein had strong to ties to Germany and traveled between the United States and Germany. What a perfect knot to tie… Lowenstein to Tesla, then to Germany and the German Navy, finally to the sinking of the Lusitania.
Had not saner heads prevailed, Nikola Tesla’s name and reputation could have been easily smeared to the extent that his name would have been worse than: Benedict Arnold, John Wilkes Booth, Dr. Samuel Mudd and Lee Harvey Oswald combined! By 1917, war fever was peaking, and a undercurrent of unfounded sentiment against Tesla was present. A
conviction of treason and being put to death by the same alternating current that he himself created would have been a suitable ending with a perfect sense of closure for many of Tesla’s enemies! Ultimately they had to settle for the destruction of Tesla’s tower…. and with it… dreams!
The destruction of Wardenclyffe left many issues unresolved. In trying to electrically grip the earth and put it in a resonate conductive state so that the earth is transformed into one giant computer, one would think that there would be many problems and unknowns to overcome before the earth goes online. While experimenting, what if some strange phenomenon happened half way around the world? It could be months to years before Tesla could have found out about it. Who knows what type of damage could be done before the necessary corrections were made! A conservative estimate of at least five years of experimentation and adjustments would be necessary before Wardenclyffe could be fully functional and working correctly.
What are the consequences of altering the earth’s natural flow of electrical currents? In the past fifty years, science has learned so much more about the earth’s electrical and magnetic properties that Tesla couldn’t have known about. Still, we do not know what would happen to our natural weather and lightning patterns once we disrupt our earth’s electrical currents. Once an artificial electrical wave is pumped into the ground that changes the natural flow of the earth’s electrical currents, this would be a truly remarkable feat of electrical engineering.
What possible environmental side effects could result from these new electromagnetic patterns? Many scientists believe there are animals that are very sensitive to the earth’s magnetic fields and use them for many purposes like migration. How would the earth’s seismic, volcanic and other natural geological events affect this system of conduction? There are so many unknowns left unanswered by the destruction of Wardenclyffe.
At the turn of the 20th century, computer bugs, hackers, and viruses did not exist. Despite this, there would have been tremendous security issues to contend with. Governmental, military, and other transmitting towers would be almost impossible to hide, for they would create a visible light as it connects with the atmosphere. At night, there is also the possibility of an aurora borealis effect created in the sky by the electrical currents. The transmitting towers would be very easy to find at night. From a security standpoint every transmitting tower would be a virtual nightmare to protect or even just to keep its location secret.
Furthermore, what if a foreign country decided to join the community of wireless nations and erected a tower or structure on their own, and began pumping electricity into the earth? One of the keys to this system is resonance and tuning. It is impossible to determine exactly what might happen if a transmitting tower was out of sync or even used a different resonate tuning than the original system. We do know that when two independent AC power sources that are combined without being first synchronized bad things always happen! Who knows just what could happen on a global scale?
Another scenario is that of a working tower somehow getting out of sync or adjustment by an unforeseen unnoticed uncontrollable event such as an earthquake, volcano eruption, or unusual solar disturbance. Even employee sabotage cannot be ruled out. The earth and surrounding atmosphere may not react as the typical static conductor, it may actually need a computer’s speed and accuracy to make all the minute adjustments.
Tesla engineered and designed his wireless plant without the insights and wisdom of such visionaries/futurists like Issac Asimov, Aldous Huxley and Arthur C. Clarke. For all the wonderful benefits Wardenclyffe was capable of, it was also capable of ten fold disastrous effects.
In the National Interest…
Today, we are used to the Internet with all its benefits and problems. It is not uncommon to have one or more anti-virus programs and hard drive scanning programs. Even with regular software updates, viruses still invade our computers. One thing that seems to be a constant in human behavior is that, if there is a worthwhile functioning model, there will be many others who will try to copy it, improve on it, destroy it, undermine it, bypass it, take it over or put it out of business. If some hacker was able to gain any amount of control over Wardenclyffe they would be playing with electrical pressures in excess of 100 million volts and the power of over 10 million Hp. They would control the electrical currents of the earth.
Had Wardenclyffe been successful, after the start of WWI, it would have been taken over by the government. Tesla would have then probably been placed in some type of house arrest, depending upon the current political conditions and his cooperation. During this time, Wardenclyffe could be retooled and used for winning the war in Europe.
Ultimately, our government may still have destroyed the Wardenclyffe tower after deciding that it wasn’t worth the risk that a foreign country might gain control of it and use it against America or our allies. In doing so, the government would have had to coverup its own actions had Wardenclyffe been operational. Depending on which businesses and foreign embassies that would have been under contract with Wardenclyffe, it may have been easier to explain an enemy sabotage or an electrical malfunction that caused its destruction in order to explain why it was shutdown.
Science Fiction Meets Reality…
What if Adolph Hitler, Joseph Stalin or some other megalomaniac dictator had a wireless plant capable of controlling the earth’s energy? These and many other questions I don’t have the answers to, and I don’t think I want to know! Wardenclyffe was an altruistic endeavor in an evil world. Just as Margaret Cheney described it as Magnificent and Doomed, I am sorry to say it was just that. Being five or ten years ahead of the curve is a genius, and if your ideas are 25 to 100 years in the future, makes you at the very best a misunderstood eccentric dreamer.
Even though J. P. Morgan had the money and power to ensure the completion of Wardenclyffe, he was not the villain that he has been portrayed to be, in this matter. The economy at the turn of the century was unstable and a venture of this kind was more risky than most of the conservative Wall Street investors would pursue. Morgan for his own reasons of doubt concerning Tesla and his wireless project probably chose the right road for mostly the wrong reasons!
The link between science fiction and fact may have been permanently fused together around 1918 by the fulfillment of Mary Shelly’s vision of brilliant scientist who used the power of electricity to breathe life into the inanimate. After his creation left the laboratory and interacted with a blind, fainthearted, doubting world, and the world believed it needed to be destroyed by fire.
Nikola Tesla’s Wardenclyffe could have suffered a similar fate. The world would have also suffered, for we wouldn’t now have Tesla’s substantial body of work after 1918. Now in post-911 America, perhaps now is the time to make Tesla’s dream of wireless transmission of power a reality. With instant global communications, fossil fuels getting harder and more expensive to extract, nuclear power not living up to it’s promise, with these and many other reasons America has the technology and tempered spirit necessary to control the next step in the electrical evolution.