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The Wonder of the World - Nikola Tesla, a Greater Electrician Than Edison

July 22nd, 1894
Page number(s):
20

He Will Make His Own Sunlight

Special correspondence Sunday Post-Dispatch.

New York, July 19. - There is a small country in Europe called Lika, and in that country there is a village of forty houses called Smlljan.

You have probably never heard of either, but you and many others will live to know about a baby that was born in the village of Smiljan in the country called Lika thirty-seven years ago.

It was probably the usual Slavonic baby, very dark, very nervous and doomed in advance to a dull and wasted life. Lika is really a part of Servia, and Servla had her day long ago. Men gained fame by fighting and helping the Hungarians to keep Asia out of Europe.

Most of Servia’s modern babies might as well have avoided the annoyance of birth for all they can ever do in the world, but this baby is an exception.

His name is Nikola Tesla. He is the best electrician living. If men who know about electricity may be believed. He is to the average electrician as Horace Greely is to Bill Nye. He is serious, he is earnest and in all ways he commands respect.

Nikola Tesla.

His Quaint Appearance. 

Nikola Tesla has eyes set very far back in his head. They are rather light. I asked him how he could have such light eyes and be a Slav. He told me that his eyes were once much darker, but that using his mind a great deal had made them many shades lighter. I have often heard it said that using the brain makes the eyes lighter in color. Tesla’s confirmation of the theory through his personal experience is important.

He is very thin, is more than 6 feet tall and weighs less than 140 pounds. He has very big hands. Many able men have - Lincoln is one instance. His thumbs are remarkably big, even for such big hands. They are extraordinarily big. This is a good sign. The thumb is the Intellectual part of the hand. Apes have very small thumbs.

Nikola Tesla.

Nikola Tesla has a head that spreats out at the top like a fan. His head is shaped like a wedge. His chin is as pointed as an icepick. His mouth is too small. His chin, though not weak, is not strong enough. His face cannot be studied and judged like the faces of other men, for he is not a worker in practical fields. He lives his life up in the top of his head, where ideas are born, and up there he has plenty of room. His hair is jet black and curly. He stoops - most men do when they have no peacock blood in them. He lives inside of himself. He takes a profound interest in his own work. He has that supply of self-love and self-confidence which usually goes with success. And he differs from most of the men who are written and talked about, in the fact that he has something to tell.

Talks of Hundreds of Millions.

It is most pleasing to hear this wise man I talk about figures that tire the usual brain. When I saw him night before last Mr. Tesla was discussing, by way of relaxation, the number of vibrations of the wing of a certain fly. The fly, of which Mr. Tesla did not know the name, is a fly that flies straight ahead so fast, that you can’t see him, and flies back in a straight line without any apparent effort.

“That,” said Mr. Tesla, “is the strongest living animal, in proportion to his size. He moves his wings about 25,000 times to the second.

“And that is nothing, from the ordinary point of view,” mused the distinguished Mr. Tesla. “You see, if you move your hand 10 times in a second and then try to move your hand 100 times to the second, it will take 100 times as much strength to move it 10 times as fast. The fly that moves its wings 25 times to the second requires 25,000 multiplied by 20,000 times as much force as he would to move them once in a second. That makes him use up about 600,000,000 times as much force as you might think to move his wings like that.”

“Don’t talk of such exertion in this weather,” I said wearily.

Mr. Tesla then talked at my urgent request about electricity and the things that he hopes to do.

There is no intention here to give a technical account of Mr. Tesla’s past achievements and future ambitions. It would be much too hard to write, to begin with, and utterly incomprehensible to almost every one after being written. The idea is to discover the new great electrician thoroughly, to interest Americans in the Smiljan baby’s personality, so that they may study his future achievements with proper care.

His Own Sunlight.

Mr. Tesla’s biggest undertaking at present - that to which he is devoting his most earnest efforts, is the production of light by the vibrations of the atmosphere. He has no intention of heating a bit of cinder red and letting it glow by incandescence. The present incandescent system, compared to the Tesla idea, is as primitive as an ox cart with two solid wooden wheels compared to modern railroading.

The light of the sun, according to Mr. Tesla, is the result of vibrations in 90,000,000 miles of ether which separates us from the center of this solar system. Mr. Tesla’s idea is to produce here on earth vibrations similar to those which cause the sunlight, and thus to give us a light as good as that of the sun, with no danger from clouds or other obstructions. Mr. Tesla has already achieved decided success in this line. He takes in his hand a long bar of glass, which, by vibration alone, lights up into most amazing brilliancy. He himself comes out of his experiments a most radiant creature; with light flaming at every pore of his skin, from the tips of his fingers and from the end of every hair of his head.

In explaining his experiments, Mr. Tesla uses figures calculated to pulverize an ordinary mind.

“It is difficult for me,” he said, “to give you an idea that you will readily grasp about this question of vibration. In ordinary life our minds do not deal with the figures that come up in such investigations, but take a 5 and after it fourteen zeroes, then you will have the number of vibrations which occur in the ether every second and which produce light.”

I carried out Mr. Tesla’s suggestion with the following result- 500,000,000,000,000.

Partial Success.

“All I have to do,” said Mr. Tesla, “to duplicate the sunlight to get this number of vibrations to the second with my machinery on earth. I have succeeded up to a certain point, but am still at work on the task.”

I tried in various ways to present in cold writing some notion of what five hundred billions of vibrations to the second might mean. I didn’t succeed very well. The nearest I could was to mention at Mr. Tesla’s suggestion the following fact: If a mass of metal as big as the house in which we sat, possessing 10,000 times the resisting force of the most finely tempered steel, should be caused to vibrate with one billionth of the rapidity of the light-producing vibrations in ether, that mass of metal, 10,000 times harder than steel, would simply vanish into the air like smoke. It would disappear into separate atoms too small to be seen and would never be heard of again.

Electricity in its vibrations, according to Mr. Tesla, has a great advantage over all other things, such as flies, wings and other material bodies. Electricity has no weight and therefore no opposition is offered to its moving backward and forward freely almost any number of times to the second.

“It is perfectly easy to prove that electricity weighs nothing.” said Mr. Tesla. “I will load you so full of electricity that you can’t hold any more and then put you on the finest weighing machine and you will not find one-thousandth part of an ounce added to your weight.”

I ventured to suggest to Mr. Tesla that as a vibrator electricity might meet with serious competition among modern statesmen, but his mind was so serious that he only said, “no statesman could vibrate fast enough to be of any value scientifically.”

Rotating Magnetic Field.

Mr. Tesla discovered the rotating magnetic field, a thing which may be described but not understood. Everybody knows that a magnet will seize a piece of iron and hold it firmly; everybody knows that the magnet must use up force in holding that iron, but of course as long as it holds the iron perfectly still the force is wasted. The piece of iron if left alone would stand still. There is no use in getting a magnet to make it. But Mr. Tesla found that he could get a magnet to use its force in such a way as to cause the piece of iron to spin violently round and round. He can make a wheel at a distance from the source of electro-magnetic force spin round with 10,000 horse-power. He expects to apply this principle in employing the strength of Niagara Falls electric current. The fact may be mentioned that the Niagara Falls people who have relied upon Tesla to tell them how they must use their power at a distance, have adopted his scheme.

Electricians in general think that Tesla’s best work thus far is a machine which has industrial value as a new and more direct agent for producing electrical force. I didn’t care much about that compared with the rotating magnetic field, but I asked Mr. Tesla to tell me in as few words as possible just how we get electricity, and why we get it when we do get it. Said Mr. Tesla:

Nobody Knows.

“We get electricity by causing a wire to revolve near a magnet. The stronger the magnet the faster the revolutions of the wire, and the bigger the wire the more electricity.

“Why we get electricity in this way, and what electricity is, is another thing. Every electrician has his theory. I have one which I think I can demonstrate mathematically. There is no accepted explanation of the most extraordinary phenomenon in nature.”

Mr. Tesla does not care to see in cold print an account of those things which he hopes to accomplish, or to see accomplished, by means of electricity.

“You would think me a dreamer and very far gone,” he said, “if I should tell you what I really hoped for. But I can tell that I look forward with absolute confidence to sending messages through the earth without any wires. I have also great hopes of transmitting electric force in the same way without waste. Concerning the transmission of messages through the earth, however, I have no hesitation in predicting success. I must first ascertain exactly how many time vibrations to the second are caused by disturbing the mass of electricity which the earth contains. My machine for transmitting must vibrate as often to put itself in accord with the electricity in the earth.”

Mr. Tesla is the interesting person who, in St. Louis, before a large gathering, allowed a quarter of a million volts of electricity to go through his body. Having seen Carlyle Harris and one other unfortunate individual instantly killed by the application of less than 2,000 volts, I asked Mr. Tesla if he didn’t feel a little worried about taking a current of a quarter of a million volts. He said:

A Million Volts in the Body.

“I did at first feel apprehensive. I had reasoned the thing out absolutely, nevertheless there is always a certain doubt about the practical demonstration of a perfectly satisfactory theory. My idea of letting this current go through me was to demonstrate conclusively the folly of popular impressions concerning the alternating current. The experiment had no value for scientific men. A great deal of nonsense is talked and believed about ‘volts,’ etc. A million volts would not kill you or hurt you if the current vibrated quickly enough - say half a million times to the second. Under such conditions the nerves wouldn’t respond quickly enough to feel pain.

“You see, voltage has nothing to do with the size and power of the current. It is simply the calculation of the force applied at a given point. It corresponds to the actual pressure per inch at the end of a water pipe, whether the volume of water be great or small. A million volts going through you doesn’t mean much under proper conditions. Imagine a needle so small that the hole it would make in going through your body would not allow the blood to escape. Imagine it so small that you couldn’t even feel it. If you had put it through your arm slowly that would be, electrically speaking, a very small voltage. If you had it stuck through your arm with great rapidity, going, say, at the rate of 100 miles a second, that would be very high voltage. Voltage is speed pressure at a given point. It wouldn’t do you any more harm to have a needle shot through your arm very rapidly, that is to say, with high voltage, than it would to put it through slowly. In fact, if it hurt you at all, the slow operation would probably hurt more than the other. The question of danger is simply the size of current, and yet if a big enough current should be turned against you and broken with sufficient rapidity - if it should, so to speak, jerk back and forth an inconceivable number of times to the second, it wouldn’t kill you. Whereas, if applied continuously, it would simply burn you up.”

All Labor Done by Electricity.

When Mr. Tesla talks about the electrical problems upon which he is really working he becomes a most fascinating person. Not a single word that he says can be understood. He divides time up into billionths of seconds, and supplies power enough from nothing apparently to do all the work in the United States. He believes that electricity will solve the labor problem. That is something for Mr. Debs to ponder while he languishes in his dungeon. It is certain, according to Mr. Tesla’s theories, that the hard work of the future will be the pressing of electric buttons. A few centuries from now the criminal instead of working a treadmill or picking oakum will be sentenced to press fifteen electrical buttons every day. His fellows, long since disused to work, will look upon his toil with pity and horror.

Mr. Nichola Tesla is to be envied. He owns one of those rare minds which do not absorb trivialities. A computation of the vibrations of a fly’s wing is to him what croquet would be to Grover Cleveland - it is play. He can play when he wants to, but he doesn’t do it very often.

He is very proud of his Slavonic race. He believes that the poetry of the Slavs, written in Servian and Croatian, would surprise the civilized world if it could be presented in widely known languages.

Only One Law.

He says that the thin man relies constantly on the food which he eats at the moment. He looks upon good food aa most important and feels the strengthening effects of it within twenty minutes. He believes that work never hurts, but the play does.

Nobody, he thinks, can work enough to hurt him.

He thinks that marriage and love interfere with success.

He does not believe in telepathy, which is, according to its exponents, a sort of psychical electricity enabling one mind to communicate ideas to another without words. He considers that what is usually taken as an evidence of the existence of telepathy is mere coincidence, that the working of the human mind through observation and reason interests and amazes him, as it well may.

One wise man whom I knew used to say that the scientists with their jumble of laws governing the universe were ignoramuses, and that there weren’t more than half a dozen fundamental laws all told. I asked Mr. Tesla what he thought about that.

“I think,” said he, “that they could all be reduced to one.”

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