Tesla at 75
(See front cover)
On Nikola Tesla's birthday in mid-July, the electrical term which his name has become is regenerated as a tall, meagre, eagle-headed man. Reporters hunt him out of his hotel cubicle for his yearly interview and for a day his long-standing fame flares again. People who all their lives have lived by means of the devices he has invented and inspired, people who have forgotten there were an Alessandro Volta, an André Marie Ampére, a Georg Simon Ohm, a Charles Augustin de Coulomb, a Luigi Galvani or a James Watt, are reminded that there still is a Nikola Tesla (pronounced Teshlah) who long ago gave them the Tesla induction motor which made alternating current practical, and the Tesla transformer which steps up oscillating currents to high potentials (15,000,000 volts he avers, with 100,000,000 possible).
Last week was Dr. Tesla's 75th birthday. Interviewers wished they might see him as he used to be seen in his Colorado laboratory a generation ago, strolling or sitting like a calm Mephistopheles amid blazing, thundering cascades of sparks 30 ft. long, Tesla currents alternating at such prodigious frequency that they would not harm a kitten. But instead they found him, not without some difficulty, in seclusion on the 20th floor of Manhattan's Hotel Governor Clinton. Pale but healthy, thin to ghostliness but strong and alert as ever, he received his callers in quiet. His hair is slate grey, overhanging eyebrows almost black. His eyes are blue. Only their sparkle and the shrillness of his voice indicate his psychic tension. He wore an ordinary U. S. business suit, a white collar-attached shirt and a commonplace tie.
To Nikola Tesla, all the world's a power house. For 40 years he has been reasoning, calculating and arguing that the earth has a definite electrical resonance. All that men need do to have unlimited power at their command, and that power without the necessity of transmission wires, would be to generate electricity in tune with the earth's. The generators might be at waterfalls, coal mines, anywhere. Only possible drawbacks would be the vast expense of installation and the fact that every power house on earth would be obliged to generate the same kind of current, and anyone could tap the current. There could be no financial control of electricity.
Nonetheless the late John Pierpont Morgan believed in the possibility of such wireless power. That was at the time when Mr. Morgan was creating U. S. Steel Corp. and International Mercantile Marine. He was not averse to world control of power and communications. (The House of Morgan is banker for American Telephone & Telegraph, International Telephone & Telegraph, Western Union, United Corp., and many another electrical utility.) Banker Morgan gave Genius Tesla great amounts of money for experiment. In Colorado in 1899, Tesla built a huge induction coil by which he generated and, he says, sent out wireless waves the same year Marconi established wireless communication between France and England. Tesla claims priority, because he conceived his system six years earlier, in 1893. The theoretical path of Tesla's waves were through the earth, not through the air as Hertzian waves go. On Long Island, Tesla built a steel tower 187 ft. high surmounted by a 68-ft. bossed dome. The tower was to disseminate wireless power. Mr. Morgan died in 1913. Dr. Tesla lacked money. He abandoned the tower, let it be destroyed in 1917.
Since then he has been pondering his theories. His annual interview has been a rehash of the same old subject - Broadcasted Power. But last week he made a “rare occasion” of his 75th birthday and talked about something new.
“I am working now upon two things,” he said. “First, an explanation based upon pure mathematics of certain things which Professor Einstein has also attempted to explain. My conclusions in certain respects differ from and to that extent tend to disprove the Einstein Theory. . . . My explanations of natural phenomena are not so involved as his. They are simpler, and when I am ready to make a full announcement it will be seen that I have proved my conclusions.
“Secondly, I am working to develop a new source of power. When I say a new source, I mean that I have turned for power to a source which no previous scientist has turned, to the best of my knowledge. The conception, the idea when it first burst upon me was a tremendous shock.
“It will throw light on many puzzling phenomena of the cosmos, and may prove also of great industrial value, particularly in creating a new and virtually unlimited market for steel.
“I can only say at this time it will come from an entirely new and unsuspected source, and will be for all practical purposes constant day and night, and at all times of the year. The apparatus for capturing the energy and transforming it will partake both of mechanical and electrical features, and will be of ideal simplicity.
They would, not harm a kitten.
“At first the cost may be found too high, but this obstacle eventually will be overcome. Moreover, the installment will be, so to speak, indestructible, and will continue to function for any length of time without additional expenditures.
“Let me say that has nothing to do with releasing so-called atomic energy. There is no such energy in the sense usually meant. With my currents, using pressures as high as 15,000,000 volts, the highest ever used, I have split atoms - but no energy was released. I confess that before I made this experiment I was in some fear. I said to my assistants, ‘I do not know what will happen. If the conclusions of certain scientists are right, the release of energy from the splitting of an atom may mean an explosion which would wreck our apparatus and perhaps kill someone. Is that understood?’
“My assistants urged me to perform the experiment and I did so. I shattered atoms again and again. But no appreciable energy was released.”
Badgered to reveal his own secret “source of energy,” Genius Tesla politely evaded all questions, promised a definitive statement “in a few months, or a few years.”
Yet he already has conceived “a means that will make it possible for man to transmit energy in large amounts, thousands of horsepower, from one planet to another, absolutely regardless of distance.
“I think that nothing can be more important than interplanetary communication. It will certainly come some day, and the certitude that there are other human beings in the universe, working, suffering, struggling, like ourselves, will produce a magic effect on mankind and will form the foundation of a universal brotherhood that will last as long as humanity itself.”