Originally published by Ives Washburn, New
York, 1944; Published in Great Britain by Neville Spearman Ltd.,
1968; Reprinted in the United States by Angriff Press, Los Angeles,
(C)1994 Brotherhood of Life, Inc., 110 Dartmouth,
SE, Albuquerque, New Mexico 87106 USA
New Typeset Edition - First printing, 1994,
Uploaded to the Internet October, 1996
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FAME AND FORTUNE
RETURNING to his laboratory in March,
1893, after his European and American lectures, Tesla banished
all social activities from his life program, and, bursting with
energy, pitched headlong into experimental work in connection
with his wireless system. He made repeated experiments in working
out the reWnement of his principle of tuning circuits to resonance
with each other. He built more than one hundred coils covering
a wide range of electrical tuning characteristics. He also built
numerous oscillators for producing high-frequency currents, and
condensers and inductances for tuning both sending and receiving
coils to any desired frequency or wavelength.
He demonstrated that he could cause any
one of hundreds of coils to respond selectively and powerfully
to its particular wavelength emitted by an oscillator while all
others remained inert; but he discovered that tuned electrical
coils have, to a further extent, the same properties as tuned
musical string, in that they vibrate not only to the fundamental
note but also to a wide range of upper, and particularly lower,
harmonics. This characteristic could be usefully employed in
connection with the design of sending- and receiving-station
antennas, but it militated against the sharp, exclusive response
tuning of coils. At close range, and with the powerful currents
Tesla used in his laboratory, the harmonics were a handicap--when
greater distance separated sending and receiving coils, this
trouble became a minor one.
It became obvious to Tesla that it was
going to be diYcult to arrange an early demonstration of his
worldwide system of intelligence and of power, so he planned
a compromise system in which he would use a smaller central transmitter
and smaller relay stations at certain distances.
In an interview with Arthur Brisbane,
the famous editor, Tesla announced in The World of July 22, 1894,
the certainty of his plans. He said:
You would think me a dreamer and very
far gone if I should tell you what I really hope for. But I can
tell you that I look forward with absolute conWdence 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
I have no hesitation in predicting success. I must Wrst ascertain
exactly how many 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.
During the following winter he designed
and built his transmitting station and a receiving station for
this purpose. It worked well within the close range of the laboratory
and between points in the city. Like the artist who is never
willing to declare a picture Wnished but must continue to apply
an unending series of slight improvements, Tesla continued to
add reWnements so that he would be assured of a perfect test
in the spring, when he planned to take his receiving set up the
Hudson River on a small boat to test its response at extended
With Tesla, as with Cæsar, though,
came tragedy on the Ides of March. For Tesla it was the unlucky
13th of March, 1895, when Wre broke out during the night in the
lower part of the building in which his laboratory was located
and swept through the entire structure. The two Xoors on which
his equipment was located dropped to the basement, their entire
contents destroyed. Not a single article was saved. The major
portion of Tesla's fortune was invested in the apparatus in that
building. He carried no insurance on it. The loss was total.
The monetary loss was the least important
factor in the shock which Tesla sustained. The apparatus and
the countless experiments in scores of subjects with which they
were associated were part of Tesla's self. His work of a lifetime
was swept away. All of his records, papers, mementos, his famous
World's Fair exhibit were gone. His laboratory, in which he had
demonstrated his wonders to the élite and intelligentsia
of New York, to the most famous men and women of the country
and the world, was no more. And this tragedy had come just when
he was ready to make his Wrst distance demonstration of his wireless
Tesla was in a tough spot Wnancially.
The laboratory was the property of the Tesla Electric Company,
owned by Tesla and A. K. Brown who had, with an associate, put
up the funds to Wnance Tesla's demonstration of his polyphase
alternating-current system prior to its sale to Westinghouse
for $1,000,000. Some of that money was divided as cash among
the associates, as stated; and the remainder had gone into the
laboratory for further developments. The resources of the company
were now wiped out and Tesla's individual resources were almost
at the vanishing point. He was receiving some patent royalties
from Germany on his polyphase motors and dynamos. This income
would be adequate to take care of his living expenses but not
suYcient to enable him to maintain an experimental laboratory.
Mr. Adams, active head of the Morgan
group that had developed the hydroelectric station at Niagara
Falls, using Tesla's polyphase system, now came to the inventor's
rescue. He proposed and arranged for the formation of a new company
which would Wnance the continuation of Tesla's experiments, and
he oVered to subscribe one hundred thousand dollars of the proposed
half-million dollars of capital stock of the company.
With this support Tesla proceeded to
set up a new laboratory. He secured quarters at 46 East Houston
Street, and started operations there in July, 1895, four months
after his South Fifth Avenue laboratory had been destroyed.
Adams paid forty thousand dollars as
the Wrst installment of his subscription. He took an active personal
interest in Tesla's work, and spent a great deal of time in the
laboratory. Knowing from the successful operation of the Niagara
Falls plant that Tesla, technically, was extremely practical,
Adams was deeply impressed by the plans for wireless transmission
of intelligence and of power. He declared he was willing to go
still further than his original plan of Wnancial support, and
he proposed that the plan include the taking in of his son as
an active partner in Tesla's work.
Such an arrangement would amount to an
alliance for Tesla with the powerful Morgan Wnancial group. It
was the support of J. P. Morgan that gave Wnancial guidance to
the formation of the General Electric Company and made possible
the building of the Waterside Station, the Wrst big Edison powerhouse
in New York, and it was a Morgan group that, by making possible
the development of Niagara, had given the Tesla system a tremendous
boost. The prestige that would come from a Morgan association
would probably be even more potent than the actual monetary aid
involved. With this alliance Tesla's Wnancial future was assured.
There would come to his aid, through it, the support of the world's
greatest organizational genius and practical promotion powers.
The tragedy of the Wre that brought about this situation could
yet prove a great blessing.
Tesla made his decision. What inXuenced
him to reach the determination that guided him, no one ever learned.
He rejected Mr. Adams' oVer. From a practical point of view there
is no way of explaining his action. But no one could ever successfully
demonstrate that Tesla was practical in a commercial and Wnancial
With the forty thousand dollars that
Adams subscribed, Tesla was able to keep actively engaged in
research for about three years. He probably could have secured
subscriptions of many times that amount if he had been willing
to put forth even a slight eVort in that direction, but he was
interested mainly in getting his experiments well under way rather
than worrying about future Wnancial needs. He had full faith
that the future would bring him many millions of dollars as a
token of the many billions of value he would give it through
It took Tesla about a year to get his
laboratory equipped and to build an array of experimental apparatus.
Almost nothing that he used could be purchased in the market;
everything had to be specially made by his workmen under his
direction. In the spring of 1897 he was ready to make, on his
wireless transmitter and receiver, the distance tests which had
been interrupted by the Wre two years before.
The success of these tests were announced
by Tesla in an interview with a representative of the Electrical
Review which was published in the issue of July 9, 1897, of that
journal. It stated:
Nearly every telegraphic inventor has
for years dreamed in his waking hours of the possibility of communicating
without wires. From time to time there has appeared in the technical
journals a reference to the experiments showing the almost universal
belief among electricians that, some day, wires will be done
away with. Experiments have been made attempting to prove the
possibilities, but it has remained for Mr. Nikola Tesla to advance
a theory, and experimentally prove it, that wireless communication
is a possibility and by no means a distant possibility. Indeed,
after six years of careful and conscientious work, Mr. Tesla
has arrived at a stage where some insight into the future is
A representative of the Electrical Review
receives the assurance personally from Mr. Tesla who, by the
way, is nothing if not conservative, that electrical communication
without wires is an accomplished fact and that the method employed
and the principles involved have nothing in them to prevent messages
being transmitted and intelligibly received between distant points.
Already he has constructed both a transmitting apparatus and
an electrical receiver which at distant points is sensitive to
the signals of the transmitter, regardless of earth currents
or points of the compass. And this has been done with a surprisingly
small expenditure of energy.
Naturally, Mr. Tesla is averse to explaining
all details of his invention, but allows it to be understood
that he avails himself of what, for the present, may be termed
the electrostatic equilibrium; that if this be disturbed at any
point on the earth the disturbance can with proper apparatus
be distinguished at a distant point and thus the means of signalling
and reading signals becomes practicable once the concrete instruments
are available. Mr. Tesla announced his belief in the possibilities,
but he did so after having satisWed himself by actual test of
apparatus designed by him. Much work has yet to be done, and
he has since then given close attention and study to the problem.
Details are not yet available, for obvious
reasons, and we now merely chronicle Mr. Tesla's statement that
he has really accomplished wireless communication over reasonably
long distances with small expenditure of energy and has only
to perfect apparatus to go to any extent. Morse's 40 mile experiment
in the old days was on a far less certain basis than the wireless
possibilities of today.
Tesla's work with high frequency and
high potential currents has been notable. As long ago as 1891
he foretold the present results, both as to vacuum tube lighting
and intercommunication without wires. The former has in his hands
assumed a condition capable of a public demonstration of the
phenomena of the electrostatic molecular forces. Numberless experiments
were carried out, and from what then was a startling frequency
of 10,000 per second Mr. Tesla has advanced to what now is a
moderate rate at 2,000,000 oscillations per second
This announcement recorded the birth
of modern radio--radio as it is in use today--born on a boat
traveling up the Hudson River, carrying the receiving set twenty-Wve
miles from the Houston Street laboratory, a distance which was
a small fraction of the range of the set but enough to demonstrate
its capabilities. Such an accomplishment was worthy of a Xamboyant
smash announcement instead of Tesla's very modest statement and
the even more conservative manner in which the Electrical Review
treated the news. Tesla had to protect not only his patent rights,
which would be jeopardized by premature disclosure, but also
had to be on guard against invention invaders and patent pirates,
with whom he had previously had unpleasant experiences. The Electrical
Review, naturally enough, was fearful of the consequences of
``sticking its neck out'' by too enthusiastic a reception before
full details were available.
The fundamental patents on Tesla's system
were issued on September 2, 1897, just two months after his announcement.
They are numbered 645,576 and 649,621. In these patents he describes
all the fundamental features of the radio broadcasting and receiving
circuits in use today. Once patent protection was secured, Tesla
did not long delay in letting the public in on his discoveries.
His presentation took the form of a spectacular demonstration
at Madison Square Garden.
Wireless transmission of intelligence
is a modern satisfaction of one of the oldest cravings of man,
who has always sought the annihilation of distance by communication
through space without material linkage over the intervening expanse.
Early experimenters with the telephone, particularly, were enthusiastic
seekers of a method of wireless electrical communication that
would convey the voice through space in the manner in which the
air conducted sound. David Edward Hughes had noted, in 1879,
that when an electric spark was produced anywhere in his house
he heard a noise in his telephone receiver. He traced the eVect
to the action of the carbon granules in contact with a metal
disk in his telephone transmitter which acted as a detector of
the space waves by sticking together slightly, reducing the resistance
of the mass, and producing a click in the receiver.
Prof. A. E. Dolbear, of Tufts College,
ampliWed this observation and set up, in 1882, a demonstration
set using the principle but eliminating the telephone set. He
used a spark coil for creating waves and a mass of carbon granules
for detecting them. This is exactly the ``wireless'' system which
Marconi ``discovered'' fourteen years later.
Edison, engaged by the Western Union
Telegraph Company to break the monopoly which Bell held by his
invention of the telephone, had succeeded, in 1885, in sending
a message from a moving train by ``wireless.'' A wire strung
on the train paralleling a telegraph wire strung on poles along
the track made it possible to bridge the intervening few feet
by an inductive eVect--the same eVect which causes annoyance
by creating ``cross talk,'' or a mixing of conversations over
two telephone circuits located close to each other. W. M. Preece,
in England, made a similar experiment about the same time. The
extremely short distances over which such systems worked prevented
them from having any practical usefulness.
An entirely diVerent type of wireless
communication had been developed by Alexander Graham Bell in
1880 and 1881. This was given the name radiophone, but Bell insisted
on calling it the photophone. The photophone transmitted the
voice over a beam of light. The transmitter consisted of a very
thin glass or mica mirror, which could be vibrated by the voice.
This reXected a beam of light, usually sunlight, to a distant
receiving device. The simple receiver consisted of a chemist's
test tube, into which a selected material was placed. The top
of the tube was closed by a cork through which two small rubber
tubes were inserted, the other ends being placed in the ears.
A very great variety of materials could be placed in the test
tube as detectors. When the beam of light, vibrated by the voice,
impinged on the material in the tube, an absorption of heat took
place which set the air in the tube in vibration, thus reproducing
the voice that was carried by the light beam. Bell also used
selenium as a detector. It responded to the visible rays and
produced an electrical eVect. The experiments, obviously, were
of little practical value as the basis for a system of wireless
Michael Faraday, in London, had described
in 1845 his theory of the relationship between light and the
electromagnetic lines of force; and in 1862 James Clerk Maxwell
published an analysis of Faraday's work which gave a mathematical
basis for the theory that light waves were electromagnetic in
nature, and that it was possible for such waves to exist very
much shorter and very much longer than the known wavelength of
visible light. This was a challenge to scientists to prove the
existence of such waves.
Prof. Heinrich Hertz, at Bonn, Germany,
from 1886 to 1888, undertook the search for the waves longer
than light or heat. He produced them by the spark discharge of
an induction coil and recaptured them from space, at short distances,
in the form of a tiny spark that jumped the gap in a slotted
ring of wire. Sir Oliver Lodge, in England, was simultaneously
seeking to measure equally small electrical waves in wire circuits.
This, then, had been the situation in
the scientiWc world when Tesla began his work in 1889. The plan
for wireless communication which he presented in 1892 and 1893,
as will be described in a moment, shows how his magniWcent concept
and tremendously advanced knowledge towered mountain high over
When Tesla left the Westinghouse plant
in the fall of 1889, he had immediately turned to the next phase
of his development of the alternating-current Weld--a new system
of distributing energy by means of high-frequency alternating
currents which would be a far more magniWcent discovery than
his polyphase system. Within the next two years he had explored
the principles by which energy could be distributed broadcast
without the use of wires, and these he had demonstrated with
powerful coils in his laboratory. The distribution of intelligence,
later called ``wireless,'' was but a single phase of the larger
Tesla described, in 1892, the Wrst electronic
tube designed for use as a detector in a radio system, and demonstrated
its characteristics in his lectures in London and Paris in February
and March of that year. (The tube, however, had been developed
in 1890.) He described in February and March of the following
year, 1893, his system of radio broadcasting, presenting its
principles in detail, in lectures before the Franklin Institute
in Philadelphia and at the convention of the National Electric
Light Association held in St. Louis.
Tesla's electronic tube, his 1890 invention,
was the ancestor of the detecting and amplifying tubes in use
today. His demonstration of this tube is a matter of record in
the archives of four societies before which he exhibited it in
February and March of 1892--the Institute of Electrical Engineers
and the Royal Society of London and the Physical Society of France
and the International Society of Electrical Engineers in Paris.
He stated in these lectures:
If there is any motion which is measurable
going on in space, such a brush ought to reveal it. It is, so
to speak, a beam of light, frictionless, devoid of inertia.
I think it may Wnd practical applications
in telegraphy. With such a brush it would be possible to send
dispatches across the Atlantic, for instance, with any speed,
since its sensitiveness may be so great the slightest changes
will aVect it.
The ``brush'' in Tesla's tube was a beam
of electrons. The electron, however, had not yet been discovered.
Nevertheless, Tesla gave an accurate description of its nature,
demonstrating the remarkable accuracy of his interpretation of
strange phenomena. So sensitive was this electronic beam that
a small horseshoe magnet an inch wide at a distance of six feet
caused movement of the electron beam in either direction, depending
on the position in which the magnet was held.
If anyone approached the tube from a
distance of many feet the beam, or brush, would swing to the
opposite side of the tube. If one walked around the tube even
at a distance of ten feet, the beam would move likewise, keeping
its center end always pointed at the moving object. The slightest
movement of a Wnger, or even the tensing of muscle, would bring
a swinging response from the beam.
In the same 1892 lecture in which he
described this Wrst electronic tube, Tesla demonstrated lamps
which were lighted without wire connections (wireless light)
and also a motor which operated without wire connections to the
energizing coils (wireless power); and he had again presented
these developments at his exhibition at the Chicago Columbian
Exposition early in 1893.
It was with all this experience behind
him, giving him full assurance that his system was entirely practical
and operative, that Tesla presented at the Franklin Institute
and at the convention of the National Electric Light Association
in February and March, 1893, a very cautious and conservative
statement concerning his plan. Even at these 1893 lectures, Tesla
could have staged a demonstration of wireless transmission of
intelligence by placing one of his resonant coils, surmounted
by one of his electronic ``brush'' tubes, or one of his low-pressure
air lamps, in the lecture hall and causing it to respond to signals
sent out by an energized coil of similar wavelength but located
at a considerable distance from the building. The experiment
was a standard procedure in his laboratory.
This, however, would be a purely local
eVect, whereas his radio transmission system was one planned
on a world-wide basis requiring much more powerful apparatus
than he had thus far built. To pass oV a purely local eVect as
a demonstration of a world-wide system, even though the observed
results would have been identical, would have been a case of
intellectual dishonesty to which Tesla would not stoop; yet this
demonstration of wireless would have been more spectacular and
powerful than any staged by any other inventor in more than a
half-dozen years following.
Describing his world-wide system at the
1893 National Electric Light Association meeting, he said:
In connection with resonance eVects and
the problems of transmission of energy over a single conductor,
which was previously considered, I would say a few words on a
subject which constantly Wlls my thoughts, and which concerns
the welfare of all. I mean the transmission of intelligible signals,
or, perhaps, even power, to any distance without the use of wires.
I am becoming more convinced of the practicability of the scheme;
and though I know full well that the great majority of scientiWc
men will not believe that such results can be practically and
immediately realized, yet I think that all consider the developments
in recent years by a number of workers to have been such as to
encourage thought and experiment in this direction. My conviction
has grown so strong that I no longer look upon the plan of energy
or intelligence transmission as a mere theoretical possibility,
but as a serious problem in electrical engineering, which must
be carried out some day.
The idea of transmitting intelligence
without wires is the natural outcome of the most recent results
of electrical investigations. Some enthusiasts have expressed
their belief that telephony to any distance by induction through
air is possible. I cannot stretch my imagination so far, but
I do Wrmly believe that it is practical to disturb, by means
of powerful machines, the electrostatic conditions of the earth,
and thus transmit intelligible signals, and, perhaps, power.
In fact, what is there against carrying out such a scheme?
We now know that electrical vibrations
may be transmitted through a single conductor. Why then not try
to avail ourselves of the earth for this purpose? We need not
be frightened by the idea of distance. To the weary wanderer
counting the mileposts, the earth may appear very large; but
to the happiest of all men, the astronomer, who gazes at the
heavens, and by their standards judges the magnitude of our globe,
it appears very small. And so I think it must seem to the electrician;
for when he considers the speed with which an electrical disturbance
is propagated through the earth, all his ideas of distance must
A point of great importance would be
Wrst to know what is the capacity of the earth, and what charge
does it contain if electriWed. Though we have no positive evidence
of a charged body existing in space without other oppositely
electriWed bodies being near, there is a fair probability that
the earth is such a body, for by whatever process it was separated--and
this is the accepted view of its origin--it must have retained
a charge, as occurs in all processes of mechanical separation.
. . .
If we can ever ascertain at what period
the earth's charge, when disturbed, oscillates, with respect
to an oppositely charged system or known circuit, we shall know
a fact possibly of the greatest importance to the welfare of
the human race. I propose to seek for the period by means of
an electrical oscillator or a source of alternating currents.
One of the terminals of this source would
be connected to the earth, as, for instance, to the city water
mains, the other to an insulated body of large surface. It is
possible that the outer conducting air strata or free space contains
an opposite charge, and that, together with the earth, they form
a condenser of large capacity. In such case the period of vibration
may be very low and an alternating dynamo machine might serve
for the purpose of the experiment. I would then transform the
current to a potential as high as it would be found possible,
and connect the ends of the high tension secondary to the ground
and to the insulated body. By varying the frequency of the currents
and carefully observing the potential of the insulated body,
and watching for the disturbance at various neighboring points
of the earth's surface, resonance might be detected.
Should, as the majority of scientiWc
men in all probability believe, the period be extremely small,
then a dynamo machine would not do, and a proper electrical oscillator
would have to be produced, and perhaps it might not be possible
to obtain such rapid vibrations. But whether this be possible
or not, and whether the earth contains a charge or not, and whatever
may be its period of vibration, it is certainly possible--for
of this we have daily evidence--to produce some electrical disturbance
suYciently powerful to be perceptible by suitable instruments
at any point on the earth's surface. . . .
Theoretically, then, it could not require
a great amount of energy to produce a disturbance perceptible
at a great distance, or even all over the surface of the globe.
Now, it is quite certain that at any point within a certain radius
of the sources, a properly adjusted self induction and capacity
device can be set in action by resonance. But not only this can
be done, but another source, s 1, similar to s, or any number
of such sources, can be set to work in synchronism with the latter,
and the vibration thus intensiWed and spread over a large area,
or a Xow of electricity produced to or from source s 1, if the
same or of opposite phase to the source s.
I think that, beyond doubt, it is possible
to operate electrical devices in a city, through the ground or
pipe system, by resonance from an electrical oscillator located
at a central point. But the practical solution of this problem
would be of incomparably smaller beneWt to man than the realization
of the scheme of transmitting intelligence, or, perhaps, power,
to any distance through the earth or environing medium. If this
is at all possible, distance does not mean anything. Proper apparatus
must Wrst be produced, by means of which the problem can be attacked,
and I have devoted much thought to this subject. I am Wrmly convinced
it can be done, and I hope we shall live to see it done.
The lecture before the Franklin Institute
contained a similar statement. An additional paragraph from it
can be quoted:
If by means of powerful machinery, rapid
variations of the earth's potential were produced, a grounded
wire reaching up to some height would be traversed by a current
which could be increased by connecting the free end of the wire
to a body of some size. . . . The experiment, which would be
of great scientiWc interest, would probably best succeed on a
ship at sea. In this manner, even if it were not possible to
operate machinery, intelligence might be transmitted quite certainly.
Tesla thus presented in these lectures
the principles which he had learned in his laboratory experiments,
during the previous three years, were necessary for successful
Several fundamental requirements were
presented which will be understood by any non-technical person
who has had even slight experience with radio receiving sets:
1. An antenna, or ærial wire; 2. A ground connection; 3.
An ærial-ground circuit containing inductance and capacity;
4. Adjustable inductance and capacity (for tuning); 5. Sending
and receiving sets tuned to resonance with each other; and 6.
Electronic tube detectors. He had still earlier invented a loud
These embody the fundamental principles
of radio, and are used in every sending and receiving set today.
Radio as it exists today is, therefore,
the product of the genius of Nikola Tesla. He is the original
inventor of the system as a whole and of all the principal electrical
components. The man who, next to Tesla, is entitled to the greatest
amount of credit is Sir Oliver Lodge, the great English scientist.
Even Lodge, however, failed to grasp the fundamental picture
that Tesla presented.
Lodge, early in 1894, had put a Hertz
spark gap in a copper cylinder open at one end; and in this way
he produced a beam of ultra-short-wave oscillations which could
be transmitted in any direction. He did the same for the receiving
set. Since the incoming waves could be received from only one
direction, this receiving set was able to locate the direction
from which the transmitted waves came. With this set he completely
anticipated Marconi by two years. In the summer of that year,
in a demonstration before the British Association for the Advancement
of Science at Oxford, he sent Morse signals, with an improved
set, between two buildings separated by several hundred feet.
It is little wonder, then, that Marconi,
who started his studies of wireless in 1895, created no stir
in the scientiWc circles in England when he came from Italy to
London in 1896 with a wireless set that in every essential feature
was the same as that demonstrated by Lodge in 1894. He used a
parabolic reXector, so his set was little more than an electrical
searchlight. He did, however, bring an alternative feature to
replace the parabolic beam reXector. This was a ground connection
and antenna, or ærial wire, for both sending and receiving
set. This was exactly what Tesla had described in his plan published
three years before.
When Hertz made his experiments to demonstrate
the identical nature of light and longer electromagnetic waves,
he intentionally sought to use the shortest waves it was practicable
to produce. They were measured in inches--much less than a yard
long. They were entirely satisfactory for his experiment. When
the wireless experimenters copied his methods they took over
the short-wave plan without ever asking a question as to what
wavelength should be used for wireless communication; the thought
seems not to have dawned on them that there were other wavelengths
that could be produced and used--all except Tesla.
Tesla took the trouble, with the spirit
of a real scientist to repeat exactly the experiments of Hertz;
and he published his results, stating that he found a number
of important diVerences and calling attention to the inadequacies
of Hertz's experimental methods.
Having experimented with a wide gamut
of wavelengths of high-frequency currents and studied the properties
of each section of the spectrum, he knew that the short wavelengths
were totally unsuitable for communication purposes. He knew that
the useful wavelengths ranged from 100 meters to many thousands
of meters. He knew that the combination of induction coil and
Hertz ball-type spark-gap oscillator could never have any practical
usefulness in producing the kind of electrical pulsations required.
Even with the highly eYcient apparatus available today, scientists
have been unable to use in communication (except for special
purposes) the ultra-short waves which Tesla in his wisdom condemned
and Marconi, owing to his inexperience, tried to use.
The history of the succeeding years in
wireless is the story of the failure of the short waves of Lodge
and Marconi and their followers, and the shifting over to the
longer waves described by Tesla; and the dropping of their crash
method of signaling and its replacement by the reWned and highly
eYcient method of tuning to each other the sending and receiving
stations by the methods discovered by Tesla; and adoption of
Tesla's continuous waves.
In addition, these groping workers saw
in wireless only a point-to-point or station-to-station method
of signaling. None of them foresaw the broadcasting system which
Tesla described in 1893. The system invented and discovered by
Tesla is the one in use today; but who ever heard anyone giving
Tesla the slightest credit?
TESLA was proliWc in opening up vast
new empires of knowledge. He showered his discoveries on the
world at such a rapid rate and in such a nonchalant manner that
he seems to have benumbed the minds of the scientists of his
age. He was too busy to spend time developing the technical or
commercial applications of each new discovery--there were too
many other new and important revelations within his vision that
must be brought to light. Discoveries were not happenstance events
to him. He visualized them far in advance of their unfolding
in the laboratory. He had a deWnite program of pioneering research
in virgin Welds of investigation; and when this was accomplished
he would, he felt, have a long lifetime still ahead of him in
which he could return to the practical utilization of those already
Meanwhile, he had found a whole new world
of interesting eVects in the discharges produced by his coils
when energized with the currents of extremely high frequency.
He built larger and larger coils and experimented with a variety
of shapes as constructions. From the common cylindrical type
of coil he developed the cone-shaped coil, and this development
he carried still further by designing the Xat helix, or pancake-shaped
The extremely high-frequency currents
furnished a mathematical paradise in which Tesla could develop
his equations to his heart's content. Through his mathematical
abilities and his strange power of visualization he could frequently
make, very quickly, whole series of discoveries that it took
a long time to catch up with in actual laboratory constructions.
This was true of the phenomena of resonance, or tuned circuits.
Because of their relatively short wavelength,
it was comparatively easy to build condensers for tuning the
circuits. When a circuit is tuned the electric current that Xows
in it oscillates rhythmically, just as does a musical string
which, when struck or plucked, vibrates and builds up loops of
even lengths with motionless points between them. There may be
only one of these loops, or there can be many.
Tesla did not invent the idea of electrical
resonance. It was inherent in the mathematical description of
the condenser discharge as developed by Lord Kelvin, and in the
physical nature of alternating currents; but Tesla changed it
from a buried mathematical equation to sparking physical reality.
It is the analogy of acoustical resonance which is a natural
property of matter. However, there were no practical circuits
in which resonance could manifest itself until Tesla developed
alternating currents, particularly the high-frequency currents.
He put the master's touch to the research in this Weld by developing
the principle of resonance in individual circuits through adjustment
of capacity and inductance; the ampliWcation of eVects by inductive
coupling of two tuned circuits, and the peculiar manifestations
of resonance in a circuit tuned to a quarter of the wavelength
of the energizing current. This latter development was a stroke
of pure genius.
In the vibrating string, two loops measure
a complete wavelength and one loop measures half a wavelength,
since one of the loops is up when the other is down. Between
the two loops is a nodal point which does not move. From the
nodal point to the top of a loop is a quarter wavelength. Taking
the quarter wavelength as a unit, one end is motionless and the
other end swings through the greatest amplitude of vibration.
By tuning his coils to quarter wavelengths,
one end of the coil, Tesla found, would be entirely inactive
while the other end would swing through tremendous electrical
activity. Here was a unique situation, one end of a small coil
inert and the other end spouting a Xood of sparks of hundreds
of thousands or even millions of volts. In a physical analogy
it seemed like the Niagara River reaching the edge of the precipice--and
then its waters shooting mountain high in a gigantic fountain
instead of falling into the chasm.
The quarter-wavelength coil is the electrical
counterpart of the vibrating tine of the tuning fork, the ordinary
clock pendulum, or the vibrating reed. Once accomplished, it
was a simple thing--but its discovery was a work of genius. It
was a development that could have come with certainty to a master
mind working on broad principles, as Tesla was doing all his
life, and only by the most improbable chance to those who without
illumination were tinkering with gadgets and hoping to stumble
on something out of which they could make a fortune.
A high-voltage coil with one dead end
greatly simpliWed many problems. One of Tesla's big problems
had been the Wnding of means to insulate the high-voltage secondary
coil of transformers from the low-voltage primary which energized
it. Tesla's discovery eliminated the voltage entirely from one
end of the secondary so it could be connected directly to the
primary or to the ground, while the other end continued to spout
its lightning. It was for utilizing this situation that he developed
the conical and pancake-shaped coils.
Tesla's laboratory was Wlled with a variety
of coils. He discovered early in his researches that while operating
a coil of a given wavelength, other coils in the laboratory,
tuned either to this wavelength or one of its harmonics, would
respond sympathetically by spouting a crown of sparks although
not connected in any way to the operating coil.
Here was an example of transmission of
energy to a distance through space. It was not necessary for
Tesla to make a series of experiments to understand the implications
of this situation. He was never lost in a new territory which
he opened. His mind rose to such heights of understanding that
he could survey a revealed world in a glance.
Tesla planned a spectacular demonstration
of the new principle. He had his workmen string a wire on insulating
supports on all four walls near the ceiling of the largest room
in his laboratory. The wire was connected to one of his oscillators.
It was late at night when the installation
was ready for the experiment. In order to make the test, Tesla
prepared two tubes of glass about three feet long and a half-inch
in diameter. He sealed one end of each, slightly evacuated the
air from the tubes and then sealed the other ends.
Tesla told the workmen he wanted the
room completely darkened for the test, all lights out; and when
he gave the signal he wanted the switch of his oscillator closed.
``If my theory is correct,'' he explained, ``when you close the
switch these tubes will become swords of Wre.''
Walking to the middle of the room Tesla
gave orders to turn out all lights. The laboratory was in pitch
darkness. A workman stood with his hand on the switch of the
``Now!'' shouted Tesla.
Instantly the great room was Xooded with
brilliant but weird blue-white light and the workmen beheld the
tall, slim Wgure of Tesla in the middle of the room waving vigorously
what looked like two Xaming swords. The two glass tubes glowed
with an unearthly radiance, and he would parry and thrust with
them as if he were in a double fencing match.
To the workmen in the laboratory, it
was a common experience for Tesla to perform spectacular feats;
but this went beyond all limits. He had previously lighted his
electric vacuum lamps but they were always connected to coils
that supplied them with electricity. Now they lighted without
being connected to any source of electricity.
This demonstration, made in 1890, led
to Tesla's adopting the technique as the permanent method of
lighting his laboratories. The loop around the ceiling was always
energized; and if anyone wished a light at any position, it was
only necessary to take a glass tube and place it in any convenient
When tesla undertook the development
of a new kind of electric light, he went to the sun for his model.
He saw in the photo- sphere, or outer gaseous layer of the sun,
light being created by the vibration of molecules. That was the
theory then prevalent; and he sought to use the same method.
In the tremendous burst of revelation
which he received in the park at Budapest as he gazed into the
Xaming orb of the setting sun, there had Xashed into his mind,
as we have seen, not only the marvelous invention of the rotary
magnetic Weld and the many uses of multiple alternating currents,
but also the grand generalization that everything in Nature operated
on the principle of vibrations that corresponded to alternating
currents. The host of inventions and discoveries which he made
in all succeeding years had their roots, too, in that sublime
In the sun, it was believed, light was
created when the molecules were vibrated by heat. Tesla sought
to improve on this method by vibrating the molecules by electrical
forces. The sparks and electrical Xames created by his high-voltage
coils were associated, he believed, with molecular vibrations
in the air. If he could bottle the gases of the air and set them
in vibration electrically, they should produce light without
heat, since the energy was supplied by cold electric currents.
Sir William Crookes, who, long before
Edison, produced an incandescent electric light by sealing an
electrically heated wire in a vacuum tube, had carried out an
extended series of experiments in conducting electricity through
the gases in glass vessels under a variety of conditions ranging
from atmospheric pressure to the highest vacuum obtainable, and
had produced some strange eVects. Crookes used the high-voltage
current produced by the old-fashioned induction coil.
Tesla expected that when he bottled the
strange eVects he had observed with his currents of extremely
high frequency, he would produce manifestations radically diVerent
from those found by Crookes, or Geissler, who also worked in
this Weld. In this he was not disappointed.
Four types of an entirely new kind of
electric light were produced by Tesla, using electrically activated
molecules of gas: 1. Tubes in which a solid body was rendered
incandescent; 2. Tubes in which phosphorescent and Xuorescent
materials were caused to luminesce; 3. Tubes in which rareWed
gases became luminous, and 4. Tubes in which luminosity was produced
in gases at ordinary pressures.
Like Crookes, Tesla passed his high-frequency
currents through gases at all pressures, from lowest-pressure
vacuum to normal atmospheric pressure, and obtained brilliant
luminous eVects exceeding anything previously attained. He substituted
for air in his tubes other gases, including mercury vapor, and
observed the peculiar color and other eVects they yielded.
Noting the variety of colors the various
gases, and even air, showed under diVerent pressures, Tesla suspected
that not all of the energy radiated was given oV as visible light,
but that some of it emanated as black light. Testing this hypothesis,
he placed sulphide of zinc and other phosphorescent and Xuorescent
materials in his tubes and caused them to glow. In these experiments
(they were made in 1889) Tesla laid the foundation for our most
recently developed type of highly eYcient lamps used in Xuorescent
lighting which are generally believed to have been invented in
recent years. This system of utilizing the wasted ultra-violet
or invisible black light by changing it to visible light by means
of phosphorescent substances is Tesla's invention. Roentgen was
using similar tubes, but of plain glass and the Xuorescent substance
on a table in his laboratory when, a half-dozen years later,
he discovered X-rays. Tesla invented, also, the neon-tube type
of lamp, and even bent his tubes to form letters and geometrical
shapes, as is done in neon-tube signs. This is true in spite
of some antecedent and concurrent laboratory experiments by Crookes
and J. J. Thompson, neither of whom developed any lamps or practical
Tesla had discovered early in 1890 that
his high-frequency currents had properties so diVerent from the
ordinary induction-coil, or spark-coil, currents, that he was
able to light his tubes just as well, and sometimes even better,
with only one wire connecting them with the high-tension transformer,
the return circuit being eVected wirelessly through space.
In working with types of lamps consisting
of tubes in the center of which there was a conducting wire,
and with the tube Wlled with air under a partial vacuum, Tesla
discovered that the gas would serve as a better conductor of
the high-frequency current than the wire. From this observation
he was able to develop many spectacular experiments which appeared
to violate the most fundamental laws of electricity. He was able
to short circuit lamps and other apparatus with heavy bars of
metal which, with ordinary currents, would completely deprive
the devices of electricity so they would be unable to operate.
However, with his high-frequency currents, the lamps would light
and the devices operate just as if the short-circuiting bar were
One of his startling experiments consisted
of placing a long glass tube partially evacuated of its air inside
a slightly longer copper tube with a closed end. A slit was cut
in the copper tube in its central section so the tube inside
would be seen. When the copper tube was connected in the high-frequency
circuit, the air in the tube was brilliantly illuminated; but
no evidence could be found of any current Xowing through the
short-circuiting copper shell. The electricity preferred to pass
through the glass tube, by induction, to the enclosed partially
evacuated air, pass through the low-pressure air for the full
length of the tube, and then pass out the other end by induction,
rather than traverse the complete metal path in the surrounding
We have then, [said Tesla], as far as
we can now see, in the gas a conductor which is capable of transmitting
electric impulses of any frequency which we may be able to produce.
Could the frequency be brought high enough, then a queer system
of distribution, which would be likely to interest gas companies,
might be realized; metal pipes Wlled with gas--the metal being
the insulator and the gas the conductor--supplying phosphorescent
bulbs, or perhaps devices not yet invented.
This remarkable conductivity of gases,
including the air, at low pressures, later led Tesla to suggest,
in a published statement in 1914, a system of lighting on a terrestrial
scale in which he proposed to treat the whole earth, with its
surrounding atmosphere, as if it were a single lamp.
The atmosphere is under the greatest
pressure at the surface of the earth, owing to the weight of
the overlying air. As we go higher in the air there are increasing
amounts below us and less above, so, the greater the elevation,
the lower is the pressure of the air.
At higher altitudes the gases in the
atmosphere are in the same condition as the air in the partially
evacuated tubes he prepared in his laboratory, Tesla explained,
and therefore it would serve as an excellent conductor of high-frequency
currents. The aurora borealis is a natural example of the eVect
Tesla sought, and it is produced by Nature as Tesla planned;
but this was not known when he evolved his idea.
The Xow of a suYcient amount of the electricity
in the right form through the upper regions of the atmosphere
would cause the air to become luminous. The whole earth would
be transformed into a giant lamp, with the night sky completely
illuminated. It would be unnecessary, he pointed out, to use
any lamps along streets, roads or other outdoor areas, except
during periods in which storms or low clouds prevailed. Ocean
travel would be made safer and more pleasant, for the sky over
the whole ocean would be illuminated, making the night as bright
The methods by which Tesla intended to
conduct his high-frequency currents to the upper air have not
been published. When he outlined the project, he stated that
the plan did not present any diYculties that could not be handled
in a practical way. This meant that he had deWnite means for
accomplishing his purpose.
The air, he stated, possesses a high
degree of conductivity for high-frequency currents at an altitude
of 35,000 feet, but could be used eVectively at lower altitudes.
The accuracy of Tesla's prediction with respect to the conductivity
of the upper air is attested by one of the problems encountered
today in the operation of airplanes at altitudes even lower than
25,000 feet. The ignition system, carrying high-voltage currents
to the spark plugs in the airplane engines, which explodes the
gas in the cylinders, has been giving trouble at the higher altitudes
because the electricity escapes with a great deal of freedom
into the surrounding air. At lower altitudes the air is an excellent
insulator, especially for direct current and low-frequency currents,
but, as Tesla discovered, at the higher altitudes where low pressures
prevail it becomes an excellent conductor for the high-frequency
currents. The wires leading to spark plugs become surrounded
by a corona, or electrical halo, which indicates the escape of
the current. This interferes with the eYciency, if it does not
entirely prevent the operation, of devices employing high-frequency
or high-potential currents, such as radio apparatus. (Since Tesla
discovered that metal wires and rods which act as excellent conductors
for direct and low-frequency currents can act as excellent insulators
for his high-frequency currents, it is obvious that the common
suggestion made for delivering a current to the upper air by
means of metal cables suspended from balloons is entirely impractical.)
This proposal by Tesla to transform the
earth into a giant lamp was again referred to by him in the twenties.
At this time he was without funds for carrying on experimental
work, and, as he never announced details until after he had tested
them in practice, he withheld a disclosure of his methods. He
was hopeful, however, that he would soon secure money enough
to permit him to test his plan.
The author bombarded Tesla with questions
in an eVort to learn the general plan he had in mind. Tesla was
``If I should answer three more of your
questions you would know as much about my plan as I do,'' he
``Nevertheless, Dr. Tesla,'' I replied,
``I am going to outline in my article the only plan that appears
to me to be feasible under our known physical laws, and you can
deny or aYrm it. Your molecular bombardment tubes are proliWc
producers of ultra-violet and X-rays and could produce a powerful
beam of this radiation which would ionize the air through great
distances. When these rays pass through the air they ionize it,
making it a good conductor of electricity of all kinds at suYciently
high voltages. By producing such a beam on a high mountain and
directing it upward this would provide a conducting path through
the air to any height desired. You could then send your high-frequency
currents to the upper air without leaving the ground.''
``If you publish that,'' said Tesla,
``it must appear as your plan, not mine.''
The article was published with the foregoing
speculation in it; but neither aYrmation nor denial was forthcoming
from the inventor, and nothing more can be said in its favor.
Tesla may have had a simpler and more practical plan in mind.
(Since completing this volume the author has learned that Tesla
planned to install a bank of powerful ultra-violet lamps on top
of his tower at WardencliV (cf. p. 207), and had the upper Platform
designed to receive them.)
There was one other plan which Tesla
discussed on a number of occasions when considering terrestrial
electrical conditions, and which he may have had in mind in this
connection. He pointed out that the earth is a good conductor
of electricity and the upper air is also a good conductor, while
the intervening lower stratum of air is an insulator for many
kinds of current. This combination provides what is known as
a condenser, a device which will store and discharge electricity.
By charging the earth, the upper air would become charged by
induction. When our spinning earth was so transformed into a
terrestrial Leyden jar, it could be alternately charged and discharged,
so that a current would Xow both in the upper air and in the
ground, producing the electrical Xow which would cause the upper
air to become self-luminous. Tesla, however, never became quite
so speciWc in applying the condenser plan to this problem as
the preceding sentence indicates. His plan may still exist in
his papers, which, at the present writing, are sealed against
inspection except by Government oYcials.
Out of the almost empty space in a six-inch
vacuum tube Tesla
succeeded in extracting at least Wve
epoch-making discoveries. Tesla's lamp was more proliWc in producing
wonders than the Aladdin's lamp of the Arabian Nights. He gave
his ``magic'' lamp to science Wfty years ago. This magic talisman
was Tesla's carbon-button lamp which, apart from the other discoveries
that came of it, was in itself, just as a lamp, a brilliant scientific
discovery--and still remains unused. Edison developed the practical
incandescent Wlament electric lamp and was entitled to, and receives,
a tremendous amount of credit for his accomplishment. Tesla invented
an absolutely original type of lamp, the incandescent-button
lamp, which gives twenty times as much light for the same amount
of current consumed; and his contribution remains practically
The carbon-button type of lamp was described
by Tesla in his lecture before the American Institute of Engineers
in New York in May, 1891, and further developments were presented
in the lectures which he gave in England and France in February
and March, 1892. In his New York lecture he said:
Electrostatic eVects are in many ways
available for the production of light. For instance, we may place
a body of some refractory material in a closed, and preferably
in a more or less air exhausted, globe, connect it to a source
of high, rapidly alternating potential, causing the molecules
of the gas to strike it many times a second at enormous speeds,
and in this way, with trillions of invisible hammers, pound it
until it gets incandescent. Or we may place a body in a very
highly exhausted globe, and by employing very high frequencies
and potentials maintain it at any desired degree of incandescence.
He made a vast number of experiments
with this carbon-button lamp and gave a description of the most
signiWcant ones in his lecture before the English and French
scientiWc societies in the spring of 1892. It was, however, only
one of the many new types of lamps and other important developments
which he included in this spectacular presentation of his work.
The carbon-button lamps were of very
simple construction. Basically they consisted of a spherical
glass globe three to six inches in diameter, in the center of
which was a piece of solid refractory material mounted on the
end of a wire which protruded through the globe and served as
a single-wire connection with the source of high-frequency currents.
The globe contained rareWed air.
When the high-frequency current was connected
with the lamp, molecules of the air in the globe, coming in contact
with the central button, became charged and were repelled at
high velocity to the glass globe where they lost their charge
and were then repelled back at equally high velocity, striking
the button. Millions of millions of such processes each second
caused the button to become heated to incandescence.
In these simple glass globes Tesla was
able to produce extremely high temperatures, the upper limit
of which seemed to be determined by the amount of current used.
He was able to vaporize carbon directly into a gas, observing
that the liquid state was so unstable it could not exist. Zirconia,
the most heat-resistant substance known, could be melted instantly.
He tried diamonds and rubies as buttons--and they too were vaporized.
When using the device as a lamp it was not his desire to melt
the substances; but he always carried experiments to their upper
and lower limits. Carborundum, he observed, was so refractory
that it was possible when using buttons made of this material
(calcium carbide) to run the lamps at higher current densities
than was possible with other substances. Carborundum did not
vaporize so readily, nor did it make deposits on the inside of
Tesla thus evolved a technique in operating
the lamps whereby the incandescent button transferred its heat
energy to the molecules of the very small amount of gas in the
tube so that they became a source of light, thus causing the
lamps to function like the sun, the button being the massive
body of the sun and the surrounding gas like the photosphere,
or atmospheric light-emitting layer, of that body.
Tesla had a keen sense of dramatic values,
but quite apart from this he undoubtedly enjoyed a unique satisfaction
when he was able to light this miniature sun in the currents
that he passed through his body--high-frequency currents of hundreds
of thousands of volts. With one hand grasping a terminal of his
high-frequency transformer and the other holding aloft this bulb
containing an incandescent miniature sun which he had created--posing
like the Statue of Liberty--he was able to make his new lamp
radiate its brilliant illumination. Here, you might say, was
the superman manifesting his ultramundane accomplishments. In
addition, there was a satisfaction which was associated purely
with the plane of ordinary mortals. Edison had laughed at his
plan for developing the alternating-current system, and had declared
that these currents were not only useless but deadly. Surely,
this was an adequate answer; Tesla would let Nature make his
Observing this working model of the incandescent
sun which he could hold in his hand, Tesla was quick to see many
of the implications of its phenomena. Every electrical wave that
surged through the tiny central bead caused a shower of particles
to radiate from it at tremendous velocity and strike the surrounding
glass globe, only to be reXected back to the bead. The sun, Tesla
reasoned, is an incandescent body that carries a high electrical
charge and it, too, will emit vast showers of tiny particles,
each carrying great energy because of its extremely high velocity.
In the case of the sun, and other stars like it, there was no
glass globe to act as a barrier, so the showers of particles
continued out into the vast realms of surrounding space.
All space was Wlled with these particles
and they were continually bombarding the earth, blasting matter
wherever they struck, just as they did in his globes. He had
seen this process take place in his globes, where the most refractory
carbon beads could be shattered into atomic dust by the bombardment
of the electriWed particles.
He sought to detect these particles striking
the earth: one of the manifestations of this bombardment, he
declared, was the aurora borealis. The records of the experimental
methods by which he detected these rays are not available; but
he published an announcement that he had detected them, measured
their energy, and found that they moved with tremendously high
velocities imparted to them by the hundreds of millions of volts
potential of the sun.
Neither the scientists nor the general
public in the early nineties were in a mood for such fantastic
Wgures, or for any claim that the earth was bombarded by such
destructive rays. It would be describing the situation in very
conservative fashion to state that Tesla's report was not taken
When, however, the French physicist,
Henri Becquerel, in 1896, discovered the mysterious rays emitted
by uranium, and subsequent investigations, culminating with the
discovery by Pierre and Marie Curie, in Paris, of radium, whose
atoms were exploding spontaneously without apparent cause, Tesla
was able to point to his cosmic rays as the simple cause of the
radioactivity of radium, thorium, uranium and other substances.
And he predicted that other substances would also be found to
be made radioactive by bombardment with these rays. The victory
for Tesla, however, was only temporary, for the scientiWc world
did not accept his theory. Nevertheless, Tesla was a better prophet
than he knew, or anyone else suspected.
Thirty years later Dr. Robert A. Millikan
rediscovered these rays, believing them to be vibratory in character
like light, and was followed by Dr. Arthur H. Compton, who proved
the existence of cosmic rays consisting of high-velocity particles
of matter, just as Tesla described them. They started by Wnding
energies of ten million volts; and today the energies are far
up in the billions and even trillions of electron volts. And
these and other investigators describe these rays as shattering
atoms of matter producing showers of débris--just as Tesla
In 1934, Frederick Joliot, son-in-law
of the Curies, discovered that artiWcial radioactivity was produced
in ordinary materials by bombarding them with particles in just
the manner which Tesla described. Joliot received the Nobel Prize
for his discovery; no one gives any credit to Tesla.
Tesla's molecular-bombardment lamp was
the ancestor of another very modern development--the atom-smashing
cyclotron. The cyclotron, developed by E. O. Lawrence, of the
University of California, during the past twenty years, is a
device in which electriWed particles are whirled in a magnetic
Weld in a circular chamber until they reach a very high velocity,
and are then led out of the chamber in a narrow stream. The giant
machine, with a magnet as high as a house, partially completed
at present writing, will emit so powerful a beam of charged particles
that, according to Prof. Lawrence, if allowed to impinge on a
building brick they will totally disintegrate it. The smaller
models were used to bombard a variety of substances to render
them radioactive, to disintegrate them or transmute their atoms
into those of other elements.
The small glass globe, six inches or
less in diameter, holding Tesla's molecular-bombardment lamp
produced exactly this same disintegrating eVect on solid matter,
probably with a more intensiWed eVect than any atom-smashing
cyclotron now in existence despite their tremendous size. (Even
small ones weigh twenty tons.)
In describing one of the experiments
with his lamp, one in which a ruby was mounted in a carbon button,
It was found, among other things, that
in such cases, no matter where the bombardment began, just as
soon as a high temperature was reached there was generally one
of the bodies which seemed to take most of the bombardment upon
itself, the other, or others, being thereby relieved. This quality
appeared to depend principally on the point of fusion, and on
the facility with which the body was ``evaporated,'' or, generally
speaking, disintegrated--meaning by the latter term not only
the throwing oV of atoms, but likewise of larger lumps. The observation
made was in accordance with generally accepted notions. In a
highly exhausted bulb electricity is carried oV from the electrode
by independent carriers, which are partly atoms, or molecules,
of the residual atmosphere, and partly the atoms, molecules,
or lumps thrown oV from the electrode. If the electrode is composed
of bodies of diVerent character, and if one of these is more
easily disintegrated than the others, most of the electricity
supplied is carried oV from that body, which is then brought
to a higher temperature than the others, and this the more, as
upon an increase of the temperature the body is still more easily
Substances which resisted melting in
temperatures attainable in laboratory furnaces of that day were
easily disintegrated in Tesla's simple-lamp disintegrator, which
provided a powerful beam of disintegrating particles by having
them concentrated from all directions by a spherical reXector
(the globe of his lamp), a kind a three-dimension burning glass,
but operating with electriWed particles instead of heat rays.
It accomplished the same eVect as the heavy atom disintegrators
of today, but much more eYciently in a globe so light in weight
it almost Xoated oV in air. Its simplicity and eYciency is further
increased by the fact that it causes the substance that is being
disintegrated to supply the particles by which the disintegration
There is one more very modern discovery
of great importance embodied in Tesla's molecular-bombardment
lamp--the point electron miscroscope, which provides magniWcations
of a million diameters, or ten to twenty times more powerful
than the better known electron microscope which in turn is capable
of magniWcations up to Wfty times greater than the optical microscope.
In the point electron microscope, electriWed
particles shoot out in straight lines from a tiny active spot
on a piece of substance kept at a high potential, and reproduce
on the spherical surface of a glass globe the pattern of the
microscopically small area from which the particles are issuing.
The size of the glass sphere furnishes the only limit to the
degree of magniWcation that can be obtained; the greater the
radius, the greater the magniWcation. Since electrons are smaller
than light waves, objects too small to be seen by light waves
can be tremendously enlarged by the patterns produced by the
Tesla produced on the surface of the
spherical globe of his lamp phosphorescent images of what was
taking place on the disintegrating button when he used extremely
high vacuum. He described this eVect in his lectures in the spring
of 1892, and his description will stand with hardly a change
in a word for a description of the million-magniWcation point
electron microscope. Quoting from his lecture:
To the eye the electrode appears uniformly
brilliant, but there are upon it points constantly shifting and
wandering about, of a temperature far above the mean, and this
materially hastens the process of deterioration. . . . Exhaust
a bulb to a very high degree, so that with a fairly high potential
the discharge cannot pass--that is, not a luminous one, for a
weak invisible discharge occurs always, in all probability. Now
raise slowly and carefully the potential, leaving the primary
current no more than for an instant. At a certain point, two,
three or half a dozen phosphorescent spots will appear on the
globe. These places of the glass are evidently more violently
bombarded than the others, this being due to the unevenly distributed
electric density, necessitated, of course, by sharp projections,
or, generally speaking, irregularities of the electrode. But
the luminous patches are constantly changing in position, which
is especially well observed if one manages to produce very few,
and this indicates that the conWguration of the electrode is
It would be an act of simple justice
if in the future scientists would extend credit to Tesla for
being the one who discovered the electron microscope. There is
no reduction in the glory due him because he did not speciWcally
describe the electron, then unknown, in its operations, but assumed
the eVect was due to electrically charged atoms.
When Tesla studied the performance of
various models of this and his other gaseous lamps, he observed
that the output of visible light changed under various operating
conditions. He knew they gave oV both visible and invisible rays.
He used a variety of phosphorescent and Xuorescent substances
for detecting the ultra-violet or black light. Usually, the changes
in the visible and ultra-violet light about balanced each other;
as one increased the other decreased, with the remainder of the
energy accounted for by heat losses. In his molecular-bombardment
lamp he found, he reported in his 1892 lectures, ``visible black
light and a very special radiation.'' He was experimenting with
this radiation which, he reported, produced shadowgraph pictures
on plates in metal containers, in his laboratory when it was
destroyed by Wre in March, 1895.
This ``very special radiation'' was not
further described at that time in published articles; but when
Prof. Wilhelm Konrad Roentgen, in Germany, in December, 1895,
announced the discovery of X-rays, Tesla was able immediately
to reproduce the same results by means of his ``very special
radiation,'' indicating that these and X-rays had very similar
properties although produced in somewhat diVerent ways. Immediately
upon reading Roentgen's announcement, Tesla forwarded to the
German scientist shadowgraph pictures produced by his ``very
special radiation.'' Roentgen replied: ``The pictures are very
interesting. If you would only be so kind as to disclose the
manner in which you obtained them.''
Tesla did not consider that this situation
gave him any priority in the discovery of X-rays, nor did he
ever advance any claims; but he immediately started an extensive
series of investigations into their nature. While others were
trying to coax out of the type of tube used by Roentgen enough
X-rays to take shadow photographs through such thin structures
as the hands and feet held very close to the bulb, Tesla was
taking photographs through the skull at a distance of forty feet
from the tube. He elsewhere described at this time an unidentiWed
type of radiation coming from a spark gap, when a heavy current
was passed, that was not a transverse wave like light, or Hertzian
waves, and could not be stopped by interposing metal plates.
Tesla, thus, in one lecture reporting
his investigations covering a period of two years, oVered to
the world--in addition to his new electric vacuum lamps, his
highly eYcient incandescent lamp, and his high-frequency and
high-potential currents and apparatus--at least Wve outstanding
scientiWc discoveries: 1. Cosmic rays; 2. ArtiWcial radioactivity;
3. Disintegrating beam of electriWed particles, or atom smasher;
4. Electron microscope; and 5. ``Very special radiation'' (X-rays).
At least four of these innovations, when
``rediscovered'' up to forty years later, won Nobel Prizes for
others; and Tesla's name is never mentioned in connection with
Yet Tesla's lifetime work was hardly
TESLA had a remarkable ability for carrying
on simultaneously a number of widely diVerent lines of scientiWc
research. While pursuing his studies of high-frequency electrical
oscillations with all of their ramiWcations from vacuum lamps
to radio, he was also investigating mechanical vibrations; and
he had a rare foresight into the many useful applications to
which they could be put, and which have since been realized.
Tesla never did things by halves. Almost
everything he attempted went oV like a Xash of lightning with
a very satisfactory resounding clap of thunder following. Even
when he did not so plan events, they appeared to fashion themselves
into spectacular climaxes. In 1896 while his fame was still on
the ascendant he planned a nice quiet little vibration experiment
in his Houston Street laboratory. Since he had moved into these
quarters in 1895, the place had established a reputation for
itself because of the peculiar noises and lights that emanated
from it at all hours of the day and night, and because it was
constantly being visited by the most famous people in the country.
The quiet little vibration experiment
produced an earthquake, a real earthquake in which people and
buildings and everything in them got a more tremendous shaking
than they did in any of the natural earthquakes that have visited
the metropolis. In an area of a dozen square city blocks, occupied
by hundreds of buildings housing tens of thousands of persons,
there was a sudden roaring and shaking, shattering of panes of
glass, breaking of steam, gas and water pipes. Pandemonium reigned
as small objects danced around rooms, plaster descended from
walls and ceilings, and pieces of machinery weighing tons were
moved from their bolted anchorages and shifted to awkward spots
in factory lofts.
``It was all caused, quite unexpectedly,
by a little piece of apparatus you could slip in your pocket,''
The device that precipitated the sudden
crisis had been used for a long time by Tesla as a toy to amuse
his friends. It was a mechanical oscillator, and was used to
produce vibrations. The motor-driven device that the barber straps
on his hand to give a patron an ``electric massage'' is a descendant
of Tesla's mechanical oscillator. There is, of course, nothing
electric about an ``electric massage'' except the power used
to produce vibrations which are transmitted through the barber's
Wngers to the scalp.
Tesla developed in the early nineties
a mechanical-electrical oscillator for the generation of high-frequency
alternating currents. The driving engine produced on a shaft
simple reciprocating motion that was not changed to rotary motion.
Mounted on either end of the shaft was a coil of many turns of
wire that moved back and forth with high frequency between the
poles of electromagnets, and in this way generated high-frequency
The engine was claimed by Tesla to have
a very high eYciency compared to the common type of engine, which
changed reciprocating to rotary motion by means of a crank shaft.
It had no valves or other moving parts, except the reciprocating
piston with its attached shaft and coils, so that mechanical
losses were very low. It maintained such an extremely high order
of constancy of speed, he stated, that the alternating current
generated by the oscillator could be used to drive clocks, without
any pendulum or balance-wheel control mechanisms, and they would
keep time more accurately than the sun.
This engine may have had industrial possibilities
but Tesla was not interested in them. To him it was just a convenient
way of producing a high-frequency alternating current constant
in frequency and voltage, or mechanical vibrations, if used without
the electrical parts. He operated the engine on compressed air
and also by steam at 320 pounds and also at 80 pounds pressure.
While perfecting this device, he had
opportunity to observe interesting eVects produced by vibration.
These were objectionable in the engine when it was used as a
dynamo, so he adopted suitable measures to eliminate or suppress
them. The vibrations as such, however, interested him. Although
they were detrimental to the machine, he found their physiological
eVects were, at times, quite pleasant. Later he built a small
mechanical oscillator driven by compressed air which was designed
for no other purpose than to produce vibrations. He built a platform
insulated from the Xoor by rubber and cork. He then mounted the
oscillator on the under side of the platform. The purpose of
the rubber and cork under the platform was to keep the vibrations
from leaking into the building and thereby reducing the eVect
on the platform. Visitors found this vibrating platform one of
the most interesting of the great array of fascinating and fantastic
exhibits with which he dazzled the society folk who Xocked to
Great hopes were entertained by Tesla
of applying these vibrations for therapeutic and health-improving
eVects. He had opportunity to observe, through his own experience
and that of his employees, that they produce some very deWnite
Samuel Clemens, better known to the public
as ``Mark Twain,'' and Tesla were close friends. Clemens was
a frequent visitor to the Tesla laboratory. Tesla had been playing
with his vibratory mechanism for some time, and had learned a
good deal about the results that followed from varying doses
of vibration, when one evening Clemens dropped in.
Clemens, on learning about the new mechanism,
wanted to experience its vitalizing vibrations. He stood on the
platform while the oscillator set it into operation. He was thrilled
by the new experience. He was full of adjectives. ``This gives
you vigor and vitality,'' he exclaimed. After he had been on
the platform for a while Tesla advised him: ``You have had enough,
Mr. Clemens. You had better come down now.''
``Not by a jugfull,'' replied Clemens.
``I am enjoying myself.''
``But you had better come down, Mr. Clemens.
It is best that
you do so,'' insisted Tesla.
``You couldn't get me oV this with a
derrick,'' laughed Clemens.
``Remember, I am advising you, Mr. Clemens.''
``I'm having the time of my life. I'm
going to stay right up here and enjoy myself. Look here, Tesla,
you don't appreciate what a wonderful device you have here to
give a lift to tired humanity. . . . Clemens continued along
this line for several minutes. Suddenly he stopped talking, bit
his lower lip, straightened his body and stalked stiZy but suddenly
from the platform.
``Quick, Tesla! Where is it?'' snapped
Clemens, half begging, half demanding.
``Right over here, through that little
door in the corner,'' said Tesla. ``And remember, Mr. Clemens,
I advised you to come down some time ago,'' he called after the
rapidly moving Wgure.
The laxative eVect of the vibrator was
an old story to the members of the laboratory staV.
Tesla pursued his studies of mechanical
vibrations in many directions. This was almost a virgin Weld
for scientiWc research. Scarcely any fundamental research had
been done in the Weld since Pythagoras, twenty-Wve hundred years
before, had established the science of music through his study
of vibrating strings; and many of the wonders with which Tesla
had startled the world in the Weld of high-frequency and high-potential
currents had grown out of his simple secret for tuning electrical
circuits so that the electricity vibrated in resonance with its
circuit. He now visualized mechanical vibrations building up
resonance conditions in the same way, to produce eVects of tremendous
magnitude on physical objects.
In order to carry out what he expected
to be some minor and very small-scale experiments, he screwed
the base of one of his small mechanical oscillators to an iron
supporting pillar in the middle of his laboratory and set it
into oscillation. It had been his observation that it took some
time to build up its maximum speed of vibration. The longer it
operated the faster the tempo it attained. He had noticed that
all objects did not respond in the same way to vibrations. One
of the many objects around the laboratory would suddenly go into
violent vibration as it came into resonance with the fundamental
vibration of the oscillator or some harmonic of it. As the period
of the oscillator changed, the Wrst object would stop and some
other object in resonance with the new rate would start vibrating.
The reason for this selective response was very clear to Tesla,
but he had never previously had the opportunity to observe the
phenomenon on a really large scale.
Tesla's laboratory was on an upper Xoor
of a loft building. It was on the north side of Houston Street,
and the second house east of Mulberry Street. About three hundred
feet south of Houston Street on the east side of Mulberry Street
was the long, four-story red-brick building famous as Police
Headquarters. Throughout the neighborhood there were many loft
buildings ranging from Wve to ten stories in height, occupied
by factories of all kinds. Sandwiched between them were the small
narrow tenement houses of a densely packed Italian population.
A few blocks to the south was Chinatown, a few blocks to the
west was the garment-trades area, a short distance to the east
was a densely crowded tenement-house district.
It was in this highly variegated neighborhood
that Tesla unexpectedly staged a spectacular demonstration of
the properties of sustained powerful vibrations. The surrounding
population knew about Tesla's laboratory, knew that it was a
place where strange, magical, mysterious events took place and
where an equally strange man was doing fearful and wonderful
things with that tremendously dangerous secret agent known as
electricity. Tesla, they knew, was a man who was to be both venerated
and feared, and they did a much better job of fearing than of
Quite unmindful of what anyone thought
about him, Tesla carried on his vibration and all other experiments.
Just what experiment he had in mind on this particular morning
will never be known. He busied himself with preparations for
it while his oscillator on the supporting iron pillar of the
structure kept building up an ever higher frequency of vibrations.
He noted that every now and then some heavy piece of apparatus
would vibrate sharply, the Xoor under him would rumble for a
second or two--that a window pane would sing audibly, and other
similar transient events would happen--all of which was quite
familiar to him. These observations told him that his oscillator
was tuning up nicely, and he probably wondered why he had not
tried it Wrmly attached to a solid building support before.
Things were not going so well in the
neighborhood, however. Down in Police Headquarters in Mulberry
Street the ``cops'' were quite familiar with strange sounds and
lights coming from the Tesla laboratory. They could hear clearly
the sharp snapping of the lightnings created by his coils. If
anything queer was happening in the neighborhood, they knew that
Tesla was in back of it in some way or other.
On this particular morning the cops were
surprised to feel the building rumbling under their feet. Chairs
moved across Xoors with no one near them. Objects on the oYcers'
desks danced about and the desks themselves moved. It must be
an earthquake! It grew stronger. Chunks of plaster fell from
the ceilings. A Xood of water ran down one of the stairs from
a broken pipe. The windows started to vibrate with a shrill note
that grew more intense. Some of the windows shattered.
``That isn't an earthquake,'' shouted
one of the oYcers, ``it's that blankety-blank Tesla. Get up there
quickly,'' he called to a squad of men, ``and stop him. Use force
if you have to, but stop him. He'll wreck the city.''
The oYcers started on a run for the building
around the corner. Pouring into the streets were many scores
of people excitedly leaving near-by tenement and factory buildings,
believing an earthquake had caused the smashing of windows, breaking
of pipes, moving of furniture and the strange vibrations.
Without waiting for the slow-pokey elevator,
the cops rushed up the stairs--and as they did so they felt the
building vibrate even more strongly than did police headquarters.
There was a sense of impending doom--that the whole building
would disintegrate--and their fears were not relieved by the
sound of smashing glass and the queer roars and screams that
came from the walls and Xoors.
Could they reach Tesla's laboratory in
time to stop him? Or would the building tumble down on their
heads and everyone in it be buried in the ruins, and probably
every building in the neighborhood? Maybe he was making the whole
earth shake in this way! Would this madman be destroying the
world? It was destroyed once before by water. Maybe this time
it would be destroyed by that agent of the devil that they call
Just as the cops rushed into Tesla's
laboratory to tackle--they knew not what--the vibrations stopped
and they beheld a strange sight. They arrived just in time to
see the tall gaunt Wgure of the inventor swing a heavy sledge
hammer and shatter a small iron contraption mounted on the post
in the middle of the room. Pandemonium gave way to a deep, heavy
Tesla was the Wrst to break the silence.
Resting his sledge hammer against the pillar, he turned his tall,
lean, coatless Wgure to the cops. He was always selfpossessed,
always a commanding presence--an eVect that could in no way be
attributed to his slender build, but seemed more to emanate from
his eyes. Bowing from the waist in his courtly manner, he addressed
the policemen, who were too out of breath to speak, and probably
overawed into silence by their fantastic experience.
``Gentlemen,'' he said, ``I am sorry,
but you are just a triXe too late to witness my experiment. I
found it necessary to stop it suddenly and unexpectedly and in
an unusual way just as you entered. If you will come around this
evening I will have another oscillator attached to this platform
and each of you can stand on it. You will, I am sure, Wnd it
a most interesting and pleasurable experience. Now you must leave,
for I have many things to do. Good day, gentlemen.''
George ScherV, Tesla's secretary, was
standing nearby when Tesla so dramatically smashed his earthquake
maker. Tesla never told the story beyond this point, and Mr.
ScherV declares he does not recall what the response of the cops
was. Imagination must Wnish the Wnale to the story.
At the moment, though, Tesla was quite
sincere in his attitude. He had no idea of what had happened
elsewhere in the neighborhood as a result of his experiment,
but the eVect on his own laboratory had been suYciently threatening
to cause him to halt it suddenly. When he learned the details,
however, he was convinced that he was correct in his belief that
the Weld of mechanical vibrations was rich with opportunities
for scientiWc investigation. We have no records available of
any further major experiments with vibration in that laboratory.
Perhaps the Police and Building Departments had oVered some emphatic
suggestions to him concerning experiments of this nature.
Tesla's observations in this experiment
were limited to what took place on the Xoor of the building in
which his laboratory was located, but apparently very little
happened there until a great deal had happened elsewhere. The
oscillator was Wrmly Wxed to a supporting column and there were
similar supporting columns directly under it on each Xoor down
to the foundations. The vibrations were transmitted through the
columns to the ground. This section of the city is built on deep
sand that extends down some hundreds of feet before bed rock
is reached. It is well known to seismologists that earthquake
vibrations are transmitted by sand with much greater intensity
than they are by rock. The ground under the building and around
it was, therefore, an excellent transmitter of mechanical vibrations,
which spread out in all directions. They may have reached a mile
or more. They were more intense, of course, near their source
and became weaker as the distance increased. However, even weak
vibrations that are sustained can build up surprisingly large
eVects when they are absorbed by an object with which they are
in resonance. A distant object in resonance can be thrown into
strong vibration whereas a much nearer object not in resonance
will be left unaVected.
It was this selective resonance that
was, apparently, operating in Tesla's experiment. Buildings other
than his own came into resonance with the increasing tempo of
his oscillator long before his own building was aVected. After
the pandemonium was under way for some time elsewhere and the
higher frequencies were reached, his immediate surroundings started
to come into resonance.
When resonance is reached the eVects
follow instantly and powerfully. Tesla knew this, so when he
observed dangerous resonance eVects developing in his building
he realized he had to act fast. The oscillator was being operated
by compressed air supplied by a motor-driven compressor that
fed the air into a tank, where it was stored under pressure.
Even if the motor were shut oV, there was plenty of air in the
tank to keep the oscillator going for many minutes--and in that
time the building could be completely wrecked and reduced to
a pile of debris. With the vibrations reaching this dangerous
amplitude, there was no time to try to disconnect the vibrator
from the air line or to do anything about releasing the air from
the tank. There was time for only one thing, and Tesla did that.
He grabbed the near-by sledge hammer and took a mighty swing
at the oscillator in hopes of putting it out of operation. He
succeeded in his Wrst attempt.
The device was made of cast iron and
was of rugged construction. There were no delicate parts that
could be easily damaged. Tesla has never published a description
of the device, but its construction was principally that of a
piston which moved back and forth inside a cast-iron cylinder.
The only way to stop it from operating was to smash the outer
cylinder. Fortunately, that is what happened from the Wrst blow.
As Tesla turned around after delivering
this lucky blow and beheld the visiting policemen, he could not
understand the reason for their visit. The dangerous vibrations
had developed in his building only within the preceding minute,
and the policemen would not have had time to plan a visit in
connection with them, he Wgured, so they must have come for some
other less critical purpose, and therefore he proposed to dismiss
them until a more opportune moment.
Tesla related this experience to me when
I asked the inventor's opinion of a plan that I had suggested
some time previously to Elmer Sperry, Jr., son of the famous
inventor of many gyroscope devices. When a heavy gyroscope, such
as is used in stabilizing ships, is forced to turn on its axis,
it transmits a powerful downward thrust through the bearings
in which the supporting gimbal is mounted. If a battery of such
gyroscopes were mounted in regions where severe earthquakes take
place it would transmit thrusts to the ground at equally timed
intervals and build up resonance vibrations in the strata of
the earth that would cause earthquake strains to be released
while they were of small magnitude, thus producing very small
earthquakes instead of letting the strains build up to large
magnitudes which, when they let go, would cause devastating earthquakes.
The idea made a strong appeal to Tesla;
and in his discussion, after telling me of the experience here
related, he further declared that he had so far developed his
study of vibrations that he could establish a new science of
``telegeodynamics'' which would deal not only with the transmission
of powerful impulses through the earth to distant points to produce
eVects of large magnitude--in addition, he could use the same
principles to detect distant objects. In the later thirties,
before the outbreak of the war, he declared that he could apply
these principles for the detection of submarines or other ships
at a distance, even though they were lying at anchor and no engines
operating on them.
His system of telegeodynamics, using
mechanical vibrations, Tesla declared, would make it possible
to determine the physical constant of the earth and to locate
ore deposits far beneath the surface. This latter prediction
has since been fulWlled, for many oil Welds have been discovered
by studying the vibrations reXected from sub-surface strata.
``So powerful are the eVects of the telegeodynamic
oscillator,'' said Tesla in reviewing the subject in the thirties,
``that I could now go over to the Empire State Building and reduce
it to a tangled mass of wreckage in a very short time. I could
accomplish this result with utmost certainty and without any
diYculty whatever. I would use a small mechanical vibrating device,
an engine so small you could slip it in your pocket. I could
attach it to any part of the building, start it in operation,
allow it twelve to thirteen minutes to come to full resonance.
The building would Wrst respond with gentle tremors, and the
vibrations would then become so powerful that the whole structure
would go into resonant oscillations of such great amplitude and
power that rivets in the steel beams would be loosened and sheared.
The outer stone coating would be thrown oV and then the skeleton
steel structure would collapse in all its parts. It would take
about 2.5 (This Wgure may have been .25 or 2.5 horsepower. The
notes are old and somewhat indistinct. Memory favors the latter
Wgure.) horsepower to drive the oscillator to produce this eVect''
Tesla developed his inventions to the
point at which they were spectacular performers before they were
demonstrated to the public. When presented, the performance always
greatly exceeded the promise. This was the case with his Wrst
public demonstration of ``wireless,'' but he complicated the
situation by coupling with his radio invention another new idea--the
Tesla staged his demonstration in the
great auditorium of Madison Square Garden, then on the north
side of Madison Square, in September, 1898, as part of the Wrst
annual Electrical Exhibition. He had a large tank built in the
center of the arena and in this he placed an iron-hulled boat
a few feet long, shaped like an ark, which he operated by remote
control by means of his wireless system.
Extending upward from the center of the
roof of the boat was a slender metal rod a few feet high which
served as an antenna, or ærial, for receiving the wireless
wave. Near the bow and stern were two small metal tubes about
a foot high surmounted by small electric lamps. The interior
of the hull was packed with a radio receiving set and a variety
of motor-driven mechanisms which put into eVect the operating
orders sent to the boat by wireless waves. There was a motor
for propelling the boat and another motor for operating the servo-mechanism,
or mechanical brain, that interpreted the orders coming from
the wireless receiving set and translated them into mechanical
motions, which included steering the boat in any direction, making
it stop, start, go forward or backward, or light either lamp.
The boat could thus be put through the most complicated maneuvers.
Anyone attending the exhibition could
call the maneuver for the boat, and Tesla, with a few touches
on a telegraph key, would cause the boat to respond. His control
point was at the far end of the great arena.
The demonstration created a sensation
and Tesla again was the popular hero. It was a front-page story
in the newspapers. Everyone knew the accomplishment was a wonderful
one, but few grasped the signiWcance of the event or the importance
of the fundamental discovery which it demonstrated. The basic
aspects of the invention were obscured by the glamor of the demonstration.
The Spanish American War was under way.
The success of the U.S. Navy in destroying the Spanish Xeets
was the leading topic of conversation. There was resentment over
the blowing up of the U.S.S. Maine in Havana Harbor. Tesla's
demonstration Wred the imagination of everyone because of its
possibilities as a weapon in naval warfare.
Waldemar KaempVert, then a student in
City College and now Science Editor of the New York Times, discussed
its use as a weapon with Tesla.
``I see,'' said KaempVert, ``how you
could load an even larger boat with a cargo of dynamite, cause
it to ride submerged, and explode the dynamite whenever you wished
by pressing the key just as easily as you can cause the light
on the bow to shine, and blow up from a distance by wireless
even the largest of battleships.'' (Edison had earlier designed
an electric torpedo which received its power by a cable that
remained connected with the mother ship.)
Tesla was patriotic, and was proud of
his status, which he had acquired in 1889, as a citizen of the
United States. He had oVered his invention to the Government
as a naval weapon, but at heart he was opposed to war.
``You do not see there a wireless torpedo,''
snapped back Tesla with Wre Xashing in his eyes, ``you see there
the Wrst of a race of robots, mechanical men which will do the
laborious work of the human race.
The ``race of robots'' was another of
Tesla's original and important contributions to human welfare.
It was one of the items of his colossal project for increasing
human energy and improving the eYciency of its utilization. He
visualized the application of the robot idea to warfare as well
as to peaceful pursuits; and out of the broad principles enunciated,
he developed an accurate picture of warfare as it is being carried
on today with the use of giant machines as weapons--the robots
``This evolution,'' he stated in an article
in the Century Magazine of June, 1900, ``will bring more and
more into prominence a machine or mechanism with the fewest individuals
as an element of warfare. . . . Greatest possible speed and maximum
rate of energy delivery by the war apparatus will be the main
object. The loss of life will become smaller. . . .''
Outlining the experiences that led him
to design the robots, or automatons, as he called them, Tesla
I have by every thought and act of mine,
demonstrated, and do so daily, to my absolute satisfaction that
I am an automaton endowed with power of movement, which merely
responds to external stimuli beating upon my sense organs, and
thinks and moves accordingly. . . .
With these experiences it was only natural
that, long ago, I conceived the idea of constructing an automaton
which would mechanically represent me, and which would respond,
as I do myself, but, of course, in a much more primitive manner,
to external inXuences. Such an automaton evidently had to have
motive power, organs for locomotion, directive organs, and one
or more sensitive organs so adapted as to be excited by external
This machine would, I reasoned, perform
its movements in the manner of a living being, for it would have
all of the chief elements of the same. There was still the capacity
for growth, propagation, and, above all, the mind which would
be wanting to make the model complete. But growth was not necessary
in this case since a machine could be manufactured full-grown,
so to speak. As to capacity for propagation, it could likewise
be left out of consideration, for in the mechanical model it
merely signiWed a process of manufacture.
Whether the automaton be of Xesh and
bone, or of wood and steel, mattered little, provided it could
perform all the duties required of it like an intelligent being.
To do so it would have to have an element corresponding to the
mind, which would eVect the control of its movements and operations,
and cause it to act, in any unforeseen case that might present
itself, with knowledge, reason, judgement and experience. But
this element I could easily embody in it by conveying to it my
own intelligence, my own understanding. So this invention was
evolved, and so a new art came into existence, for which the
name ``telautomatics'' has been suggested, which means the art
of controlling the movements and operations of distant automatons.
In order to give the automaton an individual
identity it would be provided with a particular electrical tuning,
Tesla explained, to which it alone would respond when waves of
that particular frequency were sent from a control transmitting
station; and other automatons would remain inactive until their
frequency was transmitted. This was Tesla's fundamental radio
tuning invention, the need for which other radio inventors had
not yet glimpsed although Tesla had described it publicly a half-dozen
Tesla not only used in the control of
his automaton the long waves now used in broadcasting--which
are very diVerent from the short waves used by Marconi and all
others; for those could be interfered with by the imposition
of an intervening object--but he was explaining the use, through
his system of tuning, of the spectrum of allocations for individual
stations that now appears on the dials of radio receiving sets.
By the simple means described the knowledge,
experience, judgement--the mind, so to speak--of the distant
operator were embodied in that machine, which was thus enabled
to move and perform all of its operations with reason and intelligence.
It behaved just like a blindfolded person obeying directions
received through the ear.
The automatons so far constructed had
``borrowed minds,'' so to speak, as each formed merely part of
the distant operator who conveyed to it his intelligent orders;
but this art is only in the beginning.
I purpose to show that, however impossible
it may now seem, an automaton may be contrived which will have
its ``own mind,'' and by this I mean that it will be able, independently
of any operator, left entirely to itself, to perform, in response
to external inXuences aVecting its sensitive organs, a great
variety of acts and operations as if it had intelligence.
It will be able to follow a course laid
out or to obey orders given far in advance; it will be capable
of distinguishing between what it ought and ought not to do,
and of making experiences or, otherwise stated, of recording
impressions which will deWnitely aVect its subsequent actions.
In fact I have already conceived such a plan.
Although I evolved this invention many
years ago and explained it to my visitors very frequently in
my laboratory demonstrations, it was not until much later, long
after I had perfected it, that it became known, when, naturally
enough, it gave rise to much discussion and to sensational reports.
But the true signiWcance of this new
art was not grasped by the majority, nor was the great force
of the underlying principle recognized. As nearly as I could
judge from the numerous comments which then appeared, the results
I had obtained were considered as entirely impossible. Even the
few who were disposed to admit the practicability of the invention
saw in it merely an automobile torpedo, which was to be used
for the purpose of blowing up battleships, with doubtful success.
. . .
But the art I have evolved does not contemplate
merely the change of direction of a moving vessel; it aVords
means of absolutely controlling in every respect, all the innumerable
translatory movements, as well as the operations of all the internal
organs, no matter how many, of an individualized automaton.
Tesla, in an unpublished statement, prepared
Wfteen years later, recorded his experience in developing automata,
and his unsuccessful eVort to interest the War Department, and
likewise commercial concerns, in his wirelessly controlled devices.
The idea of constructing an automaton,
to bear out my theory, presented itself to me early but I did
not begin active work until 1893, when I started my wireless
investigations. During the succeeding two or three years, a number
of automatic mechanisms, actuated from a distance by wireless
control, were constructed by me and exhibited to visitors in
In 1896, however, I designed a complete
machine capable of a multitude of operations, but the consummation
of my labors was delayed until later in 1897. This machine was
illustrated and described in my article in the Century Magazine
of June 1900, and other periodicals of that time and, when Wrst
shown in the beginning of 1898, it created a sensation such as
no other invention of mine has ever produced.
In November 1898, a basic patent on the
novel art was granted to me, but only after the Examiner-in-Chief
had come to New York and witnessed the performance, for what
I claimed seemed unbelievable. I remember that when later I called
on an oYcial in Washington, with a view of oVering the invention
to the Government, he burst out in laughter upon my telling him
what I had accomplished. Nobody thought then that there was the
faintest prospect of perfecting such a device.
It is unfortunate that in this patent,
following the advice of my attorneys, I indicated the control
as being eVected through the medium of a single circuit and a
well-known form of detector, for the reason that I had not yet
secured protection on my methods and apparatus for individualization.
As a matter of fact, my boats were controlled through the joint
action of several circuits and interference of every kind was
excluded. Most generally I employed receiving circuits in the
form of loops, including condensers, because the discharges of
my high tension transmitter ionized the air in the hall so that
even a very small ærial would draw electricity from the
surrounding atmosphere for hours.
Just to give an idea, I found, for instance,
that a bulb 12'' in diamater, highly exhausted, and with one
single terminal to which a short wire was attached, would deliver
well on to one thousand successive Xashes before all charge of
the air in the laboratory was neutralized. The loop form of receiver
was not sensitive to such a disturbance and it is curious to
note that it is becoming popular at this late date. In reality
it collects much less energy than the ærials or a long
grounded wire, but it so happens that it does away with a number
of defects inherent to the present wireless devices.
In demonstrating my invention before
audiences, the visitors were requested to ask any questions,
however involved, and the automaton could answer them by signs.
This was considered magic at that time but was extremely simple,
for it was myself who gave the replies by means of the device.
At the same period another larger telautomatic
boat was constructed. It was controlled by loops having several
turns placed in the hull, which was made entirely water tight
and capable of submergence. The apparatus was similar to that
used in the Wrst with the exception of certain special features
I introduced as, for example, incandescent lamps which aVorded
a visible evidence of the proper functioning of the machine and
served for other purposes.
These automata, controlled within the
range of vision of the operator, were, however, the Wrst and
rather crude steps in the evolution of the Art of Telautomatics
as I had conceived it. The next logical improvement was its application
to automatic mechanisms beyond the limits of vision and at great
distances from the center of control, and I have ever since advocated
their employments as instruments of warfare in preference to
guns. The importance of this now seems to be recognized, if I
am to judge from casual announcements through the press of achievements
which are said to be extraordinary but contain no merit of novelty
In an imperfect manner it is practicable,
with the existing wireless plants, to launch an æroplane,
have it follow a certain approximate course, and perform some
operation at a distance of many hundreds of miles. A machine
of this kind can also be mechanically controlled in several ways
and I have no doubt that it may prove of some usefulness in war.
But there are, to my best knowledge, no instrumentalities in
existence today with which such an object could be accomplished
in a precise manner. I have devoted years of study to this matter
and have evolved means, making such and greater wonders easily
As stated on a previous occasion, when
I was a student at college I conceived a Xying machine quite
unlike the present ones. The underlying principle was sound but
could not be carried into practice for want of a prime-mover
of suYciently great activity. In recent years I have successfully
solved this problem and am now planning ærial machines
devoid of sustaining planes, ailerons, propellers and other external
attachments, which will be capable of immense speeds and are
very likely to furnish powerful arguments for peace in the near
future. Such a machine, sustained and propelled entirely by reaction,
can be controlled either mechanically or by wireless energy.
By installing proper plants it will be practicable to project
a missile of this kind into the air and drop it almost on the
very spot designated which may be thousands of miles away. But
we are not going to stop at this.
Tesla is here describing--nearly Wfty
years ago--the radio-controlled rocket, which is still a conWdential
development of World War II, and the rocket bombs used by the
Germans to attack England. The rocket-type airship is a secret
which probably died with Tesla, unless it is contained in his
papers sealed by the Government at the time of his death. This,
however, is unlikely, as Tesla, in order to protect his secrets,
did not commit his major inventions to paper, but depended on
an almost infallible memory for their preservation.
``Telautomata,'' he concluded, ``will
be ultimately produced, capable of acting as if possessed of
their own intelligence and their advent will create a revolution.
As early as 1898 I proposed to representatives of a large manufacturing
concern the construction and public exhibition of an automobile
carriage which, left to itself, would perform a great variety
of operations involving something akin to judgment. But my proposal
was deemed chimerical at that time and nothing came from it.''
Tesla, at the Madison Square Garden demonstration
in 1898 which lasted for a week, presented to the world, then,
two stupendous developments, either of which alone would have
been too gigantic to have been satisfactorily assimilated by
the public in a single presentation. Either one of the ideas
dimmed the glory of the other.
This Wrst public demonstration of wireless,
the forerunner of modern radio, in the amazing stage of development
to which Tesla carried it, at this early date, was too tremendous
a project to be encompassed within a single dramatization. In
the hands of a competent public-relations councillor, or publicity
man, as he was called in those days (but the employment of one
was utterly abhorrent to Tesla), this demonstration would have
been limited to the wireless aspect alone, and would have included
just a simple two-way sending-and-receiving set for the transmission
of messages by the Morse dots and dashes. Suitably dramatized,
this would have been a suYcient thrill for one show. At a subsequent
show he could have brought in the tuning demonstration which
would have shown the selective response of each of a series of
coils, indicated by his strange-looking vacuum-tube lamps. The
whole story of just the tuning of wireless circuits and stations
to each other was too big for any one demonstration. An indication
of its possibilities was all the public could absorb.
The robot, or automaton, idea was a new
and an equally stupendous concept, the possibilities of which
were not lost, however, on clever inventors; for it brought in
the era of the modern labor-saving device--the mechanization
of industry on a mass-production basis.
Using the Tesla principles, John Hays
Hammond, Jr. developed an electric dog, on wheels, that followed
him like a live pup. It was motor operated and controlled by
a light beam through selenium cells placed behind lenses used
for eyes. He also operated a yacht, entirely without a crew,
which was sent out to sea from Boston harbor and brought back
to its wharf by wireless control.
A manless airplane was developed toward
the close of the First World War. It rose from the ground, Xew
one hundred miles to a selected target, dropped its bombs, and
returned to its home airport, all by wireless control. It was
also developed so that on a signal from a distant radio station
the plane would rise into the air, choose the proper direction,
Xy to a city hundreds of miles away and set itself down in the
airport at that city. This Tesla-type robot was developed in
the plant of the Sperry Gyroscope Company, where Elmer Sperry
invented a host of amazing mechanical robots controlled by gyroscopes,
such as the automatic pilots for airplanes and for ships.
All of the modern control devices using
electronic tubes and electric eyes that make machines seem almost
human and enable them to perform with superhuman activity, dependability,
accuracy and low cost, are children of Tesla's robot, or automaton.
The most recent development, in personalized form, was the mechanical
man, a metal human monster giant, that walked, talked, smoked
a cigarette, and obeyed spoken orders, in the exhibit of the
Westinghouse Electric and Manufacturing Company at the New York
World's Fair. Robots have been used, as well, to operate hydroelectric
powerhouses and isolated substations of powerhouses.
In presenting this superabundance of
scientiWc discovery in a single demonstration, Tesla was manifesting
the superman in an additional role that pleased him greatly--that
of the man magniWcent. He would astound the world with a superlative
demonstration not only of the profundity of the accomplishments
of the superman, but, in addition, of the proliWc nature of the
mind of the man magniWcent who could shower on the world a superabundance
of scientiWc discoveries.
TESLA was now ready for new worlds to
conquer. After presenting to the public his discoveries relating
to wireless signaling or the transmission of intelligence, as
he called it, Tesla was anxious to get busy on the power phase:
his projected world-wide distribution of power by wireless methods.
Again Tesla was faced with a Wnancial
problem or, to state the matter simply, he was broke. The $40,000
which was paid for the stock of the Nikola Tesla Company by Adams
had been spent. The company had no cash on hand; but it held
patents worth many millions if they had been handled in a practical
way. A gift of $10,000 from John Hays Hammond, the famous mining
engineer, had Wnanced the work leading up to the Madison Square
Garden wireless and robot demonstration.
Tesla had built ever larger and more
powerful oscillators in his Houston Street laboratory. When he
constructed one that produced 4,000,000 volts he reached beyond
the limits in which high voltage could be handled within a city
building. The sparks jumped to the walls, Xoors and ceilings.
He needed a larger open space. He wanted to build vastly larger
coils. He dreamed of a tremendous structure he would like to
build somewhere in the open country spaces. He felt certain his
wireless patents would prove tremendously valuable in a short
time, and he would then have all the money he needed to build
his laboratory. But he had already progressed to the point at
which further advancement demanded the use of such a building--and
he was broke. A loan of $10,000 oVered by his friend Crawford,
of the dry goods Wrm of Simpson and Crawford, took care of immediate
Leonard E. Curtis, of the Colorado Springs
Electric Company, a great admirer of Tesla, when he heard of
Tesla's plan to conduct experiments on a gigantic scale, invited
him to locate his laboratory at Colorado Springs, where he would
provide him with the necessary land and all the electric power
he needed for his work.
Col. John Jacob Astor, owner of the Waldorf-Astoria,
held his famous dining-room guest in the highest esteem as a
personal friend, and kept in close touch with the progress of
his investigations. When he heard that his researches were being
halted through lack of funds, he made available to Tesla the
$30,000 he needed in order to take advantage of Curtis' oVer
and build a temporary plant at Colorado Springs. Tesla arrived
in Colorado in May, 1899, bringing with him some of his laboratory
workers, and accompanied by an engineering associate, Fritz Lowenstein.
While Tesla was making experiments on
natural lightning and other subjects in his mountain laboratory,
the construction work on his high-power transmitting apparatus
was being rushed. He gave his personal supervision to even the
Wnest details of every piece of apparatus. He was working in
a virgin Weld. None had gone before him to pave the way or gain
experience that would be helpful to him in designing his experiments
or his machines. He was entirely on his own, working without
human guidance of any kind, exploring a Weld of knowledge far
beyond that which anyone else had reached. He had previously
astonished the world in developing a system of power transmission
in which pressures of tens of thousands of volts were used; now
he was working with millions of volts, and no one knew what would
happen when such tremendous potentials were produced. He believed,
however, that he would make his own magniWcent polyphase system
obsolete by creating a better one.
In about three months after his arrival
at Colorado Springs the building with its fantastic shapes, towers
and masts was completed, and the giant oscillator with which
the principal experiment was to be made was ready for operation.
The wild, rugged, mountainous terrain
of Colorado, in which Tesla set up his laboratory, is a natural
generator of tremendous electrical activity, producing lightning
discharges of a magnitude and intensity probably not equaled
anywhere else on earth. Overwhelming bolts from both earth and
sky Xashed with frightening frequency during the almost daily
lightning storms. Tesla made a very detailed study of natural
lightning while his apparatus, which would imitate it, was being
constructed. He learned a great deal about the characteristics
of the various kinds of discharges.
The gods of the natural lightning may
have become a bit jealous of this individual who was undertaking
to steal their thunder, as Prometheus had stolen Wre, and sought
to punish him by wrecking his fantastic looking structure. It
was badly damaged, and narrowly escaped destruction, by a bolt
of lightning, not one that made a direct hit but one that struck
ten miles away.
The blast hit the laboratory at the exact
time, to the split second, that Tesla predicted it would. It
was caused by a tidal wave of air coming from a particular type
of lightning discharge. Tesla tells the story in an unpublished
report. He stated:
I have had many opportunities for checking
this value by observation of explosions and lightning discharges.
An ideal case of this kind presented itself at Colorado Springs
in July 1899 while I was carrying on tests with my broadcasting
power station which was the only wireless plant in existence
at that time.
A heavy cloud had gathered over Pikes
Peak range and suddenly lightning struck at a point just ten
miles away. I timed the Xash instantly and upon making a quick
computation told my assistants that the tidal wave would arrive
in 48.5 seconds. Exactly with the lapse of this time interval
a terriWc blow struck the building which might have been thrown
oV the foundation had it not been strongly braced. All the windows
on one side and a door were demolished and much damage done in
Taking into account the energy of the
electric discharge and its duration, as well as that of an explosion,
I estimated that the concussion was about equivalent to that
which might have been produced at that distance by the ignition
of twelve tons of dynamite.
The experimental station which Tesla
erected was an almost square barnlike structure nearly one hundred
feet on each side. The sides were twenty-Wve feet high, and from
them the roof sloped upward toward the center. From the middle
of the roof rose a skeleton pyramidal tower made of wood. The
top of this tower was nearly eighty feet above the ground. Extensions
of the slanting roof beams extended outward to the ground to
serve as Xying buttresses to reinforce the tower. Through the
center of the tower extended a mast nearly two hundred feet high,
at the top of which was mounted a copper ball about three feet
in diameter. The mast carried a heavy wire connecting the ball
with the apparatus in the laboratory. The mast was arranged in
sections so that it could be disjointed and lowered.
There were many pieces of apparatus in
the building, and many forms and sizes of his Tesla coils, or
high-frequency current transformers. The principal device was
his ``magnifying transmitter.'' This was merely a very large
Tesla coil. A circular fence-like wall seventy-Wve feet in diameter
was built in the large central room of the structure, and on
this were wound the turns of the giant primary coil of the magnifying
transmitter. The secondary was a coil about ten feet in diameter,
of about seventy-Wve turns of wire wound on a cylindrical skeletonized
framework of wood. It had a vertical length of about ten feet
and was mounted in the center of the room several feet above
the Xoor. In the center of this coil was the bottom part of the
mast. The roof above this portion of the room could be slid outward
in two sections, so that no material came within a long distance
of the mast and its wire conductor within the lower third of
the distance above the ground.
One of the Wrst problems Tesla sought
to solve when he began his researches in the mountains of Colorado
was whether the earth was an electrically charged body. Nature
is usually very generous in her response when scientists ask
her, in their experiments, questions of Wrst magnitude. Tesla
not only received a very satisfactory answer to his question
but in addition a revelation of tremendous importance, an unveiling
of a secret of Nature's operations which places in the hands
of man a means of manipulating electrical forces on a terrestrial
It was desirable for Tesla to learn whether
the earth was electrically charged for the same reason that a
violinist would want to know whether the strings of his instrument
lay loose and inert across the bridge or whether they were tense
and taut so that they would produce a musical note if plucked,
or a football player would want to know if the pigskin were inXated
If the earth were uncharged, it would
act as a vast sink into which electricity would have to be Xowed
in tremendous amounts to bring it to the state in which it could
be made to vibrate electrically. An uncharged earth would somewhat
complicate Tesla's plans. He quickly discovered that the earth
is charged to an extremely high potential and is provided with
some kind of a mechanism for maintaining its voltage. It was
while determining this fact that he made his second big discovery.
Tesla made the Wrst announcement of his
discovery shortly after his return to New York in an amazing
article in the Century of June, 1900, but the story is best told
by Tesla in an article in the Electrical World and Engineer,
May 5, 1904:
In the middle of June, while preparations
for other work were going on, I arranged one of my receiving
transformers with the view of determining in a novel manner,
experimentally, the electrical potential of the globe and studying
its periodic and casual Xuctuations. This formed part of a plan
carefully mapped out in advance
A highly sensitive, self restorative
device, controlling a recording instrument, was included in the
secondary circuit, while the primary was connected to the ground
and the secondary to an elevated terminal of adjustable capacity.
The variations of electrical potential gave rise to electrical
surgings in the primary; these generated secondary currents,
which in turn aVected the sensitive device and recorder in proportion
to their intensity.
The earth was found to be, literally,
alive with electrical vibrations, and soon I was deeply absorbed
in this interesting investigation. No better opportunity for
such observations as I intended to make could be found anywhere.
Colorado is a country famous for the
natural displays of electric force. In that dry and rareWed atmosphere
the sun's rays beat on objects with Werce intensity. I raised
steam to a dangerous pressure, in barrels Wlled with concentrated
salt solution and the tinfoil coating of some of my elevated
terminals shrivelled in the Wery blaze. An experimental high
tension transformer, carelessly exposed to the rays of the setting
sun, had most of its insulating compound melted and was rendered
Aided by the dryness and rarefaction
of the air, the water evaporates as in a boiler, and static electricity
is generated in abundance. Lightning discharges are, accordingly,
very frequent and sometimes of inconceivable violence. On one
occasion approximately 12,000 discharges occurred within two
hours, and all in the radius of certainly less than 50 kilometers
[about 30 miles] from the laboratory. Many of them resembled
gigantic trees of Wre with the trunks up or down. I never saw
Wreballs, but as a compensation for my disappointment I succeeded
later in determining the mode of their formation and producing
In the latter part of the same month
I noticed several times that my instruments were aVected stronger
by discharges taking place at great distances than by those near
by. This puzzled me very much. What was the cause? A number of
observations proved that it could not be due to diVerences in
the intensity of individual discharges and I readily ascertained
that the phenomenon was not the result of a varying relation
between the periods of my receiving circuits and those of the
One night as I was walking home with
an assistant, meditating over these experiences, I was suddenly
staggered by a thought. Years ago when I wrote a chapter of my
lecture before the Franklin Institute and the National Electric
Light Association, it had presented itself to me, but I dismissed
it as absurd and impossible. I banished it again. Nevertheless,
my instinct was aroused and somehow I felt that I was nearing
a great revelation.
It was on the 3rd of July --the
date I shall never forget--when I obtained the Wrst decisive
experimental evidence of a truth of overwhelming importance for
the advancement of humanity.
A dense mass of strongly charged clouds
gathered in the west and toward evening a violent storm broke
loose which, after spending much of its fury in the mountains,
was driven away with great velocity over the plains. Heavy and
long persistent arcs formed almost in regular time intervals.
My observations were now greatly facilitated and rendered more
accurate by the experiences already gained. I was able to handle
my instruments quickly and I was pre-pared. The recording apparatus
being properly adjusted, its indications be-came fainter and
fainter with increasing distance of the storm, until they ceased
I was watching in eager expectation.
Surely enough, in a little while the indications again began,
grew stronger and stronger, and, after passing through a maximum,
gradually decreased and ceased once more. Many times, in regularly
recurring intervals, the same actions were repeated until the
storm which, as evident from simple computations, was moving
with nearly constant speed, had retreated to a distance of about
300 kilometers [about 180 miles]. Nor did these strange actions
stop then, but continued to manifest themselves with undiminished
Subsequently similar observations were
also made by my assistant, Mr. Fritz Lowenstein, and shortly
afterward several admirable opportunities presented themselves
which brought out, still more forcibly and unmistakably, the
true nature of the wonderful phenomenon. No doubt whatever remained:
I was observing stationary waves.
As the source of the disturbances moved
away the receiving circuit came successively upon their nodes
and loops. Impossible as it seemed, this planet, despite its
vast extent, behaved like a conductor of limited dimensions.
The tremendous signiWcance of this fact in the transmission of
energy by my system had already become quite clear to me.
Not only was it practicable to send telegraphic
messages to any distance without wires, as I recognized long
ago, but also to impress upon the entire globe the faint modulations
of the human voice, far more still, to transmit power, in unlimited
amounts to any terrestrial distance and almost without loss.
To get a more familiar picture of the
problem that Tesla tackled in seeking to determine if the earth
were charged and if it could be set into electrical vibration,
one can visualize the diVerence between a bath tub that is empty
and one that contains water. The uncharged earth would be like
an empty tub; the charged earth like one containing water. It
is easy to produce waves in the tub containing the water. By
placing one's hand in the water and moving it back and forth,
lengthwise, a short distance at the right rhythm, the water is
soon rushing back and forth in a wave whose amplitude grows at
a tremendously rapid rate until, if the hand motion is continued,
the water may splash as high as the ceiling.
The earth can be visualized as an extremely
large container holding a Xuid; and in the center is a small
plunger arrangement which can be moved tip and down a short distance
in the proper rhythm. The waves travel to the edge of the container
and are reXected back to the center, from which they again go
outward re-enforced by the movement of the plunger.
The reaction between the outgoing and
incoming waves, both in resonance with the medium in which they
are traveling, causes stationary waves to be produced on the
water, the surface having the appearance of a single series of
waves frozen in a Wxed position.
In Tesla's experiments the lightning
discharges that played the part of the plunger causing the waves
were moving rapidly to the eastward, and they carried the whole
series of Wxed, or stationary, waves with them. The measuring
device remained Wxed so the wave series, with its loops and nodes,
moved past it, causing the measured potentials to rise and fall.
The experiment not only demonstrated
that the earth was Wlled with electricity, but that this electricity
could be disturbed so that rhythmic vibrations could be struck,
resonance could be produced, causing eVects of tremendous magnitude.
Soldiers marching in unison across a bridge and wrecking it by
the resulting vibration would again be a case in point.
Tesla produced the spectacular eVects
of extremely high potentials and high frequency by producing
electrical resonance in his circuits--by tuning the electricity--and
now he had discovered that he would be able to produce, easily,
the same eVect in the earth as if it were a single condenser
and coil combined, a pure electrical resonating unit, by charging
and discharging it rhythmically with his high-frequency, high-potential
In this magniWcent experiment Tesla the
superman was at his best; the boldness of his undertaking Wred
the imagination, and the success he achieved should have earned
for him undying fame.
Eventually, the giant coils with their
banks of condensers and other apparatus in, the Colorado laboratory
were ready for use in full-scale experiments. Every piece of
equipment was thoroughly inspected and tested by Tesla and the
moment had Wnally arrived for the critical test of the highest
voltage experiment that had ever been made. He expected to top
his own earlier records one hundred times over, and to produce
tens of thousands of times higher voltages than ever had been
produced in the high-voltage transmission lines at Niagara Falls.
There was not the faintest shadow of
doubt in Tesla's mind as to whether his giant oscillator would
work. He knew it would work, but he also knew that he was going
to produce millions of volts and tremendously heavy currents;
and neither he nor anyone else knew how these terriWc explosions
of electrical energy would act. He knew that he had planned the
experiment so that the Wrst bolts of man-made lightning ever
created would shoot from the top of the 200-foot-tall mast.
Tesla asked Kolman Czito, who had worked
with him for many years in his laboratories in New York, to preside
at the switch-board through which current was brought into the
laboratory from the powerhouse of the Colorado Springs Electric
Company by an overhead transmission line two miles long.
``When I give you the word,'' said Tesla
to Czito, ``you close the switch for one second--not longer.''
The inventor took a position near the
door of the laboratory from which he could view the giant coil
in the center of the great barnlike room--but not too close to
it, for a stray bolt of his own lightning might inXict a painful
burn. From the point where he stood he could look upward toward
the open roof and see the three-foot copper ball on top of the
slender 200-foot mast that had its base in the center of the
cagelike secondary coil. A quick visual survey of the situation,
and Tesla gave the signal--``Now.''
Czito jammed home the switch and as quickly
pulled it out. In that brief interval the secondary coil was
crowned with a mass of hairlike electrical Wre, there was a crackling
sound in various parts of the room and a sharp snap far overhead.
``Fine,'' said Tesla, ``the experiment
is working beautifully. We will try it again in exactly the same
Again Czito jammed home the switch for
a second and opened it. Again the plumes of electrical Wre came
from the coil, minor sparks crackled in all parts of the laboratory
and the very sharp snap came through the open roof from far overhead.
``This time,'' said Tesla, ``I am going
to watch the top of the mast from the outside. When I give you
the signal I want you to close the switch and leave it closed
until I give you the signal to open it.'' So saying, he started
for the near-by open door.
Reaching a point outside from which he
could see the copper ball on top of the needlelike mast, Tesla
called through the door, ``Czito, close the switch--Now!''
Czito again jammed the switch closed
and jumped back--but held his arm extended to yank open the blades
quickly should he receive an emergency signal. Nothing much had
happened on the quick-contact closing, but now the apparatus
would be given an opportunity to build up its full strength and
no one knew what to expect. He knew that the apparatus would
draw a very heavy current through a primary coil that looked
like a ``short circuit,'' and he knew that short circuits could
be very destructive if the current was allowed to continue to
Xow. The switchboard could become a scene of interesting activity
if any thing let go. Czito expected the quick Xash and explosive
blast of a short circuit a second or two after the switch was
closed. Several seconds passed with no short circuit.
As soon as the switch was closed there
came again the same crackling sound, the same snap high in the
air that he had heard before. Now it was followed by a tremendous
upsurge of sound. The crackling from the coil swelled into a
crescendo of vicious snaps. From above the roof the original
staccato snap was followed by a sharper one--and by another that
was like the report of a riXe. The next was still louder. They
came closer together like the rattle of a machine gun. The bang
high in the air became tremendously louder; it was now the roar
of a cannon, with the discharges rapidly following each other
as if a gigantic artillery battle was taking place over the building.
The sound was terrifying and the thunder shook the building in
most threatening fashion.
There was a strange ghostly blue light
in the great barnlike structure. The coils were Xaming with masses
of Wery hair. Everything in the building was spouting needles
of Xame, and the place Wlled with the sulphurous odor of ozone,
fumes of the sparks, which was all that was needed to complete
the conviction that hell was breaking loose and belching into
As Czito stood near the switch he could
feel and see the sparks jump from his Wngers, each pricking like
a needle stuck into his Xesh. He wondered if he would be able
to reach for the switch and turn oV the power that was creating
this electrical pandemonium--would the sparks become longer and
more powerful if he approached the switch? Must this head-splitting
racket go on forever? It's getting worse, that tremendous ear-wrecking
bang, bang, bang overhead. Why doesn't Tesla stop it before it
shakes down the building? Should he open the switch of his own
accord? Maybe Tesla has been hit, perhaps killed, and can't give
orders to open the switch!
It seemed to Czito that the demonstration
had been going on for an hour but as a matter of fact it had
lasted thus far for only a minute; nevertheless, a tremendous
amount of activity had been crowded into that short space of
Outside stood Tesla, properly attired
in cutaway coat and black derby hat for the auspicious occasion,
his slender six-foot-two Wgure bearing signs of close relationship
to the mastlike rod sticking out of his bizarre barnlike structure.
His height was increased by a one-inch-thick layer of rubber
on the soles and heels of his shoes, used as electrical insulation.
As he gave the switch-closing ``Now''
signal to Czito, he turned his eyes heavenward to the ball on
top of the mast. He had hardly spoken when he saw a short hairlike
spark dart from the ball. It was only about ten feet long, and
thin. Before he had time to be pleased, there was a second and
a third and a fourth spark, each longer, brighter and bluer than
``Ah!'' ejaculated Tesla, forgetting
to close his mouth that was widely opened for a shout. He clenched
his hands for joy and raised them skyward toward the top of the
More sparks! Longer and longer! Ten,
twenty, thirty, forty, Wfty, sixty, seventy, eighty feet. Brighter
and bluer! Not thread-like sparks now but Wngers of Wre. Wriggling
rods of Xame that lashed viciously into the heavens. The sparks
were now as thick as his arm as they left the ball.
Tesla's eyes almost popped out of his
head as he saw full-Xedged bolts of lightning darting into the
air, accompanied by a barrage of tremendous crashes of thunder.
Those lightning bolts were now half again the length of the building,
more than 135 feet long, and the thunder was being heard in Cripple
Creek Wfteen miles away.
Tesla rushed into the building.
``Czito! Czito! Czito! Why did you do
that? I did not tell you to open the switch. Close it again quickly!''
Czito pointed at the switch. It was still
closed. He then pointed at the voltmeter and ammeter on the switchboard.
The needles of both of them registered zero.
Tesla sized up the situation instantly.
The incoming wires carrying power to the laboratory were ``dead.''
``Czito,'' he snapped, ``call up the
powerhouse quickly. They must not do that. They have cut oV my
The telephone call was put through to
the powerhouse. Tesla grabbed the phone and shouted into it:
``This is Nikola Tesla. You have cut
oV my power! You must give me back power immediately! You must
not cut oV my power.''
``Cut oV your power, nothing,'' came
the gruV reply from the other end of the line. ``You've thrown
a short circuit on our line with your blankety-blank-blank experiments
and wrecked our station. You've knocked our generator oV the
line and she's now on Wre. You won't get any more power!''
Tesla had built his apparatus substantially,
so that it would be able to carry the tremendously heavy currents
he expected to draw oV the line. While his own equipment was
able to stand what amounted to a heavy short circuit, he had
overloaded the generator at the Colorado Springs Electric Company
powerhouse, which tried manfully to carry the added burden--but
the heavy surge of current was too much for the dynamo that was
not designed to stand such heavy overloads. Its wires became
hotter and hotter, and Wnally the insulation took Wre and the
copper wire in the armature coils melted like wax, opening its
circuits so that it ceased to generate electricity.
The powerhouse had a second, standby,
generator which was started up in a short time. Tesla was insistent
that he be supplied with current from this machine as soon as
it was running, but his demand was refused. In the future, he
was told, he would be supplied with current from a dynamo operated
independently from the one supplying the Company's regular customers.
The independent dynamo, he was told, would be the one that was
already burned out--and he would get no service until it was
repaired. Tesla oVered to pay the cost of an extra-special rush
job on the repairs if he were permitted to handle the work. Alternating-current
dynamos were no mystery to him. Taking his workers from the laboratory
to the powerhouse he soon had the repair job under way, and in
less than a week the dynamo was again operating.
A lightning stroke produces its spectacular
pyrotechnics and earthvibrating eVects with less than a nickel's
worth of electricity--at a Wve-cent-a-kilowatt hour rate, which
is somewhat less than the average household rate for current.
It consists of tremendously heavy currents, many thousands of
amperes at millions of volts, but it lasts only a few millionths
of a second. If supplied with this ``nickel's worth'' of current
continuously, the lightning Xash would last indeWnitely.
Tesla, in his Colorado Springs laboratory,
was pumping a steady Xow of current worth, at the above rate,
about $15.00 an hour into the earth. In an hour he charged the
earth with several hundred times as much electrical energy as
is contained in a single lightning stroke. Owing to resonance
phenomena, he could build up electrical eVects in the earth greatly
exceeding those of lightning since it was only necessary, once
resonance was established, to supply energy equal to frictional
losses, in order to maintain this condition.
In describing his work with the giant
oscillator, Tesla, using conservative estimates of his results,
stated in his article in the Century Magazine of June, 1900:
However extraordinary the results shown
may appear, they are but triXing compared with those attainable
by apparatus designed on these same principles. I have produced
electrical discharges the actual path of which, from end to end,
was probably more than 100 feet long; but it would not be diYcult
to reach lengths 100 times as great.
I have produced electrical movements
occurring at the rate of approximately 100,000 horsepower, but
rates of one, Wve or ten million horsepower are easily practicable.
In these experiments eVects were developed incomparably greater
than ever produced by any human agencies, and yet these results
are but an embryo of what is to be.
The method used by Tesla to set the earth
in electrical oscillation is the electrical counterpart of the
mechanical device previously described, the plunger bobbing up
and down at the right rhythm that created the stationary waves
in the water.
Tesla used a stream of electrons which
were pumped into and drawn out of the earth at a rapid rhythmic
rate. At the time the experiments were made, the electron still
was not known to be the fundamental atom of electricity, so the
operation was spoken of simply as the Xow of electricity.
The pumping operation was carried on
at a rate of 150,000 oscillations per second. These would produce
electrical pulsations with a wavelength of 2,000 meters (about
When the moving waves expanded outward
from Colorado Springs, they traveled in all directions in ever
increasing circles until they passed over the bulge of the earth,
and then in ever smaller circles and with increasing intensity
converged on the diametrically opposite point of the earth, a
triXe to the west of the two French Islands, Amsterdam and St.
Paul, in the area between the Indian and Antarctic Oceans midway
between the southern tip of Africa and the southwest corner of
Australia. Here a tremendous electrical south pole was built
up, marked by a wave of great amplitude that rose and fell in
unison with Tesla's apparatus at its north pole in Colorado Springs.
As this wave fell, it sent back an electrical echo which produced
the same eVect at Colorado Springs. Just as it arrived back at
Colorado Springs, the oscillator was working to build up a wave
that would re-enforce it and send it back more powerfully than
before to the antipode to repeat the performance.
If there were no losses in this operation--if
the earth were a perfect electrical conductor, and there were
no other sources of resistance--this resonance phenomenon would
build up to a destructive action of gigantic proportions, even
with the charging source of only about 300 horsepower which Tesla
used. Voltages of gigantic magnitudes would be built up. Charged
particles of matter would be hurled outward from the earth with
vast energies, and eventually even the solid matter of the earth
would be aVected and the whole planet disintegrated. Pure resonance,
however, is not attainable. Tesla frequently stressed the fortunate
nature of this fact; for otherwise disastrous results could be
produced by small amounts of energy. The electrical resistance
of the globe would prevent the attainment of pure resonance;
but practical resonance can be attained with safety by supplying
continuously the amount of energy lost in resistance--and this
supplies perfect control of the situation.
With the earth set in electrical oscillation,
a source of energy is provided at all spots on the earth. This
could be drawn oV and made available for use by a suitable simple
apparatus which would contain the same elements as the tuning
unit in a radio set, but larger (a coil and a condenser), a ground
connection and metal rod as high as a cottage. Such a combination
would absorb, at any point on the earth's surface, energy from
the waves rushing back and forth between the electrical north
and south poles created by the Tesla oscillators. No other equipment
would be needed to supply light to the home, provided with Tesla's
simple vacuum-tube lamps, or to produce heating eVects. (For
the operation of ordinary-type motors, a frequency changer would
be needed. Tesla, indeed, developed ironless motors that would
operate on high-frequency currents, but they could not compete
in eYciency with motors operated on low-frequency currents. Frequency
transformation, however, is now a very practical operation.)
The apparatus that Tesla used to charge
the earth is very simple in principle. In its elementary form
it consists of a circuit containing a large coil and condenser
of the correct electrical dimensions to give it the desired frequency
of oscillation, a source of electric current for energizing the
circuit, and a step-up transformer, also tuned, for increasing
The current of a few hundred volts obtained
from the powerhouse was stepped up by an ordinary iron box transformer
to more than 30,000 volts and at this potential was fed into
a condenser which, when Wlled, discharged into the coil connected
across its terminals. The rate of the back-and-forth surge of
current from condenser into coil and coil back to condenser,
in endless repetition, is determined by the capacity of the condenser
for holding current and the length, or inductance, of the coil
through which the discharge must travel. An arc between the joint
terminals of condenser and coil completed the free oscillating
path of the high-frequency current.
In an oscillating circuit the current
is at zero value at the start of each cycle, rises to a high
value and drops to zero again at the end of each half cycle.
The voltage does the same. Both build up to high values at the
midpoint of each half cycle.
The coil through which the current Xows
is surrounded by a magnetic Weld produced by the current. With
heavy current Xows, these Welds can become very extensive and
of high intensity, particularly at the midpoint in each half
The primary coil, or energizing circuit
of Tesla's oscillator, consisted of a number of turns of heavy
wire mounted on a circular fence eighty feet in diameter in the
great hall of his laboratory. In the space within this fenced
enclosure the magnetic Weld built up to a crescendo of intensity
with each half cycle of the current in the primary coil. As the
magnetic circles of force moved to the center of the enclosure,
they became more concentrated and built up a high density of
energy in space in this region.
Centered in this area was another coil
perfectly tuned to vibrate electrically in resonance with the
crescendo of energy in which it was immersed 300,000 times per
second. This coil--about ten feet in diameter, consisting of
nearly one hundred turns on a cagelike frame about ten feet high--in
responding resonantly, built up potentials with maximum values
of more than 100,000,000 volts. No scientist has ever succeeded
in building up currents with even one tenth of this potential
since that time.
When the Wrst surge of magnetic energy
crashed into this coil, it caused a downward avalanche of electrons
from the coil into the earth, thereby inXating the earth electrically
and raising its potential. The next surge of magnetic energy
was of the opposite polarity and caused a tidal wave of electrons
from the earth to rush through the coil and upward to the terminal
of the coil, which was the metal ball mounted on the mast 200
The downward Xood of electrons was spread
over the wide area of the earth but the return upward Xood was
concentrated on a small metal ball on top of the mast, upon which
tremendously high potentials developed. The electrons on the
ball were under explosive electrical pressure and were forced
to escape. They made a spearpoint of attack on the surrounding
air, broke a small opening, and through this rushed uncounted
billions of billions of electrons, their mad stampede rendering
their path through the air incandescent for a distance of scores
of feet--in other words, producing a Xash of lightning.
Having thus succeeded in making the earth
oscillate as if it were a piece of laboratory apparatus, Tesla
would now proceed to test the practical applications of his unique
method of worldwide power transmission. (In describing the mode
of transmission of his oscillating currents through the earth,
Tesla claimed the path of the discharge was from his station
directly through the center of the earth and in a straight line
to the antipode, the return being by the same route, and that
the current on this straight-line path traveled at its normal
velocity--the speed of light. This Xow, he declared, produced
an accompanying surface Xow of current, which was in step at
the starting point and when they rejoined at the antipode; and
this necessitated higher velocities in Xowing over the surface
of the earth. The surface velocities would be inWnite at each
of the antipodes, and would decrease rapidly until at the equatorial
region of this axis it would travel at the normal velocity of
The full story of Tesla's accomplishments
at Colorado Springs has
never been told and never will be told.
He carried the records, engraved on his almost infallible memory,
with him when he died. Fritz Lowenstein, a competent electrical
engineer, interested in high-frequency currents, was his assistant
at Colorado Springs. Tesla, however, took neither Lowenstein
nor anyone else into his conWdence.
It was not necessary for Tesla to write
the detailed records of experiments which scientists and engineers
make, as routine, of their laboratory tests. He possessed a most
remarkable memory, supplemented by his strange power of visualizing
again, in their full aspects of reality, any past events. He
needed no reference books, for he could quickly derive any desired
formula from basic concepts; and he even carried a table of logarithms
in his head. For these reasons there is a great lack of written
records on his experiments, and what is recorded is mostly of
a minor nature.
Fundamental facts of great importance
that he intended to develop later in a practical manner were
stored in the archives of his mind to await the time when he
would be able to present a practical working model of the inventions
based on his discoveries. He had no fear that he would be anticipated
by others because he was so far in advance of his contemporaries
that he could safely bide his time for developing his ideas.
It was Tesla's intention to make the
development of his discoveries a one-man job. He was completely
conWdent, at this time, of his ability to live a century and
a quarter, and to be actively engaged in creative experimental
work up to at least his one-hundredth birthday, at which time
he would give serious thought to the task of writing his biography
and a complete record of his experimental work. Up to almost
his eightieth year he adhered to this plan without doubt as to
its ultimate consummation.
As a result of this most unfortunate
design, technical details are lacking concerning the principal
discoveries made at Colorado Springs. By piecing together the
fragmentary material published in a number of pub-lications,
however, it appears evident that Tesla, in addition to experiments
with his gigantic current movements, as a means of establishing
world-wide broadcasts and making a number of detectors for such
use, tested his power transmission system at a distance of twenty-six
miles from his laboratory and was able to light two hundred incandescent
lamps, of the Edison type, with electrical energy extracted from
the earth while his oscillator was operating. These lamps consumed
about Wfty watts each; and if two hundred were used in the test
bank, the energy consumed would be 10,000 watts, or approximately
Transmission of thirteen horsepower wirelessly
through the earth for a distance of twenty-six miles can be accepted
as a very adequate demonstration of the practicability of Tesla's
plan. He claimed an eYciency of higher than 95 per cent for this
method of energy transmission; so he could, undoubtedly, with
a 300 horsepower oscillator, operate more than a dozen such test
demonstrations simultaneously anywhere on the globe. With respect
to the latter point he stated, ``In this new system it matters
little--in fact, almost nothing--whether the transmission is
eVected at a distance of a few miles, or of a few thousand miles.''
``While I have not as yet,'' he stated
in the Century article of June, 1900, ``actually eVected a transmission
of a considerable amount of energy, such as would be of industrial
importance, to a great distance by this new method, I have operated
several model plants under exactly the same conditions which
will exist in a large plant of this kind, and the practicability
of the system is thoroughly demonstrated.''
Tesla was insistent, in his latter decades,
on the existence, the actuality, the importance and availability
of many undisclosed discoveries which he made at Colorado Springs.
The author urged upon Tesla two or three times the desirability
of making a disclosure, against the ever present danger of an
accident that might cause them to be lost to the world; and when
the inventor was unimpressed by this possibility, he was asked
to permit the author to do something that would bring about their
practical development. Tesla was courteously appreciative of
the interest manifested, but he was very emphatic in his insistence
that he would handle his own aVairs as he saw Wt, and that he
expected shortly to have adequate funds to develop his inventions.
Tesla returned to New York, in the fall
of 1899, broke once more, but with the knowledge that his eVorts
had greatly enriched humanity with important scientiWc discoveries.
Yet even more important was the new attitude his work had made
possible: man had achieved a method through which he could control
his gigantic planet, could look upon this heavenly body from
the godlike vantage point in which he could view it as a piece
of laboratory apparatus to be manipulated as he willed.
The pictures which Tesla brought back
to New York showing the gigantic electrical discharges from his
oscillator, and the stories he related of his experiences, created
a tremendous impression in his circle of friends. It was then
that Robert Underwood Johnson, one of the editors of the Century
Magazine, at whose home in Madison Avenue, in the exclusive Murray
Hill section, Tesla was a frequent and informal visitor, requested
the inventor to write an article telling of his accomplishments.
When the article was written, Johnson
returned it, telling Tesla he had served a mess of cold philosophical
stones instead of a dish of hot throbbing facts. The inventor
had made but scant reference to his recent astounding accomplishments,
but developed instead a philosophical system in which the progress
of humanity was viewed as purely a mechanical process, activated
by the sources of energy available. Three times the article went
back to Tesla and was as many times rewritten, despite the high
literary quality of the work on each occasion.
The article, which carried the title
``The Problem of Increasing Human Energy,'' created a sensation.
Among those whose interest it aroused was J. Pierpont Morgan--a
most fortunate circumstance for Tesla. The great Wnancier had
a soft spot for geniuses, and Tesla was a perfect example of
Morgan the Wnancier was famous, but Morgan
the philanthropist, a greater personality, was to the general
public non-existent, so carefully guarded against publicity were
his benefactions. In this he was not always completely successful
for there are, of necessity, two parties to a beneWcence, the
giver and the receiver; and the pride and gratitude of the latter
can develop into a weak spot in the shell of secrecy.
Tesla was invited to Morgan's home and
quickly became a favorite with the family. His record of accomplishment
which promised still greater achievements in the future, his
pleasant personality, his high moral standards of conduct, his
celibate manner of life and his manner of subordinating himself
to his work, his boylike enthusiasm, were factors that caused
him to be admired not only by Morgan but by all others who knew
Morgan made inquiries of Tesla concerning
his Wnancial structure. There were, in those days, a limited
number of strong Wnancial groups who were playing a terrestrial
game of chess with the world's economic resources; the discoveries
of a genius like Tesla might well have a profound eVect on the
destinies of one or more of these groups, and it would be well
for an operator in this Weld to know more of the inventor's commitments.
Undoubtedly, it was a source of surprise and satisfaction to
Morgan when he learned that Tesla was a lone operator and now
entirely without funds needed to carry on his researches.
Morgan knew well the inestimable value
of Tesla's polyphase alternating-current system. The Niagara
development was a Morgan enterprise, and gigantic plans were
being builded on its already proven success. The man who laid
the scientiWc and engineering foundation for this new and proWtable
industrial electrical era was broke and engaged in developing
a new source of power distribution. He had supplanted Edison's
half-mile power pygmy with a giant having a thousand-mile range,
and now he was working on a system which experiments had shown
could distribute power wirelessly to the ends of the earth with
but a small fraction of the losses of the Edison system in distributing
power by wire for half a mile, and could even send current around
the earth cheaper than his own alternating-current system could
distribute it at a distance of one hundred miles. The economic
implications of this development staggered the imagination. What
eVect would it have on the chess game being played by the world's
Would the new wireless-distribution-of-power
system Wt into the existing economic and Wnancial structure?
Could it be usefully applied without derangements of greater
magnitude than the beneWts it would produce? If it were adopted
for development, who would be best suited to control it? Could
it be controlled in a practical way when any spot on earth would
be an outlet for an unlimited reservoir of power for anyone who
cared to tap it with a simple device? How could compensation
be collected for the service rendered?
These were some of the most obvious aspects
of Tesla's world power system that would instantly present themselves
to the practical mind of Morgan. In addition, Tesla was proposing
a world-wide broadcasting system for distributing news, entertainment,
knowledge, and a host of other interesting items. Morgan could
well understand the practical aspects of wireless communication
in which a charge could be made for transmitting messages from
point to point, which was a part of the Tesla system--but, to
the inventor's way of thinking, only a minor part compared to
the more important broadcasting and power-distribution systems.
A Morgan would understand that ingenious
minds could work out some method for placing such world-wide
services on a practical proWt-paying basis; but this whole new
Tesla development had a fantastical aspect that was upsetting
to so-called ``practical'' minds not accustomed to thinking Wrst-magnitude
thoughts. The new system might prove more important than the
polyphase system which went as a record-breaking bargain to Westinghouse
for $1,000,000. Westinghouse was then the most powerful competitor
of the Edison system which Morgan had backed, and particularly
of the General Electric Company whose Wnancing Morgan had arranged.
Although Westinghouse secured a monopoly, means were found for
causing him to share it, by a license agreement, with the General
Electric Company, so the Morgan company had equal opportunities
to exploit the rich market.
History might now be repeating itself
with the same inventor, who now had a hypersuperpower system
to supplant his own superpower system. In this case Morgan could
place himself in a position to seize the monopoly of world power.
The group holding a monopoly control
over such a system could develop it, or not develop it, as it
saw Wt; it could be developed to produce a proWt by supplanting
or supplementing the satisfactory wire distribution system, or
it could be put on the shelf to prevent it from interfering with
the existing system. A monopoly of it could prevent any other
group from securing it and using it as a club to force concessions
from those controlling existing enterprises. Ownership of the
Tesla world-power and world-broadcasting patents might well prove
an extremely proWtable investment even if a very high price were
paid for them.
But there was also a more subtle viewpoint.
Without a strong backing by a powerful source of capital, a world-wide
system such as Tesla proposed could never be brought into operating
existence. If a powerful group had an opportunity to get in on
the ground Xoor and secure monopoly control and failed to do
so, and let it become apparent that this was done intentionally,
the eVect of such a decision could easily result in scaring oV
any other groups and eVectually preventing anyone from ever backing
Morgan, however, in his contacts with
Tesla, brought no commercial or practical aspects into the situation.
His interest was entirely that of a patron seeking to aid a genius
to express his creative talents. He made gifts to Tesla to which
there were no strings attached. The inventor could use the money
as he saw Wt. No deWnite information is available as to the amount
of those contributions, but an authoritative source, close to
Tesla, Wxes the amount which he received within a very short
period at $150,000. Later contributions, spread over a long period
of years, are believed to have brought the total to double this
Tesla made no secret of Morgan's support.
He stated, in the article in the Electrical World and Engineer,
published March 5, 1904, describing his wireless power work up
to that time:
``For a large part of the work which
I have done so far I am indebted to the noble generosity of Mr.
J. Pierpont Morgan, which was all the more welcome and stimulating,
as it was extended at a time when those, who have since promised
most, were the greatest of doubters.''
When Morgan made his Wrst contribution,
the rumor got into circulation that he was Wnancially interested
in the enterprise upon which Tesla now embarked. The resulting
situation contained some elements of usefulness for Tesla because
of the tremendous prestige of the Wnancier. When, however, Tesla
later found himself critically in need of funds, and it became
apparent that Morgan was not Wnancially involved in the project
and apparently was not coming to the rescue of the inventor,
then the reaction set in and the situation became distinctly
and deWnitely unsatisfactory.
In 1900, however, Tesla had $150,000
on hand and a gigantic idea to be put into operation. The world-shaking
superman, riding his tidal wave of fame and popularity, set to
Last Modified: 07:0707 07, October October, October
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