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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NOTE: what appear to be misspellings
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Substitute in most instances the letters "fl" for "X"
; "fi" for "W" ; "ff" for "V"
; "ffi" for "Y".
DESPITE his celibate life, and his almost
hermitlike existence in his own intellectual sphere, Tesla was,
in his social contacts, a charming individual. The year he had
spent digging ditches and doing hard manual labor, when he could
get a job of any kind, and his experience during that time of
sleeping in any shelter he could obtain and eating any kind of
food he could manage to secure, undoubtedly made a tremendous
and lasting, impression on him. The fact that he could never
be induced to discuss this period would so indicate. Yet it probably
softened him in a beneWcial way--by a going-through-the-mill
process. But it had been a grievous insult to his personality
to be valued only for the brute strength in his muscles; and
this rankled ever after.
Once he had obtained funds through the
founding of his laboratory and the sale of his patents to Westinghouse,
he thereafter maintained an almost princely status. He knew how
to wear clothes to increase the impressiveness of his appearance;
his tallness gave him something of an advantage over others;
his obvious physical strength brought him a respect that forbade
any invasion of his attitude; his excellent English and the care
he exercised to use the language correctly, and his command of
a half-dozen other languages, established him as a scholar; and
the Wrst batch of his alternating-current inventions created
for him in the mind of the public a reputation for outstanding
scientiWc accomplishment. The fact that he always spoke of the
value of his inventions to the world, and not of the greatness
of his own accomplishment, endeared him to all who met him.
When Tesla was riding a tidal wave of
popularity during the nineties, he was averse to publicity; but
frequently well-known writers for the newspapers were able to
break through the barriers and secure ``feature'' articles. An
excellent description of him, keyed to the manner of the period,
is contained in an article written by Franklin Chester, in the
Citizen of August 22, 1897. The portion referring to his personal
appearance and activities follows:
So far as personal appearance goes no
one can look upon him without feeling his force. He is more than
six feet tall and very slender. Yet he possesses great physical
power. His hands are large, his thumbs abnormally long, and this
is a sign of great intelligence. His hair is black and straight,
a deep shining black. He brushes it sharply from over his ears,
so that it makes a ridge with serrated edges.
His cheekbones are high and prominent,
the mark of the Slav: his skin is like marble that age has given
the Wrst searing of yellow. His eyes are blue, deeply set, and
they burn like balls of Wre. Those weird Xashes of light he makes
with his instruments seem also to shoot from them. His head is
wedge shaped. His chin is almost a point.
Never was a human being Wlled with loftier
ideals. Never did a man labor so unceasingly, so earnestly, so
unselWshly for the beneWt of the race. Tesla is not rich. He
does not trouble himself about money. Had he chosen to follow
in the footsteps of Edison he could be, perhaps, the richest
man in the world, and Tesla is just 40 years old.
Tesla is, above all things, a serious
man, undoubtedly the most serious man in New York. Yet he has
a keen sense of humor and the most beautiful manners. He is the
most genuinely modest of men. He knows no jealousy. He has never
decried the accomplishments of another, never refused credit.
When he talks you listen. You do not
know what he is saying, but it enthralls you. You feel the importance
without understanding the meaning. He speaks the perfect English
of a highly educated foreigner, without accent and with precision.
He speaks eight languages equally well.
The daily life of this man has been the
same, practically, ever since he has been in New York. He lives
in the Gerlach, a very quiet family hotel, in 27th street, between
Broadway and Sixth avenue. He starts for his laboratory before
9 o'clock in the morning, all day long he lives in his weird,
uncanny world, reaching forth to capture new power to gain fresh
No stranger ever sees him at his work.
No one knows of his assistants. At rare intervals he presents
some experiments in his laboratory, and there is no sacriWce
that thousands of people would not make to gain admission to
Usually he works until 6 o'clock, but
he may stay later. The absence of natural light does not trouble
him. Tesla makes sunlight in his workshop.
At exactly 8 o'clock he enters the Waldorf.
He is attired in irreproachable evening clothes. In the winter
time he never wears an evening jacket, but always the coat with
He Wnishes his dinner at exactly 10 o'clock,
and leaves his hotel, either to go to his rooms to study or to
return to his laboratory to work through the night.
Arthur Brisbane, who later became Hearst's
famous editor, interviewed Tesla and published in The World,
August 22, 1894, the longest story he had written on a famous
person. He declared Tesla ``Our Foremost Electrician--Greater
Even than Edison,'' and included the following description of
He has eyes set very far back in his
head. They are rather light. I asked him how he could have such
light eyes and be a Slav. He told me that his eyes were once
much darker, but that using his mind a great deal had made them
many shades lighter. I have often heard it said that using the
brain makes the eyes lighter in color. Tesla's conWrmation of
the theory through his personal experience is important.
He is very thin, is more than six feet
tall, and weighs less than a hundred and forty pounds. He has
very big hands. His thumbs are remarkably big, even for such
big hands. They are extraordinarily big. This is a good sign.
The thumb is the intellectual part of the hand. The apes have
very small thumbs. Study them and you will notice this.
Nikola Tesla has a head that spreads
out at the top like a fan. His head is shaped like a wedge. His
chin is as pointed as an ice-pick. His mouth is too small. His
chin, though not weak, is not strong enough. His face cannot
be studied and judged like the faces of other men, for he is
not a worker in practical Welds. He lives his life up in the
top of his head, where ideas are born, and up there he has plenty
of room. His hair is jet black and curly. He stoops--most men
do when they have no peacock blood in them. He lives inside of
himself. He takes a profound interest in his own work. He has
that supply of self-love and self-conWdence which usually goes
with success. And he diVers from most of the men who are written
and talked about in the fact that he has something to tell.
Tesla had, to be sure, a sense of humor
and enjoyed putting over a subtle joke. Before the period in
which he became a regular diner at the Waldorf-Astoria, he dined
nightly at Delmonico's, then the smartest hostelry in the city,
and a gathering place for ``The 400.'' Tesla was the most famous
and spectacular Wgure among the famous patrons of the famous
place, but he always dined alone. He could never be induced to
join other groups and never had a guest of his own. After dining
he would always return to work at his laboratory.
One evening some of his friends, believing
that he was working too hard and should get some relaxation,
induced him to join them in a game of billiards. They assumed
he had neglected to learn how to play games, so, on arriving
at the billiard room, they explained to him how to hold the cue,
strike the balls, and other elements of the game. Tesla had not
played billiards in a dozen years; but during his second year
at Grätz, when he was a year ahead in his studies and spent
his evenings in the café's, he had become an expert billiardist.
When the experts at Delmonico's gave him preparatory instruction,
he asked some ``dumb'' questions, and made some intentional miscues.
Taking on one of the players and still asking silly questions,
he tried the most diYcult way of making shots--to demonstrate
his purely amateur status--and made them, to the amazement of
the experts. Several of them took him on that evening, and he
defeated all of them with badly unbalanced scores. He declared
the new game give him a wonderful opportunity to practice very
abstract mathematical theories; and the experts at Delmonico's
spread stories about the wonderful accomplishment of Scientist
Tesla in mastering the game in a single evening and defeating
the best players in the city. The story got into the newspapers.
Tesla refused to play any more, declaring he was in danger of
becoming so enthusiastic over the game that it would interfere
with his researches.
This same man magniWcent who graced the
Waldorf-Astoria and Delmonico's was not averse, however, to visiting
the Bowery, which was but a block away from his Houston Street
laboratory. He repaired to a thirst-quenching emporium on that
thoroughfare one afternoon shortly after a denizen of the Bowery,
Steve Brodie, had achieved fame by jumping, or at least claiming
to have jumped, oV the Brooklyn Bridge. As Tesla raised his glass
of whiskey he said to the bartender: ``You know what Steve said
as he was about to jump oV the bridge--`Down he goes'''; and
with that he downed his liquor in a gulp.
A near-by drinker, a little the worse
for several, misunderstood Tesla's remark and got the impression
he had heard Steve Brodie telling the Wnal episode of his feat.
He rushed up to Tesla to buy him a drink, and was joined by his
friends. Tesla with a laugh shook them oV and dashed out of the
bar, while the misguided drinker started after him yelling, ``Stop
him, that's Steve.'' On the street the pedestrians misunderstood
the thick-tongued drinker's shout and joined him in the chase,
calling ``Stop, thief!'' Tesla's long legs rendered him a valuable
service and he got a lead on the crowd, dashed into an alley,
over a fence and climbed a Wre escape on the back of his own
building, reached his laboratory through a window, quickly donned
a blacksmith's apron and started hammering a bar of metal. His
pursuers, however, failed to trace him.
Tesla was idolized by the Serbians in
New York. A great many of them could claim to be distant relatives
through either the Tesla or Mandich side of the family, and those
who could not claim this distinction revered him none the less,
despite the fact he never accepted invitations to take part in
their social or other functions.
One day an excited Serbian, a laborer,
came to his apartment at the Waldorf-Astoria to beg his aid.
He had gotten into a Wght and pummeled a fellow Serbian, who
had sworn out a warrant for his arrest. The visitor did not have
any money but wanted to go to Chicago to escape arrest. Would
Tesla please lend him the money for his railroad fare?
``So you assaulted a man and now want
to run away to escape punishment,'' said Tesla. ``You may run
away from the law but you are not going to escape punishment;
you are going to get it right now!'' Seizing a cane and grasping
the man by the back of the neck, he ran him around the room,
beating the dust out of the seat of his trousers until the man
cried for mercy.
``Do you think you can be a better man
in Chicago and keep out of Wghts?'' Tesla asked him. The man
was sure he could. He received the money for his railroad fare
and a few dollars more.
So great was Tesla's popularity in the
nineties that many persons came to dine in the Palm Room at the
Waldorf just to catch a glimpse of the famous inventor. He arranged
to leave his oYce at six, but just before leaving he would telephone
the order for his dinner to the headwaiter, always insisting
that none less could serve him. The meal was required to be ready
at eight o'clock. In the meantime he would go to his room and
array himself in formal evening attire--white tie and tails.
He dined alone, except on the rare occasions when he would give
a dinner to a group to meet his social obligations.
Money was always a nuisance detail to
Tesla. For about Wfteen years, following 1888, he always had
all he needed to meet his obligations; and he lived well. After
about 1902 his Wnancial road became quite rocky--but his fame
was greater than ever, and likewise the need for maintaining
his standard of living if he was to recoup his fortune. He continued
to stage frequent large dinners at the Waldorf to repay his social
obligations, and had diYculty in accustoming himself to a money
deWciency. On one occasion, when a large party was assembled
in a private dining room, the headwaiter whispered to him that
a most excellent dinner was prepared and ready to serve as he
had ordered it, but that the credit department insisted it could
not be served until he paid for it in advance. ``Get Mr. Morgan
on the telephone in the manager's oYce and I will be down there
immediately,'' Tesla fumed. In a short time a more-than-adequate
check was delivered to Tesla by a messenger. Many such occasions
are reported to have arisen, but were always straightened out
in the manager's oYce, usually without any outside intervention.
The closest approach to home life which
Tesla enjoyed came to him through Robert Underwood Johnson diplomat
and poet, and one of the editors of the Century Magazine, whose
home was in Madison Avenue in the fashionable Murray Hill district.
Tesla and Johnson were very close friends. A love of poetry was
one of the several interests they had in common. Johnson wrote,
and published in the Century, in April, 1895, a short poem on
his visit to Tesla's laboratory. This led to a cooperative enterprise
in which he paraphrased many pieces of Serbian poetry from literal
translations made by Tesla, who could recite many thousands of
lines of such material from memory. About forty pages of these
translations, with an introductory note by Tesla, appeared in
the next edition of Poems by Johnson.
Persons famous in all Welds of activity
were frequent guests in the Johnson home, and formal dinners
were constantly being held for brilliant assemblages of personalities.
Tesla was present as frequently as he could be induced to come,
but he preferred to avoid all formal dinners as much as possible.
He was, however, a very frequent informal visitor, arriving unexpected,
and often at most unusual hours. It was not uncommon for Tesla
to arrive at the Johnson home after midnight, after the family
had retired, and for ``Bob'' and ``Nick'' to sit up for hours
reveling in the exchange of a magniWcent array of ideas. (Johnson
and ``Willie'' K. Vanderbilt, were, as has been noted, the only
individuals who rated the exchange of Wrst names with Tesla.)
Tesla's visits to the Johnson home were
always many hours long. He would arrive in a hansom cab, which
he always required to wait for him to return to his hotel only
a few blocks distant. The Johnson children learned to take advantage
of this, and when he arrived early in the evening they would
get his permission to use the cab for a drive through Central
Park while he chatted at home.
Tesla enjoyed the opera and at one time
attended the performances quite frequently. William K. Vanderbilt's
box was always available to him, as likewise were those of many
other patrons of the Metropolitan. He occasionally attended the
theatre. His favorite actress was Elsie Ferguson who, he declared,
knew how to dress and was the most graceful woman he had ever
seen on the stage. He gradually dropped both the theatre and
opera in favor of the movies, but was an infrequent attendant
even at those. He would not witness a tragedy but enjoyed comedy
and the lighter aspects of entertainment.
One of his close friends was Rear Admiral
Richmond Pearson Hobson, the Spanish American War hero. In later
years, Hobson was the only person who was able to cajole Tesla
into breaking a long vigil at his intellectual pursuits for a
session at the movies.
Tesla did not subscribe to any religion.
Early in life he severed his relations with the Church and did
not accept its doctrines. At his seventy-Wfth birthday dinner
he declared that that which is called the soul is merely one
of the functions of the body, and that when the activities of
the body cease, the soul ceases to exist.
It is difficult for a man to appear as
a hero to his secretary, but to Miss Dorothy F. Skerritt, who
served Tesla in this capacity for many years until he closed
his oYce when he was seventy, he remained a saintly superman.
Her description of Tesla, at this age, records him as possessing
the same magnetic personality that so impressed writers thirty
years earlier. She wrote:
As one approached Mr. Tesla he beheld
a tall, gaunt man. He appeared to be an almost divine being.
When about 70 he stood erect, his extremely thin body immaculately
and simply attired in clothing of a subdued coloring. Neither
scarf pin nor ring adorned him. His bushy black hair was parted
in the middle and brushed back briskly from his high broad forehead,
deeply lined by his close concentration on scientiWc problems
that stimulated and fascinated him. From under protruding eyebrows
his deepset, steel gray, soft, yet piercing eyes, seemed to read
your innermost thoughts. As he waxed enthusiastic about Welds
to conquer and achievements to attain his face glowed with almost
ethereal radiance, and his listeners were transported from the
commonplaces of today to imaginative realms of the future. His
genial smile and nobility of bearing always denoted the gentlemanly
characteristics that were so ingrained in his soul.
Until the last, Tesla was meticulously
careful about his clothes. He knew how to dress well and did
so. He declared to a secretary, in 1910, that he was the best-dressed
man on Fifth Avenue and intended to maintain that standard. This
was not because of personal vanity. Neatness and fastidiousness
in clothes were entirely in harmony with every other phase of
his personality. He did not maintain a large wardrobe and he
wore no jewelry of any kind. Good clothes Wtted in very nicely
with his courtly bearing. He observed, however, that in the matter
of clothes the world takes a man at his own valuation, as expressed
in his appearance, and frequently eases his way to his objective
through small courtesies not extended to less prepossessing individuals.
He was partial to the waisted coat. No
matter what he wore, however, it carried an air of quiet elegance.
The only type of hat he wore was the black derby. He carried
a cane and wore, usually, gray suede gloves.
Tesla paid $2.50 a pair for his gloves,
wore them for a week and then discarded them even though they
still appeared as fresh as when they came from the maker. He
standardized his style of ties and always wore the four-in-hand.
The design motive was of minor importance but the colors were
limited to a combination of red and black. He purchased a new
tie every week, paying always one dollar.
Silk shirts, plain white, were the only
kind Tesla would wear. As with other articles of his clothing,
such as pajamas, his initials were always embroidered on the
Handkerchiefs he purchased in large numbers
because he never sent them to the laundry. After their Wrst use
they were discarded. He liked a good quality of linen and purchased
a standard package brand. His collars were never laundered, either.
He never wore one more than once.
Tesla always wore high-laced shoes, except
on formal occasions. He required a long narrow shoe and insisted
on a last that had a neatly tapered square-toe eVect. His shoes
were undoubtedly made to order, for the tops extended halfway
up his calf, a style that could not be purchased in merchant
shoe stores. His tallness in all probability made this additional
support at the ankles desirable.
The single use of articles, such as handkerchiefs
and collars, extended to napkins. Tesla had a germ phobia, and
it acted like so much sand in the social machinery of his life.
He required that the table he used in the dining room of his
hotel be not used by others. A fresh table cloth was required
for every meal. He also required that a stack of two dozen napkins
be placed on the left side of the table. As each item of silverware
and each dish was brought to him--and he required that they be
sterilized by heat before leaving the kitchen--he would pick
each one up, interposing a napkin between his hand and the utensil,
and use another napkin to clean it. He could then drop both napkins
on the Xoor. Even for a simple meal, he usually ran through the
full stock of napkins. Flies were his pet abomination. A Xy alighting
on his table was adequate cause for removing everything from
the table and making an entirely new start with the meal.
Tesla was fortunate in that the headwaiter
at the Waldorf-Astoria, during the period he was living there,
Mr. Peterson, was afterward headwaiter at the Hotel Pennsylvania,
where he later lived for several years. A story was in circulation
to the eVect that both at the Waldorf and at the Pennsylvania
a special chef was employed to prepare Tesla's meals, but Mr.
Peterson states that this story was untrue.
In his earlier years, for dinner, he
greatly enjoyed Wne thick steaks, preferably the Wlet mignon,
and it was not unusual for him to consume two or three at a sitting.
Later his preference turned to lamb, and he would frequently
order a roast saddle of it. While the saddle was usually large
enough to serve a party of several persons, as a rule he ate
of it only the central portion of the tenderloin. A crown of
baby lamb chops was another favorite dish. He also relished roast
squab with nut stuYng. In fowl, however, his choice was roast
duck. He required that it be roasted under a smothering of celery
stalks. This method of preparing the duck was of his own devising.
He very often made it the central motif around which a dinner
was designed when entertaining friends, and on such occasions
he would go to the kitchen to superintend its preparation. Duck
so prepared was nevertheless delicious. Of the duck he ate only
the meat on either side of the breast bone.
With the passing decades, Tesla shifted
away from a meat diet. He substituted Wsh, always boiled, and
Wnally eliminated the meat entirely. He later almost entirely
eliminated the Wsh and lived on a vegetarian diet. Milk was his
main standby, and toward the end of his life it was the principal
item of diet, served warm.
As a youth he drank a great deal of coVee,
and, while he gradually became aware that he suVered unfavorable
inXuences from it, he found it a diYcult habit to break. When
he Wnally made the decision to drink no more of it, he adhered
to his good intentions but was forced to recognize the fact that
the desire for it remained. He combated this by ordering with
each meal a pot of his favorite coVee, and having a cup of it
poured so that he would get the aroma. It required ten years
for the aroma of the coVee to transform itself into a nuisance
so that he felt secure in no longer having it served. Tea and
cocoa he also considered injurious.
He was a heavy smoker in his youth, mostly
of cigars. A sister who seemed fatally ill, when he was in his
early twenties, said she would try to get better if he would
give up smoking. He did so immediately. His sister recovered,
and he never smoked again.
Tesla drank whiskey, for this he considered
a very beneWcial source of energy and an invaluable means for
prolonging life. It was responsible, he believed, for the longevity
enjoyed by many of his ancestors. It would enable him, he declared
early in the century, to live to one hundred and Wfty. When prohibition
came along with the First World War, he denounced it as an intolerable
interference with the rights of citizens. Nevertheless, he promptly
gave up the use of whiskey and all other beverages except milk
and water. He declared, however, that the elimination of whiskey
would reduce his expectation of life to one hundred and thirty
Stimulants were not necessary to help
him to think, Tesla said. A brisk walk he found much better as
an aid for concentration. He seemed to be in a dream when walking.
Even one whom he knew very well he would pass at close range
and not see, though he might appear to be looking directly at
him. His thoughts were usually miles away from where he was.
It was this practice, apparently, which was responsible for the
accident, in 1937, when he was struck and severely injured by
a taxicab. As a matter of fact, he had stated in an interview
two years earlier that he would probably be killed by a truck
or taxicab while jaywalking.
Tesla's weight, stripped, was 142 pounds,
and, except during brief periods of illness, hardly varied a
pound from 1888 to about 1926, when he intentionally reduced
his weight Wve pounds.
One of Tesla's indulgences, over many
years, was scalp massages. He would visit a barbershop three
times a week and have the barber rub his scalp for half an hour.
He was insistent upon the barber placing a clean towel on his
chair but, strangely enough, he did not object to the use of
the common shaving mug and brush.
Tesla always claimed that he never slept
more than two hours a night. His retiring time, he said, was
Wve am, and he would arise at ten am after spending only two
hours in sleep, three hours being too much. Once a year, he admitted,
he would sleep for Wve hours--and that would result in building
up a tremendous reserve of energy. He never stopped working,
he claimed,--even when asleep. Tesla laughed at Edison's claim
that he slept only four hours a night. It was a regular practice
with Edison, he said, to sit down in his laboratory and doze
oV into a three-hour nap about twice a day. It is possible that
Tesla, too, obtained some sleep in a similar fashion, perhaps
without being conscious of the fact. Hotel employees have related
that it was quite common to see Tesla standing transWxed in his
room for hours at a time, so oblivious to his surroundings that
they were able to work around his room without his being, apparently,
aware of their presence.
Tesla always provided his oYce with a
separate washroom which no one but himself was permitted to use.
He would wash his hands on the slightest pretext. When he did
so, he required that his secretary hand him a freshly laundered
towel each time to dry them.
He went to extremes to avoid shaking
hands. He usually placed his hands behind his back when anyone
approached who he feared might make an eVort to shake hands,
and this frequently led to embarrassing moments. If by chance
a visitor to his oYce should catch him oV guard and shake his
hand, Tesla was so upset that he would be unable to pay attention
to the visitor's mission and frequently would dismiss him before
it was completely stated; and immediately he would rush to the
washroom and scour his hands. Workmen eating their lunch with
dirty hands almost nauseated him.
Pearls, too, were one of Tesla's phobias.
If a woman guest at a dinner party to which he was invited wore
pearls, he was unable to eat. Smooth round surfaces, in general,
were an abomination to him; it had even taken him a long time
to learn to tolerate billiard balls.
Tesla never knew the experience of having
a headache. In spite of a number of cases of serious illness,
in his independent years he was never attended by a doctor.
There were reasons for practically all
of Tesla's phobias, not all of them generally known. His germ
phobia can be traced back to his two serious illnesses early
in life, both of which were probably cholera, a disease constantly
prevalent in his native land, caused by a germ transmitted by
impure drinking water and by contact between individuals.
Tesla was not oblivious of his idiosyncrasies;
he was quite aware of them and of the friction which they caused
in his daily life. They were an essential part of him, however,
and he could no more have dispensed with them than he could his
right arm. They were probably one of the consequences of his
solitary mode of life or, possibly, a contributing cause of it.
Tesla's mind always seemed to be under
an explosive pressure. An avalanche of ideas was forever straining
for release. He seemed to be unable to keep up with the Xood
of his own thoughts. He never had suYcient facilities to keep
his accomplishments equal to his projects. If he had an army
of adequately trained assistants, he would still be insuYciently
equipped. As a result, those associated with him always experienced
a sense of ``drive''; yet he was a most generous employer both
in the matter of wages paid and the number of hours of work required.
He frequently demanded overtime work but always paid generously
Nevertheless, Tesla was not an easy man
to work for. He was most meticulously neat in his personal aVairs
and required all workers to be the same. He was an excellent
mechanic and set extremely high standards, by his own accomplishments,
for all work done in his shops. He greatly admired cleverness
in his assistants, frequently rewarding them with extra compensation
for diYcult jobs well done, but was extremely impatient with
stupidity and carelessness.
Although Tesla maintained a staV of draughtsmen,
he never used them in his own design work on machines, and tolerated
them only because of unavoidable contacts with other organizations.
When having machines constructed for his own use, he would give
individual instruction on each part. The workman scheduled to
do the machinework would be summoned to Tesla's desk, where the
inventor would make an almost microscopically small sketch in
the middle of a large sheet of paper. No matter how detailed
the piece of work, or its size, the sketch was always less than
one inch in its largest dimensions. If Tesla made the slightest
slip of the pencil in drawing the sketch, he would not make an
erasure but would start over on another sheet of paper. All dimensions
were given verbally. When the drawing was Wnished, the workman
was not permitted to take it with him to the shop to guide him
in his work. Tesla would destroy the drawing and require the
machinist to work from memory. Tesla depended entirely on his
memory for all details, he never reduced his mentally completed
plans to paper for guidance in construction--and he believed
others could achieve this ability if they would make suYcient
eVort. So he sought to force them to try by insisting on their
working without drawings.
All those who worked with Tesla greatly
admired him for his remarkable ability to keep track of a vast
number of Wnest details concerning every phase of the many projects
he had under way simultaneously. No employee was ever given any
more information than was absolutely essential for completing
a project. No one was ever told the purposes for which a machine
or article was to be used. Tesla claimed that Edison received
more ideas from his associates than he contributed, so he himself
bent over backward to avoid this situation. He felt that he was
the richest man in the world in the matter of ideas and needed
none from anyone else; and he intended to prevent all from contributing
Tesla was probably very unfair to Edison
in this respect. The two men were entirely diVerent and distinct
types. Tesla was totally lacking in the university type of mind;
that is, the mind which is adapted to cooperate with others in
acquiring knowledge and conducting research. He could neither
give nor receive, but was entirely adequate to his own requirements.
Edison had more of the cooperative, or executive, type of mind.
He was able to attract brilliant associates and to delegate to
them major portions of his inventive research projects. He had
the ability to act as a catalyzer, to stimulate them to creative
mental activities, and thus multiply his own creative abilities.
If Tesla had possessed this ability, his record of accomplishment
would have been tremendously magniWed.
The inability to work with others, the
inability to share his plans, was the greatest handicap from
which Tesla suVered. It completely isolated him from the rest
of the intellectual structure of his time and caused the world
to lose a vast amount of creative thought which he was unable
to translate into complete inventions. It is a duty of a master
to train pupils who will carry on after him--but Tesla refused
to accept this responsibility. Had Tesla, in his most active
period, associated with him a half-dozen brilliant young scientists,
they would have been in a position to link him with the engineering
and scientiWc worlds from which, despite his eminence and his
outstanding accomplishments, he was to a great extent isolated
because of his unusual personal characteristics. His fame was
so secure that the success of his assistants could not have detracted
from it; but the master would have shone more brightly in the
brilliant accomplishments of his pupils. He might well have attracted
some practical young men who could have aided him by assuming
the burden of making practical application of some of the minor
but important inventions from which he could have earned suYcient
proWt to pay the cost of maintaining his laboratories. Many scores
of important inventions have undoubtedly been lost to the world
because of Tesla's intellectual hermit characteristics. Undoubtedly,
he indirectly inspired many young men to become inventors.
Tesla responded powerfully to personal
idiosyncrasies in individuals with whom he worked. When his reaction
was unfavorable, he was unable to tolerate the presence of the
person within eyeshot. When carrying on his experimental work
at the Allis Chalmers plant in Milwaukee, for example, he did
not increase his popularity by insisting that certain workers
be dropped from the crew working on the turbine because he did
not like their looks. Since, as noted earlier, he had already
antagonized the engineers in that plant by going over their heads
to the president and board of directors, the turbine job went
forward in something less than a cooperative atmosphere.
Tesla was thoroughly impractical throughout,
too, in handling money matters. When he was working on the Union
Sulphur Company turbine project, a ship was made available for
his use, free, during the day; but if he worked after six pm
it would cost him $20 per hour. He never showed up at the ship
until six o'clock. Every night, in addition, he had to hand out
$10 for suppers for the crew. In the course of a year these costs
totaled about $12,000, which must have cut heavily into the retainer
he received. Nor were these his only additional expenses. Almost
every night he handed a $5 tip to his principal assistants among
the crew, and once a week to all members of the crew. These manifestations
of generosity were not, of course, a total loss to Tesla; they
might rather be classed as necessities, for he was very dictatorial
in directing his assistants.
Inquiries among the employees at hotels
where he lived revealed that he had a reputation for acting in
a most cavalier manner toward the servants. He was almost cruel
in the manner in which he ordered them around, but would make
immediate compensation by the generous tips he bestowed.
He was always, however, very considerate
of women, and even men, on his oYce staV. If any one of them
did an unusually Wne piece of work, everyone on the staV was
informed of it. Criticism was always delivered privately to the
Tesla had a standing rule that every
messenger boy who came to his oYce was to receive a tip of twenty-Wve
cents, and he set aside a fund of $10 a week for this purpose.
If necessity required that he keep his
staV of young women secretaries and typists working overtime
for several hours, he would provide them with a dinner at Delmonico's.
He would hire a cab for the girls and would follow them in another
cab. After making arrangements to pay the bill, and paying the
tip in advance, he would leave.
Tesla timed his arrival at the oYce so
that he entered at the stroke of noon. He required that his secretary
should be standing immediately inside the door to receive him
and take his hat, cane and gloves. His oYces were opened by nine
o'clock each morning, so all routine matters would be handled
before his arrival. Before Tesla arrived, all the shades in the
oYce had to be drawn so that no outdoor light was admitted and
night conditions were simulated. The inventor, as remarked, was
a ``sun dodger.'' He appeared to be at his best at night and
at some kind of disadvantage in daylight; at any rate, he preferred
the night for work and what he called his recreation.
The only time Tesla would permit the
shades of his oYce to be raised was when a lightning storm was
raging. The various oYces he leased faced on open spaces. The
8 West 40th Street oYce was on the south side of Bryant Park,
in the east end of which was the low-roofed structure that housed
the New York Public Library. From his windows on the twentieth
Xoor, he could look beyond the city roof scape below him and
obtain a broad view of the sky.
When the rumbles of distant thunder announced
that the Wreworks of the sky would presently be Xashing, it was
not only permissible to raise the shades--it was obligatory.
Tesla loved to watch lightning Xash. The black mohair couch would
be drawn close to the windows so that he could lie on it, completely
relaxed, while his vision commanded a full view of the northern
or the western sky. He was always talking to himself, but during
a lightning storm he would become eloquent. His conversation
on such occasions was never recorded. He wished to be a lone
observer of this gorgeous spectacle, and his secretaries were
quite willing that he should be so accommodated. By Wnger measurements
and counting seconds he was able to calculate the distance, length
and voltage of each Xash.
How thrilled Tesla must have been by
these tremendous sparks, many times longer than he had been able
to produce in his Colorado Springs laboratory! He had successfully
imitated Nature's electrical Wreworks, but he had not as yet
exceeded her performance.
The ancient Romans sublimated their frustrations
by the forces of Nature by creating the mental concept of their
mightiest god, Jupiter, as one endowed with the power of creating
lightning and hurling his bolts at earth. Tesla had refused to
accept frustration; but, like the ancient Romans, he too set
up a mental concept, a superman not inferior to the Romans' ruling
god, who would control the forces of Nature. Yes, Tesla thoroughly
enjoyed a lightning storm. From his mohair couch, he used to
applaud the lightning; he approved of it. He may even have been
a little bit jealous.
Tesla never married; no woman, with the
exception of his mother and his sisters, ever shared the smallest
fraction of his life. He idolized his mother and admired his
sisters for their intellectual accomplishments. One of his sisters,
Marica, exhibited unusual ability as a mathematician and had
greater ability than his own for memorizing long passages from
books. He attributed to his mother most of his abilities as an
inventor, and he continuously spoke in praise of her ability
to contrive useful gadgets for the household, often regretting
that she had not been born into an environment in which she would
have been able to manifest to a larger world her many creative
talents. He was not unaware of the values which a woman could
bring into a man's life, for he had ever before him the vast
contributions which his mother made to his father's welfare and
happiness. However, he lived instead a blueprint life, one which
he had planned in his early youth, one designed along engineering
lines, with all of the time and energies available to be directed
to invention and none to be dissipated on emotional projects.
From the romantic point of view, Tesla
as a young man was not unattractive. He was too tall and slender
to pose as the physical Adonis, but his other qualiWcations more
than compensated for this possible defect. He was handsome of
face, had a magnetic personality, but was quiet, almost shy;
he was soft spoken, well educated and wore clothes well in spite
of inadequate funds with which to keep up a wardrobe. However,
he avoided romantic encounters, or any situations that would
lead up to them, just as assiduously as other young men sought
them. He would not permit his thoughts to wander into romantic
channels, and with thoughts successfully controlled, action control
became a problem of vanishing magnitude. He did not develop an
antagonism to women; he solved the problem, instead, by idealizing
A typical instance of how he avoided
romance is furnished by an incident that occurred in Paris when
he returned to that city to give a lecture on his alternating-current
system after he had become world famous. His wonderful discoveries
were the principal topic of conversation of the day, and he was
the cynosure of all eyes wherever he went. The situation was
entirely pleasant to Tesla. Less than ten years before, the executives
the Continental Edison Company, in that city, had not alone rejected
the alternating-current system he had oVered them but had cheated
him of his just earnings. Now he was returning to that city after
receiving recognition and wealth in the United States and fame
throughout the world. He was in Paris as a returned hero and
the world was at his feet.
As he sat in an outdoor café with
a young male friend, amidst a chattering, fashionably dressed
crowd, a graceful, gorgeously gowned young woman, with a stylishly
coiVured crown of red hair, whom he instantly recognized as Sarah
Bernhardt, the famous French actress--the ``divine Sarah''--swung
close to his table and when a few feet away very auspiciously
dropped a tiny lace handkerchief.
Tesla was on his feet in an instant.
He recovered the handkerchief, and with his hat in his other
hand, bowing low from the waist, he handed the wisp of lace to
the beautiful tragedienne, saying: ``Mademoiselle, your handkerchief.''
Without even an upward glance at her graciously smiling face,
he returned to his chair and resumed his conversation about his
experiments on a world wireless system of power transmission.
When a newspaper reporter once asked
Tesla why he had not married, his reply, as contained in the
published interview was:
I have planned to devote my whole life
to my work and for that reason I am denied the love and companionship
of a good woman; and more, too.
I believe that a writer or a musician
should marry. They gain inspiration that leads to Wner achievement.
But an inventor has so intense a nature,
with so much in it of wild, passionate quality that, in giving
himself to a woman, he would give up everything, and so take
everything from his chosen Weld: It is a pity, too; sometimes
we feel so lonely.
In my student days I have known what
it was to pass forty-eight hours at a stretch at a gaming table,
undergoing intense emotion, that which most people believe is
the strongest that can be known, but it is tame and insipid compared
with that sublime moment when you see the labor of weeks fructify
in a successful experiment that proves your theories. . . .
``Many times has Nikola Tesla known that
supreme happiness,'' said the interviewer, ``and he is likely
to know it often again. It is impossible that his life work can
be Wnished at forty. It would seem that his powers are only reaching
Tesla was not unappreciative of the activities
of the many women who showed a sincere interest in his welfare,
and who tried to make life tolerable and pleasant for an obviously
none-too-well-adjusted scientist projected into a social world
from which he would have been only too willing to escape. He
spoke glowingly of the Wrst Mrs. Clarence Mackay (née
Duer), Mrs. Jordan L. Mott, and of the beauty of Lady Ribblesdale
(the former Mrs. John Jacob Astor). He admired the energetic
idealism of Miss Anne Morgan; but never was the situation brightened
by a single tint of romance.
He was impressed by the tall, graceful
and charming Miss Marguerite Merington, a talented pianist and
writer on musical subjects, who was a frequent dinner guest at
the Johnson home.
``Why do you not wear diamonds and jewelry
like other women?'' Tesla undiplomatically asked Miss Merington,
``It is not a matter of choice with me,''
she replied, ``but if I had enough money to load myself with
diamonds I could think of better ways of spending it.''
``What would you do with money if you
had it?'' the inventor continued.
``I would prefer to purchase a home in
the country, except that I would not enjoy commuting to the suburbs,''
Miss Merington replied.
``Ah! Miss Merington, when I start getting
my millions I will solve that problem. I will buy a square block
here in New York and build a villa for you in the center and
plant trees all around it. Then you will have your country home
and will not have to leave the city.''
Tesla was most generous in the distribution
of his always still-to-be-gotten millions; none of his friends
would ever have lacked anything they desired if he had had suYcient
funds with which to satisfy their wishes. His promises, however,
were always to be fulWlled--''When I start getting my millions.''
Tesla had, as might be expected, very
deWnite ideas about how women should dress. He also had clear-cut
ideas about the feminine Wgure. He disliked the big ``hefty''
type and utterly detested fat women. The super-upholstered type,
Xashily dressed and heavily jeweled, that wasted time in hotel
lobbies, were his pet abomination. He liked women trim, slim,
graceful and agile.
One of his secretaries, well proportioned
and a graceful blonde, wore to the oYce one day a dress that
was in the very latest style. It was a summer dress made from
a pretty print. The prevailing style called for an extremely
low waist line, well down on the hips, several inches below its
natural location. This gave a relatively short skirt and from
the neck to the hips the dress was almost a plain cylinder. The
style was very new, and was enjoying an intense but brief wave
of popularity. The secretary was an excellent seamstress and
had made the dress herself, an accomplishment of which she was
Tesla summoned the secretary. She breezed
into his sanctum not expecting, but hoping, that he would say
something nice about her new dress.
``Miss,'' he said, ``what is that you
are wearing? You cannot wear that on this errand on which I wish
you to go. I wished to have you take a note to a very important
banker down town, and what would he think if someone from my
oYce should come to him wearing such a monstrosity of a gown?
How can you be such a slave to fashion? Whatever the fashion
designers say is the style you buy and wear. Miss, you have good
sense and good taste, so why did you let the saleslady in the
store force a dress like this on you? Now if you were also very
clever like my sister who makes all her own dresses you would
not be forced to wear any such abominable style as this, then
you too could make your own clothes and you could wear sensible
gowns. You should always follow nature in the design of your
clothes. Do not let a style designer deform nature for you, for
then you become hideous instead of attractive. Now, Miss, you
get into a cab, so not many people will see you, and go to your
home and get into a sensible dress and return as soon as you
can so you can take this letter down town for me.''
Tesla never addressed any of his woman
employees by either their Christian names or surnames. The only
form of address he used to them was ``Miss.'' As he spoke it,
it sounded like ``Meese,'' and he could make it very expressive.
When he addressed the secretary wearing the gown of which he
disapproved, it sounded like ``Meeeeeeesssse.'' It could also
be an abrupt, abbreviated expletive.
When a young woman on his oYce staV left
his employ to get married, Tesla preached this sermonette to
the remaining members:
``Do not marry too young. When you marry
too young, men marry you mostly for your beauty and ten years
later when your beauty is gone, they tire of you and become interested
in someone else.''
Tesla's attitude toward woman was paradoxical;
he idealized woman--put her up on a pedestal--and yet he also
viewed women in a purely objective and materialistic way, as
if no spiritual concepts were involved in their make-up. This
was undoubtedly an outward expression of the conXict that was
taking place within his own life, between the normal healthy
attitude toward female companionship, and the coldly objective
planning of his life under which he refused to share the smallest
fraction of his life with any woman.
Only the Wnest type of women could approach
within friendship distance of Tesla, and such individuals were
idealized by him without the least diYculty; he could desex them
mentally so that the vector or emotional attraction was eliminated.
To the remainder he did not bother to apply this process. They
had no attraction for him.
Out of the welter of human aVairs, however,
he visioned the rising of a superior breed of human beings, few
in number but of vastly elevated intellectual status, while the
remainder of the race leveled itself on a merely productive and
reproductive plane, which, however, could represent a considerable
improvement over existing conditions. He sought to fashion an
idealism out of purely materialistic concepts of human nature.
This was a hold-over from the materialistic, agnostic views which
were fashionable and prevalent among scientists in the formative
period of his youth. This phase of his attitude was not particularly
hard to break down in his latter years; but the phase which represented
an engineering approach to the solution of problems of the human
race was more Wrmly held, although he was willing to admit that
spiritual factors had a real existence and should be considered
in such planning.
His views concerning women received their
only expression in published form in the article written for
Collier's, in 1924, by John B. Kennedy, from an interview with
Tesla. On this occasion, he said:
The struggle of the human female toward
sex equality will end up in a new sex order, with the females
superior. The modern woman, who anticipates in merely superWcial
phenomenon the advancement of her sex, is but a surface symptom
of something deeper and more potent fomenting in the bosom of
It is not in the shallow physical imitation
of the men that women will assert Wrst their equality and later
their superiority, but in the awakening of the intellect of women.
But the female mind has demonstrated
a capacity for all the mental acquirements and achievements of
men, and as generations ensue that capacity will be expanded;
the average woman will be as well educated as the average man,
and then better educated, for the dormant faculties of her brain
will be stimulated into an activity that will be all the more
intense because of centuries of repose
Women will ignore precedent and startle
civilization with their progress.
The acquisition of new Welds of endeavor
by women, their gradual usurpation of leadership, will dull and
Wnally dissipate feminine sensibilities, will choke the maternal
instinct so that marriage and motherhood may become abhorrent
and human civilization draw closer and closer to the perfect
civilization of the bee.
The signiWcance of this lies in the principle
dominating the economy of the bee--the most highly organized
and intelligently coordinated system of any form of non-rational
animal life--the all governing supremacy of the instinct for
immortality which makes divinity out of motherhood.
The center of all bee life is the queen.
She dominates the hive, not through hereditary right, for any
egg may be hatched into a reigning queen, but because she is
the womb of the insect race.
There are vast desexualized armies of
workers whose sole aim and business in life is hard work. It
is the perfection of communism, of socialized, cooperative life
wherein all things, including the young, are the common property
Then there are the virgin bees, the princess
bees, the females which are selected from the eggs of the queen
when they are hatched and preserved in case an unfruitful queen
should bring disappointment to the hive. And there are the male
bees, few in number, unclean in habit, tolerated only because
they are necessary to mate with the queen. . . .
The queen returns to the hive, impregnated,
carrying with her tens of thousands of eggs--a future city of
bees, and then begins the cycle of reproduction, the concentration
of the teeming life of the hive in unceasing work for the birth
of the new generation.
Imagination falters at the prospect of
a human analogy to this mysterious and superbly dedicated civilization
of the bee; but when we consider how the human instinct for race
perpetuation dominates life in all its normal and exaggerated
and perverse manifestations, there is ironic justice in the possibility
that this instinct, with the intellectual advance of women, may
be Wnally expressed after the manner of the bee, though it will
take centuries to break down the habits and customs of peoples
that bar the way to such a simply and scientiWcally ordered civilization.
If Tesla had been even half as well informed
in the biological sciences as he was in the physical sciences,
he probably would not have seen a possible solution of human
problems in the social structure adapted to the limitations of
an insect species which can never hope to utilize tools, and
draw upon natural forces vastly exceeding their own energy sources,
to work out their destiny. And more important is the fact that
the bees can never hope to use advanced intellectual powers to
improve their biological status, as can the human race. With
a better knowledge of biological sciences he might have discovered
that the physiological processes that control perpetuation of
the individual are indissolubly linked to the processes that
control the perpetuation of the race, and that by utilizing as
much biological knowledge and spiritual insight, in designing
a superman, as he utilized materialistic engineering principles,
he might have designed himself as a more complete and potent
superman, better adjusted to merging his intellectual creations
into the current life of the race through a better understanding
of human aVairs.
Tesla tried to convince the world that
he had succeeded in eliminating love and romance from his life;
but he did not succeed. That failure (or perhaps from another
aspect it was a success), is the story of the secret chapter
of Tesla's life.
THE most obvious outward characteristic
of Tesla's life was his proclivity for feeding pigeons in public
places. His friends knew he did it but never knew why. To the
pedestrians on Fifth Avenue he was a familiar Wgure on the plazas
of the Public Library at 42nd Street and St. Patrick's Cathedral
at 50th Street. When he appeared and sounded a low whistle, the
blue- and brown- and white-feathered Xocks would appear from
all directions, carpet the walks in front of him and even perch
upon him while he scattered bird seed or permitted them to feed
from his hand.
During the last three decades of his
life, it is probable that not one out of tens of thousands who
saw him knew who he was. His fame had died down and the generation
that knew him well had passed on. Even when the newspapers, once
a year, would break out in headlines about Tesla and his latest
predictions concerning scientiWc wonders to come, no one associated
that name with the excessively tall, very lean man, wearing clothes
of a bygone era, who almost daily appeared to feed his feathered
friends. He was just one of the strange individuals of whom it
takes a great many of varying types to make up a complete population
of a great metropolis.
When he started the practice, and no
one knows just when that was, he was always dressed in the height
of fashion and some of the world's most famous Wgures could frequently
be seen in his company and joining him in scattering the bird
seed, but there came a time when he paid less attention to his
clothes, and those he wore became more and more old fashioned.
Fifth Avenue after midnight is a far
diVerent thoroughfare than the busy artery of human and vehicular
traYc it is during the day. It is deserted. One can walk for
blocks and meet no one except a policeman. On several occasions
the author, by chance, met Tesla on an after-midnight walk up
Fifth Avenue, going toward the library. Usually Tesla was quite
willing to have one walk with him and chat upon a street encounter
during the day, but on these after-midnight occasions he was
deWnite about his desire to be left alone. ``You will leave me
now,'' he would say, bringing an abrupt end to a conversation
hardly begun. The natural assumption was that Tesla was engaged
on a deWnite line of thought and did not wish his mind to be
diverted from its concentration on some knotty scientiWc problem.
How far this was from the truth! And, as I learned much later,
what a sacred signiWcance these midnight pilgrimages to feed
the pigeons--which would come to his call, even from their nocturnal
roost--had for him!
It was hard for almost everyone to understand
why Tesla, engaged in momentous scientiWc developments, working
twice as many hours as the average individual, could see his
way clear to spend time scattering bird seed. The Herald Tribune,
in an editorial, once stated: ``He would leave his experiments
for a time and feed the silly and inconsequential pigeons in
It was a routine procedure in Tesla's
oYce, however, for one of his secretaries to go down town on
a given day each week and purchase three pounds each of rape,
hemp and canary seed. This was mixed in his oYce, and each day
he took a small paper bag Wlled with the seed and started on
If, on any day, he was unable to make
his pigeon-feeding rounds, he would call a Western Union messenger
boy, pay him his fee, plus a dollar tip, and send him to feed
In addition to feeding the birds in the
streets, Tesla took care of pigeons in his rooms in the various
hotels in which he made his home. He usually had basket nests
for from one to four pigeons in his room and kept a cask of seed
on hand to feed them. The window to the room in which he kept
these nests was never closed.
Tesla became quite ill in his 40th Street
oYce, one day in 1921. He was unable to work and lay upon his
couch. As the symptoms became more alarming and there was a possibility
that he might not be able to return to his room in the Hotel
St. Regis, he summoned his secretary to give her an ``important''
message. As he spoke the important message, he required the secretary
to repeat each phrase after him to make sure that no errors would
be made. This required repetition was a usual procedure with
him; but in this case he was so ill, practically prostrate, that
he seemed hardly to have energy enough to speak the message a
``Miss,'' he whispered, ``Call Hotel
``Yes sir,'' she responded, ``Call Hotel
``Get the housekeeper on the fourteenth
``Get the housekeeper on the fourteenth
``Tell her to go to Mr. Tesla's room--''
``Tell her to go to Mr. Tesla's room--''
``And feed the pigeon today--''
``And feed the pigeon today--''
``The white female with touches of light
gray in its wings--''
``The white female with touches of light
gray in its wings--''
``And to continue doing this--''
``And to continue doing this--''
``Until she receives further orders from
``Until she receives further orders from
``There is plenty of feed in Mr. Tesla's
``There is plenty of feed in Mr. Tesla's
``Miss,'' he pleaded, ``this is very
important. Will you repeat the whole message to me so I can be
sure you have it correct.''
``Call Hotel St. Regis; get the housekeeper
on the fourteenth Xoor. Tell her to go to Mr. Tesla's room and
feed the pigeon today, the white female with touches of light
gray on its wings, and continue doing this until she receives
further orders from me. There is plenty of feed in Mr. Tesla's
``Ah, yes,'' said Tesla, his eyes brightening
as he spoke, ``the white one with touches of light gray in its
wings. And if I am not here tomorrow, you will repeat that message
then and every day until you get my further orders. Do it now,
Miss--it is very important.''
Tesla's orders were always carried out
to the letter and this one particularly, since he had placed
such unusual emphasis on it. His secretary and the members of
his staV felt that his illness must be more serious than it seemed
to be, since at a time when he had a great many very serious
problems on his hands and he appeared to be on the verge of a
siege of illness, the more pressing situations were completely
forgotten and his only thought was of a pigeon. He must be delirious,
so they thought.
Some months later Tesla failed one day
to show up at his oYce, and when his secretary telephoned to
his hotel, the inventor informed her that he was all right, but
that his pigeon was ill and he dared not leave the room for fear
she would need him. He remained in his room for several days.
About a year later Tesla came to his
oYce earlier than usual one day, and apparently very much disturbed.
He carried a small bundle in a tender manner on his bent arm.
He telephoned to Julius Czito, a machinist on whom he frequently
depended to perform unusual tasks, and asked him to come to the
oYce. Czito lived in the suburbs. He told him brieXy that the
bundle contained a pigeon that had died in his room at the hotel,
and that he desired to have it properly buried on Czito's property
where the grave could be cared for. Czito, in relating the incident
years afterward, said he was tempted, on leaving the oYce, to
drop the package in the Wrst garbage can he found; but something
caused him to desist and he took it to his home. Before he could
perform the burial, Tesla telephoned to his home and asked him
to return the package the next morning. How Tesla disposed of
it is not known.
In 1924 Tesla's Wnancial condition fell
to a very low level. He was completely broke. He was unable to
pay his rent and there were some judgments against him for other
unpaid bills. A deputy sheriV appeared at his oYce one afternoon
to seize everything in the oYce to satisfy a judgment. Tesla
managed to talk the sheriV into delaying seizure. When the oYcial
had gone he took stock of his situation. He had not paid his
secretaries' wages for two weeks and he now owed them for another
fraction of a week. He was entirely without funds in the bank.
A search of his safe disclosed that the only object of negotiable
value was the heavy gold Edison Medal presented to him by the
American Institute of Electrical Engineers in 1917.
``Miss, and Miss,'' he said, addressing
the secretaries. ``This medal contains about one hundred dollars'
worth of gold. I will have it cut in half and give each of you
one-half, or one of you can take all of it and I will later pay
The two young women, Miss Dorothy F.
Skerritt and Miss Muriel Arbus, refused to permit him either
to damage or part with the medal, and oVered instead to aid him
with the meager amounts of cash they had in their purses, which
oVer he refused with thanks. (A few weeks later the girls received
their back salaries, at $35 per week, and an additional two weeks'
A search of the cash drawer revealed
a little over $5.00--all the money he possessed.
``Ah! Miss,'' he said, ``that will be
enough to buy the bird seed. I am all out of seed, so will you
go down town in the morning and purchase some and deliver it
to my hotel.''
Again calling his trusted aide, Czito
(whom he was forced to leave unpaid to the extent of $1,000),
he put up to him the problem of vacating the oYce immediately.
Within a few hours the entire contents of the oYces were stored
in a near-by oYce building.
A short time later he was forced to leave
his apartment in the Hotel St. Regis. His bill had been unpaid
for some time, but the immediate cause was associated with pigeons.
He had been spending more time in his hotel room, which also
became his oYce, and devoted more time to feeding pigeons. Great
Xocks of them would come to his windows and into the rooms, and
their dirt on the outside of the building became a problem to
the management and on the inside to the maids. He sought to solve
the problem by putting the birds in a hamper and having George
ScherV take them to his Westchester home. Three weeks later,
when Wrst given their freedom, they returned, one making the
trip in half an hour. Tesla was given his choice of ceasing to
feed the pigeons or leaving the hotel. He left.
He next made his home at the Hotel Pennsylvania.
He remained there a few years and the same situation, both as
to bills and pigeons, developed. He moved to the Hotel Governor
Clinton--and in about a year went through the same experience.
He next moved to the Hotel New Yorker, in 1933, where he spent
the Wnal ten years of his life.
After midnight one night in the fall
of 1937, Tesla started out from the Hotel New Yorker to make
his regular pilgrimage to the Cathedral and the Library to feed
the pigeons. In crossing a street a couple of blocks from the
hotel an accident happened, how is unknown. In spite of his agility,
he was unable to avoid contact with a moving taxicab, and was
thrown heavily to the ground. He raised no question as to who
was at fault, refused medical aid, and asked merely to be taken
to his hotel in another cab.
Arriving at the hotel, he went to bed
and had scarcely got under the covers when he telephoned for
his favorite messenger boy, Kerrigan, from a near-by Western
Union oYce, gave him the package of bird seed and directed him
to complete the task which he had started and the accident interrupted.
The next day, when it was apparent that
he would be unable to take his usual daily walks for some time
to come, he hired the messenger for six months to feed the pigeons
every day. Tesla's back had been severely wrenched in the accident,
and three ribs broken, but the full extent of his injuries will
never be known for, in keeping with his almost lifelong custom,
he refused to consult a doctor. Pneumonia developed but for this
he also refused medical aid. He was bedridden for some months,
and was unable to carry on his practice of feeding pigeons from
his window; and soon they failed to come.
In the spring of 1938 he was able to
get up. He at once resumed his pigeon-feeding walks on a much
more limited scale, but frequently had a messenger act for him.
This devotion to his pigeon-feeding task
seemed to everyone who knew him like nothing more than the hobby
of an eccentric scientist, but if they could have looked into
Tesla's heart, or read his mind, they would have discovered that
they were witnessing the world's most fantastic, yet tender and
pathetic love aVair.
Tesla, as a self-made superman, suVered
from the limitations of his maker. Endowed with an intelligence
above the average in both quality and quantity, and with some
supernormal faculties, he was able to erect a superman higher
in stature than himself; but the greater height was attained
by sacriWcing other dimensions, and in this diminution of breadth
and thickness existed a deWciency.
When he was a youth and his mind was
in its most plastic and formative stage, he adopted, as we have
seen, the then prevalent agnostic and materialistic view of life.
Today science has emancipated itself from slavery to either an
antagonistic mysticism or materialism, and is willing to consider
both as harmonious parts of a comprehensive approach to the understanding
of Nature, but is conscious that it has not yet learned how to
manipulate or control the more intangible factors upon which
the mystics have builded their structures of knowledge. Vast
realms of human experience have been rejected in all ages by
scientists, of whatever name, who failed to Wt them in logical
arrangement in their inadequate and too simpliWed natural philosophies.
By rejecting the phenomena that lay beyond their intellectual
abilities, the scientists and philosophers did not eliminate
them nor prevent their manifestations. The phenomena so rejected,
however, were given an academic home by the ecclesiasts, who
accepted them without understanding, or hope of understanding,
and thus incarcerated them in the foundation of the religious
mysteries where they served a useful purpose, for upon an unknown
it is possible to build a greater unknown.
The mystical experiences of the saints,
of whatever faith, are demonstrations of forces which are natural
functions of the phenomenon of life, expressed in varying degree
in step with the expanding unfoldment of the individual toward
an advanced state of evolution.
Tesla was an individual in an advanced
state of development, and there came to him experiences which
he refused to accept as experiments; accepting the beneWts which
came to him but which transported them. This was true, for example,
in the case of the burst of revelation which came to him revealing
scores of tremendously valuable inventions--while he strolled
in the park at Budapest, and which diVered only in degree and
type, but not in fundamental nature, from the blinding light
which came to Saul on the road to Damascus, and to others to
whom illumination has come by similar processes.
His materialistic concepts made him intellectually
blind to the strange phenomenon by which revelation, or illumination,
had come to him, but made him more keenly appreciative of the
value of that which was revealed. It must not be understood that
this revelation was a happenstance phenomenon of the moment,
for Tesla, endowed by Nature with an intellect capable of vast
unfoldment, had exerted almost superhuman eVorts to achieve that
which was revealed to him, and the eVort was not unassociated
with the result.
In a contrary direction, Tesla suppressed
a tremendously large or important realm of his life by the planned
elimination of love and romance from his thoughts and experience.
Just as his eVorts to discover the physical secrets of Nature
built up forces that penetrated to the plane of revelation, so
did his equally tremendous eVort to suppress love and romance
build up forces, beyond his control, that were operating to express
themselves. There was a parallel situation in his philosophy
of natural phenomena, in that he suppressed all spiritual aspects
of Nature and conWned himself to the purely materialistic aspects.
Two forces, one of love and romance in
his personal nature, and the other the spiritual aspects of Nature
in his philosophy, as applied to his work, were incarcerated
in a limbo of his personality, seeking an outlet into the paradise
of expression and manifestation. And they obtained that outlet,
expressing their nature by the form of the manifestation; but
Tesla failed to recognize them. Tesla, rejecting the love of
woman and thinking that he had engineered a complete elimination
of the problem of love, failed to excise from his nature the
capacity to love, and when this capacity expressed itself, it
did so by directing its energies through a channel he left unguarded
in planning the self-made superman.
The manifestation of these united forces
of love and spirituality resulted in a fantastic situation, probably
without parallel in human annals. Tesla told me the story; but
if I did not have a witness who assured me that he heard exactly
what I heard, I would have convinced myself that I had had nothing
more tangible than a dream experience. It was the love story
of Tesla's life. In the story of his strange romance, I saw instantly
the reason for those unremitting daily journeys to feed the pigeons,
and those midnight pilgrimages when he wished to be alone. I
recalled those occasions when I had happened to meet him on deserted
Fifth Avenue and, when I spoke to him, he replied, ``You will
now leave me.'' He told his story simply, brieXy and without
embellishments, but there was still a surging of emotion in his
``I have been feeding pigeons, thousands
of them, for years; thousands of them, for who can tell--
``But there was one pigeon, a beautiful
bird, pure white with light gray tips on its wings; that one
was diVerent. It was a female. I would know that pigeon anywhere.
``No matter where I was that pigeon would
Wnd me; when I wanted her I had only to wish and call her and
she would come Xying to me. She understood me and I understood
``I loved that pigeon.
``Yes,'' he replied to an unasked question.
``Yes, I loved that pigeon, I loved her as a man loves a woman,
and she loved me. When she was ill I knew, and understood; she
came to my room and I stayed beside her for days. I nursed her
back to health. That pigeon was the joy of my life. If she needed
me, nothing else mattered. As long as I had her, there was a
purpose in my life.
``Then one night as I was lying in my
bed in the dark, solving problems, as usual, she Xew in through
the open window and stood on my desk. I knew she wanted me; she
wanted to tell me something important so I got up and went to
``As I looked at her I knew she wanted
to tell me--she was dying. And then, as I got her message, there
came a light from her eyes--powerful beams of light.
``Yes,'' he continued, again answering
an unasked question, ``it was a real light, a powerful, dazzling,
blinding light, a light more intense than I had ever produced
by the most powerful lamps in my laboratory.
``When that pigeon died, something went
out of my life. Up to that time I knew with a certainty that
I would complete my work, no matter how ambitious my program,
but when that something went out of my life I knew my life's
work was Wnished.
``Yes, I have fed pigeons for years;
I continue to feed them, thousands of them, for after all, who
There was nothing more to say. We parted
in silence. The talk took place in a corner of the mezzanine
in the Hotel New Yorker. I was accompanied by William L. Laurence,
science writer of the New York Times. We walked several blocks
on Seventh Avenue before we spoke.
No longer was there any mystery to the
midnight pilgrimages when he called the pigeons from their niches
in the Gothic tracery of the Cathedral, or from under the eaves
of the Greek temple that houses the Library--pursuing, among
the thousands of them . . . ``For after all, who can tell . .
It is out of phenomena such as Tesla
experienced when the dove Xew out of the midnight darkness and
into the blackness of his room and Xooded it with blinding light,
and the revelation that came to him out of the dazzling sun in
the park at Budapest, that the mysteries of religion are built.
But he comprehended them not; for, if he had not suppressed the
rich mystical inheritance of his ancestors that would have brought
enlightenment, he would have understood the symbolism of the
MUCH valuable aid has been received from
many sources in the preparation of this volume. For this helpful
co-operation my thanks are due to:
Sava N. Kosanovic, Minister of State
of Yugoslavia, and Tesla's nephew, for making available books,
family records, transcripts of records, pictures, and for correcting
the manuscript of many chapters; and to his secretary, Miss Charlotte
Miss Dorothy Skerritt and Miss Muriel
Arbus, Tesla's secretaries; and George ScherV and Julius C. Czito,
Mrs. Margaret C. Behrend, for the privilege
of reading correspondence between her husband and Tesla; and
to Dr. W. B. Earle, Dean of Engineering, Clemson Agricultural
College, for pictures and other material from the Behrend Collection
in the college library;
Mrs. Agnes Holden, daughter of the late
Robert Underwood Johnson, ambassador, and editor of the Century
Magazine; Miss Marguerite Merington; Mrs. Grizelda M. Hobson,
widow of the late Rear Admiral Hobson; Waldemar KaempVert, Science
Editor of the New York Times; Professor Emeritus Charles F. Scott,
Department of Electrical Engineering, Yale University; Hans Dahlstrand,
of the Allis Chalmers Manufacturing Co.; Leo Maloney, Manager
of the Hotel New Yorker; and W. D. Crow, architect of the Tesla
tower, for reminiscences, data, or helpful conversations concerning
their contacts with Tesla;
Florence S. Hellman, Chief of the Bibliographic
Division, Library of Congress; Olive E. Kennedy, Research Librarian
of the Public Information Center, National Electric Manufacturers
Association; A. P. Peck, Managing Editor of the ScientiWc American;
Myrta L. Mason, and Charles F. PXaging, for bibliographic aid;
G. Edward Pendray and his associates
in the Westinghouse Electric and Manufacturing Co., and C. D.
Wagoner and his associates in the General Electric Co., for correcting,
or reading and making helpful suggestions in connection with
William L. Laurence, science writer of
the New York Times, and Bloyce Fitzgerald, for exchange of data;
Randall Warden; William Spencer Bowen,
President of the Bowen Research Corp.; G. H. Clark, of the Radio
Corporation of America; Kenneth M. Swezey, of Popular Science;
Mrs. Mabel Fleischer and Carl Payne Tobey, who have aided in
a variety of ways;
Colliers--The National Weekly; The American
Magazine; the New York World-Telegram and the General Electric
Co., for permission to quote copyrighted material, for which
credit is given where quoted; and
Peggy O'Neill Grayson, my daughter, for
extended secretarial service.
To all the foregoing I extend my sincere
John J. O'Neill
Freeport, L. I.
July 15, 1944
Last Modified: 08:0808 08, October October, October
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