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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THE year 1900 marked to Tesla not only
the opening of a new century but also the beginning of the world-superpower
and radio-broadcasting era. With the encouragement of J. P. Morgan
to spur him on--if he could accommodate any more spurring than
his own inner drive furnished--and with $150,000 in cash from
the same source, he was set to embark upon a gigantic venture,
the building of a world wireless-power and a world broadcasting
The cash on hand would be totally inadequate
to Wnance the project to completion, but this did not deter him
from making a start. He needed a laboratory both to replace the
Houston Street establishment, which had become entirely inadequate,
and to include equipment of the type employed at Colorado Springs,
but designed for use in the actual world-broadcasting process.
The location was determined as the result of an arrangement he
made with James S. Warden, manager and director of the SuVolk
County Land Company, a lawyer and banker from the West who had
acquired two thousand acres of land at Shoreham, in SuVolk County,
Long Island, about sixty miles from New York. The land was made
the basis of a real-estate development under the name WardencliV.
Tesla visualized a power-and-broadcasting
station which would employ thousands of persons. He undertook
the establishment, eventually, of a Radio City, something far
more ambitious than the enterprise in Rockefeller Center in New
York which bears this name today. Tesla planned to have all wavelength
channels broadcast from a single station, a project which would
have given him a complete monopoly of the radio-broadcasting
business. What an opportunity near-sighted businessmen of his
day overlooked in not getting in on his project! But in that
day Tesla was about the only one who visualized modern broadcasting.
Everyone else visualized wireless as being useful only for sending
telegraphic communications between ship and shore and across
Mr. Warden saw possibilities of a sort
in Tesla's plan, however, and oVered him a tract of two hundred
acres, of which twenty acres were cleared, for his power station,
with the expectation that the two thousand men who would shortly
be employed in the station would build homes on convenient sites
in the remainder of the 2,000-acre tract. Tesla accepted.
Stanford White, the famous designer of
many churches and other architectural monuments throughout the
country, was one of Tesla's friends. He now disclosed to the
famous architect his vision of an industrial ``city beautiful''
and sought his co-operation in realizing his dream. Mr. White
was enthusiastic about the idea and, as his contribution to Tesla's
work, oVered to underwrite the cost of designing the strange
tower the inventor sketched, and all of the architectural work
involved in the general plan for the city. The actual work was
done by W. D. Crow, of East Orange, N. J., one of Mr. White's
associates, who later became famous as a designer of hospitals
and other institutional buildings.
It was a fantastic-looking tower, with
strange structural limitations, which Mr. Crow found himself
designing. Tesla required a tower, about 154 feet high, to support
at its peak a giant copper electrode 100 feet in diameter and
shaped like a gargantuan doughnut with a tubular diameter of
twenty feet. (This was later changed to a hemispherical electrode.)
The tower would have to be a skeletonized
structure, built almost entirely of wood, metal to be reduced
to an utter minimum and any metal Wxtures employed to be of copper.
No engineering data were available on wood structures of this
height and type.
The structure Tesla required had a large
amount of ``sail area,'' or surface exposed to wind, concentrated
at the top, creating stresses that had to be provided for in
a tower that itself possessed only limited stability. Mr. Crow
solved the engineering problems and then the equally diYcult
task of incorporating esthetic qualities in such an ediWce.
When the design was completed another
diYculty was encountered. None of the well-known builders could
be induced to undertake the task of erecting the tower. A competent
framer, associated with Norcross Bros., who were a large contracting
Wrm in those days, Wnally took over the contract, although he,
too, expressed fears that the winter gales might overturn the
structure. (It stood, however, for a dozen years. When the Government,
for military reasons decided it was necessary to remove this
conspicuous landmark during the First World War, heavy charges
of dynamite were necessary in order to topple it, and even then
it remained intact on the ground like a fallen Martian invader
out of Wells' War of the Worlds.) The tower was completed in
1902, and with it a large low brick building more than 100 feet
square which would provide quarters for the powerhouse and laboratory.
While the structures were being built, Tesla commuted every day
from the Waldorf-Astoria to WardencliV, arriving at the near-by
Shoreham station shortly after eleven am and remaining until
three-thirty. He was always accompanied by a man servant, a Serbian,
who carried a heavy hamper Wlled with food. When the laboratory
transferred from Houston Street was in full operation at WardencliV,
Tesla rented the Bailey cottage near the Long Island Sound shore
and there made his home for a year.
The heavy equipment, the dynamos and
motors, that Tesla desired for his plant were of an unusual design
not produced by manufacturers, and he encountered many vexatious
delays in securing such material. He was able to carry on a wide
range of high-frequency current and other experiments in his
new laboratory, but the principal project, that of setting up
the worldwide broadcasting station, lagged. Meanwhile, he had
a number of glass blowers making tubes for use in transmitting
and receiving his broadcast programs. This was a dozen years
before De Forest invented the form of radio tube now in general
use. The secret of Tesla's tubes died with him.
Tesla seemed to be entirely fearless
of his high-frequency currents of millions of volts. He had,
nevertheless, the greatest respect for the electric current in
all forms, and was extremely careful in working on his apparatus.
When working on circuits that might come ``alive,'' he always
worked with one hand in his pocket, using the other to manipulate
tools. He insisted that all of his workers do likewise when working
on the 60-cycle low-frequency alternating-current circuits, whether
the potential was 50,000 or 110 volts. This safeguard reduced
the possibility of a dangerous current Wnding a circuit through
the arms across the body, where there was chance that it might
stop the action of the heart.
In spite of the great care which he manifested
in all of his experimental work, he had a narrow escape from
losing his life at the WardencliV plant. He was making experiments
on the properties of small-diameter jets of water moving at high
velocity and under very high pressures, of the order of 10,000
pounds per square inch. Such a stream could be struck by a heavy
iron bar without the stream being disrupted. The impinging bar
would bounce back as if it had struck another solid iron bar--a
strange property for a mechanically weak substance like water.
The cylinder holding the water under high pressure was a heavy
one made of wrought iron. Tesla was unable to secure a wrought-iron
cap for the upper surface, so he used a heavier one of cast iron,
a more brittle metal. One day when he raised the pressure to
a point higher than he had previously used, the cylinder exploded.
The cast-iron cap broke and a large fragment shot within a few
inches of his face as it went on a slanting path upward and Wnally
crashed through the roof. The high-pressure stream of water had
peculiar destructive eVects on anything with which it came in
contact, even tough, strong metals. Tesla never revealed the
purpose or the results of these high-pressure experiments.
Tesla's insistence on the utmost neatness
in his laboratory almost resulted in a tragedy through a case
of thoughtlessness on the part of an assistant. Arrangements
were being made for installing a heavy piece of machinery which
was to be lag bolted to the thick concrete Xoor. Holes had been
drilled in the concrete. The plan called for pouring molten lead
into these holes and screwing the heavy bolts into the metal
when it cooled. As soon as the holes were drilled, a young assistant
starting cleaning up the debris. He not only swept up the stone
chips and dust: he got a mop and thoroughly washed that area
of the Xoor, thoughtlessly letting some of the water get into
the holes. He then dried the Xoor. In the meantime Tesla and
George ScherV, who was his Wnancial secretary but also served
in any way in which he could be helpful, were melting the lead
which would hold the lag screws in the holes in the Xoor. ScherV
took the Wrst large ladleful of lead from the furnace and started
across the laboratory to where the holes had been drilled, followed
shortly by Tesla bearing another ladle.
ScherV bent down--and as he poured the
hot liquid metal into one of the holes an explosion followed
instantly. The molten lead was blown upward into his face in
a shower of searing hot drops of liquid metal. The water which
the assistant used to swab the Xoor had settled into the holes
and, when the melted lead come in contact with it, it was changed
to steam which shot the lead out of the hole like a bullet out
of the barrel of a riXe. Both men were showered with drops of
hot metal and dropped their ladles. Tesla, being several feet
away, was only slightly injured; but ScherV was very seriously
burned about the face and hands. Drops of the metal had struck
his eyes and so severely burned them that it was feared for a
while that his sight could not be saved.
However, despite the almost unlimited
possibilities for accidents in connection with the vast variety
of experiments which Tesla conducted in totally unexplored Welds,
using high voltages, high amperages, high pressures, high velocities
and high temperatures, he went through his entire career with
only one accident in which he suVered injury. In that a sharp
instrument slipped, entered his palm and penetrated through the
hand. The accident to ScherV was the only one in which a member
of his staV was injured, with the exception of a young assistant
who developed X-ray burns. He had probably been exposed to the
rays from one of Tesla's tubes which, unknown to Tesla and everyone
else, had been producing them even before Roentgen announced
their discovery. Tesla had given them another name and had not
fully investigated their properties. This was probably the Wrst
case of X-ray burns on record.
Tesla was an indefatigable worker, and
it was hard for him to understand why others were incapable of
such feats of endurance as he was able to accomplish. He was
willing to pay unusually high wages to workers who were willing
to stick with him on protracted tasks but never demanded that
anyone work beyond a reasonable day's labor. On one occasion
a piece of long-awaited equipment arrived and Tesla was anxious
to get it installed and operating as quickly as possible. The
electricians worked through twenty-four hours, stopping only
for meals, and then for another twenty-four hours. The workers
then dropped out, one by one, picking out nooks in the building
in which to sleep. While they took from eight to twelve hours'
sleep, Tesla continued to work; and when they came back to the
job Tesla was still going strong and worked with them through
his third sleepless twenty-four-hour period. The men were then
given several days oV in which to rest up; but Tesla, apparently
none the worse for his seventy-two hours of toil, went through
his next day of experiments, accomplishing a total of eighty-four
hours without sleep or rest.
The plant at WardencliV was intended
primarily for demonstrating the radio-broadcasting phase of his
``World System''; the power-distribution station was to be built
at Niagara Falls.
Tesla at this time published a brochure
on his ``World System'' which indicates the remarkable state
of advancement he had projected in the wireless art, now called
radio, while other experimenters were struggling to acquire familiarity
with rudimentary devices. At that time, however, his promises
seemed fantastic. The brochure contained the following description
of his system and his objectives:
The World System has resulted from a
combination of several original discoveries made by the inventor
in the course of long continued research and experimentation.
It makes possible not only the instantaneous and precise wireless
transmission of any kind of signals, messages or characters,
to all parts of the world, but also the interconnection of the
existing telegraph, telephone, and other signal stations without
any change in their present equipment. By its means, for instance,
a telephone subscriber here many call up any other subscriber
on the Globe. An inexpensive receiver, not bigger than a watch,
will enable him to listen anywhere, on land or sea, to a speech
delivered, or music played in some other place, however distant.
These examples are cited merely to give an idea of the possibilities
of this great scientiWc advance, which annihilates distance and
makes that perfect conductor, the Earth, available for all the
innumerable purposes which human ingenuity has found for a line
wire. One far reaching result of this is that any device capable
of being operated through one or more wires (at a distance obviously
restricted) can likewise be actuated, without artiWcial conductors
and with the same facility and accuracy, at distances to which
there are no limits other than those imposed by the physical
dimensions of the Globe. Thus, not only will entirely new Welds
for commercial exploitation be opened up by this ideal method
of transmission, but the old ones vastly extended.
The World System is based on the application
of the following important inventions and discoveries:
1. The Tesla Transformer. This apparatus
is, in the production of electrical vibrations, as revolutionary
as gunpowder was in warfare. Currents many times stronger than
any ever generated in the usual ways, and sparks over 100 feet
long have been produced by the inventor with an instrument of
2. The Magnifying Transmitter. This is
Tesla's best invention--a peculiar transformer specially adapted
to excite the Earth, which is in the transmission of electrical
energy what the telescope is in astronomical observation. By
the use of this marvelous device he has already set up electrical
movements of greater intensity than those of lightning and passed
a current, suYcient to light more than 200 incandescent lamps,
around the Globe.
3. The Tesla Wireless System. This system
comprises a number of improvements and is the only means known
for transmitting economically electrical energy to a distance
without wires. Careful tests and measurements in connection with
an experimental station of great activity, erected by the inventor
in Colorado, have demonstrated that power in any desired amount
can be conveyed clear across the Globe if necessary, with a loss
not exceeding a few per cent.
4. The Art of Individualization. This
invention of Tesla is to primitive tuning what reWned language
is to unarticulated expression. It makes possible the transmission
of signals or messages absolutely secret and exclusive both in
active and passive aspect, that is, non-interfering as well as
non-interferable. Each signal is like an individual of unmistakable
identity and there is virtually no limit to the number of stations
or instruments that can be simultaneously operated without the
slightest mutual disturbance.
5. The Terrestrial Stationary Waves.
This wonderful discovery, popularly explained, means that the
Earth is responsive to electrical vibrations of deWnite pitch
just as a tuning fork to certain waves of sound. These particular
electrical vibrations, capable of powerfully exciting the Globe,
lend themselves to innumerable uses of great importance commercially
and in many other respects.
The Wrst World System power plant can
be put in operation in nine months. With this power plant it
will be practical to attain electrical activities up to ten million
horsepower and it is designed to serve for as many technical
achievements as are possible without undue expense. Among these
the following may be mentioned:
1. Interconnection of the existing telegraph
exchanges of oYces all over the World;
2. Establishment of a secret and non-interferable
government telegraph service;
3. Interconnection of all the present
telephone exchanges or oYces all over the Globe;
4. Universal distribution of general
news, by telegraph or telephone, in connection with the Press;
5. Establishment of a World System of
intelligence transmission for exclusive private use;
6. Interconnection and operation of all
stock tickers of the world;
7. Establishment of a world system of
musical distribution, etc.;
8. Universal registration of time by
cheap clocks indicating the time with astronomical precision
and requiring no attention whatever;
9. Facsimile transmission of typed or
handwritten characters, letters, checks, etc.;
10. Establishment of a universal marine
service enabling navigators of all ships to steer perfectly without
compass, to determine the exact location, hour and speed, to
prevent collisions and disasters, etc.;
11. Inauguration of a system of world
printing on land and sea;
12. Reproduction anywhere in the world
of photographic pictures and all kinds of drawings or records.
Thus, more than forty years ago, Tesla
planned to inaugurate every feature of modern radio, and several
facilities which have not yet been developed. He was to continue,
for another twenty years, to be the only ``wireless'' inventor
who had yet visualized a broadcasting service.
While at work on his WardencliV radio-broadcasting
plant, Tesla was also evolving plans for establishing his world
power station at Niagara Falls. So sure was he of the successful
outcome of his eVorts that he stated in a newspaper interview
in 1903 that he would light the lamps of the coming international
exposition in Paris with power wirelessly transmitted from the
Falls. Circumstances, however, prevented him from making good
this promise. His diYculties and his plans were outlined in a
statement published in the Electrical World and Engineer, March
The Wrst of these central plants would
have been already completed had it not been for unforeseen delays
which, fortunately, have nothing to do with its purely technical
features. But this loss of time, while vexatious, may, after
all, prove to be a blessing in disguise. The best design of which
I know has been adopted, and the transmitter will emit a wave
complex of a total maximum activity of 10,000,000 horsepower,
one percent of which is amply suYcient to ``girdle the globe.''
This enormous rate of energy delivery, approximately twice that
of the combined falls of Niagara, is obtainable only by the use
of certain artiWces, which I shall make known in due course.
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. I have also to thank my
friend Stanford White, for much unselWsh and valuable assistance.
This work is now far advanced, and though the results may be
tardy, they are sure to come.
Meanwhile, the transmission of energy
on an industrial scale is not being neglected. The Canadian Niagara
Power Company have oVered me a splendid inducement, and next
to achieving success for the sake of the art, it will give me
the greatest satisfaction to make their concession Wnancially
proWtable to them. In this Wrst power plant, which I have been
designing for a long time, I propose to distribute 10,000 horsepower
under a tension of 10,000,000 volts, which I am now able to produce
and handle with safety.
This energy will be collected all over
the globe preferably in small amounts, ranging from a fraction
of one to a few horsepower. One of the chief uses will be the
illumination of isolated homes. It takes very little power to
light a dwelling with vacuum tubes operated by high frequency
currents and in each instance a terminal a little above the roof
will be suYcient. Another valuable application will be the driving
of clocks and other such apparatus. These clocks will be exceedingly
simple, will require absolutely no attention and will indicate
rigorously correct time. The idea of impressing upon the earth
American time is fascinating and very likely to become popular.
There are innumerable devices of all kinds which are either now
employed or can be supplied and by operating them in this manner
I may be able to oVer a great convenience to the whole world
with a plant of no more than 10,000 horsepower. The introduction
of this system will give opportunities for invention and manufacture
such as have never presented themselves before.
Knowing the far reaching importance of
this Wrst attempt and its eVect upon future development, I shall
proceed slowly and carefully. Experience has taught me not to
assign a term to enterprises the consummation of which is not
wholly dependent on my own abilities and exertions. But I am
hopeful that these great realizations are not far oV and I know
that when this Wrst work is completed they will follow with mathematical
When the great truth accidentally revealed
and experimentally conWrmed is fully recognized, that this planet,
with all its appalling immensity, is to electric current virtually
no more than a small metal ball and that by this fact many possibilities,
each baZing the imagination and of incalculable consequence,
are rendered absolutely sure of accomplishment; when the Wrst
plant is inaugurated, and it is shown that a telegraphic message,
almost as secret and non-interferable as a thought, can be transmitted
to any terrestrial distance, the sound of the human voice, with
all its intonations and inXections, faithfully and instantly
reproduced at any point of the globe, the energy of a waterfall
made available for supplying light, heat or motive power, anywhere
on sea, or land, or high in the air--humanity will be like an
ant heap stirred up with a stick: See the excitement coming.
The Niagara Falls plant was never built;
and diYculties, soon enough, were encountered at the WardencliV
plant not only in securing desired equipment but also Wnances.
Tesla's greatest oversight was that he
neglected to invent, so to speak, a device for making the unlimited
quantities of money that were necessary to develop his other
inventions. As we have seen, he was utterly lacking in the phase
of personality that made possible the securing of Wnancial returns
directly from his inventions. An individual with his ability
could have made millions out of each of a number of Tesla's minor
inventions. If he had taken the trouble, for example, to collect
annual royalties on twenty or more diVerent kinds of devices
put out by as many manufacturers employing his Tesla coil for
medical treatments, he would have had ample income to Wnance
his World Wireless System.
His mind, however, was too fully occupied
with fascinating scientiWc problems. He had, at times, nearly
a score of highly skilled workmen constantly employed in his
laboratory developing the electrical inventions he was continuing
to make at a rapid rate. Armed guards were always stationed around
the laboratory to prevent spying on his inventions. His payroll
was heavy, his bank balance became dangerously low, but he was
so immersed in his experimental work that he continuously put
oV the task of making an eVort to repair his Wnances. He soon
found himself facing judgments obtained by creditors on accounts
upon which he could not make payments. He was forced, in 1905,
to close the WardencliV laboratory.
The fantastic tower in front of the laboratory
was never completed. The doughnut-shaped copper electrode was
never built because Tesla changed his mind and decided to have
a copper hemisphere 100 feet in diameter and 50 feet high built
on top of the 154-foot cone-shaped tower. A skeleton framework
for holding the hemispherical plates was built, but the copper
sheeting was never applied to it. The 300-horsepower dynamos
and the apparatus for operating the broadcasting station were
left intact, but they were eventually removed by the engineering
Wrm that installed them and had not been paid.
Tesla opened an oYce at 165 Broadway,
in New York, where for a while he tried to contrive some means
for reviving his project. Thomas Fortune Ryan, the well-known
Wnancier, and H. O. Havemeyer, the leading sugar reWner, aided
him with contributions of $10,000 and $5,000 respectively. Instead
of using these to open another laboratory, he applied them to
paying oV the debts on his now defunct World Wireless System.
He paid oV every penny due to every creditor.
When it became apparent that Tesla was
in Wnancial diYculties, many who had assumed that Morgan was
Wnancially involved as an investor in his project were disillusioned.
When speciWc inquiries revealed that the great Wnancier held
no interest whatever in the enterprise, the rumor got into circulation
that Morgan had withdrawn his support; and when no reason for
such action could be learned the rumor expanded to carry the
story that Tesla's system was impracticable. As a matter of fact,
Morgan continued to make generous personal contributions to Tesla
almost up to the time of his own death; and his son did so to
a lesser extent for a short time.
Tesla made no eVort to combat the growing
If Tesla could have tolerated a business
manager, and had placed the development of his patents in the
hands of a businessman, he could have established as early as
1896 a practical ship-to-shore, and probably a trans-oceanic
wireless service; and these would have given him a monopoly in
this Weld. He was asked to rig up a wireless set on a boat to
report the progress of the international yacht race for Lloyds
of London in 1896, but he refused the oVer, which was a lucrative
one, on the grounds that he would not demonstrate his system
publicly on less than a world-wide basis because it could be
confused with the amateurish eVorts being made by other experimenters.
If he had accepted this oVer--and he could have met the requirements
without the least technical diYculty--he undoubtedly would have
found his interests diverted to some extent into a proWtable
commercial channel that might have made a vast, and favorable,
change in the second half of his life.
Tesla, however, could not be bothered
with minor, even though proWtable projects. The superman, the
man magniWcent, was too strong in him. The man who had put industry
on an electrical power basis, the man who had set the whole earth
in vibration, could not Wll a minor rôle of carrying messages
for hire. He would function in his major capacity or not at all;
he would be a Jupiter, never a Mercury.
George ScherV, who was engaged by Tesla
as bookkeeper and secretary when he opened his Houston Street
laboratory, was a practical individual. He managed, as far as
was humanly possible, to keep the inventor disentangled in his
contacts with the business world. The more he knew Tesla, the
better he liked him; and the more respect he had for his genius
and his ability as an inventor, the more he became conscious
of the fact that this genius was totally lacking in business
ScherV was understandably distressed
by a situation in which an enterprise was continuously spending
money but never receiving any. He sought to protect as far as
possible the $40,000 which Tesla received from Adams as an investment
in the enterprise; and it was stretched to cover more than three
years of great activity. ScherV wanted Tesla to work out plans
for deriving an income from his inventions. Each new development
which Tesla produced was studied by ScherV and made the basis
for a plan for manufacture and sale of a device. Tesla uniformly
rejected all the suggestions. ``This is all small-time stuV,''
he would reply. ``I cannot be bothered with it.''
Even when it was pointed out to him that
many manufacturers were using his Tesla coils, selling great
numbers of them and making plenty of money out of them, his interest
could not be aroused to enter this proWtable Weld, nor to permit
ScherV to arrange to have a sideline set-up which could be conducted
without interfering with his research work. Nor could he be induced
to bring suits to protect his invention and seek to make the
manufacturers pay him royalties. He admitted, however, ``If the
manufacturers paid me twenty-Wve cents on each coil they sold
I would be a wealthy man.''
When Lloyds of London made their request
that he set up a wireless outWt on a boat and report the international
yacht races of 1896, by his new wireless system, and oVered a
generous honorarium, ScherV became insistent that the oVer be
accepted; and he urged Tesla to drop all other work temporarily
and use the publicity he would get from the exploit as a means
of Xoating a commercial company for transmitting wireless messages
between ship and shore and across the ocean, pointing out that
money would be made both in manufacturing the apparatus and in
transmitting messages. The company, ScherV suggested, could be
operated by managers to produce an income and Tesla could return
to his work of making inventions and always have plenty of money
to pay for the cost of his researches.
ScherV can look back today, as he sits
on the porch of his Westchester home, and decide, through a retrospect
of Wfty years, that his plan was basically sound, with the Radio
Corporation of America, its extensive manufacturing facilities
and its worldwide communication system, its tremendous capital
system and earnings, as evidence in support of the claim.
Tesla's reply to the proposal was, as
usual, ``Mr. ScherV, that is small-time stuV. I cannot be bothered
with it. Just wait until you see the magniWcent inventions I
am going to produce, and then we will all make millions.''
Tesla's millions never came. ScherV remained
with him until the WardencliV laboratory closed, owing to the
lack of income, which he had been trying to circumvent. ScherV
then established a lucrative connection with the Union Sulphur
Co. but he still continued, without taking compensation, to give
Tesla one day a week of his time and keep his business aVairs
disentangled as far as possible. Tesla was meticulously careful
about paying everyone who performed any service for him, but
this was counterbalanced by an active faculty for contracting
bills without waiting to see if he had funds on hand to meet
them. Money was an annoying anchor that always seemed to be dragging
and hindering his research activities--something that was too
mundane to merit the time and attention he should be giving to
more important things.
ScherV, tight-lipped and businesslike,
cannot be induced to talk of Tesla's aVairs. If he were, instead,
a loquacious philosopher, he might be induced to smile over the
frailties of human nature, and the strange pranks which fate
can play on individuals, as he thinks of Tesla, who, on the basis
of a single invention, might have become an individual Radio
Corporation of America and failed to do so, and who passed up
equal chances on two hundred other inventions, any one of which
could have produced a fortune. And for contrast, he can recall
occasions in recent decades when it was necessary to make modest
loans to the great Tesla to permit him to meet the need for current
personal necessities. But ScherV refuses to permit any close
questions or discussion about these incidents.
WHEN his World Wireless System project
crashed, Tesla turned again to a project to which he had given
considerable thought at the time he was developing his polyphase
alternating-current system: that of developing a rotary engine
which would be as far in advance of existing steam engines as
his alternating-current system was ahead of the direct-current
system, and which could be used for driving his dynamos.
All of the steam engines in use in powerhouses
at that time were of the reciprocating type; essentially the
same as those developed by Newcomer and Watt, but larger in size,
better in construction and more eYcient in operation.
Tesla's engine was of a diVerent type--a
turbine in which jets of steam injected between a series of disks
produced rotary motion at high velocity in the cylinder on which
these disks were mounted. The steam entered at the outer edge
of the disks, pursued a spiral path of a dozen or more convolutions,
and left the engine near the central shaft.
When Tesla informed a friend in 1902
that he was working on an engine project, he declared he would
produce an engine so small, simple and powerful that it would
be a ``powerhouse in a hat.'' The Wrst model, which he made about
1906, fulWlled this promise. It was small enough to Wt into the
dome of a derby hat, measured a little more than six inches in
its largest dimension, and developed thirty horsepower. The power-producing
performance of this little engine vastly exceeded that of every
known kind of prime mover in use at that time. The engine weighed
a little less than ten pounds. Its output was therefore three
horsepower per pound. The rotor weighed only a pound and a half,
and its light weight and high power yield gave Tesla a slogan
which he used on his letterheads and envelopes--``Twenty horsepower
There was nothing new, of course, in
the basic idea of obtaining circular motion directly from a stream
of moving Xuid. Windmills and water wheels, devices as old as
history, performed this feat. Hero, the Alexandrian writer, about
200 bc, described, but he did not invent, the Wrst turbine. It
consisted of a hollow sphere of metal mounted on an axle, with
two tubes sticking out of the sphere at a tangent to its surface.
When water was placed in the sphere and the device was suspended
in a Wre, the reaction of the steam coming out of the tubes caused
the device to rotate.
Tesla's ingenious and original development
of the turbine idea probably had its origin in that amusing and
unsuccessful experiment he made when, as a boy, he tried to build
a vacuum motor and observed its wooden cylinder turn slightly
by the drag of the air leaking into the vacuum chamber. Later,
too, when as a youth he Xed to the mountains to escape military
service and played with the idea of transporting mail across
the ocean through an underwater tube, through which a hollow
sphere was to be carried by a rapidly moving stream of water,
he had discovered that the friction of the water on the walls
of the tube made the idea impracticable. The friction would slow
down the velocity of the stream of water so that excessive amounts
of power would be required to move the water at a desired speed
and pressure. Conversely, if the water moved at this speed, the
friction caused it to try to drag the enclosing tube along with
It was this friction which Tesla now
utilized in his turbine. A jet of steam rushing at high velocity
between disks with a very small distance separating them was
slowed down by the friction--but the disks, being capable of
rotation, moved with increasing velocity until it was almost
equal to that of the steam. In addition to the friction factor,
there exists a peculiar attraction between gases and metal surfaces;
and this made it possible for the moving steam to grip the metal
of the disks more eVectively and drag them around at high velocities.
The Wrst model which Tesla made in 1906 had twelve disks Wve
inches in diameter. It was operated by compressed air, instead
of steam, and attained a speed of 20,000 revolutions per minute.
It was Tesla's intention eventually to use oil as fuel, burning
it in a nozzle and taking advantage of the tremendous increase
in volume, in the change from a liquid to burned highly expanded
gases, to turn the rotor. This would eliminate the use of boilers
for generating steam and give the direct process proportional
Had Tesla proceeded with the development
of his turbine in 1889 when he returned from the Westinghouse
plant, his turbine might perhaps have been the one eventually
developed to replace the slow, big, lumbering reciprocating engines
then in use. The Wfteen years, however, which he devoted to the
development of currents of high potential and high frequency,
had entailed a delay which gave opportunity for developers of
other turbine ideas to advance their work to a stage which now
was eVective in putting Tesla in the status of a very late starter.
In the meantime, turbines had been developed which were virtually
windmills in a box. They consisted of rotors with small buckets
or vanes around the circumference which were struck by the incoming
steam jet. They lacked the simplicity of the Tesla turbine; but
by the time Tesla introduced his type, the others were well entrenched
in the development stage.
Tesla's Wrst tiny motor was built in
1906 by Julius C. Czito, who operated at Astoria, Long Island,
a machine shop for making inventor's models. He also built the
subsequent 1911 and 1925 models of the turbine, and many other
devices on which Tesla worked up to 1929. Mr. Czito's father
had been a member of Tesla's staV in the Houston Street laboratories,
from 1892 to 1899, and at Colorado Springs.
Mr. Czito's description of the Wrst model
is as follows:
The rotor consisted of a stack of very
thin disks six inches in diameter, made of German silver. The
disks were one thirty-second of an inch thick and were separated
by spacers of the same metal and same thickness but of much smaller
diameter which were cut in the form of a cross with a circular
center section. The extended arms served as ribs to brace the
There were eight disks and the edgewise
face of the stack was only one-half inch across. They were mounted
on the center of a shaft about six inches long. The shaft was
nearly an inch in diameter in the mid section and was tapered
in steps to less than half an inch at the ends. The rotor was
set in a casing made in four parts bolted together.
The circular chamber where the rotor
turned was accurately machined to allow a clearance of one sixty-fourth
of an inch between the casing and the face of the rotor. Mr.
Tesla desired an almost touching Wt between the rotor face and
the casing when the latter was turning. The large clearance was
necessary because the rotor attained tremendously high speeds,
averaging 35,000 revolutions per minute. At this speed the centrifugal
force generated by the turning movement was so great it appreciably
stretched the metal in the rotating disks. Their diameter when
turning at top speed was one thirty-second of an inch greater
than when they were standing still.
A larger model was built by Tesla in
1910. It had disks twelve inches in diameter, and with a speed
of 10,000 revolutions per minute it developed 100 horsepower,
indicating a greatly improved eYciency over the Wrst model. It
developed more than three times as much power at half the speed.
During the following year, 1911, still
further improvements were made. The disks were reduced to a diameter
of 9.75 inches and the speed of operation was cut down by ten
per cent, to 9,000 revolutions per minute--and the power output
increased by ten per cent, to 110 horsepower!
Following this test, Tesla issued a statement
in which he declared:
I have developed 110 horsepower with
disks nine and three quarter inches in diameter and making a
thickness of about two inches. Under proper conditions the performance
might have been as much as 1,000 horsepower. In fact there is
almost no limit to the mechanical performance of such a machine.
This engine will work with gas, as in the usual type of explosion
engine used in automobiles and airplanes, even better than it
did with steam. Tests which I have conducted have shown that
the rotary eVort with gas is greater than with steam.
Enthusiastic over the success of his
smaller models of the turbine, operated on compressed air, and
to a more limited extent by direct combustion of gasoline, Tesla
designed and built a larger, double unit, which he planned to
test with steam in the Waterside Station, the main powerhouse
of the New York Edison Company.
This was a station which had originally
been designed to operate on the direct-current system developed
by Edison--but it was now operating throughout on Tesla's polyphase
Now Tesla, invading the Edison sanctum
to test a new type of turbine which he hoped would replace the
types in use, was deWnitely in enemy territory. The fact that
he had Morgan backing, and that the Edison Company was a ``Morgan
company,'' had no nullifying eVect on the Edison-Tesla feud.
This situation was not softened in any
way by Tesla's method of carrying on his tests. Tesla was a conWrmed
``sun dodger''; he preferred to work at night rather than in
the daytime. Powerhouses, not from choice but from necessity,
have their heaviest demands for current after sunset. The day
load would be relatively light; but as darkness approached, the
dynamos started to groan under the increasing night load. The
services of the workers at the Waterside Station were made available
to Tesla for the setting up and tests of his turbine with the
expectation that the work would be done during the day when the
tasks of the workers were easiest.
Tesla, however, would rarely show up
until Wve o'clock in the afternoon, or later, and would turn
a deaf ear to the pleas of workers that he arrive earlier. He
insisted that certain of the workers whom he favored remain after
their Wve-o'clock quitting time on the day shift to work with
him on an overtime basis. Nor did he maintain a conciliatory
attitude toward the engineering staV or the oYcials of the company.
The attitudes, naturally, were mutual.
The turbine Tesla built for this test
had a rotor 18 inches in diameter which turned at a speed of
9,000 revolutions per minute. It developed 200 horsepower. The
overall dimensions of the engine were--three feet long, two feet
wide and two feet high. It weighed 400 pounds.
Two such turbines were built and installed
in a line on a single base. The shafts of both were connected
to a torque rod. Steam was fed to both engines so that, if they
were free to rotate, they would turn in opposite directions.
The power developed was measured by the torque rod connected
to the two opposing shafts.
At a formal test, to which Tesla invited
a great many guests, he issued a statement in which he said,
as reported, in part:
It should be noted that although the
experimental plant develops 200 horsepower with 125 pounds at
the supply pipe and free exhaust it could show an output of 300
horsepower with full pressure of the supply circuit. If the turbine
were compounded and the exhaust were led to a low pressure unit
carrying about three times the number of disks contained in the
high pressure element, with connection to a condenser aVording
28.5 to 29.0 inches of vacuum the results obtained in the present
high pressure machine indicate that the compounded unit would
give an output of 600 horsepower without great increase of dimensions.
This estimate is very conservative.
Tests have shown that when the turbine
is running at 9,000 revolutions per minute under an inlet pressure
of 125 pounds to the square inch and with free exhaust 200 brake
horsepower are developed. The consumption under these conditions
of maximum output is 38 pounds of saturated steam per horsepower
per hour, a very high eYciency when we consider that the heat
drop, measured by thermometers, is only 130 B.T.U. and that the
energy transformation is eVected in one stage. Since three times
the number of heat units are available in a modern plant with
superheat and high vacuum the utilization of these facilities
would mean a consumption of less than 12 pounds per horsepower
hour in such turbines adapted to take the full drop.
Under certain conditions very high thermal
eYciencies have been obtained which demonstrate that in large
machines based on this principle steam consumption will be much
lower and should approximate the theoretical minimum thus resulting
in the nearly frictionless turbine transmitting almost the entire
expansive energy of the steam to the shaft.
It should be kept in mind that all of
the turbines which Tesla built and tested were single-stage engines,
using about one-third of the energy of the steam. In practical
use, they were intended to be installed with a second stage which
would employ the remaining energy and increase the power output
about two or three fold. (The two types of turbines in common
use each have a dozen and more stages within a single shell.)
Some of the Edison electric camp, observing
the torque-rod tests and apparently not understanding that in
such a test the two rotors remain stationary--their opposed pressures
staging a tug of war measured as torque--circulated the story
that the turbine was a complete failure; that this turbine would
not be practical if its eYciency had been increased a thousand
fold. It was stories such as these that contributed to the imputation
that Tesla was an impractical visionary. The Tesla turbine, however,
used as a single-stage engine, functioning as a pygmy power producer,
in the form in which it was actually tested, anticipated by more
than twenty-Wve years a type of turbine which has been installed
in recent years in the Waterside Station. This is a very small
engine, with blades on its rotor, known as a ``topping turbine,''
which is inserted in the steam line between the boilers and the
ordinary turbines. Steam of increased pressure is supplied, and
the topping turbine skims this ``cream'' from the steam and exhausts
steam that runs the other turbines in their normal way.
The General Electric Company was developing
the Curtis turbine at that time, and the Westinghouse Electric
and Manufacturing Company was developing the Parsons turbine;
and neither company showed the slightest interest in Tesla's
Further development of his turbine on
a larger scale would have required a large amount of money--and
Tesla did not possess even a small amount.
Finally he succeeded in interesting the
Allis Chalmers Manufac-
turing Company of Milwaukee, builders
of reciprocating engines and turbines, and other heavy machinery.
In typical Tesla fashion, though, he manifested in his negotiations
such a lack of diplomacy and insight into human nature that he
would have been better oV if he had completely failed to make
any arrangements for exploiting the turbine.
Tesla, an engineer, ignored the engineers
on the Allis Chalmers staV and went directly to the president.
While an engineering report was being prepared on his proposal,
he went to the Board of Directors and ``sold'' that body on his
project before the engineers had a chance to be heard. Three
turbines were built. Two of them had twenty disks eighteen inches
in diameter and were tested with steam at eighty pounds pressure.
They developed at speeds of 12,000 and 10,000 revolutions per
minute, respectively, 200 horsepower. This was exactly the same
power output as had been achieved by Tesla's 1911 model, which
had disks of half this diameter and was operated at 9,000 revolutions
under 125 pounds pressure. A much larger engine was tackled next.
It had Wfteen disks sixty inches in diameter, was designed to
operate at 3,600 revolutions per minute, and was rated at 500
kilowatts capacity, or about 675 horsepower.
Hans Dahlstrand, Consulting Engineer
of the Steam Turbine Department, reports, in part:
We also built a 500 kw steam turbine
to operate at 3,600 revolutions. The turbine rotor consisted
of Wfteen disks 60 inches in diameter and one eighth inch thick.
The disks were placed approximately one eighth inch apart. The
unit was tested by connecting to a generator. The maximum mechanical
eYciency obtained on this unit was approximately 38 per cent
when operating at steam pressure of approximately 80 pounds absolute
and a back pressure of approximately 3 pounds absolute and 100
degrees F superheat at the inlet.
When the steam pressure was increased
above that given the mechanical eYciency dropped, consequently
the design of these turbines was of such a nature that in order
to obtain maximum eYciency at high pressure, it would have been
necessary to have more than one turbine in series.
The eYciency of the small turbine units
compares with the eYciency obtainable on small impulse turbines
running at speeds where they can be directly connected to pumps
and other machinery. It is obvious, therefore, that the small
unit in order to obtain the same eYciency had to operate at from
10,000 to 12,000 revolutions and it would have been necessary
to provide reduction gears between the steam turbine and the
Furthermore, the design of the Tesla
turbine could not compete as far as manufacturing costs with
the smaller type of impulse units. It is also questionable whether
the rotor disks, because of light construction and high stress,
would have lasted any length of time if operating continuously.
The above remarks apply equally to the
large turbine running at 3,600 revolutions. It was found when
this unit was dismantled that the disks had distorted to a great
extent and the opinion was that these disks would ultimately
have failed if the unit had been operated for any length of time.
The gas turbine was never constructed
for the reason that the company was unable to obtain suYcient
engineering information from Mr. Tesla indicating even an approximate
design that he had in mind.
Tesla appears to have walked out on the
tests at this stage. In Milwaukee, however, there was no George
Westinghouse to save the situation. Later, during the twenties,
the author asked Tesla why he had terminated his work with the
Allis Chalmers Company. He replied: ``They would not build the
turbines as I wished''; and he would not amplify the statement
The Allis Chalmers Company later became
the pioneer manufacturers of another type of gas turbine that
has been in successful operation for years.
While the Dahlstrand report may appear
to be severely critical of the Tesla turbine and to reveal fundamental
weaknesses in it not found in other turbines, such is not the
case. The report is, in general, a fair presentation of the results;
and the description of apparent weaknesses merely oVers from
another viewpoint the facts which Tesla himself stated about
the turbine in his earlier test--that when employed as a single-stage
engine it uses only about a third of the energy of the steam,
and that to utilize the remainder, it would have to be compounded
with a second turbine.
The reference to a centrifugal force
of 70,000 pounds resulting from the high speed of rotation of
the rotor, causing damage to the disks, refers to a common experience
with all types of turbines. This is made clear in a booklet on
``The Story of the Turbine,'' issued during the past year by
the General Electric Company, in which it is stated:
It [the turbine] had to wait until engineers
and scientists could develop materials to withstand these pressures
and speeds. For example, a single bucket in a modern turbine
travelling at 600 miles per hour has a centrifugal force of 90,000
pounds trying to pull it from its attachment on the bucket wheel
and shaft. . . .
In this raging inferno the high pressure
buckets at one end of the turbine run red hot while a few feet
away the large buckets in the last stages run at 600 miles per
hour through a storm of tepid rain--so fast that the drops of
condensed steam cut like a sand blast.
Dahlstrand reported that diYculties were
encountered in the Tesla turbine from vibration, making it necessary
to re-enforce the disks. That this diYculty is common to all
turbines is further indicated by the General Electric booklet,
Vibration cracked buckets and wheels
and wrecked turbines, sometimes within a few hours and sometimes
after years of operation. This vibration was caused by taking
such terriWc amounts of power from relatively light machinery--it
some cases as much as 400 horsepower out of a bucket weighing
but a pound or two. . . .
The major problems of the turbine are
four--high temperatures, high pressures, high speeds and internal
vibration. And their solution lies in engineering, research and
These problems are still awaiting their
Wnal solution, even with the manufacturers who have been building
turbines for forty years; and the fact that they were encountered
in the Tesla turbine, and so reported, is not a Wnal criticism
of Tesla's invention in the earliest stages of its development.
There have been whisperings in engineering
circles during the past year or two to indicate a revival of
interest in the Tesla turbine and the possibility that the makers
of the Curtis and Parsons types may extend their lines to include
the Tesla type for joint operation with the others. The development
of new alloys, which can now almost be made to order with desired
qualities of mechanical stability under conditions of high temperature
and great stresses, is largely responsible for this turn of events.
It is a possibility that if the Tesla
turbine were constructed with the beneWt of two or more stages,
thus giving it the full operating range of either the Curtis
or the Parsons turbine, and were built with the same beneWts
of engineering skill and modern metallurgical developments as
have been lavished on these two turbines, the vastly greater
simplicity of the Tesla turbine would enable it to manifest greater
eYciencies of operation and economies of construction.
THE highest honor which the world can
confer upon its scholars is the Nobel Prize founded by Alfred
B. Nobel, the Swedish scientist who gained his wealth through
the invention of dynamite. Five awards are made annually, and
each carries an honorarium of about $40,000 in normal times.
An announcement came from Sweden, in
1912, that Nikola Tesla and Thomas A. Edison had been chosen
to share the 1912 award in physics. The awards, however, were
never made; and the prize went instead to Gustav Dalen, a Swedish
The full story of what took place is
not known. The correspondence on the subject is not available.
It is deWnitely established that Tesla refused to accept the
award. Tesla was very much in need of money at this time and
the $20,000, which would have been his share of the divided award,
would have aided him to continue his work. Other factors, however,
had a more potent inXuence.
Tesla made a very deWnite distinction
between the inventor of useful appliances and the discoverer
of new principles. The discoverer of new principles, he stated
in conversation with the author, is a pioneer who opens up new
Welds of knowledge into which thousands of inventors Xock to
make commercial applications of the newly revealed information.
Tesla declared himself a discoverer and Edison an inventor; and
he held the view that placing the two in the same category would
completely destroy all sense of the relative value of the two
It is quite probable that Tesla was also
inXuenced by the fact that the Nobel Prize in physics had been
awarded to Marconi three years earlier, a situation that greatly
disappointed him. To have the award go Wrst to Marconi, and then
to be asked to share the award with Edison, was too great a derogation
of the relative value of his work to the world for Tesla to bear
Tesla was the Wrst, and probably the
only, scientist to refuse this famous prize.
One of the highest honors in the engineering
world, too, is the Edison Medal, founded by unnamed friends of
Thomas A. Edison, and aw-arded each year by the American Institute
of Electrical Engineers, at its annual convention, for outstanding
contribution to electrical art and science. Usually, the recipients
are very happy to receive the award; but in 1917, when the committee
voted to present the medal to Tesla, a diVerent situation developed.
The chairman of the Edison Medal committee
was B. A. Behrend, who had been one of the Wrst electrical engineers
to grasp the tremendous signiWcance of Tesla's alternating-current
discoveries and their far-reaching importance to every department
of the electrical industry. A few outstanding engineers were
able, at the beginning, to understand the intricacies of new
alternating-current procedures which Tesla's discoveries made
of immediate practical importance; but it was Behrend who developed
a beautiful, simple mathematical technique, known as the ``circle
diagram,'' which made it possible to work out problems of designing
alternating-current machinery with great ease, and also to understand
the complex phenomena that were taking place within such devices.
He published innumerable articles on the subject in the technical
journals and wrote the standard textbook on the subject, The
Induction Motor. Fame and fortune came to Behrend. He achieved
recognition as one of the outstanding electrical engineers, and
was later elected vice-president of the American Institute of
Electrical Engineers. So important was his work to the commercial
world that he was considered a probable recipient of the Edison
Behrend had started publishing articles
on his circle diagram discovery in 1896 but he did not meet Tesla
until 1901, when Tesla required a particular type of motor for
his World Wireless plant being built at WardencliV, L. I., and
the task of designing it was assigned to the engineering department
of a manufacturing company of which Behrend was in charge. After
Tesla and Behrend met, a very close personal friendship developed
between the two men. Behrend was one of the few who thoroughly
understood Tesla's work; and the inventor, lonely in the absence
of individuals with minds of his own caliber, greatly appreciated
Behrend believed, therefore, that he
was rendering Tesla a token of his highest appreciation when
he managed to maneuver the award of the Edison Medal to him;
and he was quite happy to carry out the mission of bearing the
good news to the inventor. The announcement, however, did not
make Tesla happy. He did not want the Edison Medal, he would
not receive it!
Behrend, greatly surprised at Tesla's
rebuV, asked him if he would not explain the situation that caused
``Let us forget the whole matter, Mr.
Behrend. I appreciate your good will and your friendship but
I desire you to return to the committee and request it to make
another selection for a recipient. It is nearly thirty years
since I announced my rotating magnetic Weld and alternating-current
system before the Institute. I do not need its honors and someone
else may Wnd them useful.''
It would have been impossible for Behrend
to deny that the Institute had indeed failed, over this long
period, to honor the man whose discoveries were responsible for
creating the jobs held by probably more than three quarters of
the members of the Institute, while honors had been distributed
to many others for relatively minor accomplishments. Still, using
the privilege of friendship, Behrend pressed for a further explanation.
``You propose,'' Tesla replied, ``to
honor me with a medal which I could pin upon my coat and strut
for a vain hour before the members and guests of your Institute.
You would bestow an outward semblance of honoring me but you
would decorate my body and continue to let starve, for failure
to supply recognition, my mind and its creative products which
have supplied the foundation upon which the major portion of
your Institute exists. And when you would go through the vacuous
pantomime of honoring Tesla you would not be honoring Tesla but
Edison who has previously shared unearned glory from every previous
recipient of this medal.''
Behrend, however, after several visits,
Wnally prevailed upon Tesla to accept the medal.
Custom requires that the recipient of
a medal deliver a formal address. On the occasions, a quarter
of a century earlier, when Tesla was invited to address the Institute,
he had had ample laboratory facilities, and had invested a great
deal of time, eVort, thought and money in the preparation of
his lectures. For them, however, he was awarded no honors. Now
he was without laboratory facilities and without adequate Wnancial
resources, although his more mature mind was as Wlled with ideas
and unborn inventions as it had ever been. He was not required
to present a demonstration lecture. In this matter, however,
Tesla was a victim of his own past performances; and there was
an expectancy that he would emerge from the comparative oblivion
which had enshrouded him for more than a decade, and come, like
a master magician, bearing some wondrous new gifts of invention
to the world.
Tesla attended some of the meetings of
the convention, and Behrend, none too certain about what the
medalist might do, took him in tow following the afternoon session
and escorted him to the Hotel St. Regis, where Tesla now made
his home, and where both donned their formal dress for the evening's
The Wrst event on the evening's program
was a private dinner at the Engineers' Club, tendered by the
Institute to the medalist, who was the guest of honor, and attended
by previous recipients of the Edison Medal, as well as members
of the committee and the oYcers of the Institute. It was a gala
occasion and represented an unusual concentration of the world's
greatest electrical engineering talent. Tesla could be relied
upon to lend brilliance to any such occasion, but, while his
sparkling conversation added to the gayety of the group, he was
distinctly ill at ease.
The Engineers' Club, on the south side
of 40th Street, between Fifth and Sixth Avenues, faces Bryant
Park, the eastern third of which is occupied by the classical
building of the New York Public Library, facing Fifth Avenue
from 40th to 42nd Streets. The United Engineering Societies Building,
an imposing structure on the north side of 39th, stands almost
back-to-back with the Engineers' Club. By stepping a few feet
across an alley, it is possible to go from one building to the
Following the dinner in the Engineers'
Club, the brilliant group at the medalist's dinner made their
way across the alley and proceeded through the crowded lobby
of the Engineering Societies Building, which was abuzz with the
multitudinous activities associated with a convention. The party
entered the elevators which carried them to the large auditorium
on the Wfth Xoor where the medal presentations were to take place.
The auditorium was crowded with an audience
that had come largely from formal dinners held as part of the
convention program. The Xoor and gallery were Wlled to capacity.
The buzz of animated conversation died down as there Wled onto
the stage the outstanding Wgures of the electrical world, in
``tails'' and white ties, who were to serve as the ``wax works''
of the ceremonies and to take some part in the presentation.
As the wax works took their previously
assigned chairs, the stage was set for the opening of the ceremonies.
But the opening did not take place according to schedule. There
was consternation in the group as it was discovered that the
chair reserved for the chief participant in the event was empty.
Tesla was missing!
The side hall, leading oV the stage,
and the anterooms were searched, but there was no sign of him.
Members of the committee slipped out to retrace their steps through
the lobby and back to the Club dining room. A man as tall as
Tesla could not be hidden in any group, yet there was not a sign
of him in either building.
The delay in opening the meeting in the
auditorium was embarrassing--but the ceremonies could not be
started without Tesla, and where was he?
It seemed hardly possible that an imposing
Wgure like Tesla, his height exaggerated by the streamlined contours
of his swallow-tailed formal evening dress, and in the almost
worshipful custody of a score of outstanding intellects, could
vanish without any of them observing his going.
Behrend rushed back from the Club to
the auditorium, hopeful that Tesla had preceded him; but he found
that such was not the case. All the washrooms in both buildings
had been searched; he was concealed in none of them. No one could
oVer a theory to account for his disappearance.
None but Behrend knew of Tesla's aversion
to accepting the Edison Medal, yet even he had not the slightest
knowledge of what had become of the famous inventor. He recalled
noting the shadowy walks of Bryant Park opposite the Club as
he and Tesla stepped from the taxicab earlier in the evening,
and he wondered if Tesla had retreated there for some quiet meditation
before the ceremony. He hurried out of the Club.
As Behrend stepped into Bryant Park,
the last faint glimmerings of dusk were visible in the high sky;
but in the park the shades of night were gathering and here and
there could be heard the faint twitterings of birds. The twittering
of the birds brought, like a Xash, to Behrend's mind the scene
he had observed in Tesla's apartment at the Hotel St. Regis.
In the room which Tesla had arranged as a reading room and oYce
was a roll-top desk, and on top of this were four neat circular
baskets, in two of which pigeons were nestled. Before they left
the apartment Tesla went to the window, which was kept open at
all times, whistled softly, and two more pigeons quickly Xew
into the room. Just before leaving for the dinner Tesla fed the
pigeons, and having done so slipped a paper bag Wlled with something
into his pocket. The possible signiWcance of this latter act
did not occur to Behrend until he heard the twittering of the
birds in the park.
With all possible speed Behrend rushed
out of the park, down 40th Street toward Fifth Avenue, and up
the steps to the plaza of the Library. Here he beheld a sight
that amazed him almost beyond belief in what his eyes told him.
Here was the missing man. He had recalled that Tesla regularly
visited the Library, St. Patrick's Cathedral, or other places
to feed the pigeons.
In the center of a large thin circle
of observers stood the imposing Wgure of Tesla, wearing a crown
of two pigeons on his head, his shoulders and arms festooned
with a dozen more, their white or pale-blue bodies making strong
contrast with his black suit and black hair, even in the dusk.
On either of his outstretched hands was another bird, while seemingly
hundreds more made a living carpet on the ground in front of
him, hopping about and pecking at the bird seed he had been scattering.
It was Behrend's impulse to rush in,
shoo the birds away and, seizing the missing man, rush him back
to the auditorium. Something caused him to halt. Such an abrupt
action seemed almost sacrilegious. As he hesitated momentarily,
Tesla caught sight of him and slowly shifted the position of
one hand to raise a warning Wnger. As he did so, however, he
moved slowly toward Behrend; and as he came close, some of the
birds Xew from Tesla's shoulders to Behrend's. Apparently sensing
a disturbing situation, though, all the birds Xew to the ground.
Appealing to Tesla not to let him down,
nor to embarrass those who were waiting at the meeting, Behrend
prevailed upon the inventor to return to the auditorium. Little
did Behrend know how much more the pigeons meant to Tesla than
did the Edison Medal; and little could anyone have suspected
the fantastic secret in Tesla's life, of which the outer manifestation
was his faithful feeding of his feathered friends. To Behrend
it was just another, and in this case very embarrassing, manifestation
of the nonconformity of genius. Of this, more later.
Returning to the auditorium, Behrend
explained in a quick aside to the president that Tesla had been
temporarily ill, but that his condition was now quite satisfactory.
The opening of the meeting had been delayed about twenty minutes.
In his presentation speech, Behrend pointed
out that by an extraordinary coincidence, it was exactly 29 years
ago, to the very day and hour, that Nikola Tesla presented his
original description of his polyphase alternating-current system.
Not since the appearance of Faraday's
``Experimental Researches in Electricity'' has a great experimental
truth been voiced so simply and so clearly as this description
of Mr. Tesla's great discovery of the generation and utilization
of polyphase alternating currents. He left nothing to be done
by those who followed him. His paper contained the skeleton even
of the mathematical theory.
Three years later, in 1891, there was
given the Wrst great demonstration, by Swiss engineers, of the
transmission of power at 30,000 volts from LauVen to Frankfort
by means of Mr. Tesla's system. A few years later this was followed
by the development of the Cataract Construction Company, under
the presidency of our member, Mr. Edward D. Adams, and with the
aid of the engineers of the Westinghouse Company. It is interesting
to recall here tonight that in Lord Kelvin's support to Mr. Adams,
Lord Kelvin recommended the use of direct current for the development
of power at Niagara Falls and for its transmission to BuValo.
The due appreciation or even enumeration
of the results of Mr. Tesla's invention is neither practicable
nor desirable at this moment. There is a time for all things.
SuYce it to say that, were we to seize and eliminate from our
industrial world the results of Mr. Tesla's work, the wheels
of industry would cease to turn, our electric cars and trains
would stop, our towns would be dark, our mills would be dead
and idle. Yes, so far reaching is this work, that it has become
the warp and woof of industry. . . . His name marks an epoch
in the advance of electrical science. From that work has sprung
a revolution in the electrical art.
We asked Mr. Tesla to accept this medal.
We did not do this for the mere sake of conferring a distinction,
or of perpetuating a name; for so long as men occupy themselves
with our industry, his work will be incorporated in the common
thought of our art, and the name of Tesla runs no more risk of
oblivion than does that of Faraday, or that of Edison.
Nor indeed does this Institute give this
medal as evidence that Mr. Tesla's work has its oYcial sanction.
His work stands in no need of such sanction.
No, Mr. Tesla, we beg you to cherish
this medal as a symbol of our gratitude for a new creative thought,
the powerful impetus, akin to revolution, which you have given
to our art and to our science. You have lived to see the work
of your genius established. What shall a man desire more than
this? There rings out to us a paraphrase of Pope's lines on Newton:
``Nature and Nature's laws lay hid in
``God said, Let Tesla be, and all was
No record remains of Tesla's acceptance
speech. He did not prepare a formal address. He had intended
to make but a brief response, but instead he became involved
in anecdotal narration and a preview of the future of electrical
science which, in the absence of the limiting inXuence of a written
copy, became quite lengthy.
It is doubtful if anyone in the audience,
or on the stage, grasped the full signiWcance of Behrend's words
when he said, ``We asked Mr. Tesla to accept this medal.'' And
fewer still were the members of the Institute who had any conception
of the extent or importance of Tesla's contribution to their
science. His major inventions had been announced thirty years
before. The majority of the engineers present belonged to the
younger generation; and they had been taught from textbooks that
almost completely omitted mention of Tesla's work.
THE announcement by Tesla in his latter
years that attracted the greatest amount of attention concerned
his discovery of what has brieXy, but not too accurately, been
termed a death ray. Earlier reports had come from Europe of the
invention of death rays, beams of radiation that would cause
airships on which they impinged to burst into Xame, the steel
bodies of tanks to melt and the machinery of ships to stop operating,
but all gave indications of being part of the game of diplomatic
The prelude to Tesla's death-ray announcement
came several years in advance, in the form of a declaration that
he had made discoveries concerning a new form of power generation
which, when applied, would make the largest existing turbine-dynamo
units in the powerhouses look like pygmies. He made this announcement
in interviews with the press in 1933, and declared that he was
also working on a new kind of generator for the production of
radiation of all kinds and in the greatest inten-sities. He made
similar announcements the following year.
Both of these announcements were entitled
to receive the most serious consideration, even though they were
not accompanied by experimental evidence, and revealed no technical
When Tesla was talking as a scientist
he was opposed to wars on moral, economic and all practical and
theoretical grounds. But, like most scientists, when he stopped
thinking as a scientist and let his emotions rule his thoughts,
he found exceptions in which he felt some wars and situations
were justiWable. As a scientist he was unwilling to have the
discoveries of scientists applied to the purposes of war makers,
but when the emotional phase of his nature took the ruling position
he was willing to apply his genius to devising measures that
would prevent wars by supplying protective devices.
This attitude is exempliWed in the following
statement, which he had prepared in the twenties but did not
At present many of the ablest minds are
trying to devise expedients for preventing a repetition of the
awful conXict which is only theoretically ended and the duration
and main issues of which I correctly predicted in an article
printed in the Sun of December 20, 1914. The League is not a
remedy but, on the contrary, in the opinion of a number of competent
men, may bring about results just the opposite. It is particularly
regrettable that a punitive policy was adopted in framing the
terms of peace because a few years hence it will be possible
for nations to Wght without armies, ships or guns, by weapons
far more terrible, to the destructive action and range of which
there is virtually no limit. Any city at any distance whatever
from the enemy can be destroyed by him and no power on earth
can stop him from doing so. If we want to avert an impending
calamity and a state of things which may transform this globe
into an inferno, we should push the development of Xying machines
and wireless transmission of energy without an instant's delay
and with all the power and resources of the nation.
Tesla saw preventive possibilities in
his new invention which embodied ``death-ray'' characteristics,
and which was made several years after the foregoing statement
was written. He saw it providing a curtain of protection which
any country, no matter how small, could use as a defense against
invasion. While he might oVer it as a defensive weapon, however,
there would be nothing to stop military men from using it as
a weapon of oVense.
Tesla never gave the slightest hint concerning
the principles under which his device operated.
There are indications, at any rate, that
Tesla was working on a high-potential direct-current system for
generating and transmitting electricity to long distances. Direct
current at very high voltages can be transmitted much more eYciently
than alternating current. There has been no practical way of
generating direct current at high voltages. It was because of
this that Tesla's polyphase alternating-current system was adopted
for our present nationwide superpower system, since it made the
use of high voltages practicable. But, despite its eYciencies,
it entailed certain losses which could be eliminated if direct
current of suYciently high voltage could be obtained. Such a
system would supersede his alternating-current system but not
Direct current, perhaps at several million
volts potential, would be used to transmit current for long distances,
perhaps clear across the continent, providing a kind of express
transmission system, to which the existing alternating-current
system would be tied for local distribution. In addition to the
direct-current transmission system, he appears to have worked
out a high-voltage direct-current generator and a new type of
direct-current motor which would operate without a commutator.
The inventions were starting to dam up
in Tesla's mind like water in a reservoir to which there was
Just as he developed his alternating-current
system into the high-frequency, high-potential Weld of power
distribution by wireless, which he demonstrated at Colorado Springs,
so he appears to have carried his direct-current system forward
and linked it with his alternating-current wireless distribution
system, so that he could use both in a super-interlocking system.
As this remained unapplied, he further evolved it and produced
a plan for operating with it what appears to be a beam system
of wireless transmission of energy which might involve the use
of a stream of particles such as are used in the atom-smashing
As time passed from the latter twenties,
through the latter thirties, the hints which Tesla would drop
about his work became more complicated, and so ambiguous that
they aroused skepticism rather than respect. He would not reveal
the nature of his discoveries until he had secured patents, and
he would not apply for patents until he had made actual working
models, and he could not make the working models because he had
no money. Samuel Insull, the public utilities magnate, had for
many years made frequent and generous contributions to Tesla.
They were usually applied to outstanding debts and were not large
enough to enable him to engage in laboratory research work.
Tesla, however, never exhibited the slightest
outward sign of bitterness over the situation. Instead, he always
appeared in the rôle of conWrmed optimist, always maintaining
a spirit of hopefulness that he would achieve by his own eVorts
the money he needed to carry out his elaborated plans. This is
indicated in a letter he wrote to B. A. Behrend, who had induced
him to accept the Edison Medal, and who was probably in his conWdence
to a greater extent than anyone else:
``I am hard at work on those discoveries
of mine, I told you about, from which I hope to derive a sum
in eight Wgures (not counting the cents, of course) enabling
me to erect that wireless power plant at my own expense. And
what I shall accomplish by that other invention I came specially
to see you about, I do not dare to tell you. This is stated in
The invention about which he dared not
speak was probably his direct-current generating and transmitting
In an interview given in 1933, he said
his power generator was of the simplest kind--just a big mass
of steel, copper and aluminum, comprising a stationary and a
rotating part, peculiarly assembled. He was planning, he said,
to generate electricity and transmit it to a distance by his
alternating system; but the direct-current system could also
be employed if the heretofore insuperable diYculties of insulating
the transmission line could be overcome.
A year later he had developed the beam-transmission
plan; and he made an ambiguous statement concerning it which
was reported in the press as news of a ``death ray'' since the
description seemed to Wt into the same mold as those wild and
improbable statements that had come out of Europe some years
before. A writer in the New York World-Telegram described Tesla's
plan as ``nebulous.'' This drew a reply from Tesla July 24, 1934)
in which the following paragraphs appeared:
Still another item which has interested
me is a report from Washington in the World Telegram of July
13, 1934, to the eVect that scientists doubt the death ray eVects.
I am quite in agreement with these doubters and probably more
pessimistic in this respect than anybody else, for I speak from
Rays of the requisite energy cannot be
produced, and, then again, their intensity diminishes with the
square of the distance. Not so the agent I employ, which will
enable us to transmit to a distant point more energy than is
possible by any other kind of ray.
We are all fallible, but as I examine
the subject in the light of my present theoretical and experimental
knowledge I am Wlled with deep convictions that I am giving to
the world something far beyond the wildest dreams of inventors
of all time.
This is the Wrst written statement by
Tesla in which he mentions his ``ray''; but I had, as already
noted, obtained some conWdential statements from him, during
the preceding year or so, concerning results he hoped to achieve
through his new discovery, the nature of which he kept as a well-protected
secret. Three years later, in 1937, Tesla permitted me to write
a news story for the New York Herald Tribune on his new power-and-ray
discovery. In it I stressed the usefulness of the discovery for
delivering power to ships for travel across the ocean, thus eliminating
the need for carrying fuel supplies, rather than its use as a
weapon for defense or oVense.
On this occasion I tried to get him to
reveal some technical details, but he successfully parried every
question and gave no information beyond the statement that the
transmitting plant on shore was one which he would be able to
erect at a cost of about $2,000,000, and the energy would be
transmitted by a ray or beam of inWnitesimally small cross section,
one hundred thousandth of a centimeter in diameter. To other
newspapers which copied my story he gave the Wgure as one millionth
of a square centimeter.
Later, I wrote a somewhat critical review
of his plan and sought to draw him out by reviewing the properties
of electro-magnetic radiation in all parts of the spectrum. Finding
none that possessed any known characteristics needed to make
his ray practical, I also reviewed the properties of all known
particles of matter, and stated that none of these would serve
his purpose with the possible exception of the unelectriWed particle,
the neutron. He made no revealing response to the article.
At his birthday dinner in 1938, at the
Hotel New Yorker, Tesla described brieXy his combination wireless-power
transmission and death ray, adding little to what has already
been stated; and in a later part of his speech he declared that
he had developed a method for interplanetary communication, in
which he would be able to transmit not only communication signals
of small strength but energies involving thousands of horsepower.
On this occasion I asked him if he would
be speciWc concerning the eVects produced, and whether they would
be visible from the earth; for example--could he produce an eVect
on the moon suYciently large to be seen by an astronomer watching
the moon through a high-power telescope? To this he replied that
he would be able to produce in the dark region of the thin crescent
new moon an incandescent spot that would glow like a bright star
so that it could be seen without the aid of a telescope.
It would appear probable that Tesla proposed
to use for this purpose the beam he described in connection with
his wirelesspower ``death ray.'' The limitation of the destructive
eVects of the beam, which he visualized as two hundred miles,
was due to the fact that the beam had a straight-line trajectory.
Tesla stated that the curvature of the earth set a limit on the
distance of operation, so the two-hundred-mile span of operation
gave an indication of the greatest practical height of a tower
from which the beam could be directed. He expected to use potentials
of about 50,000,000 volts in his system, but whether of direct
or alternating current is unknown.
The only written statement by Tesla on
this subject is in his manuscript of the talk which was delivered,
in absentia, some months later before the Institute of Immigrant
Welfare in response to its honorary citation. In this was included
the following paragraph:
``To go to another subject: I have devoted
much of my time during the year past to perfecting of a new small
and compact apparatus by which energy in considerable amounts
can now be Xashed through interstellar space to any distance
without the slightest dispersion. I had in mind to confer with
my friend, George E. Hale, the great astronomer and solar expert,
regarding the possible use of this invention in connection with
his own researches. In the meantime, however, I am expecting
to put before the Institute of France an accurate description
of the device with data and calculations and claim the Pierre
Gutzman Prize of 100,000 francs for means of communication with
other worlds, feeling perfectly sure that it will be awarded
to me. The money, of course, is a triXing consideration, but
for the great historical honor of being the Wrst to achieve this
miracle I would be almost willing to give my life.''
Last Modified: 07:0707 07, October October, October
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