nikola tesla: humanitarian genius
excerpted from vol 6, no. 4, "power and resonance", the journal of the
international tesla society. for further information on the topics
discussed below: the tesla book co., box 1649, greenville, texas 75401
ask any school kid: "who invented radio?" if you get an answer at all it
will doubtless be marconi - an answer with which all the encyclopedias and
textbooks agree. or ask most anyone: "who invented the stuff that makes
your toaster, your stereo, the street lights, the factories and offices
work?" without hesitation, thomas edison, right? wrong both times. the
correctly answer is nikola tesla, a person you have probably never heard of.
there's more. he appears to have discovered x-rays a year before w. k.
roentgen did in germany, he built a vacuum tube amplifier several years
before lee de forest did, he was using fluorescent lights in his laboratory
40 years before the industry "invented" them, and he demonstrated the
principles used in microwave ovens and radar decades before they became an
integral part of our society. yet we associate his name with none of them.
for about 20 years around the turn of the century, he was known and respected
in academic circles world wide, corresponding with eminent physicists of his
day, including albert einstein, quoted and conferred with on matters of
electrical science, adopted by new york's high society, backed by such
financial and industrial giants as j. p. morgan, john jacob astor, and george
westinghouse. he counted as friends eminent artists such as mark twain and
pianist ignace paderewski. his honorary degrees, major prizes (including the
nobel), and other citations number in the dozens.
tesla was born in smijlan., croatia (now part of yugoslavia) in 1856, the son
of a clergyman and an inventive mother. he had an extraordinary memory, one
that made learning six languages easy for him. he entered the polytechnic
school at gratz, where for four years he studied mathematics, physics and
mechanics, confounding more than one professor by an understanding of
electricity, an infant science in those days, that was greater than theirs.
his practical career started in 1881 in budapest, hungary, where he made his
first electrical invention, a telephone repeater (the ordinary loudspeaker)
and conceived the idea of a rotating magnetic field, which later made him
world famous in its form as the modern induction motor. the polyphase
induction motor is what provides power to virtually every industrial
application, from conveyer belts to winches to machine tools.
tesla's mental abilities require some mention, since, not only did he have a
photographic memory, he was able to use creative visualization with an
uncanny and practical intensity. he describes in his autobiography how he
was able to visualize a particular apparatus and was then able to actually
test run the apparatus, disassemble it and check for proper action and wear!
during the manufacturing phase of his inventions, he would work with all
blueprints and specifications in his head. the invention invariably
assembled together without redesign and worked perfectly. tesla slept one to
2 hours a day and worked continuously on his inventions and theories without
benefit of ordinary relaxation or vacations. he could judge the dimension of
an object to a hundredth of an inch and perform difficult computations in his
head without benefit of slide rule or mathematical tables. far from an
ivory tower intellectual, he was very much aware of the issues in the world
around him, made it a point to render his ideas accessable to the general
public by frequent contributions to the popular press, and to his field by
numerous lectures and scientific papers.
he decided to come to this country in 1884. he brought with him the various
models of the first induction motors, which, after a brief and unhappy period
at the edison works, were eventually shown to george westinghouse. it was in
the westinghouse shops that the induction motor was perfected. numerous
patents were taken out on this prime invention, all under tesla's name.
tesla worked briefly for thomas edison when he first came to the united
states, creating many improvements on edison's dc motors and generators, but
left under a cloud of controversy after edison refused to live up to bonus
and royalty commitments. this was the beginning of a rivalry which was to
have ugly consequences later when edison and his backers did everything in
their power to stop the development and installation of tesla's far more
efficient and practical ac current delivery system and urban power grid.
edison put together a traveling road show which attempted to portray ac
current as dangerous, even to the point of electrocuting animals both small
(puppies) and large (in one case an elephant) in front of large audiences.
as a result of this propaganda crusade, the state of new york adopted ac
electrocution as its method of executing convicts. tesla won the battle by
the demonstration of ac current's safety and usefulness when his apparatus
illuminated and powered the entire new york world's fair of 1899.
tesla's most important work at the end of the nineteenth century was his
original system of transmission of energy by wireless antenna. in 1900 tesla
obtained his two fundamental patents on the transmission of true wireless
energy covering both methods and apparatus and involving he use of four tuned
circuits. in 1943, the supreme court of the united states granted full
patent rights to nikola tesla for the invention of the radio, superseding and
nullifying any prior claim by marconi and others in regards to the
"fundamental radio patent" it is interesting to note that tesla, in 1898,
described the transmission of not only the human voice, but images as well
and later designed and patented devices that evolved into the power supplies
that operate our present day tv picture tubes. the first primitive radar
installations in 1934 were built following principles, mainly regarding
frequency and power level, that were stated by tesla in 1917.
in 1889 tesla constructed an experimental station in colorado springswhere he
studied the characteristics of high frequency or radio frequency alternating
currents. while there he developed a powerful radio transmitter of unique
design and also a number of receivers "for individualizing and isolating the
energy transmitted". he conducted experiments designed to establish the laws
of radio propagation which are currently being "rediscovered" and verified
amid some controversy in high energy quantum physics.
tesla wrote in century magazine in 1900: "...that communication without wires
to any point of the globe is practicable. my experiments showed that the air
at the ordinary pressure became distinctly conducting, and this opened up the
wonderful prospect of transmitting large amounts of electri- cal energy for
industrial purposes to great distances without wires...its practical
consummation would mean that energy would be available for the uses of man at
any point of the globe. i can conceive of no technical advance which would
tend to unite the various elements of humanity more effectively than this
one, or of one which would more add to and more economize human energy..."
this was written in 1900! after finishing preliminary testing, work was
begun on a full sized broadcasting station at shoreham, long island. had it
gone into operation, it would have been able to provide usable amounts of
electrical power at the receiving circuits. after construction of a
generator building (still standing) and a 180 foot broadcasting tower
(dynamited in world war i on the dubious pretext of being a potential
navigation reference for german u-boats), financial support for the project
was suddenly withdrawn by j. p. morgan when it became apparent that such a
worldwide power project couldn't be metered and charged for.
another one of tesla's inventions that is familiar to anyone who has ever
owned an automobile, was patented in 1898 under the name "electrical ignitor
for gas engines". more commonly known as the automobile ignition system, its
major component, the ignition coil, remains practically unchanged since its
introduction into use at the turn of the century.
nikola tesla also designed and built prototypes of a unique fuel burning
rotary engine based upon his earlier design for a rotary pump. recent tests
that have been carried out on the tesla bladeless disk turbine indicate that,
if constructed using newly developed high temperature ceramic materials, it
will rank as the world's most efficient gas engine, out-performing our
present day piston type internal combustion engines in fuel efficiency,
longevity, adaptability to different fuels, cost and power to weight ratio.
tesla's generosity eventually left him without adequate funds to pursue and
realize his inventions. his idealism and humanism left him with little
stomach for the world of industrial and financial intrigue. his new york
laboratory was destroyed by a mysterious fire. references to his work and
accomplishments were systematically purged from the scientific literature and
textbooks. driven into a hermetic exile in a new york hotel during the
period between the two wars, 20 years of his potentially rich and productive
contribution were taken from us. the only occasions of public appearance
were the yearly press interview on his birthday when he would describe
amazing and far reaching inventions and technological possibilities. these
were distorted and sensationalized in the popular press, particularly when he
described advanced weapons systems on the eve of world war ii. he died in
obscurity in 1943. only the fbi took note: they searched his papers (in
vain) for the design of the "death-ray machine". it is interesting to note
that the motivation for our "star wars" defense system was based upon fears
that the soviets had begun deployment of weapons based upon tesla high energy
principles. public reports of mysterious "blindings" of u.s. surveillance
satellites, anomalous high altitude flashes and fireballs, elf wave radio
interference, and other cases lend credence to this interpretation.
credit must be given where credit is due for the labor saving and humani-
tarian inventions such as universal ac current that have been incorporated
into the very fabric of our daily lives and also the devices who's design
have been made available, but have not been utilized by society at large.