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, 1973
(C)1994 Brotherhood of Life, Inc., 110 Dartmouth, SE, Albuquerque, New Mexico 87106 USA
New Typeset Edition - First printing, 1994, Reprinted 1996
Uploaded to the Internet October, 1996
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"SPECTACULAR'' is a mild word for describing the strange experiment with life that comprises the story of Nikola Tesla, and ``amazing'' fails to do adequate justice to the results that burst from his experiences like an exploding rocket. It is the story of the dazzling scintillations of a superman who created a new world; it is a story that condemns woman as an anchor of the Xesh which retards the development of man and limits his accomplishment--and, paradoxically, proves that even the most successful life, if it does not include a woman, is a dismal failure.
Even the gods of old, in the wildest imaginings of their worshipers, never undertook such gigantic tasks of world-wide dimension as those which Tesla attempted and accomplished. On the basis of his hopes, his dreams, and his achievements he rated the status of the Olympian gods, and the Greeks would have so enshrined him. Little is the wonder that so-called practical men, with their noses stuck in proWt-and-loss statements, did not understand him and thought him strange.
The light of human progress is not a dim glow that gradually becomes more luminous with time. The panorama of human evolution is illumined by sudden bursts of dazzling brilliance in intellectual accomplishments that throw their beams far ahead to give us a glimpse of the distant future, that we may more correctly guide our wavering steps today. Tesla, by virtue of the amazing discoveries and inventions which he showered on the world, becomes one of the most resplendent Xashes that has ever brightened the scroll of human advancement.
Tesla created the modern era; he was unquestionably one of the world's greatest geniuses, but he leaves no oVspring, no legatees of his brilliant mind, who might aid in administering that world; he created fortunes for multitudes of others but himself died penniless, spurning wealth that might be gained from his discoveries. Even as he walked among the teeming millions of New York he became a fabled individual who seemed to belong to the far-distant future or to have come to us from the mystical realm of the gods, for he seemed to be an admixture of a Jupiter or a Thor who hurled the shafts of lightning; an Ajax who deWed the Jovian bolts; a Prometheus who transmuted energy into electricity to spread over the earth; an Aurora who would light the skies as a terrestrial electric lamp; a Mazda who created a sun in a tube; a Hercules who shook the earth with his mechanical vibrators; a Mercury who bridged the ambient realms of space with his wireless waves--and a Hermes who gave birth to an electrical soul in the earth that set it pulsating from pole to pole.
This spark of intellectual incandescence, in the form of a rare creative genius, shot like a meteor into the midst of human society in the latter decades of the past century; and he lived almost until today. His name became synonymous with magic in the intellectual, scientiWc, engineering and social worlds, and he was recognized as an inventor and discoverer of unrivaled greatness. He made the electric current his slave. At a time when electricity was considered almost an occult force, and was looked upon with terror-stricken awe and respect, Tesla penetrated deeply into its mysteries and performed so many marvelous feats with it that, to the world, he became a master magician with an unlimited repertoire of scientiWc legerdemain so spectacular that it made the accomplishments of most of the inventors of his day seem like the work of toy-tinkers.
Tesla was an inventor, but he was much more than a producer of new devices: he was a discoverer of new principles, opening many new empires of knowledge which even today have been only partly explored. In a single mighty burst of invention he created the world of power of today; he brought into being our electrical power era, the rock-bottom foundation on which the industrial system of the entire world is builded; he gave us our mass-production system, for without his motors and currents it could not exist; he created the race of robots, the electrical mechanical men that are replacing human labor; he gave us every essential of modern radio; he invented the radar forty years before its use in World War II; he gave us our modern neon and other forms of gaseous-tube lighting; he gave us our Xuorescent lighting; he gave us the high-frequency currents which are performing their electronic wonders throughout the industrial and medical worlds; he gave us remote control by wireless; he helped give us World War II, much against his will--for the misuse of his superpower system and his robot controls in industry made it possible for politicians to have available a tremendous surplus of power, production facilities, labor and materials, with which to indulge in the most frightful devastating war that the maniacal mind could conceive. And these discoveries are merely the inventions made by the master mind of Tesla which have thus far been utilized--scores of others remain still unused.
Yet Tesla lived and labored to bring peace to the world. He dedicated his life to lifting the burdens from the shoulders of mankind; to bringing a new era of peace, plenty and happiness to the human race. Seeing the coming of World War II, implemented and powered by his discoveries, he sought to prevent it; oVered the world a device which he maintained would make any country, no matter how small, safe within its borders--and his oVer was rejected.
More important by far, however, than all his stupendously signiWcant electrical discoveries is that supreme invention--Nikola Tesla the Superman--the human instrument which shoved the world forward with an accelerating lunge like an airplane cast into the sky from a catapult. Tesla, the scientist and inventor, was himself an invention, just as much as was his alternating-current system that put the world on a superpower basis.
Tesla was a superman, a self-made superman, invented and designed speciWcally to perform wonders; and he achieved them in a volume far beyond the capacity of the world to absorb. His life he designed on engineering principles to enable him to serve as an automaton, with utmost eYciency, for the discovery and application of the forces of Nature to human welfare. To this end he sacriWced love and pleasure, seeking satisfaction only in his accomplishments, and limiting his body solely to serving as a tool of his technically creative mind.
With our modern craze for division of labor and specialization of eVort to gain eYciency of production in our industrial machine, one hesitates to think of a future in which Tesla's invention of the superman might be applied to the entire human race, with specialization designed for every individual from birth.
The superman that Tesla designed was a scientiWc saint. The inventions that this scientiWc martyr produced were designed for the peace, happiness and security of the human race, but they have been applied to create scarcity, depressions and devastating war. Suppose the superman invention were also developed and prostituted to the purposes of war-mongering politicians? Tesla glimpsed the possibilities and suggested the community life of the bee as a threat to our social structure unless the elements of individual and community lives are properly directed and personal freedom protected.
Tesla's superman was a marvelously successful invention--for Tesla--which seemed, as far as the world could observe, to function satisfactorily. He eliminated love from his life; eliminated women even from his thoughts. He went beyond Plato, who conceived of a spiritual companionship between man and woman free from sexual desires; he eliminated even the spiritual companionship. He designed the isolated life into which no woman and no man could enter; the self-suYcient individuality from which all sex considerations were completely eliminated; the genius who would live entirely as a thinking and a working machine.
Tesla's superman invention was a producer of marvels, and he thought that he had, by scientiWc methods, succeeded in eliminating love from his life. That abnormal life makes a fascinating experiment for the consideration of the philosopher and psychologist, for he did not succeed in eliminating love. It manifested itself despite his conscientious eVorts at suppression; and when it did so it came in the most fantastic form, providing a romance the like of which is not recorded in the annals of human history.
Tesla's whole life seems unreal, as if he were a fabled creature of some Olympian world. A reporter, after writing a story of his discoveries and inventions, concluded, ``His accomplishments seem like the dream of an intoxicated god.'' It was Tesla's invention of the polyphase alternating-current system that was directly responsible for harnessing Niagara Falls and opened the modern electrical superpower era in which electricity is transported for hundred of miles, to operate the tens of thousands of mass-production factories of industrial systems. Every one of the tall Martian-like towers of the electrical transmission lines that stalk across the earth, and whose wires carry electricity to distant cities, is a monument to Tesla; every powerhouse, every dynamo and every motor that drives every machine in the country is a monument to him.
Superseding himself, he discovered the secret of transmitting electrical power to the utmost ends of the earth without wires, and demonstrated his system by which useful amounts of power could be drawn from the earth anywhere merely by making a connection to the ground; he set the entire earth in electrical vibration with a generator which spouted lightning that rivaled the Wery artillery of the heavens. It was as a minor portion of this discovery that he created the modern radio system; he planned our broadcasting methods of today, forty years ago when others saw in wireless only the dot-dash messages that might save ships in distress.
He produced lamps of greater brilliance and economy than those in common use today; he invented the tube, Xuorescent and wireless lamps which we now consider such up-to-the-minute developments; and he essayed to set the entire atmosphere of the earth aglow with his electric currents, to change our world into a single terrestrial lamp and to make the skies at night shine as does the sun by day.
If other Wrst-magnitude inventors and discoverers may be considered torches of progress, Tesla was a conXagration. He was the vehicle through which the blazing suns of a brighter tomorrow focused their incandescent beams on a world that was not prepared to receive their light. Nor is it remarkable that this radiant personality should have led a strange and isolated life. The value of his contributions to society cannot be overrated. We can now analyze, to some extent, the personality that produced them. He stands as a synthetic genius, a self-made superman, the greatest invention of the greatest inventor of all times. But when we consider Tesla as a human being, apart from his charming and captivating social manners, it is hard to imagine a worse nightmare than a world inhabited entirely by geniuses.
When Nature makes an experiment and achieves an improvement it is necessary that it be accomplished in such a way that the progress will not be lost with the individual but will be passed on to future generations. In man, this requires a utilization of the social values of the race, cooperation of the individual with his kind, that the improved status may be propagated and become a legacy of all. Tesla intentionally engineered love and women out of his life, and while he achieved gigantic intellectual stature, he failed to achieve its perpetuation either through his own progeny or through disciples. The superman he constructed was not great enough to embrace a wife and continue to exist as such. The love he sought to suppress in his life, and which he thought was associated only with women, is a force which, in its various aspects, links together all members of the human race.
In seeking to suppress this force entirely Tesla severed the bonds which might have brought to him the disciples who would, through other channels, have perpetuated the force of his prodigal genius. As a result, he succeeded in imparting to the world only the smallest fraction of the creative products of his synthetic superman.
The creation of a superman as demonstrated by Tesla was a grand experiment in human evolution, well worthy of the giant intellect that grew out of it, but it did not come up to Nature's standards; and the experiment will have to be made many times more before we learn how to create a super race with the minds of Teslas that can tap the hidden treasury of Nature's store of knowledge, yet endowed too with the vital power of love that will unlock forces, more powerful than any which we now glimpse, for advancing the status of the human race.
There was no evidence whatever that a superman was being born
when the stroke of midnight between July 9 and 10, in the year 1856, brought a son, Nikola, to the home of the Rev. Milutin Tesla and Djouka, his wife, in the hamlet of Smiljan, in the Austro-Hungarian border province of Lika, now a part of Yugoslavia. The father of the new arrival, pastor of the village church, was a former student in an oYcers' training school who had rebelled against the restrictions of Army life and turned to the ministry as the Weld in which he could more satisfactorily express himself. The mother, although totally unable to read or write, was nevertheless an intellectually brilliant woman, who without the help of literal aids became really well educated.
Both father and mother contributed to the child a valuable heritage of culture developed and passed on by ancestral families that had been community leaders for many generations. The father came from a family that contributed sons in equal numbers to the Church and to the Army. The mother was a member of the Mandich family whose sons, for generations without number, had, with very few exceptions, become ministers of the Serbian Orthodox Church, and whose daughters were chosen as wives by ministers.
Djouka, the mother of Nikola Tesla (her given name in English translation would be Georgina), was the eldest daughter in a family of seven children. Her father, like her husband, was a minister of the Serbian Orthodox Church, Her mother, after a period of failing eyesight, had become blind shortly after the seventh child was born; so Djouka, the eldest daughter, at a tender age was compelled to take over the major share of her mother's duties. This not alone prevented her from attending school: her work at home so completely consumed her time that she was unable to acquire even the rudiments of reading and writing through home study. This was a strange situation in the cultured family of which she was a member. Tesla, however, always credited his unlettered mother rather than his erudite father with being the source from which he inherited his inventive ability. She devised many household labor-saving instruments. She was, in addition, a very practical individual, and her well-educated husband wisely left in her hands all business matters involving both the church and his household.
An unusually retentive memory served this remarkable woman as a good substitute for literacy. As the family moved in cultured circles she absorbed by ear much of the cultural riches of the community. She could repeat, without error or omission, thousands of verses of the national poetry of her country--the sagas of the Serbs--and could recite long passages from the Bible. She could narrate from memory the entire poetical- philosophical work Gorski Venac (Mountain Wreath), written by Bishop Petrovich Njegosh. She also possessed artistic talent and a versatile dexterity in her Wngers for expressing it. She earned wide fame throughout the countryside for her beautiful needlework. According to Tesla, so great were her dexterity and her patience that she could, when over sixty, using only her Wngers, tie three knots in an eyelash.
The remarkable abilities of this clever woman who had no formal education were transmitted to her Wve children. The elder son, Dane Tesla, born seven years before Nikola, was the family favorite because of the promise of an outstanding career which his youthful cleverness indicated was in store for him. He foreshadowed in his early years the strange manifestations which in his surviving brother were a prelude to greatness.
Tesla's father started his career in the military service, a likely choice for the son of an oYcer; but he apparently did not inherit his father's liking for Army life. So slight an incident as criticism for failure to keep his brass buttons brightly polished caused him to leave military school. He was probably more of a poet and philosopher than a soldier. He wrote poetry which was published in contemporary papers. He also wrote articles on current problems which he signed with a pseudonym, ``Srbin Pravicich.'' This, in Serb, means ``Man of Justice.'' He spoke, read and wrote Serbo-Croat, German and Italian. It was probably his interest in poetry and philosophy that caused him to be attracted to Djouka Mandich. She was twenty-Wve and Milutin was two years older. He married her in 1847. His attraction to the daughter of a pastor probably inXuenced his next choice of a career, for he then entered the ministry and was soon ordained a priest.
He was made pastor of the church at Senj, an important seaport with facilities for a cultural life. He gave satisfaction, but apparently he achieved success among his parishioners on the basis of a pleasing personality and an understanding of problems rather than by using any great erudition in theological and ecclesiastical matters.
A few years after he was placed in charge of this parish, a new archbishop, elevated to head of the diocese, wished to survey the capabilities of the priests in his charge and oVered a prize for the best sermon preached on his oYcial visit. The Rev. Milutin Tesla was bubbling over, at the time, with interest in labor as a major factor in social and economic problems. To preach a sermon on this topic was, from the viewpoint of expediency, a totally impractical thing to do. Nobody, however, had ever accused the Rev. Mr. Tesla of being practical, so doing the impractical thing was quite in harmony with his nature. He chose the subject which held his greatest interest; and when the archbishop arrived, he listened to a sermon on ``Labor.''
Months later Senj was surprised by an unanticipated visit from the archbishop, who announced that the Rev. Mr. Tesla had preached the best sermon, and awarded him a red sash which he was privileged to wear on all occasions. Shortly afterward he was made pastor at Smiljan, where his parish then embraced forty homes. He was later placed in charge of the much larger parish in the nearby city of Gospic. His Wrst three children, Milka, Dane and Angelina, were born at Senj. Nikola and his younger sister, Marica, were born at Smiljan.
Tesla's early environment, then, was that of an agricultural community in a high plateau region near the eastern shore of the Adriatic Sea in the Velebit Mountains, a part of the Alps, a mountain chain stretching from Switzerland to Greece. He did not see his Wrst steam locomotive until he was in his `teens, so his aptitude for mechanical matters did not grow out of his environment.
Tesla's homeland is today called Yugoslavia, a country whose name means ``Land of the Southern Slavs.'' It embraces several former separate countries, Serbia, Bosnia, Croatia, Montenegro, Dalmatia and also Slovenia. The Tesla and Mandich families originally came from the western part of Serbia near Montenegro. Smiljan, the village where Tesla was born, is in the province of Lika, and at the time of his birth this was a dependent province held by the Austro-Hungarian Empire as part of Croatia and Slovenia.
Tesla's surname dates back more than two and a half centuries. Before that time the family name was Draganic (pronounced as if spelled Drag'-a-nitch). The name Tesla (pronounced as spelled, with equal emphasis on both syllables), in a purely literal sense, is a trade name like Smith, Wright or Carpenter. As a common noun it describes a woodworking tool which, in English, is called an adz. This is an axe with a broad cutting blade at right angles to the handle, instead of parallel as in the more familiar form. It is used in cutting large tree trunks into squared timbers. In the Serbo-Croat language, the name of the tool is tesla. There is a tradition in the Draganic family that the members of one branch were given the nickname ``Tesla'' because of an inherited trait which caused practically all of them to have very large, broad and protruding front teeth which greatly resembled the triangular blade of the adz.
The name Draganic and derivatives of it appear frequently in other branches of the Tesla family as a given name. When used as a given name it is frequently translated ``Charlotte,'' but as a generic term it holds the meaning ``dear'' and as a surname is translated ``Darling.''
The majority of Tesla's ancestors for whom age records are available lived well beyond the average span of life for their times, but no deWnite record has been found of the ancestor who, Tesla claimed, lived to be one hundred and forty years of age. (His father died at the age of Wfty-nine, and his mother at seventy-one.)
Although many of Tesla's ancestors were dark eyed, his eyes were a gray-blue. He claimed his eyes were originally darker, but that as a result of the excessive use of his brain their color changed. His mother's eyes, however, were gray and so are those of some of his nephews. It is probable, therefore, that his gray eyes were inherited, rather than faded by excessive use of the brain.
Tesla grew to be very tall and very slender--tallness was a family and a national trait. When he attained full growth he was exactly two meters, or six feet two and one-quarter inches tall. While his body was slender, it was built within normal proportions. His hands, however, and particularly his thumbs, seemed unusually long.
Nikola's older brother Dane was a brilliant boy and his parents gloried in their good fortune in being blessed with such a Wne son. There was, however, a diVerence of seven years in the two boys' ages, and since the elder brother died as the result of an accident at the age of twelve, when Nikola was but Wve years old, a fair comparison of the two seems hardly possible. The loss of their Wrst-born son was a great blow to his mother and father; the grief and regrets of the family were manifest in idealizing his talents and predicting possibilities of greatness he might have realized, and this situation was a challenge to Nikola in his youth.
The superman Tesla developed out of the superboy Nikola. Forced to rise above the normal level by an urge to carry on for his dearly beloved departed brother, and also on his own account to exceed the great accomplishment his brother might have attained had he lived, he unconsciously drew upon strange resources within. The existence of these resources might have remained unsuspected for a lifetime, as happens with the run of individuals, if Nikola had not felt the necessity for creating a larger sphere of life for himself.
He was aware as a boy that he was not like other boys in his thoughts, in his amusements and in his hobbies. He could do the things that other lads his age usually do, and many things that they could not do. It was these latter things that interested him most, and he could Wnd no companions who would share his enthusiasms for them. This situation caused him to isolate himself from contemporaries, and made him aware that he was destined for an unusual place if not great accomplishments in life. His boyish mind was continually exploring realms which his years had not reached, and his boyhood attainments frequently were worthy of men of mature age.
He had, of course, the usual experience of unusual incidents that fall to the lot of a small boy. One of the earliest events which Tesla recalled was a fall into a tank of hot milk that was being scalded in the process used by the natives of that region as a hygienic measure, anticipating the modern process of pasteurizing.
Shortly afterward he was accidentally locked in a remote mountain chapel which was visited only at widely separated intervals. He spent the night in the small building before his absence was discovered and his possible hiding place determined.
Living close to Nature, with ample opportunity for observing the Xight of birds, which has ever Wlled men with envy, he did what many another boy has done with the same results. An umbrella, plus imagination, oVered to him a certain solution of the problem of free Xight through the air. The roof of a barn was his launching platform. The umbrella was large, but its condition was much the worse for many years of service; it turned inside out before the Xight was well started. No bones were broken, but he was badly shaken up and spent the next six weeks in bed. Probably, though, he had better reason for making this experiment than most of the others who have tried it. He revealed that practically all his life he experienced a peculiar reaction when breathing deeply. When he breathed deeply he was overcome by a feeling of lightness, as if his body had lost all weight; and he should, he concluded, be able to Xy through the air merely by his will to do so. He did not learn, in boyhood, that he was unusual in this respect.
One day when he was in his Wfth year, one of his chums received a gift of a Wshing line, and all the boys in the group planned a Wshing trip. On that day he was on the outs with his chums for some unremembered reason. As a result, he was informed he could not join them. He was not permitted even to see the Wshing line at close range. He had glimpsed, however, the general idea of a hook on the end of a string. In a short time he had fashioned his own interpretation of a hook. The reWnement of a barb had not occurred to him and he also failed to evolve the theory of using bait when he went oV on his own Wshing expedition. The baitless hook failed to attract any Wsh but, while dangling in the air, much to Tesla's surprise and satisfaction it snared a frog that leaped at it. He came home with a bag of nearly two dozen frogs. It may have been a day on which the Wsh were not biting, but at any rate his chums came home from the use of their new hook and line without any Wsh. His triumph was complete. When he later revealed his technique, all the boys in the neighborhood copied his hook and method, and in a short time the frog population of the region was greatly depleted.
The contents of birds' nests always excited Tesla's curiosity. He rarely disturbed their contents or occupants. On one occasion, however, he climbed a rocky crag to investigate an eagle's nest and took from it a baby eagle which he kept locked in a barn. A bird on the wing he considered fair prey for his sling shot, with which he was a star performer.
About this time he became intrigued with a piece of hollow tube cut from a cane growing in the neighborhood. This he played with until he had evolved a blow gun and later, by making a plunger and plugging one end of the tube with a wad of wet hemp, a pop gun. He then undertook the making of larger pop guns, and contrived one in which the end of the plunger was held against the chest and the tube pulled energetically toward the body. He engaged in the manufacture of this article for his chums, as a Wve-year-old businessman. When a number of window panes happened to get broken accidentally by getting in the way of his hemp wad, his inventive proclivities in this Weld were quickly curbed by the destruction of the pop guns and the administration of the parental rod.
Tesla started his formal education by attending the village school in Smiljan before he reached his Wfth birthday. A few years later his father received his appointment as pastor of a church in the nearby city of Gospic, so the family moved there. This was a sad day for young Tesla. He had lived close to Nature, and loved the open country and the high mountains among which he had thus far spent all of his life. The sudden transition to the artiWcialities of the city was a very deWnite shock to him. He was out of harmony with his new surroundings.
His advent into the city life of Gospic, at the age of seven, got oV to an unfortunate start. As the new minister in town, his father was anxious to have everything move smoothly. Tesla was required to dress in his best clothes and attend the Sunday services. Naturally, he dreaded this ordeal and was very happy when assigned the task of ringing the bell summoning the worshipers to the service and announcing the close of the ceremonies. This gave him an opportunity to remain unseen in the belfry while the parishioners, their daughters and dude sons were arriving and departing.
Thinking he had waited long enough after the close of the service for the church to be cleared on this Wrst Sunday, he came downstairs three steps at a time. A wealthy woman parishioner wearing a skirt with a long train that fashionably dragged along the ground, and who had come to the service with a retinue of servants, remained after the other parishioners to have a talk with the new pastor. She was just making an impressive exit when Tesla's Wnal jump down the stairs landed him on the train, ripping this dignity-preserving appendage from the woman's dress. Her mortiWcation and rage and his father's anger came upon him simultaneously. Parishioners loitering outside rushed back to revel in the spectacle. Thereafter no one dared be pleasant to this youngster who had enraged the wealthy dowager who domineered it over the social community. He was practically ostracized by the parishioners, and continued so until he redeemed himself in a spectacular manner.
Tesla felt strange and defeated in his ignorance of city ways. He met the situation Wrst by avoidance. He did not care to leave his home. The boys of his age were neatly dressed every day. They were dudes and he did not belong. Even as a child Tesla was meticulously careful in dress. At the earliest moment, however, he would slip work clothes over his dress clothes and go wandering in the woods or engage in mechanical work. He could not enjoy life if limited to the activities in which he could engage while dressed up. Tesla, however, possessed ingenuity, and there was rarely a situation in which he was not able to use it. He also possessed knowledge of the ways of Nature. These gave him a distinct superiority over the city boys.
About a year after the family moved to Gospic a new Wre company was organized. It was to be supplied with a pump which would replace the useful but inadequate bucket brigade. The members of the new organization obtained brightly colored uniforms and practiced marching for parades. Eventually the new pump arrived. It was a man-power pump to be operated by sixteen men. A parade and demonstration of the new apparatus was arranged. Almost everyone in Gospic turned out for the event and followed to the river front for the pump demonstration. Tesla was among them. He paid no attention to the speeches but was all eyes for the brightly painted apparatus. He did not know how it worked but would have loved to take it apart and investigate the insides.
The time for the demonstration came when the last speaker, Wnishing his dedicatory address, gave the order to start the pumping operation that would send a stream of water shooting skyward from the nozzle. The eight men regimented on either side of the pump bowed and rose in alternate unison as they raised and lowered the bars that operated the pistons of the pump. But nothing else happened, not a drop of water came from the nozzle!
OYcials of the Wre company started feverishly to make adjustments and, after each attempt, set the sixteen men oscillating up and down at the pump handles, but each time without results. The lines of hose between the pump and the nozzle were straightened out, they were disconnected from the pump and connected again. But no water came from the far end of the hose to reward the eVorts of the perspiring Wremen.
Tesla was among the usual group of urchins that always manages to get inside the lines on such occasions. He tried to see everything that was going on from the closest possible vantage point and undoubtedly got on the nerves of the vexed oYcials when their repeated eVorts were frustrated by continuous failures. As one of the oYcials turned for the tenth time to vent his frustration on the urchins and order them away from his range of action, Tesla grabbed him by the arm.
``I know what to do, Mister,'' said Tesla. ``You keep pumping.''
Dashing for the river, Tesla peeled his clothes oV quickly and dove into the water. He swam to the suction hose that was supposed to draw the water supply from the river. He found it kinked, so that no water could Xow into it, and Xattened by the vacuum created by the pumping. When he straightened out the kink, the water rushed into the line. The nozzlemen had stood at their post for a long time, receiving a continuous repetition of warnings to be prepared each time an adjustment was made, but, as nothing happened on these successive occasions, they had gradually relaxed their attention and were giving little thought to the direction in which the nozzle was pointed. When the stream of water did shoot skyward, down it came on the assembled oYcials and townspeople. This item of unexpected drama excited the crowd at the other end of the line near the pump, and to give vent to their joy they seized the scantily dressed Tesla, boosted him to the shoulders of a couple of the Wremen, and led a procession around the town. The seven-year-old Tesla was the hero of the day.
Later on Tesla, in explaining the incident, said that he had had not the faintest idea of how the pump worked; but as he watched the men struggle with it, he got an intuitive Xash of knowledge that told him to go to the hose in the river. On looking back to that event, he said, he knew how Archimedes must have felt when, after discovering the law of the displacement of water by Xoating objects, he ran naked through the streets of Syracuse shouting ``Eureka!
At the age of seven Tesla had tasted the pleasures of public acclaim
for his ingenuity. And further, he had done something which the dudes, the boys of his age in the city, could not do and which even their fathers could not do. He had found himself. He was now a hero, and it could be forgotten that he had jumped on a woman's skirt and ripped the train oV.
Tesla never lost an opportunity to hike through the nearby mountains where he could again enjoy the pleasures of his earlier years spent so close to Nature. On these occasions he would often wonder if there was still operating a crude water wheel which he made and installed, when he was less than Wve years old, across the mountain brook near his home in Smiljan.
The wheel consisted of a not too well-smoothed disk cut from a tree trunk in some lumbering operations. Through its center he was able to cut a hole and force into it a somewhat straight branch of a tree, the ends of which he rested in two sticks with crotches which he forced into the rock on either bank of the brook. This arrangement permitted the lower part of the disk to dip in the water and the current caused it to rotate. To the lad there was a great deal of originality employed in making this ancient device. The wheel wobbled a bit but to him it was a marvelous piece of construction, and he got no end of pleasure out of watching his water wheel obtain power from the brook.
This experiment undoubtedly made a life-long impression on his young plastic mind and endowed him with the desire, ever afterward manifested in his work, of obtaining power from Nature's sources which are always being dissipated and always being replenished.
In this smooth-disk water wheel we Wnd an early clue to his later invention of the smooth-disk turbine. In his later experience he discovered that all water wheels have paddles--but his little water wheel had operated without paddles.
Tesla's Wrst experiment in original methods of power production was made when he was nine years old. It demonstrated his ingenuity and originality, if nothing else. It was a sixteen-bug-power engine. He took two thin slivers of wood, as thick as a toothpick and several times as long, and glued them together in the form of a cross, so they looked like the arms of a windmill. At the point of intersection they were glued to a spindle made of another thin sliver of wood. On this he slipped a very small pulley with about the diameter of a pea. A piece of thread acting as a driving belt was slipped over this and also around the circumference of a much larger but light pulley which was also mounted on a thin spindle. The power for this machine was furnished by sixteen May bugs (June bugs in the United States). He had collected a jar full of the insects, which were very much of a pest in the neighborhood. With a little dab of glue four bugs were aYxed, heading in the same direction, to each of the four arms of the windmill arrangement. The bugs beat their wings, and if they had been free would have Xown away at high speed. They were, however, attached to the cross arms, so instead they pulled them around at high speed. These, being connected by the thread belt to the large pulley, caused the latter to turn at low speed; but it developed, Tesla reports, a surprisingly large torque, or turning power.
Proud of his bug-power motor and its continuous operation--the bugs did not cease Xying for hours--he called in one of the boys in the neighborhood to admire it. The lad was a son of an Army oYcer. The visitor was amused for a short time by the bug motor, until he spied the jar of still unused May bugs. Without hesitation he opened the jar, Wshed out the bugs--and ate them. This so nauseated Tesla that he chased the boy out of the house and destroyed the bug motor. For years he could not tolerate the sight of May bugs without a return of this unpleasant reaction.
This event greatly annoyed Tesla because he had planned to add more spindles to the shaft and stick on more Xiers until he had more than a one-hundred-bug-power motor.
TESLA'S years in school were more important for the activities in which he engaged in after-school hours than for what he learned in the classroom. At the age of ten, having Wnished his elementary studies in the Normal School, Tesla entered the college, called the Real Gymnasium, at Gospic. This was not an unusually early age to enter the Real Gymnasium, as that school corresponds more to our grammar school and junior high school than to our college.
One of the requirements, and one to which an unusually large percentage of the class time was devoted throughout the four years, was freehand drawing. Tesla detested the subject almost to the point of open rebellion, and his marks were accordingly very low, but not entirely owing to a lack of ability.
Tesla was left-handed as a boy, but later became ambidextrous. Left-handedness was a deWnite handicap in the freehand-drawing studies, but he could have done much better work than he actually produced and would have gotten higher marks if it were not for a piece of altruism in which he engaged. A student whom he could excel in drawing was striving hard for a scholarship. Were he to receive the lowest marks in freehand drawing, he would be unable to obtain the scholarship. Tesla sought to help his fellow student by intentionally getting the lowest rating in the small class.
Mathematics was his favorite subject and he distinguished himself in that study. His unusual proWciency in this Weld was not considered a counterbalancing virtue to make amends for his lack of enthusiasm for freehand drawing. A strange power permitted him to perform unusual feats in mathematics. He possessed it from early boyhood, but had considered it a nuisance and tried to be rid of it because it seemed beyond his control.
If he thought of an object it would appear before him exhibiting the appearance of solidity and massiveness. So greatly did these visions possess the attributes of actual objects that it was usually diYcult for him to distinguish between vision and reality. This abnormal faculty functioned in a very useful fashion in his school work with mathematics.
If he was given a problem in arithmetic or algebra, it was immaterial to him whether he went to the blackboard to work it out or whether he remained in his seat. His strange faculty permitted him to see a visioned blackboard on which the problem was written, and there appeared on this blackboard all of the operations and symbols required in working out the solution. Each step appeared much more rapidly than he could work it out by hand on the actual slate. As a result, he could give the solution almost as quickly as the whole problem was stated.
His teachers, at Wrst, had some doubts about his honesty, thinking he had worked out some clever deceit for getting the right answers. In due time their skepticism was dispelled and they accepted him as a student who was unusually apt at mental arithmetic. He would not reveal this power to anyone and would discuss it only with his mother, who in the past had encouraged him in his eVorts to banish it. Now that the power had demonstrated some deWnite usefulness, though, he was not so anxious to be completely rid of it, but desired to bring it under his complete control.
Work that Tesla did outside school hours interested him much more than his school work. He was a rapid reader and had a memory that was retentive to the point, almost, of infallibility. He found it easy to acquire foreign languages. In addition to his native Serbo-Croat language he became proWcient in the use of German, French and Italian. This opened to him great stores of knowledge to which other students did not have access, yet this knowledge, apparently, was of little use to him in his school work. He was interested in things mechanical but the school provided no manual training course. Nevertheless, he became proWcient in the working of wood and metals with tools and methods of his own contriving.
In the classroom of one of the upper grades of the Real Gymnasium models of water wheels were on exhibition. They were not working models but nevertheless they aroused Tesla's enthusiasm. They recalled to him the crude wheel he had constructed in the hills of Smiljan. He had seen pictures of the magniWcent Niagara Falls. Coupling the power possibilities presented by the majestic waterfalls and the intriguing possibilities he saw in the models of the water wheels, he aroused in himself a passion to accomplish a grand achievement. Waxing eloquent on the subject, he told his father, ``Some day I am going to America and harness Niagara Falls to produce power.'' Thirty years later he was to see this prediction fulWlled.
There were many books in his father's library. The knowledge in those books interested him more than that which he received in school and he wished to spend his evenings reading them. As in other matters, he carried this to an extreme, so his father forbade him to read them, fearing that he would ruin his eyes in the poor light of tallow candles then used for illumination. Nikola sought to circumvent this ruling by taking candles to his room and reading after he was sent to bed, but his violation of orders was soon discovered and the family candle supply was hidden. Next he fashioned a candle mould out of a piece of tin and made his own candles. Then, by plugging the keyhole and the chinks around the door, he was able to spend the night hours reading volumes purloined from his father's bookshelves. Frequently, he said, he would read through the entire night and feel none the worse for the loss of sleep. Eventual discovery, however, brought paternal discipline of a vigorous nature. He was about eleven years old at this time.
Like other boys of his age he played with bows and arrows. He made bigger bows, and better, straighter shooting arrows, and his marksmanship was excellent. He was not willing to stop at that point. He started building arbalists. These could be described as bow-and-arrow guns. The bow is mounted on a frame and the string pulled back and caught on a peg from which it is released by a trigger. The arrow is laid on the midpoint of the bow, its end against the taut string. The bow lies horizontal on the frame whereas in ordinary manual shooting the bow is held in vertical position. For this reason the device is sometimes called the crossbow. In setting an arbalist the beam is placed against the abdomen and the string pulled back with all possible force. Tesla did this so often, he said, that his skin at the point of pressure became calloused until it was more like a crocodile's hide. When shot into the air the arrows from his arbalist were never recovered, for they went far out of sight. At close range they would pass through a pine board an inch thick.
Tesla got a thrill out of archery not experienced by other boys. He was, in imagination, riding those arrows which he shot out of sight into the blue vault of the heavens. That sense of exhilaration he experienced when breathing deeply gave him such a feeling of lightness he convinced himself that in this state it would be relatively easy for him to Xy through the air if he only could devise some mechanical aid that would launch him and enable him to overcome what he thought was only a slight remaining weight in his body. His earlier disastrous jump from the barn roof had not disillusioned him. His conclusions were in keeping with his sensations; but a twelve-year-old lad exploring this diYcult Weld alone cannot be condemned too severely for not discovering that our senses sometimes deceive us, or rather that we sometimes deceive ourselves in interpreting what our senses tell us.
In breathing deeply he was overventilating his lungs, taking out some of the residual carbon dioxide which is chemical ``ashes,'' and largely inert, and replacing it with air containing a mixture of equally inert nitrogen and very active oxygen. The latter being present in more than normal proportions immediately began to upset chemical balances throughout the body. The reaction on the brain produces a result which does not diVer greatly from alcohol intoxication. A number of cults use this procedure to induce ``mystical'' or ``occult'' experiences. How was a twelve-year-old boy to know all these things? He could see that birds did an excellent job in Xying. He was convinced that some day man would Xy, and he wanted to produce the machine that would get him oV the ground and into the air.
The big idea came to him when he learned about the vacuum--a space within a container from which all air had been exhausted. He learned that every object exposed to the air was under a pressure of about fourteen pounds per square inch, while in a vacuum objects were free of such pressure. He Wgured that a pressure of fourteen pounds should turn a cylinder at high speed and he could arrange to get advantage of such pressure by surrounding one half of a cylinder with a vacuum and having the remaining half of its surface exposed to air pressure. He carefully built a box of wood. At one end was an opening into which a cylinder was Wtted with a very high order of accuracy, so that the box would be airtight; and on one side of the cylinder the edge of the box made a right-angle contact. On the cylinder's other side the box made a tangent, or Xat, contact. This arrangement was made because he wanted the air pressure to be exerted at a tangent to the surface of the cylinder--a situation that he knew would be required in order to produce rotation. If he could get that cylinder to rotate, all he would have to do in order to Xy would be to attach a propeller to a shaft from the cylinder, strap the box to his body and obtain continuous power from his vacuum box that would lift him through the air. His theory of course was fallacious, but he had no means of knowing that at the time.
The workmanship on this box was undoubtedly of a very high order, considering it was made by a self-instructed twelve-year-old mechanic. When he connected his vacuum pump, an ordinary air pump with its valves reversed, he found the box was airtight, so he pulled out all the air, watching the cylinder intently while doing so. Nothing happened for many strokes of the pump except that it made his back lame to pull the pump handle upward while he created the most ``powerful'' possible vacuum. He rested for a moment. He was breathing deeply from exertion, overventilating his lungs, and getting that joyous, dizzy, light-as-air feeling which was a highly satisfactory mental environment for his experiment.
Suddenly the cylinder started to turn--slowly! His experiment was a success! His vacuum-power box was working! He would Xy!
Tesla was delirious with joy. He went into a state of ecstasy. There was no one with whom he could share this joy, as he had taken no one into his conWdence. It was his secret and he was forced to endure its joys alone. The cylinder continued to turn slowly. It was no hallucination. It was real. It did not speed up, however, and this was disappointing. He had visualized it turning at a tremendous speed but it was actually turning extremely slowly. His idea, at least, he Wgured, was correct. With a little better workmanship, perhaps he could make the cylinder turn faster. He stood spellbound watching it turn at a snail's pace for less than half a minute--and then the cylinder stopped. That broke the spell and ended for the time his mental air Xights.
He hunted for the trouble and quickly located what he was sure was the cause of the diYculty. Since the vacuum, he theorized, is the source of power, then, if the power stops, it must be because the vacuum is gone. His pump, he felt sure, must be leaking air. He pulled up the handle. It came up easily and that meant very deWnitely he had lost the vacuum in the box. He again pumped out the air--and again when he reached a high vacuum the cylinder started to turn slowly and continued to do so for a fraction of a minute. When it stopped he again pumped a vacuum and again the cylinder turned. This time he continued to operate the pump and the cylinder continued to turn. He could keep it turning as long as he desired by continuing to pump the vacuum.
There was nothing wrong with his theory, as far as he could see. He went over the pump very carefully, making improvements which would give him a high vacuum, and studied the valve to make that a better guard of the vacuum in the box. He worked on the project for weeks but despite his best eVorts he could get no better results than the slow movement of the cylinder.
Finally the truth came to him in a Xash--he was losing the vacuum in the box because the air was leaking in around the cylinder on that side where the Xat board was tangent to the surface of the cylinder. As the air Xowed into the box it pulled the cylinder around with it very slowly. When the air stopped Xowing into the box the cylinder stopped turning. He knew now his theory was wrong. He had supposed that even with the vacuum being maintained, and no air leaking in, the air pressure would be exerted at a tangent to the surface of the cylinder and the pressure would produce motion in the same way as pushing on the rim of a wheel will cause it to turn. He discovered later, however, that the air pressure is exerted at right angles to the surface of the cylinder at all points, like the direction of the spokes of a wheel, and therefore it could not be used to produce rotation in the way he planned.
This experiment, nevertheless, was not a total loss, even though it greatly disheartened him. The knowledge that the air leaking into a vacuum had actually produced even a small amount of rotation in a cylinder remained with him and led directly, many years later, to his invention of the ``Tesla turbine,'' the steam engine that broke all records for horsepower developed per pound of weight--what he called ``a power house in a hat.''
Nature seemed to be constantly engaged in staging spectacular demonstrations for young Tesla, revealing to him samples of the secret of her mighty forces.
Tesla was roaming in the mountains with some chums one winter day after a storm in which the snow fell moist and sticky. A small snowball rolled on the ground quickly gathered more snow to itself and soon became a big one that was not too easy to move. Tiring of making snowmen and snow houses on level stretches of ground, the boys took to throwing snowballs down the sloping ground of the mountain. Most of them were duds--that is, they got stalled in the soft snow before they accumulated additional volume. A few rolled a distance, grew larger and then bogged down and stopped. One, however, found just the right conditions; it rolled until it was a large ball and then spread out, rolling up the snow at the sides as if it were rolling up a giant carpet, and then suddenly it turned into an avalanche. Soon an irresistible mass of snow was moving down the steep slope. It stripped the mountainside clean of snow, trees, soil and everything else it could carry before it and with it. The great mass landed in the valley below with a thud that shook the mountain. The boys were frightened because there was snow above them on the mountain that might have been shaken into a downward slide, carrying them along buried in it.
This event made a profound impression on Tesla and it dominated a great deal of his thinking in later life. He had witnessed a snowball weighing a few ounces starting an irresistible, devastating movement of thousands of tons of inert matter. It convinced him that there are tremendous forces locked up in Nature that can be released in gigantic amounts, for useful as well as destructive purposes, by the employment of small trigger forces. He was always on the lookout for such triggers in his later experiments.
Tesla even as a boy was an original thinker and he never hesitated to think thoughts on a grand scale, always carrying everything to its largest ultimate dimension as a means of exploring the cosmos. This is demonstrated by another event that took place the following summer. He was wandering alone in the mountains when storm clouds started to Wll the sky. There was a Xash of lightning and almost immediately a deluge of rain descended on him.
There was implanted in his thirteen-year-old mind on that occasion a thought which he carried with him practically all his life. He saw the lightning Xash and then saw the rain come down in torrents, so he reasoned that the lightning Xash produced the downpour. The idea become Wrmly Wxed in his mind that electricity controlled the rain, and that if one could produce lightning at will, the weather would be brought under control. Then there would be no dry periods in which crops would be ruined; deserts could be turned into vineyards, the food supply of the world would be greatly increased, and there would be no lack of food anywhere on the globe. Why could he not produce lightning?
The observation and the conclusions drawn from it by young Tesla were worthy of a more mature mind, and it would require a genius among the adults to have evolved the project of controlling the world's weather through such means. There was, however, a Xaw in his observation. He saw the lightning come Wrst and the rain afterward. Further investigation would have revealed to him that the order of events was reversed higher in the air. It was the rain that came Wrst and the lightning afterward up in the cloud. The lightning, however, arrived Wrst because it made the trip from the cloud in less than 1/100,000 of a second, while the raindrops required several seconds to fall to the ground.
At this time there was planted in Tesla's mind the seed of a project which matured more than thirty years later when, in the mountains of Colorado, he actually produced bolts of lightning, and planned later to use them to bring rain. He never succeeded in convincing the U.S. Patent OYce of the practicability of the rain-making plan.
Tesla, as a boy, knew no limits to the universe of his thinking; and as a result he built an intellectual realm suYciently large to provide ample space in which his more mature mind could operate without encountering retarding barriers.
Tesla Wnished his course at the Real Gymnasium in Gospic in 1870,
at the age of fourteen. He had distinguished himself as a scholar. In one grade, however, his mathematics professor gave him less than a passing mark for his year's work. Tesla felt an injustice had been done him, so he went to the director of the school and demanded that he be given the strictest kind of examination in the subject. This was done in the presence of the director and the professor, and Tesla passed it with an almost perfect mark.
His Wne work at school and the recognition by the towns-people that he possessed a broader scope of knowledge than any other youth in town led the trustees of the public library to ask him to classify the books in their possession and make a catalogue. He had already read most of the books in his father's extensive library, so he was pleased to have close access to a still larger collection and undertook the task with considerable enthusiasm. He had scarcely begun work on this project when it was interrupted by a long intermittent illness. When he felt too depressed to go to the library he had quantities of the books brought to his home, and these he read while conWned to his bed. His illness reached a critical stage and physicians gave up hope of saving his life.
Tesla's father knew that he was a delicate child and, having lost his other son, tried to throw every possible safeguard around this one. He was greatly pleased over his son's brilliant accomplishments in almost every activity in which he engaged, but he recognized as a danger to Nikola's health the great intensity with which he tackled projects. Nikola's trend toward engineering was to him a dangerous development, as he thought work in that Weld would make too heavy demands upon him, not only because of the nature of the work but in the extended years of study in which he would have to engage. If, however, the boy entered the ministry, it would not be necessary for him to extend his studies beyond the Real Gymnasium which he had just completed. For this reason his father favored a career for him in the Church.
Illness threw everything into a somber aspect. When the critical stage of his illness was reached and his strength was at its lowest ebb, Nikola manifested no inclination to help himself get better by developing an enthusiasm for anything. It was in this stage of his illness that he glanced listlessly at one of the library books. It was a volume by Mark Twain. The book held his interest and then aroused his enthusiasm for life, enabling him to pass a crisis, and his health gradually returned to normal. Tesla credited the Mark Twain book with saving his life, and when, years later, he met Twain, they became very close friends.
At the age of Wfteen Tesla, in 1870, continued his studies at the Higher Real Gymnasium, corresponding to our college, at Karlovac (Carlstadt) in Croatia. His attendance at this school was made possible by an invitation from a cousin of his father's, married to a Col. Brankovic, whose home was in Karlovac, to come and live with her and her husband, a retired Army oYcer, while attending school. His life there was none too happy. Scarcely had he arrived when he contracted malaria from the mosquitoes in the Karlovac lowlands, and he was never free from the malady for years afterward.
Tesla relates that he was hungry all during the three years he spent at Karlovac. There was plenty of deliciously prepared food in the home, but his aunt held the theory that because his health seemed none too rugged he should not eat heavy meals. Her husband, a gruV and rugged individual, when carving a second helping for himself, would sometimes try to slip a healthy slice of meat onto Tesla's plate; but the Colonel was always overruled by his wife, who would take back the slice and carve one to the thinness of a sheet of paper, warning her husband, ``Niko is delicate and we must be very careful not to overload his stomach.''
His studies at Karlovac interested him, however, and he completed the four-year course in three years, tackling the school work with a dangerous enthusiasm, partly as an escape mechanism to divert his attention from the none too pleasing conditions where he was living. The lasting favorable impression which Tesla carried away from Karlovac concerned his professor of physics, a clever and original experimenter, who amazed him with the feats he performed with laboratory apparatus. He could not get enough of this course. He wanted to devote his whole time henceforth to electrical experimenting. He knew he would not be satisWed in any other Weld. His mind was made up; he had selected his career.
His father wrote to him shortly before his graduation advising him not to return home when school was closed but to go on a long hunting trip. Tesla, however, was anxious to get home--to surprise his parents with the good news that he had completed his work at the Higher Real Gymnasium a year ahead of schedule, and to announce his decision to make the study of electricity his life work. Greatly worried, his parents, who at that moment were making strenuous eVorts to protect his health, were doubly alarmed. Wrst, there was his violation of the instruction sent him not to return to Gospic. The reason for this advice they had not disclosed--an epidemic of cholera was raging. And second, there was his decision to enter on a career which they feared would make dangerous demands on his delicate health. On returning home, he found his plan deWnitely opposed. This made him very unhappy. In addition, he would shortly have to face a situation which was even more repugnant than entering upon a career in the Church, and that was the compulsory three-years' service in the Army. Those two powerful factors were operating against him and seeking to thwart him in his burning desire to start immediately unraveling the mystery and harnessing the great power of electricity.
Nothing, he thought, could exceed the diYculty of the predicament in which he found himself. In this, however, he was mistaken, for he was soon to face a much more serious problem. On the very day after his arrival home, while these issues were still red hot, he became ill with cholera. He had come home malnourished because of the inadequate amount of food to which he had been limited and the strain of his intense application to his studies. Besides, he was still suVering from malaria. Then came the cholera. Now all other problems became secondary to the immediate one of maintaining life itself against the deadly scourge. His physical condition made the doctors despair of saving him. Nevertheless, he survived the crisis, but it left him in a thoroughly weakened and run-down condition. For nine months he lay in bed almost a physical wreck. He had frequent sinking spells and from each successive one it seemed harder to rally him.
Life held no incentive for him. If he survived he would be forced to enter the Army and, if nothing happened to prevent him from Wnishing that term of something worse than slavery, he would be forced to study for the ministry. He did not care whether he survived or not. Left to his own decision, he would not have rallied from earlier sinking spells; but the decision was not left to him. Some force stronger than his own consciousness carried him through, but it had to succeed in spite of him and not because of any assistance he was giving. The sinking spells came on with startling regularity, each one with increasing depth. It seemed a miracle that he had come out of the last one, and now with less reserve strength he was sinking into another and edging rapidly into unconsciousness. His father entered his room and tried desperately to rouse him and stir him to a more cheerful and hopeful attitude in which he could help himself and do more than the doctors could do for him, but without results.
``I could--get well--if you--would let me--study electrical--engineering,'' said the prostrate young man in a hardly audible whisper. He had scarcely enough energy left for even this eVort; and having made the speech, he seemed to be dropping over the edge of nothingness. His father, bending intently over him and fearing the end had come, seized him.
``Nikola,'' he commanded, ``you cannot go. You must stay. You will be an engineer. Do you hear me? You will go to the best engineering school in the world and you will be a great engineer. Nikola, you must come back, you must come back and become a great engineer.''
The eyes of the prostrate Wgure opened slowly. Now there was a light shining in the eyes where before they presented a death-like glaze. The face moved a little, very little, but the slight change this movement made seemed to be in the direction of a smile. It was a smile, a weak one, and he was able to keep his eyes open although it was very apparently a struggle for him to do so.
``Thank God'' said his father. ``You heard me, Nikola. You will go to an engineering school and become a great engineer. Do you understand me?''
There was not enough energy for voice but the smile became a little more deWnite.
Another crisis in which he had escaped death by the narrowest margin had been passed. His rise out of this situation seemed almost miraculous. It seemed to him, Tesla later related, that from that instant he felt as if he were drawing vital energy from his loved ones who surrounded him; and this he used to rally himself out of the shadow.
He was again able to whisper. ``I will get well,'' he said weakly. He breathed deeply, as deep as his frail tired frame would permit, of the oxygen which he had found so stimulating in the past. It was the Wrst time he had done so in the nine months since he became ill. With each breath he felt reinvigorated. He seemed to get stronger by the minute.
In a very short time he was taking nourishment and within a week he was able to sit up. In a few days more he was on his feet. Life now would be glorious. He would be an electrical engineer. Everything he dreamed of would come true. As the days passed he recovered his strength at a remarkably rapid rate and his hearty appetite returned. It was now early summer. He would prepare himself to enter the fall term at an engineering school.
But there was something he had forgotten, everyone in the family had forgotten, in the stress of his months of illness. It was now brought sharply to his and their attention. An Army summons--he must face three years' military servitude! Was his remarkable recovery to be ruined by this catastrophe, which seemed all the worse now that his chosen career seemed otherwise nearer? Failure to respond to a military summons meant jail--and after that the service in addition. How would he solve this problem?
There is no record of what took place. This spot in his career Tesla glossed over with the statement that his father considered it advisable for him to go oV on a year's hunting expedition to recover his health. At any rate, Nikola disappeared. He left with a hunting outWt and some books and paper. Where he spent the year, no one knows--probably at some hideaway in the mountains. In the meantime, he was a fugitive from Army service.
For any ordinary individual this situation would be a most serious one. For Tesla it had all the gravity associated with ordinary cases, plus the complication that his family on his father's side was a traditional military family whose members had won high rank and honors in Army activities, and many of whom were now in the service of Austria-Hungary. For a member of that family to become equivalent to a ``draft dodger'' and a ``conscientious objector,'' both, was a serious blow to its prestige, and could provoke a scandal if word of the situation got into circulation. Tesla's father used this circumstance and the fact of NikoIa's delicate health as talking points to induce his relatives in Army positions to use their inXuence to enable his son to escape conscription and avoid punishment for failing to respond to the Army call. In this he was successful, apparently, but required considerable time in which to make the arrangements.
Hiding in the mountains and with a year's time to kill, on this enforced vacation Tesla was able to indulge in working out totally fantastic plans for some gigantic projects. One of the plans was for the construction and operation of an under-ocean tube, connecting Europe and the United States, by which mail could be transported in spherical containers moved through the tube by water pressure. He discovered early in his calculations that the friction of the water on the walls of the tube would require such a tremendous amount of power to overcome it that it made the project totally impracticable. Since, however, he was working on the project entirely for his own amusement, he eliminated friction from the calculations and was then able to design a very interesting system of high-speed intercontinental mail delivery. The factor which made this interesting project impracticable--the drag of the water on the sides of the tube--Tesla was later to utilize when he invented his novel steam turbine.
The other project with which he amused himself was drawn upon an even larger scale and required a still higher order of imagination. He conceived the project of building a ring around the earth at the Equator, somewhat resembling the rings around the planet Saturn. The earth ring, however, was to be a solid structure whereas Saturn's rings are made up of dust particles.
Tesla loved to work with mathematics, and this project gave him an excellent opportunity to use all of the mathematical techniques available to him. The ring which Tesla planned was to be a rigid structure constructed on a gigantic system of scaVolding extending completely around the earth. Once the ring was complete, the scaVolding was to be removed and the ring would stay suspended in space and rotating at the same speed as the earth.
Some use might be found for the project, Tesla said, if someone could Wnd a means of providing reactionary forces that could make the ring stand still with respect to the earth while the latter whirled underneath it at a speed of 1,000 miles per hour. This would provide a high-speed ``moving'' platform system of transportation which would make it possible for a person to travel around the earth in a single day.
In this project, he admitted, he encountered the same problem as did Archimedes, who said ``Give me a fulcrum and a lever long enough and I will move the earth.'' ``The fulcrum in space on which to rest the lever was no more attainable than was the reactionary force needed to halt the spinning of the hypothetical ring around the earth,'' said Tesla. There were a number of other factors which he found necessary to ignore in this project, but ignore them he did so that they would not interfere with his mathematical practice and his cosmical engineering plans.
With his health regained, and the danger of punishment by the Army removed, Tesla returned to his home in Gospic to remain a short time before going to Grätz, where he was to study electrical engineering as his father had promised he could do. This marked the turning point in his life. Finished with boyhood dreams and play, he was now ready to settle down to his serious life work. He had played at being a god, not hesitating to plan refashioning the earth as a planet. His life work was to produce accomplishments hardly less fantastic than his boyhood dreams.
TESLA entered manhood with a deWnite knowledge that nameless forces were shaping for him an unrevealed destiny. It was a situation he had to feel rather than be able to identify and describe in words. His goal he could not see and the course leading to it he could not discern. He knew very deWnitely the Weld in which he intended to spend his life, and using such physical laws as he knew he decided to plan a life which, as an engineering project, would be operated under principles that would yield the highest index of eYciency. He did not, at this time, have a complete plan of life drawn up, but there were certain elements which he knew intuitively he would not include in his operations, so he avoided all activities and interests that would bring them in as complications. It was to be a single-purpose life, devoted entirely to science with no provisions whatever for play or romance.
It was with this philosophy of life that Tesla in 1875, at the age of 19, went to Grätz, in Austria, to study electrical engineering at the Polytechnic Institute. He intended henceforth to devote all his energies to mastering that strange, almost occult force, electricity, and to harness it for human welfare.
His Wrst eVort to put this philosophy to a practical test almost resulted in disaster despite the fact that it worked successfully. Tesla completely eliminated recreation and plunged into his studies with such enthusiastic devotion that he allowed himself only four hours' rest, not all of which he spent in slumber. He would go to bed at eleven o'clock and read himself to sleep. He was up again in the small hours of the morning, tackling his studies.
Under such a schedule he was able to pass, at the end of the Wrst term, his examinations in nine subjects--nearly twice as many as were required. His diligence greatly impressed the members of the faculty. The dean of the technical faculty wrote to Tesla's father, ``Your son is a star of Wrst rank.'' The strain, however, was aVecting his health. He desired to make a spectacular showing to demonstrate to his father in a practical way his appreciation of the permission he gave to study engineering. When he returned to his home at the end of the school term with the highest marks that could be awarded in all the subjects passed, he expected to be joyfully received by his father and praised for his good work. Instead, his parent showed only the slightest enthusiasm for his accomplishment but a great deal of interest in his health, and criticized Nikola for endangering it after his earlier narrow escape from death. Unknown to Tesla until several years afterward, the professor at the Polytechnic Institute had written to his father early in the term, asking him to take his son out of the school, as he was in danger of killing himself through overwork.
On his return to the Institute for the second year he decided to limit his studies to physics, mechanics and mathematics. This was fortunate because it gave him more time in which to handle a situation that arose later in his studies, and was to lead to his Wrst and perhaps greatest invention.
Early in his second year at the Institute there was received from Paris a piece of electrical equipment, a Gramme machine, that could be used as either a dynamo or motor. If turned by mechanical power it would generate electricity, and if supplied with electricity it would operate as a motor and produce mechanical power. It was a direct-current machine.
When Prof. Poeschl demonstrated the machine, Tesla was greatly impressed by its performance except in one respect--a great deal of sparking took place at the commutator. Tesla stated his objections to this defect.
``It is inherent in the nature of the machine,'' replied Prof. Poeschl. ``It may be reduced to a great extent, but as long as we use commutators it will always be present to some degree. As long as electricity Xows in one direction, and as long as a magnet has two poles each of which acts oppositely on the current, we will have to use a commutator to change, at the right moment, the direction of the current in the rotating armature.''
``That is obvious,'' Tesla countered. ``The machine is limited by the current used. I am suggesting that we get rid of the commutator entirely by using alternating current.''
Long before the machine was received, Tesla had studied the theory of the dynamo and motor, and he was convinced that the whole system could be simpliWed in some way. The solution of the problem, however, evaded his grasp, nor was he at all sure the problem could be solved--until Prof. Poeschl gave his demonstration. The assurance then came to him like a commanding Xash.
The Wrst sources of current were batteries which produced a small steady Xow. When man sought to produce electricity from mechanical power, he sought to make the same kind the batteries produced: a steady Xow in one direction. The kind of current a dynamo would produce when coils of wire were whirled in a magnetic Weld was not this kind of current--it Xowed Wrst in one direction and then in the other. The commutator was invented as a clever device for circumventing this seeming handicap of artiWcial electricity and making the current come out in a one- directional Xow.
The Xash that came to Tesla was to let the current come out of the dynamo with its alternating directions of Xow, thus eliminating the commutator, and feed this kind of current to the motors, thus eliminating the need in them for commutators. Many another scientist had played with that idea long before it occurred to Tesla, but in his case it came to him as such a vivid, illuminating Xash of understanding that he knew his visualization contained the correct and practical answer. He saw both the motors and dynamos operating without commutators, and doing so very eYciently. He did not, however, see the extremely important and essential details of how this desirable result could be accomplished, but he felt an overpowering assurance that he could solve the problem. It was for this reason that he stated his objections to the Gramme machine with a great deal of conWdence to his professor. What he did not expect was to draw a storm of criticism.
Prof. Poeschl, however, deviated from his set program of lectures and devoted the next one to Tesla's objections. With methodical thoroughness he picked Tesla's proposal apart and, disposing of one point after another, demonstrated its impractical nature so convincingly that he silenced even Tesla. He ended his lecture with the statement: ``Mr. Tesla will accomplish great things, but he certainly never will do this. It would be equivalent to converting a steady pulling force like gravity into rotary eVort. It is a perpetual motion scheme, an impossible idea.''
Tesla, although silenced temporarily, was not convinced. The professor had paid him a nice compliment in devoting a whole lecture to his observation, but, as is so often the case, the compliment was loaded with what was expected by the professor to be a crushing defeat for the one whom he complimented. Tesla was nevertheless greatly impressed by his authority; and for a while he weakened in his belief that he had correctly understood his vision. It was as clear-cut and deWnite as the visualizations that came to him of the solutions of mathematical problems which he was always able to prove correct. But perhaps, after all, he was in this case a victim of a self-induced hallucination. All other things Prof. Poeschl taught were solidly founded on demonstrable fact, so perhaps his teacher was right in his objections to the alternating-current idea.
Deep down in his innermost being, however, Tesla held Wrmly to the conviction that his idea was a correct one. Criticism only temporarily submerged it, and soon it came bobbing back to the surface of his thinking. He gradually convinced himself that, contrary to his usual procedure, Prof. Poeschl had in this case demonstrated merely that he did not know how to accomplish a given result, a deWciency which he shared with everyone else in the world, and therefore could not speak with authority on this subject. And, in addition, Tesla reasoned, the closing remark with which Prof. Poeschl believed he had clinched his argument--``It would be equivalent to converting a steady pulling force like gravity into a rotary eVort--was contradicted by Nature, for was not the steady pulling force of gravity making the moon revolve around the earth and the earth revolve around the sun?
``I could not demonstrate my belief at that time,'' said Tesla, ``but it came to me through what I might call instinct, for lack of a better name. But instinct is something which transcends knowledge. We undoubtedly have in our brains some Wner Wbers which enable us to perceive truths which we could not attain through logical deductions, and which it would be futile to attempt to achieve through any wilful eVort of thinking.''
His enthusiasm and conWdence in himself restored, Tesla tackled the problem with renewed vigor. His power of visualization--the ability to see as solid objects before him the things that he conceived in his mind, and which he had considered such a great annoyance in childhood--now proved to be of great aid to him in trying to unravel this problem. He made an elastic rebound from the intellectual trouncing administered by his Professor and was tackling the problem in methodical fashion.
In his mind he constructed one machine after another, and as he visioned them before him he could trace out with his Wnger the various circuits through armature and Weld coils, and follow the course of the rapidly changing currents. But in no case did he produce the desired rotation. Practically all the remainder of the term he spent on this problem. He had passed so many examinations during the Wrst term that he had plenty of time to spend on this problem during the second.
It seemed, however, that he was doomed to fail in this project, for at the term's end he was no nearer the solution than he was when he started. His pride had been injured and he was Wghting on the defensive side. He did not know that those seeming failures in his mental and laboratory experiments were to serve later as the raw material out of which yet another vision was to be created.
A radical change had taken place in Tesla's mode of life while at Grätz. The Wrst year he had acted like an intellectual glutton, overloading his mind and nearly wrecking his health in the process. In the second year he allowed more time for digesting the mental food of which he was partaking, and permitted himself more recreation. About this time Tesla took to card-playing as a means of relaxation. His keen mental processes and highly developed powers of deduction enabled him to win more frequently than he lost. He never retained the money he won but returned it to the losers at the end of the game. When he lost, however, this procedure was not reciprocated by the other players. He also developed a passion for billiards and chess, in both of which he became remarkably proWcient.
The fondness for card-playing which Tesla developed at Grätz got him into an embarrassing situation. Toward the end of the term his father sent him money to pay for his trip to Prague and for the expenses incident to enrolling as a student at the university. Instead of going directly to Prague, Tesla returned to Gospic for a visit to the family. Sitting in at a card game with some youths of the city, Tesla found his usual luck had deserted him, and he lost the money set aside for his university expenses. He confessed to his mother what he had done. She did not criticize him. Perhaps the fates were using this method for protecting him from overwork that might ruin his health, she reasoned, since he needed rest and relaxation. Losses of money were much easier to handle than loss of health. Borrowing some money from a friend, she gave it to Tesla with the words, ``Here you are. Satisfy yourself.'' Returning to the game, he experienced a change in luck and came out of it not only with the money his mother had given him but practically all of the university expense money he had previously lost. These winnings he did not return to the losers as was his previous custom. He returned home, gave his mother the money she had advanced him, and announced that he would never again indulge in card-playing.
Instead of going to the University of Prague in the fall of 1878 as he had planned, Tesla accepted a lucrative position that was oVered him in a technical establishment at Maribor, near Grätz. He was paid sixty Xorins a month and a separate bonus for the completed work, a very generous compensation compared with the prevailing wages. During this year Tesla lived very modestly and saved his earnings.
The money he had saved at Maribor enabled him to pay his way through a year at the University of Prague, where he extended his studies in mathematics and physics. He continued experimenting with the one big challenging alternating-current idea that was occupying his mind. He had explored, unsuccessfully, a large number of methods and, though his failures gave support to Prof. Poeschl's contention that he would never succeed, he was unwilling to give up his theory. He still had faith that he would Wnd the solution of his problem. He knew electrical science was young and growing, and felt deep within his consciousness that he would make the important discovery that would greatly expand the infant science to the powerful giant of the future.
It would have been a pleasure to Tesla to have continued his studies, but it now was necessary for him to make his own living. His father's death, following Tesla's graduation from the University at Prague, made it necessary for him to be self-supporting. Now he needed a job. Europe was extending an enthusiastic reception to Alexander Graham Bell's new American invention, the telephone, and Tesla heard that a central station was to be installed in Budapest. The head of the enterprise was a friend of the family. The situation seemed a promising one.
Without waiting to ascertain the situation in Budapest, Tesla, full of youthful hope and the self-assurance which is typical of the untried graduate, traveled to that city, expecting to walk into an engineering position in the new telephone project. He quickly discovered, on his arrival, that there was no position open; nor could one be created for him, as the project was still in the discussion stage.
It was, however, urgently necessary for Wnancial reasons, that he secure immediately a job of some kind. The best he could obtain was a much more modest one than he had anticipated. The salary was so microscopically small he would never name the amount, but it was suYcient to enable him to avoid starvation. He was employed as draftsman by the Hungarian Government in its Central Telegraph OYce, which included the newly developing telephone in its jurisdiction.
It was not long before Tesla's outstanding ability attracted the attention of the Inspector in Chief. Soon he was transferred to a more responsible position in which he was engaged in designing and in making calculations and estimates in connection with new telephone installations. When the new telephone exchange was Wnally started in Budapest in 1881, he was placed in charge of it.
Tesla was very happy in his new position. At the age of twenty-Wve he was in full charge of an engineering enterprise. His inventive faculty was fully occupied and he made many improvements in telephone central-station apparatus. Here he made his Wrst invention, then called a telephone repeater, or ampliWer, but which today would be more descriptively called a loud speaker--an ancestor of the sound producer now so common in the home radio set. This invention was never patented and was never publicly described, but, Tesla later declared, in its originality, design, performance and ingenuity it would make a creditable showing alongside his better-known creations that followed. His chief interest, however, was still the alternating-current motor problem whose solution continued to elude him.
Always an indefatigable worker, always using up his available energy with the greatest number of activities he could crowd into a day, always rebelling because the days had too few hours in them and the hours too few minutes, and the seconds that composed them were of too short duration, and always holding himself down to a Wve-hour period of rest with only two hours of that devoted to sleep, he continually used up his vital reserves and eventually had to balance accounts with Nature. He was forced Wnally to discontinue work.
The peculiar malady that now aVected him was never diagnosed by the doctors who attended him. It was, however, an experience that nearly cost him his life. To doctors he appeared to be at death's door. The strange manifestations he exhibited attracted the attention of a renowned physician, who declared medical science could do nothing to aid him. One of the symptoms of the illness was an acute sensitivity of all of the sense organs. His senses had always been extremely keen, but this sensitivity was now so tremendously exaggerated that the eVects were a form of torture. The ticking of a watch three rooms away sounded like the beat of hammers on an anvil. The vibration of ordinary city traYc, when transmitted through a chair or bench, pounded through his body. It was necessary to place the legs of his bed on rubber pads to eliminate the vibrations. Ordinary speech sounded like thunderous pandemonium. The slightest touch had the mental eVect of a tremendous blow. A beam of sunlight shining on him produced the eVect of an internal explosion. In the dark he could sense an object at a distance of a dozen feet by a peculiar creepy sensation in his forehead. His whole body was constantly wracked by twitches and tremors. His pulse, he said, would vary from a few feeble throbs per minute to more than one hundred and Wfty.
Throughout this mysterious illness he was Wghting with powerful desire to recover his normal condition. He had before him a task he must accomplish--he must attain the solution of the alternating-current motor problem. He felt intuitively during his months of torment that the solution was coming ever nearer, and that he must live in order to be there when it crystallized out of his unconscious mind. During this period he was unable to concentrate on this or any other subject.
Once the crisis was past and the symptoms diminished, improvement came rapidly and with it the old urge to tackle problems. He could not give up his big problem. It had become a part of him. Working on it was no longer a matter of choice. He knew that if he stopped he would die, and he knew equally well that if he failed he would perish. He was enmeshed in an invisible web of intangible structure that was tightening around him. The feeling that it was bringing the solution nearer to him--just beyond his Wnger tips--was cause for both regret and rejoicing. That problem when solved would leave a tremendous vacancy in his life, he feared.
Yet in spite of his feeling of optimism it was still a tremendous problem without a solution.
When the acute sensitivity reduced to normal, permitting him to resume work, he took a walk in the city park of Budapest with a former classmate, named Szigeti, one late afternoon in February, 1882. While a glorious sunset overspread the sky with a Xamboyant splash of throbbing colors, Tesla engaged in one of his favorite hobbies--reciting poetry. As a youth he had memorized many volumes, and he was now pleased to note that the terriWc punishment his brain had experienced had not diminished his memory. One of the works which he could recite from beginning to end was Goethe's Faust.
The prismatic panorama which the sinking sun was painting in the sky reminded him of some of Goethe's beautiful lines:The glow retreats, done is the day of toil; It yonder hastes, new Welds of life exploring; Ah, that no wing can lift me from the soil, Upon its track to follow, follow soaring. . . .
Tesla, tall, lean and gaunt, but with a Wre in his eye that matched the Xaming clouds of the heavens, waved his arms in the air and swayed his body as he voiced the undulating lines. He faced the color drama of the sky as if addressing the red-glowing orb as it Xung its amorphous masses of hue, tint and chrome across the domed vault of heaven.
Suddenly the animated Wgure of Tesla snapped into a rigid pose as if he had fallen into a trance. Szigeti spoke to him but got no answer. Again his words were ignored. The friend was about to seize the towering motionless Wgure and shake him into consciousness when instead Tesla spoke.
``Watch me!'' said Tesla, blurting out the words like a child bubbling over with emotion: ``Watch me reverse it.'' He was still gazing into the sun as if that incandescent ball had thrown him into a hypnotic trance.
Szigeti recalled the image from Goethe that Tesla had been reciting: ``The glow retreats . . . It yonder hastes, new Welds of life exploring" a poetic description of the setting sun, and then his next words--''Watch me! Watch me reverse it.'' Did Tesla mean the sun? Did he mean that he could arrest the motion of the sun about to sink below the horizon, reverse its action and start it rising again toward the zenith?
``Let us sit and rest for a while,'' said Szigeti. He turned him toward a bench, but Tesla was not to be moved.
``Don't you see it?'' expostulated the excited Tesla. ``See how smoothly it is running? Now I throw this switch--and I reverse it. See! It goes just as smoothly in the opposite direction. Watch! I stop it. I start it. There is no sparking. There is nothing on it to spark.''
``But I see nothing,'' said Szigeti. ``The sun is not sparking. Are you ill?''
``You do not understand,'' beamed the still excited Tesla, turning as if to bestow a benediction on his companion. ``It is my alternating-current motor I am talking about. I have solved the problem. Can't you see it right here in front of me, running almost silently? It is the rotating magnetic Weld that does it. See how the magnetic Weld rotates and drags the armature around with it? Isn't it beautiful? Isn't it sublime? Isn't it simple? I have solved the problem. Now I can die happy. But I must live, I must return to work and build the motor so I can give it to the world. No more will men be slaves to hard tasks. My motor will set them free, it will do the work of the world.''
Szigeti now understood. Tesla had previously told him about his attempt to solve the problem of an alternating-current motor, and he grasped the full meaning of the scientist's words. Tesla had never told him, however, about his ability to visualize objects which he conceived in his mind, so it was necessary to explain the vision he saw, and that the solution had come to him suddenly while they were admiring the sunset.
Tesla was now a little more composed, but he was Xoating on air in a frenzy of almost religious ecstasy. He had been breathing deeply in his excitement, and the overventilation of his lungs had produced a state of exhilaration.
Picking up a twig, he used it as a scribe to draw a diagram on the dusty surface of the dirt walk. As he explained the technical principles of his discovery, his friend quickly grasped the beauty of his conception, and far into the night they remained together discussing its possibilities.
The conception of a rotating magnetic Weld was a majestically beautiful one. It introduced to the scientiWc world a new principle of sublime grandeur whose simplicity and utility opened a vast new empire of useful applications. In it Tesla had achieved the solution which his professor had declared was impossible of attainment.
Alternating-current motors had heretofore presented what seemed an insoluble problem because the magnetic Weld produced by alternating currents changed as rapidly as the current. Instead of producing a turning force they churned up useless vibration.
Up to this time everyone who tried to make an alternating-current motor used a single circuit, just as was in direct current. As a result the projected motor proved to be like a single-cylinder steam engine, stalled at dead center, at the top or bottom of the stroke.
What Tesla did was to use two circuits, each one carrying the same frequency of alternating-current, but in which the current waves were out of step with each other. This was equivalent to adding to an engine a second cylinder. The pistons in the two cylinders were connected to the shaft so that their cranks were at in angle to each other which caused them to reach the top or bottom of the stroke at diVerent times. The two could never be on dead center at the same time. If one were on dead center, the other would be oV and ready to start the engine turning with a power stroke.
This analogy oversimpliWes the situation, of course, for Tesla's discovery was much more far-reaching and fundamental. What Tesla had discovered was a means of creating a rotating magnetic Weld, a magnetic whirlwind in space which possessed fantastically new and intriguing properties. It was an utterly new conception. In direct-current motors a Wxed magnetic Weld was tricked by mechanical means into producing rotation in an armature by connecting successively through a commutator each of a series of coils arranged around the circumference of a cylindrical armature. Tesla produced a Weld of force which rotated in space at high speed and was able to lock tightly into its embrace an armature which required no electrical connections. The rotating Weld possessed the property of transferring wirelessly through space, by means of its lines of force, energy to the simple closed circuit coils on the isolated armature which enabled it to build up its own magnetic Weld that locked itself into the rotating magnetic whirlwind produced by the Weld coils. The need for a commutator was completely eliminated.
Now that this magniWcent solution of his most diYcult scientiWc problem was achieved, Tesla's troubles were not over; they were just beginning; but, during the next two months, he was in a state of ecstatic pleasure playing with his new toy. It was not necessary for him to construct models of copper and iron: in his mental workshop he constructed them in wide variety. A constant stream of new ideas was continuously rushing through his mind. They came so fast, he said, that he could neither utilize nor record them all. In this short period he evolved every type of motor which was later associated with his name.
He worked out the design of dynamos, motors, transformers and all other devices for a complete alternating-current system. He multiplied the eVectiveness of the two-phase system by making it operate on three or more alternating currents simultaneously. This was his famous polyphase power system.
The mental constructs were built with meticulous care as concerned size, strength, design and material; and they were tested mentally, he maintained, by having them run for weeks--after which time he would examine them thoroughly for signs of wear. Here was a most unusual mind being utilized in a most unusual way. If he at any time built a ``mental machine,'' his memory ever afterward retained all of the details, even to the Wnest dimensions.
The state of supreme happiness which Tesla was enjoying was
destined soon, however, to end. The telephone central station by which he was employed, and which was controlled by Puskas, that friend of the family, was sold. When Puskas returned to Paris, he recommended Tesla for a job in the Paris establishment with which he was associated, and Tesla gladly followed up his opportunity. Paris, he reasoned, would be a wonderful springboard from which to catapult his great invention on the world.
The budding superman Tesla came to Paris light in baggage but with his head Wlled to bursting with his wonderful discovery of the rotating magnetic Weld and scores of signiWcant inventions based on it. If he had been a typical inventor, he would have gone among people wearing a look indicating that he knew something important, but maintaining absolute secrecy concerning the nature of his inventions. He would be fearful that someone would steal his secret. But Tesla's attitude was just the reverse of this. He had something to give to the world and he wanted the world to know about it, the whole fascinating story with all the revealing technical details. He had not then learned, and never did learn, the craft of being shrewd and cunning. His life plan was on a secular basis. He cared less for the advantages of the passing moment, more for the ultimate goal; and he wanted to give his newly discovered polyphase system of alternating-current to the human race that all men could beneWt from it. He knew there was a fortune in his invention. How he could extract this fortune he did not know. He knew that there was a higher law of compensation under which he would derive adequate beneWts from the gift to the world of his discovery. The method by which this would work out did not interest him nearly so much as the necessity for getting someone to listen to the details of his fascinating invention.
Six feet two inches tall, slender, quiet of demeanor, meticulously neat in dress, full of self-conWdence, he carried himself with an air that shouted, ``I defy you to show me an electrical problem I can't solve''--an attitude that was consistent with his twenty-Wve years, but also matched by his ability.
Through Puskas's letter of recommendation he obtained a position with the Continental Edison Company, a French company organized to make dynamos, motors and install lighting systems under the Edison patents.
He obtained quarters on the Boulevard St. Michel, but in the evenings visited and dined at the best cafes as long as his salary lasted. He made contact with many Americans engaged in electrical enterprises. Wherever he could get a patient ear, among those who had an understanding of electrical matters, he described his alternating-current system of dynamos and motors.
Did someone steal his invention? Not the slightest danger. He could not even give it away. No one was even slightly interested. The closest approach to a nibble was when Dr. Cunningham, an American, a foreman in the plant where Tesla was employed, suggested formation of a stock company.
With his great alternating-current-system invention pounding at his brain and demanding some way in which it could be developed, it was a hardship for him to be forced to work all day on direct-current machines. Nowadays, though, his health was robust. He would arise shortly after Wve o'clock in the morning, walk to the Seine, swim for half an hour, and then walk to Ivry, near the gates of Paris, where he was employed, a trip that required an hour of lively stepping. It was then half-past seven. The next hour he spent in eating a very substantial breakfast which never seemed suYcient to keep his appetite from developing into a disturbing factor long before noon.
The work to which he was assigned at the Continental Edison Company factory was of a variegated character, largely that of a junior engineer. In a short time he was given a traveling assignment as a ``trouble shooter'' which required him to visit electrical installations in various parts of France and Germany. Tesla did not relish ``trouble shooting'' but he did a conscientious job and studied intensely the diYculties he encountered at each powerhouse. He was soon able to present a deWnite plan for improving the dynamos manufactured by his company. He presented his suggestions and received permission to apply them to some machines. When tested they were a complete success. He was then asked to design automatic regulators, for which there was a great need. These too gave an excellent performance.
The company had been placed in an embarrassing position and was threatened with heavy loss through an accident at the railroad station in Strassburg in Alsace, then in Germany, where a powerhouse and electric lights had been installed. At the opening ceremony, at which Emperor William I was present, a short circuit in the wiring caused an explosion that blew out one of the walls. The German government refused to accept the installation. Tesla was sent, early in 1883, to put the plant in working order and straighten out the situation. The technical problem presented no diYculties but he found it necessary to use a great deal of tact and good judgment in handling the mass of red tape extruded by the German government as precaution against further mishaps.
Once he got the job well under way he gave some time to constructing an actual two-phase alternating-current motor embodying his rotary-magnetic-Weld discovery. He had constructed so many in his mind since that never-to-be-forgotten day in Budapest when he made his great invention. He had brought materials with him from Paris for this purpose and found a machine shop near the Strassburg station where he could do some of the work. He did not have as much time available as he had expected, and, while he was a clever amateur machinist, nevertheless the work took time. He was very fussy, making every piece of metal exact in dimensions to better than the thousandth of an inch and then carefully polishing it.
Eventually there was a miscellaneous collection of parts in that Strassburg machine shop. They had been constructed without the aid of working drawings. Tesla could project before his eyes a picture, complete in every detail, of every part of the machine. These pictures were more vivid than any blueprint and he remembered exact dimensions which he had calculated mentally for each item. He did not have to test parts through partial assembly. He knew they would Wt.
From these parts Tesla quickly assembled a dynamo, to generate the two-phase alternating current which he needed to operate his alternating-current motor, and Wnally his new induction motor. There was no diVerence between the motor he built and the one which he visualized. So real was the visualized one that it had all the appearance of solidity. The one he built in the machine shop presented no elements of novelty to him. It was exactly as he had visualized it a year before. He had mentally experimented with its exact counterpart and with many variations of it during the months that had passed since the great vision came to him while rhapsodizing the sunset sky in Budapest.
The assembly completed, he started up his power generator. The time for the great Wnal test of the validity of his theory had arrived. He would close a switch and if the motor turned his theory would be proven correct. If nothing happened, if the armature of his motor just stood still, but vibrated, his theory was not correct and he had been feeding his mind on hallucinations, based on fantasy not on fact.
He closed the switch. Instantly the armature turned, built up to full speed in a Xash and then continued to operate in almost complete silence. He closed the reversing switch and the armature instantly stopped and as quickly started turning in the opposite direction. This was complete vindication of his theory.
In this experiment he had tested only his two-phase system; but he needed no laboratory demonstration to convince him that his three-phase systems for generating electricity and for using this current for transmission and power production would work even better, and that his single-phase system would work almost as well. With this working model he would now be able to convey to the minds of others the visions he had been treasuring for so long.
This test meant much more to Tesla than just the successful completion of an invention; it meant a triumph for his method of discovering new truths through the unique mental processes he used of visualizing constructs long before they were produced from materials. From these results he drew an unbounded sense of self-conWdence; he could think and work his way to any goal he set.
There was good reason for Tesla's self-assurance. He had just passed his twenty-seventh birthday. It seemed to him only yesterday that Prof. Poeschl had seemingly so completely vanquished him for saying that he could operate a motor by alternating current. Now he had demonstrably accomplished what the learned professor said could never be done.
Tesla now had available a completely novel type of electrical system utilizing alternating current, which was much more Xexible and vastly more eYcient than the direct-current system. But now that he had it, what could he do with it? The executives of the Continental Edison Company by whom he was employed had continually refused to listen to his alternating-current theories. He felt it would be useless to try to interest them in even the working model. He had made many friends during his stay in Strassburg, among them the Mayor of the city, M. Bauzin, who shared his enthusiasm about the commercial possibilities of the new system and hoped it would result in the establishment of a new industry that would bring fame and prosperity to his city.
The Mayor brought together a number of wealthy Strassburgers. To them the new motor was shown in operation, and the new system and its possibilities described, by both Tesla and the Mayor. The demonstration was a success from the technical viewpoint but otherwise a total loss. Not one member of the group showed the slightest interest. Tesla was dejected. It was beyond his comprehension that the greatest invention in electrical science, with unlimited commercial possibilities, should be rejected so completely.
M. Bauzin assured him that he would undoubtedly receive a more satisfactory reception for his invention in Paris. Delays of oYcialdom in Wnally accepting the completed installation at the Strassburg station, however, postponed his return to Paris until the spring of 1884. Meanwhile, Tesla looked forward with pleasurable expectancy to a triumphant return to Paris. He had been promised a substantial compensation if he was successful in handling the Strassburg assignment; also, that he would be similarly compensated for the improvements in design of motors and dynamos, and for the automatic regulators for dynamos. It was possible that this would supply him with enough cash to build a full-size demonstration set for his polyphase alternating-current system, so that the tremendous advantages of his system over direct current could be shown in operation. Then he would have no trouble raising the needed capital.
When he got back to the company's oYces in Paris and asked for a settlement of his Strassburg and automatic-regulator accounts, he was given what in modern terminology is called the ``runaround.'' To use Wctitious names, as Tesla told the story, the executive, Mr. Smith, who gave him the assignments, now told him he had no jurisdiction over Wnancial arrangements; that was all in the hands of the executive, Mr. Brown. Mr. Brown explained that he administered Wnancial matters but had no authority to initiate projects or to make payments other than those directed by the chief executive, Mr. Jones. Mr. Jones explained that such matters were in the hands of his department executives, and that he never interfered with their decisions, so Tesla must see the executive in charge of technical matters, Mr. Smith. Tesla traveled this vicious circle several times with the same result and Wnally gave up in disgust. He decided not to renew his oVer of the alternating-current system nor to show his motor in operation, and resigned his position immediately.
Tesla was undoubtedly entitled to an amount in excess of $25,000 for the regulators he designed and for his services in Strassburg. Had the executives been endowed with even a smattering of horse sense, or the ordinary garden variety of honesty, they would have made an attempt to settle for $5,000, at the least. Tesla, hard pressed for cash, would undoubtedly have accepted such an amount, although with a feeling that he was being cheated in a large way.
Such an oVer would probably have held Tesla on the payroll of the company and preserved for it the possession of the world's greatest inventor and one who at the time had deWnitely demonstrated he was an extremely valuable employee.
For a paltry few thousand dollars they lost not only a man who would have saved them many times that amount every year, but they also lost an opportunity to obtain world control of the greatest and most proWtable electrical invention ever made.
One of the administrators of the company, Mr. Charles Batchellor, Manager of the Works, who was a former assistant and close personal friend of Thomas A. Edison, urged Tesla to go to the United States and work with Edison. There he would have a chance to work on improvements to the Edison dynamos and motors. Tesla decided to follow Mr. Batchellor's suggestion. He sold his books and all other personal possessions except a few articles which he expected to take with him. He assembled his very limited Wnancial resources, purchased tickets for his railroad trip and transatlantic journey to New York. His baggage consisted of a small bundle of clothes carried under his arm and some other items stuVed into his pockets.
The Wnal hours were busy ones and, as he was about to board the train, just as it was ready to pull out of the station, he discovered his package of baggage was missing. Reaching quickly for his wallet, which contained his railroad and steamship tickets and all his money, he was horriWed to discover that that too was missing. There was some loose change in his pocket, how much he did not know--he did not have time to count it. His train was pulling out. What should he do? If he missed this train, he would also miss the boat--but he could not ride on either without tickets. He ran alongside the moving train, trying to make up his mind. His long legs enabled him to keep up with it without diYculty at Wrst, but now it was gaining speed. He Wnally decided to jump aboard. The loose change he discovered was suYcient to take care of the railroad fare, with a negligible remainder. He explained his situation to the skeptical steamship oYcials and, when no one else showed up to claim his reservations on the ship up to the time of sailing, he was permitted to embark.
To one as fastidious as Tesla, a long steamship journey without adequate clothing was a trying experience. He had expected to encounter annoyances when getting along with the minimum amount of clothing which he planned carrying with him, but when even that limited layout was lost the annoyance became hardship. Coupled with this was the memory of disappointment and resentment over his recent experiences.
The ship oVered little to interest him. He explored it thoroughly and in doing so made some contacts with members of the ship's company. There was unrest among the crew. There was unrest in Tesla also. He extended sympathy to members of the crew in their claimed unjust treatment. The grievances aVecting the crew had built up one of those situations in which a small spark can cause a large explosion. The spark Xew somewhere on the ship while Tesla was below decks in the crew's quarters. The captain and oYcers got tough and, with some loyal members of the crew, decided to settle the trouble with belaying pins as clubs. It quickly became a battle royal. Tesla found himself in the middle of a Wght which when anyone saw a head he hit it.
Had Tesla not been young as well as tall and strong, his useful career might have ended at this point. He had long arms in proportion to his six feet two inches of height. The Wst at the end of his arm could reach as far as a club in the hands of an adversary, and his height enabled him to tower over the other Wghters so his head was not easy to reach. He struck hard and often, never knowing for or against which side he was Wghting. He was on his feet when the Wght was over, something which could not be said of a score of the crew members. The oYcers had subdued what they called a mutiny, but they too carried indications that they had been through a battle. Tesla was deWnitely not invited to sit at the captain's table during the voyage.
He spent the remainder of his journey nursing scores of bruises and sitting in meditation at the stern of the ship, which too slowly made its way to New York. Soon he would set foot on the ``land of golden promise'' and meet the famous Mr. Edison. He was destined to learn that it was really a ``land of golden promise''--but also to discover something that would open his eyes about the fulWllment of promises.
WHENTesla stepped out of the Immigration OYce at Castle Garden, Manhattan, in the summer of 1884, his possessions consisted of four cents, a book of his own poems, a couple of technical articles he had written, calculations for designing a Xying machine, and some mathematical work done in an eVort to solve an extremely diYcult integral. He had Mr. Batchellor's letter introducing him to Mr. Edison, and the address of a friend. In this letter to Edison, Batchellor wrote: ``I know two great men and you are one of them; the other is this young man.''
Lacking carfare, Tesla had to walk the several miles to his friend's home. The Wrst person he spoke to, seeking traveling directions, was a policeman, a gruV individual. The way he supplied the information suggested to Tesla that he was willing to start a Wght on the subject. Although Tesla spoke English very well, all he understood of the policeman's lingo was the direction in which he pointed his club.
While walking in what he believed was the right direction, wondering how he would be able to contrive a meal and lodgings out of four cents should he be unable to locate his friend, he passed a shop in which he could see a man working on an electrical machine that seemed to him familiar. He entered just as the man was about to give up as impossible the task of repairing the device.
``Let me do it,'' said Tesla, ``I will make it operate.'' And without more ado he tackled the job. It proved to be a diYcult task but eventually the machine was working again.
``I need a man like you to handle these blankety-blank foreign machines,'' said the man. ``Do you want a job?''
Tesla thanked him and told him he was on his way to another job, whereupon the man handed him twenty dollars. Tesla had expected no compensation for doing what he considered a slight favor, and said so, but the man insisted his work was worth that much, and he was glad to pay it. Never was Tesla more thankful for a windfall. He was now assured of food and lodgings for the time being. With the aid of walking directions, this time more graciously given, he located his friend and was a guest at his home overnight. The next day he went to Edison's New York headquarters, then on South Fifth Avenue (now West Broadway).
The introduction by Mr. Batchellor gave him ready access to Mr. Edison, who was busily engaged in problems in connection with his new generating station and electric-light system--the former located in downtown Pearl Street and serving a relatively small radius of territory.
Tesla was favorably impressed by Edison on their Wrst meeting. He marveled that a man so limited in education could accomplish so much in so technical a Weld as electricity. It caused Tesla to wonder if all the time he had spent in gaining an education of very broad scope had not been wasted. Would he have been further ahead if he had started his practical work on the basis of experience, as Edison had done? He deWnitely decided, however, before many days had passed, that the time and eVort he had spent on his education constituted the wisest kind of an investment.
Edison, for his part, was none too favorably impressed by Tesla. Edison was an inventor who got his results by trial-and-error methods. Tesla calculated everything mentally and solved his problems before doing any ``work'' on them. As a result, the two great men spoke an entirely diVerent technical language. There was one more very important diVerence. Edison belonged to the direct-current and Tesla to the alternating-current school of thought. The electricians of that day could, and did, become highly emotional over their diVerences of opinion on this subject. Discussions roused all the fervor of a religious or political debate, and everything unpleasant was associated with the adherents on the other side of the discussion. The least unpleasant thought applied to an opponent was that he was of a low order of mentality. When Tesla enthusiastically described his polyphase system and told Edison he believed alternating-current was the only practical kind of current to use in a power-and-lighting system, Edison laughed. Edison was using direct current in his system. He told Tesla very bluntly he was not interested in alternating-current; there was no future to it and anyone who dabbled in that Weld was wasting his time; and besides, it was a deadly current whereas direct current was safe. Tesla did not yield any ground in the discussion--nor could he make any progress in his eVort to get Edison to listen to a presentation of his polyphase power system. On technical grounds, they were worlds apart.
Nevertheless, because of Batchellor's statement on the valuable work he had done on the Edison direct-current machines in Europe, Tesla was, without much formality, given a job on Edison's staV--doing minor routine work. A few weeks later he had an opportunity to demonstrate his ability. Edison had installed one of his electric-light plants on the steamship Oregon, the fastest and most up-to-date passenger ship of that time. The installation worked well for many months but Wnally both dynamos went out of commission. It was impossible to remove the dynamos and install new ones, so it was necessary to repair the old ones in some way--but this, Edison had been told, was impossible without taking them to the shop. The scheduled sailing date of the ship had passed and Edison was being placed in an embarrassing position over the accumulating days of delay caused by his machines.
Edison asked Tesla if he would go to the ship and see what could be done about the situation. This was in the afternoon. Taking such instruments as he thought he would need, Tesla went aboard the Oregon. He found that short circuits had caused some of the armature coils to be burned out; and open circuits had developed elsewhere on the machines.
Calling on members of the crew to assist him, Tesla worked through the night and by 4 am had both machines running as well as they did the day they were newly installed. Walking back to the shop on lower Fifth Avenue at 5 am, in the dim early dawn he met a group of men just leaving. In it were Edison, Batchellor, who had returned from Paris in the meantime, and several others who had Wnished their night's work and were returning to their homes.
``Here is our Parisian running around nights,'' said Edison.
``Am just coming back from the Oregon,'' Tesla replied. ``Both machines are operating.''
Edison, amazed, shook his head and turned away without another word. On rejoining the group he said to Batchellor, loud enough for the keen-eared Tesla to hear him, ``Batchellor, this is a damn good man.''
Thereafter Tesla's status on the staV was raised several levels and he was given closer contact with design and operating problems. He found the work interesting and applied himself to it more than eighteen hours a day, from 10:30 am until 5 am, every day including Sundays. Edison, observing his industry, told him, ``I have had many hard-working assistants but you take the cake.'' Tesla observed many ways in which the dynamos could be improved in design to operate more eYciently. He outlined his plan to Edison, and stressed the increased output and lower cost of operating that would result from the changes he suggested. Edison, quick to appreciate the value of increased eYciency, replied, ``There's Wfty thousand dollars in it for you if you can do it.''
Tesla designed twenty-four types of dynamos, eliminating the long-core Weld magnets then in use and substituting the more eYcient short cores, and provided some automatic controls, on which patents were taken out. Months later, when the task was Wnished, and some of the new machines built and tested and found measuring up to his promises, Tesla asked to be paid the $50,000. Edison replied, ``Tesla, you don't understand our American humor.'' Tesla was shocked to discover that what he thought was a speciWc promise was being tossed aside merely as a standard practical joke of the day. He received not a penny of compensation from the new designs and inventions, or for the tremendous amount of overtime, beyond the none too generous weekly pay. He resigned his job immediately. This was in the spring of 1885.
In the period of less than a year which he spent with Edison, Tesla had developed a good reputation in electrical circles; so when he was free he was oVered an opportunity to capitalize on it. A group of promoters oVered to form a company under his name. This looked like a possible chance to bring out his alternating-current system, and he eagerly entered into the project. But when he urged his plan, the promoters informed him they were not interested in alternating-current. What they wanted him to develop was a practical arc light for street and factory illumination. In about a year he developed the desired lamp, took out several patents on his invention, and its manufacture and use were under way.
From a technical point of view the venture was a success, but Tesla himself suVered another painful Wnancial experience in connection with it. He had been paid a comparatively small salary during the period of development. According to the agreement, he was to receive his principal compensation in the form of shares of stock in the company. He received a beautifully engraved stock certiWcate, and then, by some manipulations he did not understand, he was forced out of the company and aspersions were cast upon his ability as an engineer and an inventor. When he sought to convert the certiWcate into cash, he found that the shares of newly organized companies of undemonstrated power to earn dividends possess very slight value. His opinion of Wnancial men in both the Old World and the New was taking on a decidedly uncomplimentary bias.
Now came the most unpleasant experience of Tesla's life. He was without a source of income, and from the spring of 1886 to the spring of 1887 he was forced to work as a day laborer. ``I lived,'' he said, ``through a year of terrible heartaches and bitter tears, my suVering being intensiWed by material want.'' Business conditions were none too good in the country. Not only did he have diYculty in getting anyone to listen to his alternating-current project, but even in his eVort to earn room and board as a laborer he had tremendous competition, and found it none too easy to secure the most menial tasks at almost starvation wages. He would never discuss this period of his life, probably because it was so unpleasant that he banished all thoughts of it from his memory. Some electrical repair work and even ditch digging at $2 a day were among the jobs he tackled. He resented the utter waste of his abilities more than the personal degradation involved. His education, he said, seemed a mockery.
During the winter of early 1887, while engaged in ditch digging, he attracted the attention of the foreman of the gang who, too, was being forced by circumstances to work below his accustomed level. The foreman was impressed by Tesla's story of his inventions and his great hopes for his alternating-current system. Through this foreman, Tesla said, he was introduced to Mr. A. K. Brown of the Western Union Telegraph Company who put up some of his own money and interested a friend in joining him in Tesla's project.
These two gentlemen organized and Wnanced the Tesla Electric Company, and in April, 1887, established a laboratory at 33-35 South Fifth Avenue (now West Broadway), near Bleecker Street, not far from the shop of the Edison Company. Edison had turned down Tesla's alternating-current idea--and now Tesla was his neighbor with a laboratory of his own, starting to develop the competing idea. Within this small area was to be fought the great battle of the electrical industry over the question of whether direct or alternating current should be used. Edison, already famous, was wholeheartedly committed to direct current; his powerhouses were operating in several cities and, in addition, he had the support of the famous Wnancier, J. P. Morgan. Tesla, on the other hand, was unknown and had only very modest Wnancial support. The direct current was technically simple, whereas alternating-current was technically complex. Tesla knew, however, that in these complexities were unlimited possibilities for usefulness.
Tesla's dark days were over. Yet he was soon to discover that the acceptance or rejection of the alternating-current system was not based on technical facts but upon Wnancial considerations, emotional reactions and prejudices, and that human nature was a bigger factor than scientiWc truths. Nevertheless, in a short time, he would see some of his greatest hopes and dreams realized, and success in large measure reward his eVorts.
Once he had achieved something resembling fair conditions under which to carry on his work, the rising star of Tesla's genius shot across the electrical heavens like a meteor. As soon as the newly organized Tesla Electric Company opened its South Fifth Avenue laboratories he started the construction of a variety of pieces of dynamo electric machinery. It was not necessary for him to do any calculating, or work out blueprints. Everything was crystal clear in his mind down to the Wnest detail of each piece of apparatus. As a result he very quickly produced the working units with which he demonstrated the principles of his polyphase alternating-current system. The single piece of apparatus he had built while in Strassburg, the Wrst model of the induction motor, supplied the physical proof he needed that all the remainder of his calculations were correct.
The apparatuses built in his new laboratory were identical with those which he conceived during the two months in Budapest following the remarkable revelation of the principle of the revolving magnetic Weld. He did not make the slightest change, he said, in the machines he had mentally constructed at that time. When the machines were physically constructed not one of them failed to operate as he had anticipated. Five years had elapsed since he evolved the designs. In the meantime he had not committed a line to paper--yet he had remembered perfectly every last detail.
Tesla produced as rapidly as the machines could be constructed three complete systems of alternating-current machinery--for single-phase, two-phase and three-phase currents--and made experiments with four- and six-phase currents. In each of the three principal systems he produced the dynamos for generating the currents, the motors for producing power from them and transformers for raising and reducing the voltages, as well as a variety of devices for automatically controlling the machinery. He not only produced the three systems but provided methods by which they could be interconnected, and modiWcations providing a variety of means of using each of the systems. A few months after opening the laboratory he submitted his two-phase motor to Prof. W. A. Anthony, of Cornell University, for testing. Prof. Anthony reported that it had an eYciency equal to that of the best direct-current motors.
Tesla now not only constructed the machines which he visualized but he worked out the basic mathematical theory underlying all of the apparatus. The mathematical theory was so basic that it covered not only the principles applying to machinery for operation at 60 cycles per second, which is the frequency now in standard use, but applied equally well to the whole range of low- and high-frequency currents. With Edison direct current, it had not been found practicable to work with potentials higher than 220 volts on distribution systems; but with alternating-current it was possible to produce and transmit currents of many thousands of volts, thus permitting economical distribution, and these could be reduced to the lower voltages for customer use.
Tesla sought to obtain a single patent covering the entire system and all of its constituent dynamos, transformers, distribution systems and motors. His patent attorneys, Duncan, Curtis & Page, Wled the application for this patent October 12, 1887, six months after the laboratory opened and Wve and a half years after Tesla had made his rotary magnetic-Weld invention.
The Patent OYce, however, objected to considering such an ``omnibus'' application and insisted it be broken down to seven separate inventions, with individual applications Wled on each. Two groups of separate applications were Wled, on November 30 and December 23 respectively. These inventions were so original and covered such a virgin Weld of electrical science that they encountered practically no diYculties in the Patent OYce and within about six months the patents were issued. (They were numbered 381,968; 381,969; 381,970; 382,279; 382,280; 382,281 and 382,282. These covered his single and polyphase motors, his distribution system and polyphase transformers. In April of the following year, 1888, he applied for and was later granted Wve more patents, which included the four-and three-wire three-phase systems. These were numbered 390,413; 390,414; 390,415; 390,721; and 390,820. Within the year he applied for and was granted eighteen more: 401,520; 405,858; 405,859; 416,191; 416,192; 416,193; 416,194; 416,195; 418,248; 424,036; 433,700; 433.701; 433,702; 433,703; 445,207; 445,067; 459,772 and 464,666.)
As a succession of fundamental patents started to issue from the Patent OYce to Tesla, the attention of the electrical engineering profession was drawn to this practically unknown inventor. The signiWcance of his epoch-making discoveries was quickly grasped and he was invited to deliver a lecture before the American Institute of Electrical Engineers on May 16, 1888. This invitation was evidence that he had ``arrived.'' Tesla accepted the invitation and put his whole heart into preparing the lecture which, he felt, would enable him to tell the electrical world the magniWcent story of his complete alternating-current system and the tremendous advantages it possessed over direct-current.
This lecture became a classic of the electrical engineering Weld. In it Tesla presented the theory and practical application of alternating-current to power engineering. This, with his patents, described the foundation, in the matter of circuits, machines and operation, and theory, upon which almost the entire electrical system of the country was established and is still operating today. No new development of anything even slightly approaching comparable magnitude has been made in the Weld of electrical engineering down to the present time.
Tesla's lecture, and the inventions and discoveries which he included in it, established him before the electrical engineering profession as the father of the whole Weld of alternating-current power system, and the outstanding inventor in the electrical Weld.
It is not easy to visualize the tremendous burst of electrical development and progress that came out of Tesla's laboratory in the few months after he established it. He produced a tidal wave of advancement which carried the electrical world into the opening of the new power age in one grand surge--although it took several years, naturally, for the commercial exploitation to get under way. The world of electrical engineering was amazed, bewildered and mystiWed by the host of discoveries thrown into its midst in rapid succession from the Tesla laboratory, and was Wlled with admiration for the prodigious new genius who had Xared up within its ranks.
Tesla's power system, employing high voltage for transmission, released electrical powerhouses using direct current from functioning as purely local enterprises, capable of serving an area within a radius of one mile at the very most. His motors used alternating-current that could be economically transmitted hundreds of miles, and he provided an economical two- and three-phase system for transmission lines.
The stupendous changes which the Tesla alternating-current inventions and discoveries brought about in the electrical industry can be realized by considering the handicap under which the direct-current powerhouses of the Edison system had operated up to that time. Electricity was generated in powerhouses by relatively small-size dynamos, and the current then distributed to customers over copper conductors laid in conduits under the streets. Some of the electrical energy fed into these conductors at the powerhouse did not arrive as electricity at the far end of the line but was converted along the route to useless heat by the resistance of the conductors.
Electrical energy is composed of two factors, the current, or amount of electricity, and the voltage, or the pressure under which the current is moved. Resistance losses were undergone by the current regardless of the voltage. One ampere of current experienced a deWnite loss caused by resistance and this loss was the same whether the pressure was 100, or 1,000 or 100,000 volts. If the current value remained Wxed, then the amount of energy transported over a wire varied with the voltage. There is, for example, 100,000 times as much energy transported over a wire carrying a current of one ampere at 100,000 volts as there is when the current is one ampere and the pressure is one volt.
If the amount of current carried by a wire is doubled, the heat losses are increased four fold; if the current is tripled, these losses are increased nine fold, and if the current is increased four fold, the losses rise sixteen fold. This situation put deWnite limits to the amount of current which could be loaded on to conductors.
In addition there is an accompanying drop in pressure. In a half-mile-long conductor, of the size adopted and under the average currents carried, there would be a drop of about 30 volts. To compensate for this, to some extent, the dynamos were designed to generate 120 volts instead of the standard 110 volts for which lamps were designed. Near the powerhouse the customers would get excess voltage--and a half-mile away their current would be delivered at 90 volts. The early Edison carbon lamps were none too brilliant at 110 volts and gave much less than satisfactory illumination at 90 volts.
As a result of this situation the generation and distribution of direct-electric current became very much of a localized matter. The Edison powerhouse could serve an area less than a mile in diameter. In order to give service to a large city it would be necessary to have a powerhouse in every square mile, or even closer if a uniformly satisfactory current were to be supplied. Outside large cities the situation became even more diYcult. This was a severe handicap if electricity was to become the universal power source.
Tesla's alternating-current power system, which Edison so emphatically rejected when it was oVered to him, freed electricity from its bondage to local isolation. Not alone were his alternating-current motors more simple and Xexible than the direct-current machines, but it was possible by a highly eYcient method of using transformers, which consisted of two coils of wire around an iron core, to step up the voltage and simultaneously step down the current in a proportionate amount, or use the process in reverse. The amount of energy involved, however, would remain practically unchanged.
Copper wire entails a heavy investment when it is bought by the mile. The diameter of the wire sets the limit to the amount of current it will carry. With the Edison direct-current system there was no practical way for transforming an electric current. The voltage remained Wxed and when the current was increased to the carrying capacity of the wire no further expansion was possible on that circuit.
With the Tesla system the amount of energy a wire would transport would be increased tremendously by increasing the voltage and letting the current remain Wxed below the carrying limit of the circuit. A very small wire could carry a thousand or more times as much electrical energy in the Tesla polyphase alternating system as it could in the Edison direct-current system.
By using Tesla's alternating-current system electricity could be delivered economically at vast distances from the powerhouse. It would be possible, if desired, to burn coal at the mouth of a mine for generating electricity, and deliver the current cheaply at distant cities, or to generate electricity where water power was available and transmit it to distant points where it could be used.
Tesla rescued the electrical giant from the apron strings of the powerhouse and gave it geographical freedom, the opportunity to expand into the wide-open spaces and work its magic. He laid the foundation for our present superpower system. A development of such magnitude was bound to be loaded with dynamite, and action was sure to follow as soon as someone set a match to the fuse.
TESLA'S spectacular lecture and demonstration before the American Institute of Electrical Engineers in New York focused on his work the attention of the electrical fraternity throughout the world. There was no doubt in the mind of the vast majority of electrical engineers that Tesla's discoveries created a new epoch in the electrical industry. But what could be done about it? There were few manufacturers who could take advantage of it. His discoveries were in the same predicament as a ten-pound diamond. No one would question the value of the stone but who would be in a position to purchase it or make any use of it?
Tesla had given no speciWc thought to commercializing his work at this time. He was in the midst of a program of experimental work which was far from complete and he desired to Wnish it before engaging in another line of activity. He expected that there would be no alternative to establishing his own company and engaging in the manufacture of his dynamos, motors and transformers. Such a course would take him away from the original experimental work which greatly fascinated him, and which he did not wish to interrupt. Commercializing his inventions, therefore, was a problem that could be postponed, as far as he was concerned, at least as long as the present Wnancing of his work continued.
George Westinghouse, head of the Westinghouse Electric Company in Pittsburgh, was a man of vision. He was already famous as an inventor of numerous electrical devices but principally for his air brake for trains, and had made a fortune out of the exploitation of his own inventions. He recognized the tremendous commercial possibilities presented by Tesla's discoveries and the vast superiority of the alternating- over the direct- current system. He was a practical man of business and was not limited in his choice between the two systems.
Edison, head of the Edison General Electric Company, on the other hand, was under a limitation. Edison's invention was the incandescent electric lamp. Having developed this project, he was faced with Wnding some way to use it commercially. In order to sell his lamps to the public it was necessary to make the electricity available for lighting them. This necessitated the building of powerhouses and distribution systems. Another kind of electric lamp was already available--the arc lamp--in which he was but slightly interested. The Edison system powerhouses were standardized on low-voltage direct current. At that time direct-current motors were in use, and most technical men believed it was not at all likely there would ever be a practical alternating-current motor. The direct-current system, therefore, oVered a number of advantages of a practical nature from Edison's viewpoint.
Westinghouse had no pet project comparable to the incandescent lamp around which he had to throw protecting conditions such as direct-current limitations, so he could look at the Tesla alternating-current discoveries from an unbiased and purely objective point of view. He reached his decision a month after Tesla's lecture. Having done this, he forwarded a brief note to Tesla, making an engagement to see him in the latter's laboratory.
The two inventors had not previously met but each of them was well acquainted with the other's work. Westinghouse, born in 1846, was ten years older than Tesla. He was a short, stout, bearded, impressive-looking individual, and had a habit of directness in conducting his aVairs that amounted almost to bluntness. Tesla, thirty-two years old, was tall, dark, handsome, slender and suave. They made a strongly contrasting pair as they stood in Tesla's laboratory, but they had three things in common: they both were inventors, engineers and loved electricity. Tesla had in his laboratory dynamos, transformers, and motors with which he could demonstrate his discoveries and models in actual operating conditions. Here Westinghouse was right at home and quickly became completely sold on the inventor and his inventions.
So favorably impressed was Westinghouse that he decided to act quickly. The story was related to the author by Tesla.
``I will give you one million dollars cash for your alternating-current patents, plus royalty,'' Westinghouse blurted at the startled Tesla. This tall, suave gentleman, however, gave no outward sign that he had almost been bowled over by surprise.
``If you will make the royalty one dollar per horsepower, I will accept the oVer,'' Tesla replied.
``A million cash, a dollar a horsepower royalty,'' Westinghouse repeated.
``That is acceptable,'' said Tesla.
``Sold,'' said Westinghouse. ``You will receive a check and a contract in a few days.''
Here was a case of two great men, each possessed with the power of seeing visions of the future on a gigantic panorama, and each with complete faith in the other, arranging a tremendous transaction with utter disregard of details.
The amount involved was unquestionably a record one, for that time, for an invention. While Tesla liked to think of his complete polyphase system as a single invention, he was, nevertheless, selling about twenty inventions on which patents were already issued, and about as many more still to issue. With a total of forty patents involved in the transaction, most of them strongly basic in nature, he received, therefore, about $25,000 per patent. Westinghouse thereby obtained a record-breaking bargain by buying the patents in wholesale quantities.
Westinghouse arranged with Tesla to come to Pittsburgh ``at a high salary'' for a year, to act as consultant in the commercial application of his inventions. The generous oVer made by the Pittsburgh magnate for the purchase of his patents made it unnecessary for Tesla to have any more worries about having to devote a major portion of his time to exploiting his inventions commercially through his own company. He could aVord, therefore, to give this year of his time.
The apparatus which Tesla demonstrated to Westinghouse when the latter visited his laboratory, and which worked so beautifully, was designed for operation with a current of 60 cycles. Tesla's investigation had demonstrated that this was the frequency at which the greatest eYciency of operation could be achieved. At higher frequencies there was a saving in the amount of iron required; but the drop in eYciency, and design diYculties that developed, were not compensated for by the very small saving in cost of metal. At lower frequencies the amount of iron required increased, and the apparatus grew in size faster than increased eYciency justiWed.
Tesla went to Pittsburgh and expected to clear up all problems in less than a year. Here, though, he encountered engineers who faced the problem of producing a motor with a design that would insure, Wrst, certainty of smooth and reliable operation; second, economy of operation; third, economy in use of materials; fourth, ease of manufacture; as well as other problems. Tesla had these problems in mind but not with the urgency with which the engineers faced them. In addition he was quite adamant in the choice of 60 cycles as the standard frequency for alternating current while engineers, who had experience on 133 cycles, were not so sure that the lower frequency would be best for the Tesla motors. At any rate there was conXict between the inventor, interested mainly in principles, and engineers interested in practical design problems. Very deWnite problems were encountered in making the Tesla motor work on a single-phase current in small sizes. In this type of design, artiWces had to be incorporated in the motor to achieve some of the characteristics of a two-phase current from the single-phase current that was supplied to operate it.
Tesla was thoroughly disgusted with the situation. He felt his advice concerning his own invention was not being accepted, so he quit Pittsburgh. Westinghouse was sure the situation would work itself out. Seeking to persuade Tesla to remain, he oVered him, Tesla revealed many years later, twenty-four thousand dollars a year, one third of the net income of the company and his own laboratory, if he would stay on and direct the development of his system. Tesla, now wealthy and anxious to return to original research, rejected the oVer.
Development work proceeded after Tesla left, and soon practical designs were produced for all sizes of motors and dynamos, and their manufacture started. Tesla was happy to note that the 60-cycle standard, his emphatic choice, but which had been questioned on the ground it was less practical in small units, had been adopted as the standard frequency.
On returning to his New York laboratory, Tesla declared that he had not made a single worth-while contribution to electrical science during the year he spent at Pittsburgh. ``I was not free at Pittsburgh,'' he explained; ``I was dependent and could not work. To do creative work I must be completely free. When I became free of that situation ideas and inventions rushed through my brain like a Niagara.'' During the following four years he devoted a large fraction of his time to further developments of his polyphase power system, and applied for, and was granted, forty-Wve patents. Those granted in foreign countries would bring the total to several times this number.
The ideas of the two giants among inventors--Edison and Tesla--were meeting in head-on battle. Out of the laboratories of the two geniuses, within sight of each other in South Fifth Avenue in New York, had come world-shaking developments.
There had been considerable conXict between Edison, who adhered strictly to direct current, and those who supported the claims for alternating current. The Thomson-Houston Company and the Westinghouse Electric Company had extensively developed this Weld for series electric lighting and arc lighting before the Tesla power system was developed. Edison had engaged in many tilts at these competitors, attacking alternating-current as unsafe because of the high voltages used. The advent of the Tesla system added fuel to the Wre.
It was Tesla's belief that when the New York State Prison authorities adopted high-voltage alternating current for electrocution of condemned prisoners, the Edison interests had engineered the project to discredit alternating current. There is no doubt about the aid the prison authorities' choice gave the direct-current group; but their decision was undoubtedly based on the fact that direct current could not, by any practical means, be produced at the high voltages required, whereas alternating-current potentials could be very easily increased. Direct current is just as deadly, at the same voltage and amperage, as alternating current. In this ``war of the currents,'' however, as in other wars, appeal to the emotions, instead of to simple facts, were the governing inXuences.
The task of putting the United States on an electrical power basis--which is what George Westinghouse undertook when he began to exploit the Tesla patent--was a gigantic one requiring not only engineering talent but capital. The Westinghouse Electric Company experienced a tremendous expansion in the volume of its business, but the upward surge came at a time when the country was going into a stage of commercial and Wnancial depression; and Westinghouse soon found himself in diYculties.
This was, in addition, an era in which competing giant Wnancial interests were battling for control of the industrial structure of the country through control of capital. It was a time of mergers, a period when the Wnancial interests were building larger units of production by uniting smaller companies in related Welds, frequently forcing these combinations without regard to what the owners of the companies desired.
One merger, internally initiated and arranged by mutual consent, brought together the Thomson-Houston Company and the Edison General Electric Company, the two biggest competitors of Westinghouse Electric, to form the present General Electric Company. This was a challenge to competing Wnancial interests.
Westinghouse had expanded his business at a very rapid rate in exploiting the Tesla patents. Because his Wnancial structure thereby lost a certain amount of Xexibility, he became vulnerable to Wnancial operators and soon found himself in the toils of a merger that involved uniting several other small companies with his organization. Financial interests that had stepped into the situation demanded that the Westinghouse Electric Company be reorganized as a step toward bringing about a merger with it of the U. S. Electric Company and the Consolidated Electric Light Company, the new unit to be known as the Westinghouse Electric and Manufacturing Company.
Before this reorganization would be consummated the Wnancial advisers, in strategic positions, insisted that Westinghouse jettison some of his plans and projects which they considered inadvisable or a detriment to getting the new company onto a new foundation that would be sounder from a Wnancial point of view.
One of the requirements was that Westinghouse get rid of the contract with Tesla calling for royalty payments of $1 per horsepower on all alternating-current articles sold under his patents. (No documentary evidence exists concerning this contract. The author located two sources of information. One was in complete agreement with the story here related. The other states that the million-dollar payment was advance royalties and Tesla so described it to him, declaring no further royalties were paid.) The Wnancial advisers pointed out that if the business which Westinghouse expected the company would do under the Tesla patents in the ensuing year was anywhere near as great as estimated, the amount to be paid out under this contract would be tremendous, totaling millions of dollars; and this, at the time of reorganization, appeared a dangerous burden, imperiling the stability which they were trying to attain for the new organization.
Westinghouse strenuously objected to the procedure. This patent-royalty payment, he insisted, was in accordance with usual procedures and would not be a burden on the company, as it was included in costs of production, was paid for by the customers, and did not come out of the company's earnings. Westinghouse, himself an inventor of Wrst magnitude, had a strong sense of justice in his dealings with inventors.
The Wnancial advisers, however, were not to be overruled. They nailed Westinghouse on the spot by insisting that the million dollars he had paid Tesla was more than adequate compensation for an invention, and that by making such an exorbitant payment he had imperiled the Wnancial structure of his company and jeopardized his bankers' interest. Any further imperiling of the reorganization by any eVort to retain the royalty contract would, it was argued, result in the withdrawing of support that would save the company.
The situation boiled down to the common ``Either-Or'' technique.
Westinghouse was required to handle the negotiations with Tesla. No situation could be more embarrassing to him. Nevertheless, Westinghouse was a realist among realists. He never hesitated to face facts squarely and with a blunt directness. ``I will give you one million dollars cash for your alternating-current patents, plus royalty'': he had been both brief and blunt when he purchased the patents from Tesla. Now he was faced with the problem of undoing the situation into which he had entered with such brevity. Then money talked and he held the money. Now Tesla held the dominant position; he held a perfectly valid contract worth many millions, and he could go to court to force compliance with its terms. Edison's successful suit against infringers of his electric-light patent, bringing disaster to many companies that violated his patent property rights, had caused the whole industrial world to hold a new and wholesome respect for patent rights.
Westinghouse had no reason for believing that Tesla would show the slightest inclination to relinquish his contract or permit its terms to be changed to provide a smaller rate of royalty. He knew that Tesla's pride had been hurt by the disagreement with the Pittsburgh engineers, and that he might not now be in a conciliatory mood. On the other hand, Westinghouse knew that he had succeeded in having Tesla's ideas adopted. His greatest comfort came from the fact that he had entered into the contract with good faith--and with the same good faith he was trying to handle a much less satisfactory situation. Perhaps he could oVer Tesla an executive position in the company in lieu of the contract. There would be mutual advantages in such an arrangement.
There is no means of Wxing the deWnite value of the contract Tesla held. His patents covered every department of the new alternating-current power system, and royalties could be collected on powerhouse equipment and motors. At that time the electric power industry had barely started; no one could look into the future and see the tremendous volume of business that would be developed. (The latest data available indicate that in 1941 there was 162,000,000 horsepower of electrical generating machinery in operation in the United States, practically all of it for alternating current. Assuming a uniform growth from 1891 to 1941, the installed horsepower in 1905, when the Wrst Tesla patents would have expired, would have been about twenty million. This Wgure is, apparently, too high.
According to a census of central stations in the United States conducted by T. Commerford Martin (Electrical World, March 14, 1914) the horsepower of generators in operation in 1902 was 1,620,000 and in 1907 the Wgure had risen to 6,900,000. On a pro rata, per-year basis, this would make the Wgure for 1905, the year when Tesla's Wrst patents expired, 5,000,000. During this period many manufacturers who had been using steam power installed dynamos in their factories and operated isolated plants. These would not be included in the central-station Wgures and, if added, would bring the total horsepower to perhaps 7,000,000. Tesla would have been entitled to $7,000,000 royalties on this equipment, on the basis of his $1-per-horsepower arrangement. In addition he would have been entitled to royalties on motors that used the power generated by these dynamos. If only three quarters of the current generated were used for power, this would have entitled him to additional royalties of $5,000,000, or a total of $12,000,000.)
It would be a tough job for any executive, no matter how shrewd or clever, to talk a man out of a contract that would net him many millions of dollars, or induce him to accept a reduction in rates amounting to millions.
Westinghouse called on Tesla, meeting him in the same South Fifth Avenue laboratory where he had purchased the patents four years before. Without preliminaries or apologies Westinghouse explained the situation.
``Your decision,'' said the Pittsburgh magnate, ``determines the fate of the Westinghouse Company.''
``Suppose I should refuse to give up my contract; what would you do then?'' asked Tesla.
``In that event you would have to deal with the bankers, for I would no longer have any power in the situation,'' Westinghouse replied.
``And if I give up the contract you will save your company and retain control so you can proceed with your plans to give my polyphase system to the world?'' Tesla continued.
``I believe your polyphase system is the greatest discovery in the Weld of electricity,'' Westinghouse explained. ``It was my eVorts to give it to the world that brought on the present diYculty, but I intend to continue, no matter what happens, to proceed with my original plans to put the country on an alternating-current basis.''
``Mr. Westinghouse,'' said Tesla, drawing himself up to his full height of six feet two inches and beaming down on the Pittsburgh magnate who was himself a big man, ``you have been my friend, you believed in me when others had no faith; you were brave enough to go ahead and pay me a million dollars when others lacked courage; you supported me when even your own engineers lacked vision to see the big things ahead that you and I saw; you have stood by me as a friend. The beneWts that will come to civilization from my polyphase system mean more to me than the money involved. Mr. Westinghouse, you will save your company so that you can develop my inventions. Here is your contract and here is my contract--I will tear both of them to pieces and you will no longer have any troubles from my royalties. Is that suYcient?''
Matching his actions to his words Tesla tore up the contract and threw it in the waste basket; and Westinghouse, thanks to Tesla's magniWcent gesture, was able to return to Pittsburgh and use the facilities of the reorganized company, which became the present Westinghouse Electric and Manufacturing Company, to make good his promise to Tesla to make his alternating-current system available to the world.
Probably nowhere in history is there recorded so magniWcent a sacriWce to friendship as that involved in Tesla's stupendous gift to Westinghouse of $12,000,000 in unpaid royalties, although Westinghouse personally received only indirect beneWts from it.
It is also probable that the failure to pay Tesla these royalties resulted in one of the greatest handicaps to scientiWc and industrial progress which the human race has experienced. A few years later Tesla, still an intellectual giant far from the peak of his greatest growth, still pouring forth a profusion of inventions and discoveries of Wrst magnitude, equal in importance to his Wrst eVorts which put the world on an electrical power basis, found himself without funds with which to develop his discoveries, with the result that many of them have been lost.
Nearly Wfty years after this majestic relinquishment of wealth on the altar of friendship, during which time Tesla had had opportunity to see the United States and the world as a whole wax wealthy out of the power he had made available, he was called on to respond, with a speech, to honorary citation by the Institute of Immigrant Welfare. Tesla, then about eighty, was unable to appear in person. He had experienced decades of poverty in which he faced ridicule for his failure to develop inventions which he declared he had made, and had been forced to move frequently from hotel to hotel, owing to inability to pay his bills. In spite of these experiences he developed no rancor toward Westinghouse in whose behalf he sacriWced his $12,000,000 in royalties. Instead, he retained his original warm friendship. This is indicated by a statement in the speech he sent to the Institute to be read at its dinner held in the Hotel Biltmore, May 12, 1938:
``George Westinghouse was, in my opinion, the only man on this globe who could take my alternating-current system under the circumstances then existing and win the battle against prejudice and money power. He was a pioneer of imposing stature, one of the world's true noblemen of whom America may well be proud and to whom humanity owes an immense debt of gratitude.''
WHEN Tesla left the Westinghouse plant at Pittsburgh in 1889 to return to his laboratory in New York, he entered a new world. The magniWcent polyphase system which he had already produced was but a small sample of the greater wonders that still remained to be revealed, and he was anxious to start exploring the new realm.
He was not approaching an entirely unknown realm in which he would have to feel his way in darkness in the hope of stumbling upon something of value, although anyone else at that time would have been in that position. On that fateful afternoon in February in Budapest in 1882, when he was given the vision of the rotating magnetic Weld, there had come with it an illumination that revealed to him the whole cosmos, in its inWnite variations and its myriad of forms of manifestations, as a symphony of alternating currents. For him, the harmonies of the universe were played on a scale of electrical vibrations of a vast range in octaves. In one of the lower octaves was a single note, the 60-cycle-per second alternating current, and in one of the higher octaves was visible light with its frequency of billions of cycles per second.
Tesla had in mind a course of experimentation in which he would explore this region of electrical vibration between his alternating current and light waves. He would increase the frequency of the alternating current through the unknown intervening regions. If one note in a lower octave produced such a magniWcent invention as the rotating magnetic Weld and the polyphase system, who could imagine the glorious possibilities that lay hidden on other notes in higher octaves? And there were thousands of octaves to be explored. He would construct an electrical harmonium by producing electrical vibrations in all frequencies, and study their characteristics. He would then, he hoped, be able to understand the motif of the cosmic symphony of electrical vibrations that pervaded the entire universe.
Tesla, at the age of thirty-three, was now wealthy. He had received $1,000,000 from the Westinghouse Company for his Wrst crop of inventions. Of this, $500,000 went to A. K. Brown and his associate who had Wnanced his experiments. Still greater inventions were to follow. He would never need money. He would, he then believed, have royalties in the millions from his alternating-current patents. He could spend as freely as he wished, penetrating the secrets of Nature and applying his discoveries to human welfare. It was his responsibility to be so engaged. He knew he was gifted as no other man had been blessed with vision, talent and ability; and he in turn would endow the world with supernal treasures of scientiWc knowledge which he would extract from the secret recesses of the universe and, through the activities of his mighty mind, transform into agencies to brighten the lives, lighten the labors and increase the happiness of the human race.
Was he a superegoist in his attitude? If so, he was not activated by selWsh motives. To him it mattered not what he thought, so long as he remained objective in his thinking and his thoughts could be translated into demonstrable facts. What if he did consider himself greater than other men: did not this viewpoint conform to the facts? Suppose he did consider himself a man of destiny. Could he not bring evidence to support the contention? It was not necessary for Tesla actually to see an event occur in order to enjoy its realization. Had he not as a youth declared that he would make a practical alternating-current motor, only to be told by his professor that the goal was impossible of attainment--and had he not already accomplished this ``impossibility''? Had he not taken the direct-current dynamos of Edison, whom all the world looked upon as a great genius, and had he not greatly improved their design and operation; and in addition, had he not produced a vastly superior system for producing, distributing and using electricity? To all of these inquiries Tesla could answer in the aYrmative without going beyond the bounds of modesty concerning his achievements.
His attitude was not that of an egoist. It was an attitude of supreme faith in himself and in the vision that had been given him. To a man of ability, with such supreme faith in himself, and necessary Wnancial resources to advance his purposes, the world of accomplishments is without limits. This was the picture of Tesla as he returned to his laboratory in lower Fifth Avenue, New York, in the latter part of 1889.
Tesla had studied a wide range of frequencies of alternating current in order to select the frequency at which his polyphase system would operate most eYciently. His calculations indicated important changes in characteristics and eVects as the frequency of the current was increased; and his observations with the electrical machinery he built conWrmed his calculations. He noted that ever smaller quantities of iron were required as the frequencies were increased, and he now wished to explore the very high frequencies at which unusual eVects should be produced without any iron in the magnetic circuit.
When, back in Budapest following his rotating magnetic-Weld discovery, he had played with mental calculations of the properties of alternating currents all the way from the very lowest frequency up to that of light, no one had yet explored this region. James Clerk Maxwell, at Cambridge University, England, had, however, nine years before, in 1873, published his beautiful presentation on an electromagnetic theory of light, and his equations indicated that there was a vast range of electro-magnetic vibrations above and below visible light--vibrations of much longer and much shorter wavelengths. While Tesla was engaged in making models of his polyphase system in 1887, too, Professor Heinrich Hertz, in Germany, put the Maxwell theory to test in the range of waves a few meters long. He was able to produce such waves by the spark discharge of an induction coil, and was able to absorb such waves from space and change them back to a small spark at some distance from the coil.
Hertz's work gave support to Tesla's theory that there was an interesting discovery to be made on almost every note of the whole gamut of vibrations between the known ones of the electrical current and those of light. Tesla felt sure that if he could continually increase the frequency of electrical vibrations until they equaled that of light, he would be able to produce light by a direct and highly eYcient process instead of the extremely wasteful process used in the Edison incandescent lamp, in which the useful light waves were a very small fraction of the wasted heat waves emitted in the process, and only Wve per cent of the electrical energy was eVectively utilized.
Tesla started his investigations by building rotary alternating-current dynamos with up to 384 magnetic poles, and with these devices he was able to generate currents up to 10,000 cycles per second. He found that these high-frequency currents presented many fascinating possibilities for even more eYcient power transmission than his very practical 60-cycle polyphase system. He therefore carried on a parallel line of research into transformers for raising and lowering the voltage of such currents.
High-frequency alternating-current dynamos, similar to those designed by Tesla in 1890, were subsequently developed by F. W. Alexanderson into the high-power wireless transmitters which put transatlantic wireless transmission, more than two decades later, on such a sound practical basis that the Government would not permit control of it to go to a foreign country and preserved for the United States its predominant position in world wireless.
The high-frequency current transformers which Tesla developed proved to be spectacular performers. They contained not a trace of iron; as a matter of fact, the presence of iron was found to interfere with their operation. They were air-core transformers and consisted merely of concentric primary and secondary coils. The voltages he was able to produce with these transformers, which became known as Tesla coils, were very high. In the early experiments he attained potentials that would spark across a couple of inches of air, but in a short time he made tremendous progress and was producing Xaming discharges. In working with these voltages he encountered diYculties in insulating his apparatus, and so he developed the technique that is now in universal use in high-tension apparatus: that of immersing the apparatus in oil and excluding all air from the coils, a discovery of great commercial importance.
There was a limit, however, above which the use of rotary generators of high-frequency currents was not practicable, so Tesla set about the task of developing a diVerent type of generator. There was nothing novel about the basic idea he employed. In rotary dynamos, current is generated by moving a wire in a circle past a number of magnetic poles in succession. The same eVect can be attained by moving the wire back and forth with an oscillating motion in front of one magnetic pole. No one, however, had as yet produced a practical reciprocating dynamo. Tesla produced one that was extremely practical for his particular purpose; but otherwise it had little utility, and he later felt that he could have employed much better the time he spent on it. It was an ingenious single-cylinder engine without valves, and could be operated by compressed air or steam. It was supplied with ports like a small two-cycle marine engine. A rod extended from the piston through the cylinder head at either end, and at each end of the rods was attached a Xat coil of wire which, by the reciprocating action of the piston, was caused to move back and forth through the Weld of an electromagnet. The magnetic Weld through its cushioning eVect served as a Xywheel.
Tesla was able to obtain a speed of 20,000 oscillations per minute, and to maintain such a remarkable degree of constancy in operation that he proposed the maintenance of equally constant speed of operation for his 60-cycle polyphase system and the use of synchronous motors, geared down to the proper extent, as clocks which would furnish correct time wherever alternating current was available. This proposal furnished the foundation for our modern electric clocks. As with many another of his practical and useful suggestions, he did not take out a patent on the idea, and gained no Wnancial advantage from it.
In working with his polyphase system, Tesla gained a thorough understanding of the part played by the two factors, capacity and inductance, in alternating-current circuits; the former acting like a spring and the latter like a storage tank. His calculations indicated that with currents of suYciently high frequency it would be possible to produce resonance with relatively small values of inductance and capacity. Producing resonance is tuning a circuit electrically. The mechanical eVects analogous to electrical resonance are the causing of a pendulum to swing through a wide arc by giving it a series of very light but equally timed touches, or the destruction of a bridge by soldiers marching in unison over it. Each small vibration re-enforces its predecessors until tremendous eVects are built up.
In a tuned electrical circuit a condenser supplies the capacity and a coil of wire supplies the inductance. A condenser ordinarily consists of two parallel metal plates separated from each other a short distance by an insulating material. Each plate is connected to either end of the inductance coil. The size of the condenser and the coil is determined by the frequency of the current. The coil-condenser combination and the current are tuned to each other. The current can be pictured as Xowing into the condenser until it is fully charged. It then Xows elastically into the inductance coil, which stores the energy by building up its magnetic Weld. When the current ceases to Xow in the coil, the magnetic Weld collapses and gives back to the coil the energy previously used in building up the magnetic Weld, thus causing a current to Xow back into the condenser to charge it up to overXowing again, so that it is ready to repeat the process. This Xow back and forth between the condenser and coil takes place in step with the periodic reversal of the alternating current which supplies the energy when resonance is established. Each time it takes place, the charging current comes along at the right instant to give it a boost, so that the oscillations build up to tremendous values.
Tesla, in discussing this plan of electrical tuning of circuits in a lecture, given several years later, said:
The Wrst question to answer then is whether pure resonance eVects are producible. Theory and experiment show that such is impossible in nature for, as the oscillations become more vigorous, the losses in vibrating bodies and environing media rapidly increase, and necessarily check the vibrations, which would otherwise go on increasing forever. It is a fortunate circumstance that pure resonance is not producible for, if it were, there is no telling what dangers might lie in wait for the innocent experimenter. But, to a certain degree, resonance is producible, the magnitude of the eVects being limited by the imperfect conductivity and imperfect elasticity of the media, or, generally stated, frictional losses. The smaller these losses the more striking are the eVects.
Tesla applied the electrical tuning principles to his coils and discovered that he was able to produce tremendous resonance eVects and build up very high voltages. The tuning principles he developed in 1890 are those which have made our modern radio, and the development of the earlier art, ``wireless,'' possible. He had been working with, and demonstrating, these principles before others who received credit had begun to learn the Wrst lessons in electricity.
Seeking a new source of high-frequency currents, higher than could be produced by any mechanical apparatus, Tesla made use of a discovery that had been made the year in which he was born, by Lord Kelvin, in England, in 1856, and for which no use had thus far been found. Up to the time of Kelvin's discovery it had been believed that when a condenser was discharged the electricity Xowed out of one plate into the other, like water being poured from a glass, thus establishing equilibrium. Kelvin showed that the process was far more interesting and complex; that its action was like the bobbing up and down that takes place when a weighted stretched spring is released. The electricity, he showed, rushes from one plate into the other and then back again, the process continuing until all of the stored up energy is used up in overcoming frictional losses. The back-and-forth surges take place at a tremendously high frequency, hundreds of millions a second.
The combination of condenser discharges and tuned circuits opened a new realm in electrical science as signiWcant and as important as Tesla's polyphase system. He worked out remarkably simple and automatic methods for charging the condensers by low voltage (direct and alternating currents), and discharging them through his new air-core transformers, or Tesla coils, to produce currents of enormously high voltages that oscillated at the tremendously high frequency of the condenser discharge. The properties of these currents were unlike anything that had been seen before. He was again pioneering in an entirely new Weld, with tremendous possibilities. He labored feverishly in his laboratory; and as he lay in bed at night for his Wve-hours' rest, which included two hours of sleep, he formulated new experiments.
Tesla announced the heating eVect of high-frequency currents on the body in 1890 and proposed their use as a therapeutic device. In this he was a pioneer, but soon had many imitators here and abroad who claimed to be originators. He made no eVort to protect his discovery or prevent the pirating of his invention. When the same observation was made thirty-Wve years later in laboratories using vacuum-tube oscillators as the source of the high-frequency currents, it was hailed as a new discovery and developed as a modern wonder. Tesla's original discovery is, however, the basis of a vast array of very recent electronic applications in which high-frequency currents are used to produce heat for industrial purposes.
When he gave his Wrst lecture on the subject before the American Institute of Electrical Engineers at Columbia College, in May, 1891, he was able to produce spark discharges Wve inches long, indicating a potential of about 100,000 volts, but, more important, he was able to produce phenomena which included, electrical sheets of Xame, and a variety of new forms of illumination--electric lamps the like of which had never been seen before, nor dreamed of in the wildest imagination of any experimenter.
This lecture produced a sensation in engineering circles. He was already famous in this Weld for the astounding revelations he had made before the same organization on that earlier occasion when he described his discovery of the polyphase alternating current system. That discovery was an intellectual accomplishment of bewildering brilliance, made impressive by the tremendous commercial importance of the discovery. The experiments with the high-frequency and high-potential currents, however, were spectacular; the crackling of the high-voltage sparks, the Xashing of the high-potential sheets of electrical Xame; the brilliant bulbs and tubes of electrical Wre, the amazing physical eVects he produced with the new currents, made a profound emotional appeal to the startled beholders.
The man who could produce these two pioneering developments within two years must be more than a genius! The news of his new accomplishment Xashed quickly throughout the world, and Tesla's fame now rested on a double foundation.
The world-wide fame that came to him at this time was unfortunate. Tesla would have been entirely superhuman had he not derived a great deal of satisfaction out of the hero-worshiping adulation that now came to him. It was only Wve years ago that he had been hungry and penniless in the streets of New York, competing with equally hungry hordes of unemployed for the few existent jobs calling for brute labor, while his head bulged with important inventions which he was anxious to give to the world. No one would listen to him then--and now the intellectual élite of the nation were honoring him as an unrivaled genius.
Tesla was a spectacular Wgure in New York in 1891. A tall, dark,
handsome, well-built individual who had a Xair for wearing clothes that gave him an air of magniWcence, who spoke perfect English but carried an atmosphere of European culture which was worshiped at that time, he was an outstanding personality to all who beheld him. Hidden behind his quiet, self-eVacing demeanor, and an extreme modesty that manifested itself as an exaggerated shyness, was the mind of a genius which had worked electrical wonders that Wred the imagination of all and exceeded the understanding of the vast majority of the population. In addition Tesla was a young man, not yet thirty-Wve, who had recently received a million dollars and was a bachelor.
A bachelor with a million dollars, culture and fame, could not avoid being a shining mark in New York in the early years of the gay nineties. Many were the designing matrons with marriageable daughters who cast envious eyes in the direction of this eligible young man. The social leaders looked upon him as a fascinating decoration for their salons. The big men of business looked upon him as a good man to know. The intellectuals of the day found his almost unbelievable accomplishments a source of inspiration.
Except at formal dinners Tesla always dined alone, and never under any circumstances would he dine with a woman at a two-some dinner. No matter how much a woman might gush over him or strive to gain his favor, Tesla, in most adamant fashion, maintained a thoroughly impersonal attitude. At the Waldorf-Astoria and at Delmonico's he had particular tables which were always reserved for him. They occupied secluded positions in the dining rooms because when he entered either room he was the cynosure of all eyes and did not enjoy being on exhibition.
In spite of all of the adulation that was heaped upon him, Tesla had but one desire--to continue his laboratory experiments undisturbed by outside distractions. There was a tremendous empire of new knowledge to be explored. He was Wred with a potential of enthusiasm for the work that was as high as the voltage of the currents with which he was working, and new ideas were coming to him with almost the rapidity of the cycles in his high-frequency current.
There were three broad Welds in which he wished to develop applications which were now clearly outlined in his mind: a system of wireless power transmission that would excel his own polyphase system, a new type of illumination, and the wireless transmission of intelligence. He wished to work on them all simultaneously. They were not separate and isolated subjects but all closely intermeshed, all notes on that vast cosmic scale of vibration represented by his beloved alternating currents. He did not wish to play on one note at a time, as would a violinist; he preferred to play as a pianist, striking many notes at once and weaving them into beautiful chords. Were it possible to occupy the position of leader and simultaneously play all of the instruments in a great symphony orchestra, he would have been still better pleased. The instruments in his orchestra, however, would be electrical devices oscillating in tune with their energizing currents or with their environment. To the extent that he was unable to realize his most expansive desires, he was under mental pressure that drove him to a working pace which no individual of ordinary strength could withstand without a resulting complete physical breakdown.
The spectacular lecture and demonstration on high-frequency and high-potential currents which he gave before the American Institute of Electrical Engineers in February, 1891, at Columbia College, created as profound a sensation as did his earlier one. Each opened an entirely new realm of scientiWc investigation and practical discoveries. The discoveries contained in either lecture would have been suYcient to stand as the fruit of a lifetime's work and bring lasting fame. Two such events in rapid succession seemed almost unbelievable--yet Tesla seemed to be scarcely well launched on his career, with more important work still to come.
Requests that he give lectures came from learned societies throughout this country and Europe, but he begged to be excused because of the tremendous pressure on his time which his work entailed. Equally insistent were the social demands that were being made upon him. Social groups sought in every way to honor him, and incidentally to shine in his reXected glory. Tesla was not vulnerable to the importunings of the socialites who sought him merely as a scintillating satellite, but the clever ``lion hunters'' of that day soon discovered his Achilles' heel--an intelligent interest in his accomplishments and a sympathetic ear for his dreams of wonders still to come.
With this technique in successful operation, Tesla was captured and soon completely lionized. He was guest of honor at a continuous round of functions and he met the social obligations involved in them by staging, in return, elaborate dinners at the Waldorf-Astoria followed by demonstration parties at his laboratory on South Fifth Avenue. Tesla never did a halfway job on anything. When he staged a dinner he left nothing to chance in the matter of cuisine, service and decorations. He sought rare Wsh and fowl, meats of surpassing excellence, and choicest liquors and exquisite wines of the best vintages. His dinners were the talk of the town and having been a guest at a Tesla dinner was a mark of social distinction, proof of membership in the inner group of the élite within Ward MacAllister's ``400.'' At these dinners Tesla presided as a most meticulous host, or more accurately, as an old-world absolute monarch, for he would sample all food brought to the dining room; and rarely did an event pass without the grandiose host sending back some sauce or wine of unquestioned excellence as unworthy of his guests.
Following each of these meals Tesla would escort his guests to his laboratory below Washington Square; and here his demonstrations were even more spectacular than his dinners. He had a Xair for the dramatic; and the strange-looking devices with which his laboratory was furnished provided a grotesque and bizarre background for the fantastic displays of seemingly unearthly forces that with invisible Wngers set objects whirling, caused globes and tubes of various shapes to glow resplendently in unfamiliar colors as if a section of a distant sun were suddenly transplanted into the darkened room, and crackling of Wre and hissing sheets of Xame to issue from monster coils to the accompaniment of sulfurous fumes of ozone produced by the electrical discharges that suggested this magician's chamber was connected directly with the seething vaults of hell. Nor was this illusion dispelled when Tesla would permit hundreds of thousands of volts of electricity to pass through his body and light a lamp or melt a wire which he held.
The amazing feat of harmlessly passing through his body currents of tremendously high voltage and high frequency was one which Tesla evolved by his mental experiments long before he had an opportunity to test them in his laboratory. The low-frequency alternating currents, such as are now used on home-lighting circuits, would, he knew from unpleasant experiences, produce a painful shock if passed through the body. When light waves impinged on the body, however, no such painful sensation was produced. The only diVerence between the electric currents and light waves, he reasoned, was a matter of frequency, the electric currents oscillating at the rate of 60 per second and the light waves at billions per second.
Somewhere between these two extremes the shock-producing property of electromagnetic vibrations must disappear; and he surmised the point would be near the lower end of the gap. Damage done to the body by electric shock he divided into two factors, one--the destruction of tissues by the heating eVect which increased or diminished as the amperage of the current was raised or lowered; and two--the sensation of acute pain which varied with the number of alternations of the current, each alternation producing a single stimulus which was transmitted by the nerves as a pain.
Nerves, he knew, could respond to stimuli up to a rate of about 700 per second, but were unable to transmit impulses received at a more rapid rate. In this respect they acted very much like the ear, which is unable to hear air vibrations above a frequency of about 15,000 per second, and the eye, which is blind to color vibrations of a frequency higher than that in violet light.
When he constructed his high-frequency alternating-current dynamos, he had frequencies up to 20,000 per second with which to test his theory; and by Wnger tests across the terminals he was able to demonstrate that the nerves were unable to perceive the individual vibrations at this rapid rate. The amperage, which carried the tissue-destroying power, was still too high in the output of these machines to pass safely through his body, even though the sensation of pain was lacking.
By passing these currents through his newly invented air-core transformers, he could increase their voltage ten-thousand fold and reduce the amperage proportionately. The current density would thereby be reduced below the point at which it would injure tissues. He would then have a current which would not produce sensation and would not harm the tissues. He cautiously tested the theory by passing the currents through two Wngers, then his arm, next from hand to hand through his body and Wnally from his head to his feet. If a spark jumped to or from his body, there was a pin-prick sensation at the point of contact, but this could be eliminated by holding a piece of metal to and from which the spark could jump while the current passed through the tissues without producing any sensation.
The energy content of these currents, which is proportionate to the current multiplied by the voltage, could be very high and produce spectacular eVects such as melting metal rods, exploding lead disks, and lighting incandescent or vacuum-tube lamps after passing painlessly through his body.
The European scientiWc societies were persistent in their eVorts to induce Tesla to accept their invitations to lecture before them, and Wnally he acceded. He set extravagantly high standards for the contents of his lectures, and their preparation entailed a tremendous amount of labor. All of the material had to be entirely new. He would never repeat an experiment previously presented. Every technical statement had to be tested at least twenty times to insure complete accuracy. His lectures would last two or three hours; and every minute of the time was crowded with new and awe-inspiring demonstrations of his constant stream of discoveries. He used a great array of devices fashioned by himself and built in his own laboratories to illustrate his talks. A Tesla lecture, therefore, was an extremely important event in the scientiWc world and a most impressive occasion to those who were fortunate enough to be able to attend.
Tesla arranged to give a lecture before the Institution of Electrical Engineers in London on February 3, 1892, and one before the International Society of Engineers in Paris on February nineteenth. His decision to give the European lectures was inXuenced to some extent by the fact that they would aVord him an opportunity to visit his home in Gospic, for recent letters had indicated that his mother's health was failing.
The lecture before the Institution of Electrical Engineers was a great success. English engineering journals, as will be seen, had been niggardly in extending recognition to Tesla for priority in the discovery of the rotating magnetic Weld, and had belittled the practical value of his polyphase alternating-current system, but in this attitude they were not representative of the great body of engineers, who were most generous in their praise and enthusiasm; and the attitude of the engineers was shared by the English scientists.
When Tesla arrived in London he was entertained at many places by famous men. At the Royal Institution, where the immortal Michael Faraday had carried on his fundamental researches in magnetism and electricity, Sir James Dewar, and a committee of equally famous scientists, sought to prevail upon Tesla to repeat his lecture before that organization. Tesla could be plain stubborn in sticking to his plans, and in this case was exhibiting his usual Wrmness. The famous Scottish scientist matched Tesla's stubbornness with an equal persuasive persistence. He escorted Tesla to Faraday's chair, an almost sacred relic to English science, seated him in this throne, and then brought out an almost equally precious heirloom, a portion of a bottle of whiskey, the remainder of Faraday's personal supply, untouched for nearly a quarter of a century. Out of this he poured a generous half glass for Tesla. Sir James won. Tesla relented and gave the lecture the following evening.
Lord Rayleigh, the eminent English physicist, was chairman of the meeting at the Royal Institution, which was attended by the élite of the scientiWc world and a generous representation of the nobility of the realm. Rayleigh, after witnessing the performance of Tesla's experiments, which were none the less awe inspiring to scientists than to laymen, showered words of praise on the inventor.
Rayleigh declared that Tesla possessed a great gift for the discovery of fundamental scientiWc principles, and urged that he concentrate his eVorts on some one big idea.
Tesla, in his conversation after the meeting, disclaimed ability as a great discoverer; but in this he was merely being modest, for he knew that he was unique among men in his ability to discover fundamental truths. He did, however, give very serious consideration to Rayleigh's suggestion that he concentrate on some one big idea. It is doubtful, however, whether Rayleigh's suggestion was good advice. Tesla's mind had a range that was cosmic in magnitude and adjusted to broad slashing advances through unknown regions. Rayleigh's advice was like suggesting to an explorer who had unique ability for penetrating an unknown continent and opening it to civilization that he settle down and cultivate a homestead, since that would give more deWnite and speciWc returns for eVorts expended.
Two weeks later Tesla gave his scheduled lecture before the Physical Society in Paris and repeated it before the International Society of Electrical Engineers. This was his second visit to Paris since he had quit his job with the Continental Edison Company in that city eight years before. Immediately after leaving the Westinghouse Company in the autumn of 1889--at which time, too, he completed his U.S. citizenship requirements--he had made a brief visit to Paris to attend the International Exposition. In the meantime, the fame of his polyphase system had spread to Europe; and to this was added the glory for his spectacular work with the new high-frequency currents. He was given a hero's reception in Paris, as well as in London.
It would be interesting to know what thoughts passed through the minds of the executives of the Continental Edison Company as they observed the tremendous contributions to science and industry by the engineer whose services they had lost through their penny-wise tactics when they were oVered in 1883, and could undoubtedly have purchased for a relatively small amount, the polyphase system for which Westinghouse paid Tesla $1,000,000 Wve years later.
A tesla lecture was an avalanche of new and fascinating electrical
knowledge. He completely overwhelmed his listeners with a wealth of spectacular original experiments, and as a result almost every individual contribution lost its identity in the dazzling concentration of the whole galaxy of startling developments.
In the 1892 lectures, entitled ``Experiments with Alternating Currents of High Potential and High Frequency,'' Tesla described many of his discoveries which are only coming into general use today and are being hailed as modern inventions. Among these are the ``neon'' and other gas-Wlled lamps, and phosphorescent lamps. Many of the discoveries described are still unutilized, including, as will be seen, the carbon or metallic-button incandescent lamp, requiring but a single wire connection; and still others, which he later discovered, were rich producers of the mysterious X-rays.
The transcript of these lectures runs to 40,000 words. Scores of pieces of apparatus were used and usually several experiments were performed with each. He described ``wireless'' lamps, glowing glass tubes that required no wire connection for their operation. He described motors which operated on one wire, and ``wireless'' or ``no wire'' motors. But perhaps the most important development he described was the sensitive electronic tube--the original of all our modern radio and other electronic tubes--which, he predicted, was the device that would permit receiving wireless telegraph messages across the Atlantic. Of all these discoveries we shall presently have more to say in detail.
It had been Tesla's intention to make a short visit to his early home in Gospic when his lectures were out of the way, but circumstances forced him to make the trip sooner than he expected. Returning to his hotel after delivering the second Paris lecture, he received word that his mother was gravely ill. He rushed to the railroad station, arriving in time to board a train just about to pull out. He telegraphed ahead for special transportation facilities to shorten his trip, and succeeded in reaching Gospic in time to see his mother alive. He arrived in the afternoon and she died that night.
The great anxiety from which Tesla suVered during his sleepless rush from Paris to Gospic caused a patch of hair on the right side of his head to turn white over night. Within a month its jet black color was restored naturally.
Almost immediately after his mother's death, Tesla contracted an illness which incapacitated him for many weeks. When he recovered, he visited his sister Marica, in Plaski, for two weeks. From there he went to Belgrade, the capital of Serbia, where he arrived in May and was received as a national hero.
During the weeks of enforced physical inactivity imposed on him by his illness, Tesla took stock of himself and became thoroughly dissatisWed with the manner in which he had been conducting his life. No human being could feel anything but a pleasurable reaction in response to the adulation that had been heaped upon him during the past two years. Tesla, however, prided himself upon his wisdom in having so designed his life that he would not become a victim of human frailties, but would function far above the normal human level of physical limitations and intellectual activities. Now Tesla saw, in retrospect, that insofar as he had adhered to his superman plan of life, he had succeeded in achieving his goal of producing the works of a superman at a rate which astounded the world. When, however, he submitted to the Wrst blandishments of the lion hunters after his New York lecture in May, 1891, he observed, social activities had cut into his available time and had interfered with his creative activities. He had let the ``man magniWcent'' supersede his ``superman,'' and two years of valuable time had been largely lost. In addition, he had spent that totally unproductive year at the Westinghouse plant. At the close of that period, he had vowed he would never again work for anyone. He now vowed that he would put an end to the vacuous social activities into which he had been inveigled.
It was not easy for Tesla to live up to his good resolutions, for his European trip had greatly enhanced his fame and triumphant celebrations were scheduled on his reappearance in New York. Nevertheless, he rejected all invitations. He returned to the Hotel Gerlach, where he lived a solitary existence. With a pent-up reserve of physical energy owing to his long abstinence from his heavy daily routine of work, he plunged with great vigor into his new program which was to open up new and enchanting realms of scientiWc wonders.
THE Wrst public application of Tesla's polyphase alternating-current system was made at the Chicago World's Fair, the Columbian Exposition, which opened in 1893 to celebrate the four-hundredth anniversary of the discovery of America. This was the Wrst world's fair for which electric lighting was a possibility, and the architects availed themselves of the opportunities it aVorded for obtaining spectacular eVects in illuminating the grounds and buildings at night, as well as for interior lighting during the day. The Westinghouse Electric Company secured the contract for installing all power and lighting equipment at the Fair, and took full advantage of this opportunity to use the Tesla system and demonstrate its great versatility. It supplied all the current used for lighting and power.
While the Chicago World's Fair was in reality a monument to Tesla, he had, in addition, a personal exhibition in which he demonstrated his most recent inventions. One of his exhibits was a spinning egg, made of metal. The egg was shown lying on top of a small velvet-covered circular platform. When Tesla closed a switch the egg stood on its small end and rotated at a high speed as if by magic. The ``magic'' phase of this feat appealed to a public which, however, grasped little of the explanation that it illustrated the principle of the rotating magnetic Weld produced by the polyphase alternating currents. In other of his exhibits, glass tubes suspended in space or held in his hands lighted up in an equally ``magical'' fashion.
But his most spectacular feat was to let 1,000,000 volts pass through his body. This was alternating current of very high frequency as well as high voltage. He had discovered means of producing such currents. Eight years had passed since Edison, attacking high-voltage alternating current as deadly, had refused to become interested in Tesla's polyphase system. Now the Tesla system was providing the electricity for the great world's fair and the Edison direct-current system was ignored. The Wnal gesture of victory was for Tesla to answer Edison's charge that alternating current was deadly by passing the highest voltage of it ever produced through his own body for many minutes without the slightest sign of harm. This bit of showmanship endeared Tesla to the public and brought him a tremendous burst of world-wide fame. Unfortunately, however, it obscured his more important work with polyphase currents.
The next great achievement to be attained by his polyphase system was the harnessing of Niagara Falls. (Before this was done, and even before the opening of the Chicago fair, the practicability of his system was demonstrated in Europe; but this had been undertaken without his knowledge. A practical test of the transmission of polyphase alternating current at 30,000 volts was made between a hydroelectric station at LauVen and the City of Frankfurt, the current being used to furnish electricity at a fair held at the latter city. This installation was built in 1891. The current was used to light incandescent and arc lamps and also to operate a Tesla motor.) In 1886 a charter had been granted for developing power at the Falls. The project made slow progress and was taken over by a New York group which organized the Cataract Construction Company, of which Edward Dean Adams was made president. Mr. Adams' company desired to develop power on the largest scale possible. The total energy supply available in the Falls had been variously estimated from 4,000,000 to 9,000,000 horsepower. Mr. Adams organized the International Niagara Commission for the purpose of ascertaining the best means of harnessing the Falls, and made Lord Kelvin, the famous English scientist, its chairman. A prize of $3,000 was oVered for the most practical plan submitted.
Tesla had predicted nearly thirty years before, as a boy, that he would someday harness Niagara Falls. Here was the opportunity. In the meantime, he had made it possible to fulWl his boyhood boast by completing the series of inventions which made it possible to change the hydraulic power of the Falls into electrical energy.
The prize-oVer plan adopted by Mr. Adams did not, however, set well with Mr. Westinghouse when he was urged to submit a proposal. He replied, ``These people are trying to get one hundred thousand dollars' worth of information for three thousand dollars. When they are ready to talk business we will submit our plans.'' This adamant attitude of Westinghouse was one handicap for the Tesla alternating-current plan. The second big handicap was the fact that Lord Kelvin had declared himself in favor of the use of direct current.
About twenty plans were submitted in the contest but none of them was accepted by the commission, and no prize was awarded. The big electrical companies, Westinghouse, Edison General Electric and Thomson-Houston, did not submit plans. This took place in 1890.
Original developers of the Falls planned to use locally the mechanical power provided by water wheels; but the only practical plan was, clearly, the generation of electricity by dynamos driven by water wheels, and the distribution of the current throughout the district. There was a good additional market for it at BuValo, a large industrial city about twenty-two miles distant. There was always the hope, too, that the current could be transmitted to New York City and serve the rich intervening territory. If direct current were used, its transmission twenty-two miles to BuValo was totally unfeasible. The Tesla alternating-current system, however, made the transmission to BuValo extremely practicable and the delivery of the current to New York City a possibility.
In due time the Cataract Construction Company decided that the hydroelectric system was the only feasible one, and proposals and bids were asked on a power system consisting of three generating units, each of 5,000 horsepower, from the Westinghouse Electric Company and the General Electric Company. Each one submitted a proposal to install a Tesla polyphase generating system. The General Electric Company, successor to the Edison General Electric Company, having in the meantime secured a license to use the Tesla patents, proposed to install a three-phase system, and Westinghouse a two-phase system. The Wrst proposal concerned the building of the powerhouse. A second proposal on which bids were asked concerned the transmission line between Niagara Falls and BuValo and a distribution system in the latter city.
Bids were asked for early in 1893, and in October of that year Mr. Adams announced that the Westinghouse plan for the powerhouse and the General Electric plan for the transmission line were accepted. The latter included a transformation of the two-phase current from the generators into three-phase current to be transmitted to BuValo. This change indicated the Xexibility of the Tesla polyphase system.
Westinghouse completed the powerhouse and in 1895 it stood ready to deliver 15,000 horsepower; the most gigantic piece of electrical engineering conceived or accomplished up to that time. In 1896 General Electric completed the transmission and distribution system, and electrical power extracted from Niagara Falls, without in any way impairing the beauty of the spectacle they presented, was delivered to industries through the Falls and BuValo areas. So successful was this installation that the Westinghouse Company installed seven additional generating units, bringing the output to 50,000 horsepower. A second equivalent powerhouse, also using alternating current, was later built by the General Electric Company. Today, the powerhouses at Niagara Falls are linked directly with the electric power system in New York City, all using the Tesla system.
Dr. Charles F. Scott, Professor Emeritus of Electrical Engineering at Yale University, and former president of the American Institute of Electrical Engineers, who was a Westinghouse engineer when that company was developing the Tesla system, in a memorial review of Tesla's accomplishments, (Published in Electrical Engineering, August 1943, pp. 351-555.) describes the Niagara development and its results:
The simultaneous development of the Niagara project and the Tesla system was a fortuitous coincidence. No adequate method of handling large power was available in 1890; but while the hydraulic tunnel was under construction, the development of polyphase apparatus justiWed the oYcial decision of May 6, 1893, Wve years and Wve days after the issuing of Tesla's patents, to use his system. The Polyphase method brought success to the Niagara project; and reciprocally Niagara brought immediate prestige to the new electric system.
Power was delivered in August 1895 to the Wrst customer, the Pittsburgh Reduction Company (now Aluminum Company of America) for producing aluminum by the Hall process, patented in the eventful year 1886. . . .
In 1896 transmission from Niagara Falls to BuValo, 22 miles, was inaugurated. Compare this gigantic and universal system capable of uniting many power sources in a superpower system, with the multiplicity of Lilliputian ``systems'' which previously supplied electrical service. As Mr. Adams aptly explained: ``Formerly the various kinds of current required by diVerent kinds of lamps and motors were generated locally; by the Niagara-Tesla system only one kind of current is generated, to be transmitted to places of use and then changed to the desired form.''
The Niagara demonstration of current for all purposes from large generators led immediately to similar power systems in New York City--for the elevated and street railways and for the subway; for steam railway electriWcation; and for the Edison systems, either by operating substations for converting alternating current to direct current or by changing completely to A.C. service.
The culminating year 1896 inaugurated two far reaching developments for the extension of polyphase power, one commercial and one engineering. By exchange of patent rights, the General Electric Company obtained license rights under Tesla patents, later made impregnable by nearly a score of court decisions. Also the Parsons turbine, accompanied by its foremost engineer, was transplanted to America and enabled George Westinghouse to bring to fruition by a new method the ideal of his Wrst patent, a ``rotary steam engine.'' The acme of the reciprocating engine came in the early 1900's; a century's development produced the great engines that drove 5,000 to 7,500 kilowatt alternators for New York's elevated and subway. But the rapidly growing steam turbine of diVerent types soon doomed the engine to obsolescence; single units with the capacity of a score of the largest engines are now supplying power to the metropolis. Single powerhouses now supply more power than all of the thousands of central stations and isolated plants of 1890.
Prof. Scott concludes: ``The evolution of electric power from the discovery of Faraday in 1831 to the initial great installation of the Tesla polyphase system in 1896 is undoubtedly the most tremendous event in all engineering history.''
Lord Kelvin, who had originally favored direct current for Niagara, later conceded, but only after the system was in operation, that alternating current had many more advantages for long-distance distribution systems, and declared, ``Tesla has contributed more to electrical science than any man up to his time.''
There should never have been the slightest shadow of doubt concerning the credit due to Tesla not only for discovering the rotating magnetic Weld but also for inventing the Wrst practical alternating-current motor, the polyphase system of alternating currents, dynamos for generating them, a variety of motors for converting the currents into power, a system of polyphase transformers for raising and lowering voltages, and economical methods for transmitting electrical power for long distances. Nevertheless, credit for priority has unjustly been given to and taken by others. Tesla succeeded in establishing his claims; but in the meantime, however, damage was done by raising these unfair claims, and to this day the electrical engineering profession, and public service and major electrical industries, have never extended to Tesla the credit to which he is entitled. If they had done so, the name of Tesla would carry at least as much fame as the names Edison and Westinghouse.
Tesla, as we have seen, made his rotating magnetic Weld invention in 1882, and within two months evolved the complete power system, including all the apparatus which he later patented. In 1883 he described his invention to oYcials of the Continental Edison Company. In 1884 he demonstrated his motor to the mayor of Strassburg and others. In this same year he described the invention to Thomas A. Edison. In 1885 he sought to have the promoters of the Tesla Arc Light Company develop his system. In 1887 he secured Wnancial backing and built a series of the dynamos and motors which were tested by Prof. Anthony of Cornell University. On October 12, 1887, the Wrst patent applications covering his basic inventions were revealed to the Patent OYce. The patents were granted on various dates in the early months of 1888. On May 16, 1888, he presented a demonstration and description of his basic inventions before the American Institute of Electrical Engineers in New York. So much for the record.
The Wrst complication arose when Prof. Galileo Ferraris, a physicist in the University of Turin, presented a paper on ``Rotazioni elettrodynamiche'' (Electrodynamic Rotation) before the Turin Academy in March, 1888. This was six years after Tesla made his discovery, Wve years after he demonstrated his motor and six months after he had applied for patents on his system. Prof. Ferraris had been carrying on researches in the Weld of optics. The problem that particularly interested him was polarized light. In this period it was considered necessary to build mechanical models to demonstrate all scientiWc principles. It was not very diYcult to devise models to demonstrate the nature of plane-polarized light, but circularly polarized light presented a more diYcult problem.
Prof. Ferraris gave some thought to this problem in 1885, but made no progress until 1888 when he turned to alternating currents for a solution. In that period light was erroneously thought of as a continuously undulating wave in the ether. Prof. Ferraris took the continuously alternating current as an analogue of the plane-polarized light wave. For a mechanical analogue of the circularly polarized light wave he visualized a second train of waves 90 degrees out of step with the Wrst, giving a right-angle vector to the component that should manifest itself by rotation. This paralleled the solution at which Tesla had arrived six years earlier.
In arranging a laboratory demonstration Prof. Ferraris used a copper cylinder suspended on a thread to represent the light waves, and caused two magnetic Welds to operate on it at right angles to each other. When the currents were turned on, the cylinder rotated, wound up the thread on which it was suspended and raised itself. This was an excellent model of rotary polarized light waves. The model bore no resemblance to a motor, nor did the Turin scientist have any intention that it should be so considered. It was a laboratory demonstration in optics, using an electrical analogy.
Prof. Ferraris' next experiment mounted the copper cylinder on a shaft and divided each of his two coils into two parts, placing one on either side of the copper cylinder. The device worked up to a speed of 900 revolutions per minute--and beyond this point lost power so rapidly it ceased to operate entirely. He tried iron cylinders but they did not work nearly so well as the copper ones. Prof. Ferraris predicted no future for the device as a power source, but he did predict it would Wnd usefulness as the operating principle for a meter for measuring current.
Prof. Ferraris thus demonstrated that he failed by a wide margin to grasp the principle which Tesla developed. The Italian scientist found that the use of the magnetic iron cylinder interfered with the operations of his device, whereas Tesla, following the correct theory, utilized iron cores for the magnetic Weld of his motor, used an iron armature, and obtained an eYciency of about 95 per cent in his Wrst motor, which had a rating of about a quarter horsepower. The eYciency of Ferraris' device was less than 25 per cent.
It was Prof. Ferraris' belief that he had performed an important service to science by demonstrating that the rotating magnetic Weld could not be used on any practical basis for producing mechanical power from alternating current. He never deviated from this conclusion, nor did he ever claim that he had anticipated Tesla's discovery of a practical means for utilizing the rotating Weld for producing power. Knowing that his process was entirely diVerent from Tesla's, he never advanced a claim to independent discovery of the alternating-current motor. He even conceded that Tesla had arrived at his discovery of the rotating magnetic Weld entirely independently of him, and that Tesla could not in any way have known of his work before publication.
A description of Prof. Ferraris' experiments, however, was published in The Electrician, in London, May 25, 1888 (page 86). This was accompanied by the statement:
Whether the apparatus devised by Prof. Ferraris will lead to the discovery of an alternating current motor is a question we do not pretend to prophesy, but as the principle involved may also have other applications, notably in the construction of meters for measuring the supply of electricity . . .
A year before this time Prof. Anthony had already tested Tesla's alternating-current motors in the United States and reported that they attained an order of eYciency equal to that of direct-current motors; and Tesla's U.S. patents had been publicly announced several months previously.
It was obvious that the editors of this London publication were not keeping up to date on developments in the United States.
Tesla responded quickly, informing the editors of their oversight and submitting an article describing his motors and the results obtained with them.
No great enthusiasm was exhibited by the editors of The Electrician. They receded to only the least possible extent from their stand in favor of Ferraris by publishing an editorial note:
Our issue of the 25th of May contained an abstract of a paper by Prof. Galileo Ferraris describing a method of producing a revolving resultant magnetic Weld by means of a pair of coils with the axes at right angles and traversed by alternating currents, and we drew attention to the possibility that the principle of the apparatus might be applied to the construction of an alternating current motor. The paper by Mr. Nikola Tesla, which appears in our columns this week, contains a description of such a motor, founded on exactly the same principle. (VoI. XX, p. 165, June 15, 1888.)
No attention was drawn to the fact that Ferraris had reached the conclusion that the principle could never be used for making a practical motor, whereas Tesla had produced such a motor.
This attitude toward the American development did not disappear from the London engineering journals. Later the Electrical Review ( London: Vol. XXVIII, p. 291, March 6, 1891) published an editorial which opened with the statement:
For several years past, from the days of Prof. Ferraris' investigations, which were followed by those of Tesla and Zipernowski and a host of imitators, we have periodically heard of the question of alternating current motors being solved.
At this time the Westinghouse Company was already commercially exploiting the successful and practical Tesla polyphase system in the United States. Not one word of credit to Tesla appeared in the London engineering press.
A letter of protest dated March 17, 1891, was forwarded by Tesla, and this was published some weeks later (p. 446) by the Review. He said in part:
In all civilized countries patents have been obtained almost without a single reference to anything which would have in the least degree rendered questionable the novelty of the invention. The Wrst published essay--an account of some laboratory experiments by Prof. Ferraris--was published in Italy six or seven months after the date of Wling my application for the foundation patents. . . . Yet in your issue of March 6, I read: ``For several years past, from the days of Prof. Ferraris' investigations, which were followed by those of Tesla and Zipernowski and a host of imitators, we have periodically heard of the question of alternating current motors being solved.
No one can say that I have not been free in acknowledging the merit of Prof. Ferraris, and I hope that my statement of facts will not be misinterpreted. Even if Prof. Ferraris' essay would have anticipated the date of Wling of my application, yet, in the opinion of all fair minded men, I would have been entitled to the credit of having been the Wrst to produce a practical motor; for Prof. Ferraris denies in his essay the value of the invention for the transmission of power. . . .
Thus in the most essential features of the system--the generators with two or three currents of diVering phase, the three wire system, the closed coil armature, the motors with direct current in the Weld, etc.,--I would stand alone, even had Prof. Ferraris' essay been published many years ago. . . .
Most of these facts, if not all, are perfectly well known in England; yet according to some papers, one of the leading English electricians does not hesitate to say that I have worked in the direction indicated by Prof. Ferraris, and in your issue above referred to it seems I am called an imitator.
Now, I ask you where is that well known English fairness. I am a pioneer and I am called an imitator. I am not an imitator. I produce original work or none at all.
This letter was published; but the Electrical Review neither expressed regret for the misstatement nor extended recognition to Tesla.
Charles Proteus Steinmetz, later to achieve fame as the electrical wizard of the General Electric Company, came to the support of Tesla. In a paper presented before the American Institute of Electrical Engineers, he said: ``Ferraris built only a little toy, and his magnetic circuits, so far as I know, were completed in air, not in iron, though that hardly makes any diVerence.''(Transactions, A.I.E.E., VoI. VIII, p. 591, 1891.)
Other American engineers likewise rallied to Tesla's support.
An industrial exposition, as already mentioned, was held at Frankfurt, Germany, in 1891. The United States Navy sent Carl Hering, an electrical engineer who had done much writing for technical journals, as observer to report on any developments that would be of interest to the Navy. Hering, unfortunately, had not informed himself of the inventions embodied in the Tesla patents before going abroad.
The outstanding new development at the Frankfurt exposition was the Wrst public application of Tesla's system. The grounds and building were lighted by electricity brought to the city by a long-distance transmission line over which electricity was carried from the hydroelectric station at LauVen by three-phase alternating current carried at 30,000 volts. There was exhibited a two-horsepower motor operated by the three-phase current.
Hering recognized the signiWcance of the new development, and sent back enthusiastic reports describing it as of German origin. In his article in the Electrical World (N.Y.), he waxed enthusiastic about the work of Dolivo Dobrowolsky in designing the three-phase motor and its associated system, hailing it as an outstanding scientiWc discovery and of tremendous commercial importance. The impression was given that all other inventors had missed the main point, and that Dobrowolsky had achieved the grand broad accomplishment that would set the pace for future power developments. Nor was Hering the only one to whom this impression was communicated.
Ludwig Gutman, an American electrical engineer, a delegate to the Frankfurt Electrical Congress, in a paper on ``The Inventor of the Rotary Weld System,'' delivered before that body, slammed back at Dobrowolsky. He stated:
As we have enjoyed in America several years' experience with this system represented by the Tesla motors I must oppose the assertion lately made by Herr von Dobrowolsky at a meeting of the Electrotechnische Zesellschaft held here in Frankfurt. The gentleman said: ``I believe I am able to assert that the motor problem for large and small works has been by this completely solved.'' This assertion goes most likely too far. The problem was already solved, theoretically and electrically, in 1889. (Electrical World, N.Y.: Oct. 17, 1891)
Dobrowolsky, in a paper published in the Electrotechnische Zeitschrift (p. 149-150; 1891), reduced his claim to that of having produced the Wrst practical alternating-current motor; and he asserted that in the Tesla two-phase motor there were Weld pulsations amounting to 40 per cent, while in his three-phase motor, in operation at the Frankfurt exposition, these were greatly reduced.
Even this reduced claim of Dobrowolsky's was quickly smashed. It drew Wre from an American and an English source, and also from the chief engineer of the project of which his motor was a part.
Dr. Michael I. Pupin, of the Department of Engineering, Columbia University, analyzing Dobrowolsky's claim, (Ibid., Dec. 26, 1891) demonstrated that he had failed to comprehend the basic principles of the Tesla system, and that the three-phase system which he claimed as his own was included in Tesla's inventions.
C. E. L. Brown, the engineer in charge of the pioneering LauVen-Frankfurt 30,000-volt transmission system and its three-phase generating system, including the Dobrowolsky motor, settled deWnitely and completely the question of credit for the whole system. In a letter published in the Electrical World (Nov. 7, 1891), he concluded with the statement: ``The three phase current as applied at Frankfurt is due to the labors of Mr. Tesla and will be found clearly speciWed in his patents.''
Mr. Brown wrote letters to other technical publications to this same eVect, and in them criticized Mr. Hering for failing to give Tesla his due credit, and for diverting it to Dobrowolsky.
These criticisms Wnally brought a response from Mr. Hering. This appeared in the Electrical World, Feb. 6, 1892:
As Mr. C. E. L. Brown, in communications to the Electrical World and other journals, seems determined to insist that I have neglected the work of Mr. Tesla on rotary current I wish to state there is no one more willing than myself to give Mr. Tesla due credit for his work, and I have always considered him to be an original inventor of the rotary Weld system and Wrst to reduce it to practice, and I believe I so stated in my articles. If I have at any time failed to give him credit for the extent to which he developed it, it has been because Mr. Tesla has been too modest (or perhaps prudent) to let the world know what he has accomplished. When the articles which have caused this discussion were being written Mr. Tesla's patents were not accessible to me. Just where Mr. Dobrowolsky's improvements begin I have not been able to ascertain. . . .
Dobrowolsky, though he may have been an independent inventor, admits Tesla's work is prior to his . . . The modesty of both of these gentlemen would, I feel sure, lead to a clear understanding. Regarding the subject of priority it may be of interest here to say that in a conversation with Prof. Ferraris last summer that gentleman told me with very becoming modesty that, although he had experimented with the rotary Weld several years before Tesla's work was published he did not think it was possible that Tesla could have known of his work and he therefore believed Tesla invented it entirely independently. He also stated that Tesla developed it much further than he (Ferraris) did.
Thus the scientists and engineers in the United States, Germany and Italy gave Tesla clear and unquestioned credit for being the sole inventor of the magniWcent polyphase electrical system in all of its details. French and British journals then fell in line.
Thus, by 1892, there was universal acclaim for Tesla as the unquestioned inventor of the alternating-current motor and the polyphase system in engineering circles. There was none, therefore, to dispute his claim or to seek to rob him of credit when his fame reached the public through the operation of his system at the World's Fair in Chicago in 1893, and later when his system made possible the harnessing of Niagara Falls.
In due time, however, there came many who claimed to have made improvements on Tesla's inventions; and widespread eVorts were made to exploit these ``improvements.'' The Westinghouse Company, now owners of the Tesla patents, undertook to defend the patents and to prosecute infringers. As a result about twenty suits were carried to the courts, and, in every one of them, decisions gave a decisive victory to Tesla.
A sample of the sweeping decisions that were handed down is that of Judge Townsend in the United States Circuit Court of Connecticut in September, 1900, when, passing judgment on the Wrst group of basic patents, he said in part:
It remained to the genius of Tesla to capture the unruly, unrestrained and hitherto opposing elements in the Weld of nature and art and to harness them to draw the machines of man. It was he who Wrst showed how to transform the toy of Arago into an engine of power; the ``laboratory experiment'' of Bailey into a practically successful motor; the indicator into a driver; he Wrst conceived the idea that the very impediments of reversal in direction, the contra-indications of alternations might be transformed into power-producing rotations, a whirling Weld of force.
What others looked upon as only invincible barriers, impassable currents and contradictory forces he seized, and by harmonizing their directions utilized in practical motors in distant cities the power of Niagara.
The resentments and antagonisms engendered by the unvarying series of successful decisions caused individuals who were adversely aVected to vent their antagonisms on Tesla although he had not in ten years held any personal interests in the patents.
The situation that developed is well described by B. A. Behrend, later vice-president of the American Institute of Electrical Engineers:
It is a peculiar trait of ignorant men to go always from one extreme to another, and those who were once the blind admirers of Mr. Tesla, exalting him to an extent which can be likened only to the infatuated praise bestowed on victims of popular admiration, are now eagerly engaged in his derision. There is something deeply melancholy in the prospect, and I can never think of Nikola Tesla without warming up to my subject and condemning the injustice and ingratitude which he has received alike at the hands of the public and of the engineering profession. (Western Electrician, Sept., 1907)
With the scientiWc and engineering worlds, and the courts, extending to him a clear title to the honor of being the great pioneer discoverer and inventor of the principles and machines that created the modern electrical system, Tesla stands without a rival as the genius who gave the world the electrical power age that made our mass-production industrial system possible. The name Tesla should, therefore, in all right and justice, be the most famous name in the engineering world today.