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Nikola Tesla (Serbian Cyrillic: Никола Тесла; 10 July 1856 – 7 January 1943) was a Serbian-American inventor, physicist, mechanical engineer, electrical engineer, and futurist. He was an important contributor to the use of commercial electricity, and is best known for developing the modern alternating current (AC) electrical supply system. His many revolutionary developments in the field of electromagnetism in the late 19th and early 20th centuries were based on the theories of electromagnetic technology discovered by Michael Faraday. Tesla’s patents and theoretical work also formed the basis of wireless communication and the radio.
Born to Serbian parents in the village of Smiljan (now part of Gospić, present day Croatia), Tesla was a subject of the Austrian Empire by birth and later became an American citizen. Because of his 1894 demonstration of short range wireless communication through radio and his eventual victory in the “War of Currents”, he was widely respected as one of the greatest electrical engineers who worked in America. He pioneered modern electrical engineering and many of his discoveries were of groundbreaking importance. In the United States during this time, Tesla’s fame rivaled that of any other inventor or scientist in history or popular culture. Tesla demonstrated wireless energy transfer to power electronic devices in 1891, and aspired to intercontinental wireless transmission of industrial power in his unfinished Wardenclyffe Towerproject.
Towards the end of his life in the 1930s, Tesla became reclusive, living alone in a New York City hotel room and only appearing occasionally to make unusual statements to the press. Because of his pronouncements and the nature of his work over the years Tesla gained a reputation in popular culture as the archetypal “mad scientist”. He died penniless and in debt on 1943 January 7.
Tesla’s work fell into relative obscurity after his death, but since the 1990s, his reputation has experienced a popular culturecomeback. In 2005, he was listed amongst the top 100 nominees in the TV show “The Greatest American“, an open access popularity poll conducted by AOL and The Discovery Channel.
The SI unit measuring magnetic field B (also referred to as the magnetic flux density and magnetic induction), the Tesla (T), was named in his honor (at the CGPM, Paris, 1960).
Early years (1856-1881)
Tesla’s house (parish hall) in villageSmiljan where he was born and the church where his father served (present dayCroatia).
Nikola Tesla was born on 28 June (N.S. 10 July) 1856 to Serbian parents in the village of Smiljan, Austrian Empire near the town ofGospić, in the territory of modern-day Croatia. His father, Milutin Tesla, was a priest in the Serbian Orthodox Church. Tesla’s mother, Đuka Tesla (née Mandić), whose father was also a Serbian Orthodox priest, had a talent for making home craft tools and was able to memorize many Serbian epic poems, although she never learned to read. According to Tesla biographer, John O’Neill, “the Tesla and Mandić families originally came from the western part of Serbia near Montenegro.”
Tesla’s grades at the Higher Real Gymnasium for the years 1872-3.
Tesla was the fourth of five children, having an older brother, Danilo, who was killed in a horse-riding accident when Nikola was five, and three sisters, Milka, Angelina and Marica.His family moved to Gospić in 1862.
Tesla attended school at the Higher Real Gymnasium in Karlovac. He was able to perform integral calculus in his head, leading his teachers to think that he was cheating. He finished a four-year term in just three years.
In 1875, Tesla went on to study electrical engineering at the Austrian Polytechnic in Graz. While there, he studied the uses of alternating current. Some sources claim that he received baccalaureate degrees in math, physics, electrical engineering, and mechanical engineering from the university,; however, according to the university, he did not receive any degree and did not continue beyond the first semester of his third year, during which he stopped attending lectures.
In December 1878, Tesla left Graz and severed all relations with his family. His friends thought that he had drowned in the Mur River. Tesla went to Marburg, (now in Slovenia), where he was employed as an assistant engineer for a year. He suffered a nervous breakdown during this time. Tesla was later persuaded by his father to attend the Charles-Ferdinand University in Prague. Here, he was influenced by Ernst Mach. However, after his father died, he left the university, having completed only one term during the summer of 1880.
Nikola Tesla c. 1879 at age 23, and his passport from 1883
Tesla read many works, memorizing complete books and supposedly possessing a photographic memory. Tesla related in his autobiography that he experienced detailed moments of inspiration. During his early life, Tesla was stricken with illness time and time again. He suffered a peculiar affliction in which blinding flashes of light would appear before his eyes, often accompanied by visions. Often, the visions were linked to a word or idea he might have come across; at other times they would provide the solution to a particular problem he had encountered. Just by hearing the name of an item, he would be able to envision it in realistic detail. Modern-day synesthetes report similar symptoms. Tesla would visualize an invention in his mind with extreme precision, including all dimensions, before moving to the construction stage; a technique sometimes known as picture thinking. He typically did not make drawings by hand but worked from memory. Beginning in his childhood, Tesla had frequent flashbacks to events that had happened previously in his life.
In 1880, Tesla moved to Budapest to work under Tivadar Puskás at a telegraph company, the National Telephone Company. There, he met Nebojša Petrović, a young Serbian inventor who lived in Austria. Although their encounter was brief, they did work on a project together using twin turbines to create continual power. In 1881, on the opening of the telephone exchange in Budapest, Tesla became the chief electrician for the company, and was later engineer for the country’s first telephone system. He developed a device that, according to some, was a telephone repeater or amplifier, but according to others, could have been the first loudspeaker.
Working for Edison in France and the U.S
Drawing from U.S. Patent 381,968, illustrating principle of Tesla’s alternating current motor
In 1882, Tesla moved to Paris to work as an engineer for the Continental Edison Company, designing improvements to electrical equipment. In the same year, he conceived his induction motor and began developing various devices that used rotating magnetic fields, for which he received patents in 1888. The paternity of the invention remains controversial, since a prototype induction motor was demonstrated in Europe in 1885 by Galileo Ferraris. Ferraris published his findings in 1888.
On 6 June 1884, Tesla arrived in New York City with four cents in his pocket, a letter of recommendation, a few poems, and remnants of his belongings. His trip across the Atlantic had not been pleasant; his ticket, money and some of his luggage had been stolen. He had nearly been thrown overboard after a mutiny broke out on the ship.
In the letter of recommendation from Charles Batchelor, a former employer, to Thomas Edison, it is claimed that Batchelor wrote, ‘I know two great men and you are one of them; the other is this young man’, but the exact contents of the letter is disputed in McNichol’s book. Edison hired Tesla to work for his Edison Machine Works. Tesla’s work for Edison began with simple electrical engineering and quickly progressed to solving some of the company’s most difficult problems. Tesla was even offered the task of completely redesigning the Edison Company’s direct current generators.
In 1885, Tesla claimed that he could redesign Edison’s inefficient motor and generators, making an improvement in both service and economy. According to Tesla, Edison remarked “There’s fifty thousand dollars in it for you – if you can do it“. This has been noted as an odd statement from an Edison whose company was stingy with pay and did not have that sort of cash on hand. After months of work, Tesla finally finished the task and inquired about payment. Edison claimed he had been only joking and replied, “Tesla, you don’t understand our American humor”. Edison offered a US$10 a week raise over Tesla’s US$18 per week salary, but Tesla refused it and immediately resigned.
Tesla, in need of work, eventually resorted to digging ditches for a short period of time, for the Edison company. He used this time to focus on his AC polyphase system.
Middle years (1882-1900)
Wireless transmission of power and energy demonstration during his high frequency and potential lecture of 1891
Electromechanical devices and principles developed by Nikola Tesla:
In 1886, Tesla formed his own company, Tesla Electric Light & Manufacturing. The initial financial investors disagreed with Tesla about his plan for an alternating current motor and eventually fired him, forcing him to work as a ditch digger for $2 per day. Tesla considered the winter of 1886/1887 as a time of “terrible headaches and bitter tears”. During this time, he questioned the value of his education.
In 1887, Tesla constructed a brushless alternating current induction motor, which he demonstrated to the American Institute of Electrical Engineers (now IEEE) in 1888. In the same year, he developed the principles of his Tesla coil, and began working with George Westinghouse at Westinghouse Electric & Manufacturing Company’s Pittsburgh labs. Westinghouse listened to his ideas for polyphase systems, which would allow transmission of alternating current electricity over long distances.
In April 1887, Tesla began investigating what would later be called X-rays using his own single terminal vacuum tubes (similar to his patent #514,170). This device differed from other early X-ray tubes in that it had no target electrode. The modern term for the phenomenon produced by this device is bremsstrahlung (or braking radiation). It is now known that this device operated by emitting electrons from the single electrode through a combination of field electron emission and thermionic emission. Once liberated, electrons are strongly repelled by the strong electric field near the electrode during negative voltage peaks from the oscillating high voltage output of the Tesla Coil, generating X-rays as they collide with the glass envelope. He also used Geissler tubes. By 1892, Tesla became aware of the skin damage that Wilhelm Röntgen later identified as an effect of X-rays.
In his early research, Tesla devised several experimental setups to produce X-rays. Tesla held that, with his circuits, the “instrument will [… enable one to] generate Roentgen rays of much greater power than obtainable with ordinary apparatus”.
He also commented on the hazards of working with his circuit and single-node X-ray-producing devices. Of his many notes in the early investigation of this phenomenon, he attributed the skin damage to various causes. He believed early on that damage to the skin was not caused by the Roentgen rays, but the ozone generated in contact with the skin, and to a lesser extent, nitrous acid. Tesla incorrectly believed that X-rays were longitudinal waves, such as those produced in waves in plasma. These plasma waves can occur in the force-free magnetic fields. His hypotheses and experiments were confirmed by others.
Tesla continued research in this field, performing several experiments prior to Roentgen’s discovery. He photographed the bones of his hand and sent these images to Roentgen, but did not make his findings widely known. Much of his research was lost in the 5th Avenue laboratory fire of March 1895.
Tesla demonstrated wireless energy transmission as early as 1891. This so-called Tesla effect refers to the movement of energy through space and matter.
In 1898, Tesla demonstrated a radio-controlled boat (U.S. Patent 613,809 — Method of an Apparatus for Controlling Mechanism of Moving Vehicle or Vehicles).
On 30 July 1891, at the age of 35, Tesla became a naturalized citizen of the United States. He told many of his companions that he valued the citizenship more than any scientific honors that he had acquired. In the same year, Tesla established his South Fifth Avenue laboratory in New York. Later, Tesla established his Houston Street laboratory in New York at 46 E. Houston Street. He lit electric lamps wirelessly at both of the New York locations, providing evidence for the potential of wireless power transmission.
It is debated whether Tesla was the first to discover the electron. On 26 August 1891, Tesla published his article “Reply to J.J. Thomson’s note,” in “Electrical Engineer, New York.” In this article, Tesla claimed that his experiments proved the existence of small charged particles, while J.J. Thomson denied this. Five years later, Thomson proved the existence of electrons through another experiment.
In 1892, Tesla was awakened from a dream in which his mother had died. Tesla rushed to his mother’s side as she lay dying, arriving from Paris hours before her death. Her last words to him were: “You’ve arrived, Nidžo, my pride.” He returned to Europe for her funeral. After her death, Tesla became ill and spent two to three weeks recuperating in Gospić and the village of Tomingaj.
Nikola Tesla’s AC dynamo-electric machine (Electric generator) used to generate AC which is used to transport electricity across great distances. It is contained in U.S. Patent 390,721.
When Tesla was 36 years old, Tesla’s first patents for the polyphase power system were granted. He continued research of the system and rotating magnetic field principles. Tesla served, from 1892 to 1894, as the vice president of theAmerican Institute of Electrical Engineers, the forerunner (along with the Institute of Radio Engineers) of the modern-day IEEE.From 1893 to 1895, he investigated high frequency alternating currents. He generated AC of one million volts using a conical Tesla coil and investigated the skin effect in conductors, designed tuned circuits, invented a machine for inducing sleep, invented a cordless gas discharge lamp, and transmitted electromagnetic energy without wires, putatively building the first radio transmitter. In St. Louis, Missouri, Tesla made a demonstration related to radio communication in 1893.Addressing the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and the National Electric Light Association, he described and demonstrated in detail its principles. Tesla’s demonstrations were written about widely through various media outlets. Tesla also investigated harvesting energy that is present throughout space. He believed that it was merely a question of time when men would succeed in attaching their machinery to the very wheelwork of nature, stating: “Ere many generations pass, our machinery will be driven by a power obtainable at any point of the universe.”
Westinghouse won the bid to electrify the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago with alternating current. This Worlds Fairdevoted a building to electrical exhibits. It was a key event in the history of AC power as Westinghouse and Tesla demonstrated the safety and reliability of alternating current to the American public. At the Columbian Exposition, Tesla demonstrated a series of electrical effects in a lecture he had performed throughout America and Europe. This included using high-voltage, high-frequency alternating current to light a wireless gas-discharge lamp. An observer noted:
Within the room was suspended two hard-rubber plates covered with tin foil. These were about fifteen feet apart, and served as terminals of the wires leading from the transformers. When the current was turned on, the lamps or tubes, which had no wires connected to them, but lay on a table between the suspended plates, or which might be held in the hand in almost any part of the room, were made luminous. These were the same experiments and the same apparatus shown by Tesla in London about two years previous, “where they produced so much wonder and astonishment”.
Tesla also explained the principles of the rotating magnetic field and induction motor by demonstrating how to make a copper egg stand on end in his demonstration of the device he constructed known as the “Egg of Columbus“.
The Tesla generator was developed by Tesla in 1895, in conjunction with his developments concerning the liquefaction of air. Tesla knew from Lord Kelvin’s discoveries that more heat is absorbed by liquefied air when it is re-gasified and used to drive something than is required by theory; in other words, that the liquefaction process is somewhat anomalous or ‘over unity’. Just before Tesla’s completion of his work and the filing of a patent application, Tesla’s laboratory burned down, destroying all his equipment, models and inventions. Immediately after the fire, Carl von Linde, in Germany, filed a patent application for the same process.
A “world system” for “the transmission of electrical energy without wires” that depended upon the electrical conductivity of the earth was proposed, in which transmission in various natural media with current that passes between the two points are used to power devices. In a practical wireless energy transmission system using this principle, a high-power ultraviolet beam might be used to form a vertical ionized channel in the air directly above the transmitter-receiver stations. The same concept is used in virtuallightning rods and the electrolaser electroshock weapon, and has been proposed for disabling vehicles..
In the late 1880s, Tesla and Thomas Edison became adversaries in part because of Edison’s promotion of direct current (DC) forelectric power distribution over the more efficient alternating current advocated by Tesla and Westinghouse. Until the development of the induction motor, AC’s advantages for long distance high voltage transmission were counterbalanced by the inability to operate motors on AC. As a result of the “War of Currents”, Edison and Westinghouse went nearly bankrupt, so in 1897, Tesla released Westinghouse from contract, providing Westinghouse a break from Tesla’s patent royalties. Also, in 1897, Tesla researched radiation, which led to setting up the basic formulation of cosmic rays.
In 1897, at age 41, Tesla filed the first radio patent (U.S. Patent 645,576). A year later, he demonstrated a radio-controlled boat to the US military, believing that the military would want things such as radio-controlled torpedoes. Tesla claimed to have developed the “Art of Telautomatics“, a form of robotics, as well as the technology of remote control. In 1898, he demonstrated a radio-controlled boat to the public during an electrical exhibition at Madison Square Garden. Tesla called his boat a “teleautomaton”.This same year, Tesla devised an “electric igniter” or spark plug for internal combustion gasoline engines. He was awarded U.S. Patent 609,250, “Electrical Igniter for Gas Engines”, on this mechanical ignition system. Before the end of the century, Tesla lived in the Gerlach Hotel (later renamed The Radio Wave building) at 49 West 27th Street Lower Manhattan, where he conducted radio wave experiments. A commemorative plaque was placed on the building in 1977 to honor his work. Remote radio control remained a novelty until World War I and afterward, when a number of countries used it in military programs.
Publicity picture of Nikola Tesla sitting in his laboratory in Colorado Springs with his “Magnifying transmitter” generating millions of volts. The arcs are about 7 meters (23 ft) long. (Tesla’s notes identify this as a multiple exposure photograph.)
An experiment in Colorado Springs. This bank of lights is receiving power by means of electrodynamic induction from a nearby transmitter
A Colorado Springs experiment: here a grounded tuned coil in resonance with a distant transmitter illuminates a light near the bottom of the picture.
In 1899, Tesla decided to move and began research in Colorado Springs, Colorado in a lab located near Foote Ave. and Kiowa St.,where he would have room for his high-voltage, high-frequency experiments. Upon his arrival he told reporters that he was conductingwireless telegraphy experiments transmitting signals from Pikes Peak to Paris. Tesla’s diary contains explanations of his experiments concerning the ionosphere and the ground’s telluric currents via transverse waves and longitudinal waves. At his lab, Tesla proved that the earth was a conductor, and he produced artificial lightning (with discharges consisting of millions of volts, and up to 135 feet long). Tesla also investigated atmospheric electricity, observing lightning signals via his receivers. Reproductions of Tesla’s receivers and coherer circuits show an unpredicted level of complexity (e.g., distributed high-Q helical resonators, radio frequency feedback, crudeheterodyne effects, and regeneration techniques). Tesla stated that he observed stationary waves during this time.
Tesla researched ways to transmit power and energy wirelessly over long distances (via transverse waves, to a lesser extent, and, more readily, longitudinal waves). He transmitted extremely low frequencies through the ground as well as between the Earth’s surface and theKennelly–Heaviside layer. He received U.S. Patent 645,576 on wireless transceivers that developed standing waves by this method. In his experiments, he made mathematical calculations and computations based on his experiments and discovered that the resonant frequency of the Earth was approximately 8 hertz (Hz). In the 1950s, researchers confirmed that the resonant frequency of the Earth’s ionospheric cavity was in this range (later named the Schumann resonance).
In Colorado Springs, Tesla carried out various long distance wireless transmission-reception experiments. Tesla effect is the application of a type of electrical conduction (that is, the movement of energy through space and matter; not just the production of voltage across a conductor). Through longitudinal waves, Tesla transferred energy to receiving devices. He sent electrostatic forces through natural media across a conductor situated in the changing magnetic flux and transferred electrical energy to a wireless receiver.
In the Colorado Springs lab, Tesla observed unusual signals that he later thought might have been evidence of extraterrestrial radio wave communications coming from Venus or Mars. He noticed repetitive signals from his receiver which were substantially different from the signals he had noted from storms and earth noise. Specifically, he later recalled that the signals appeared in groups of one, two, three, and four clicks together. Tesla had mentioned that he thought his inventions could be used to talk with other planets. There have even been claims that he invented a “Teslascope” for just such a purpose. It is debatable what type of signals Tesla received or whether he picked up anything at all. Research has suggested that Tesla may have had a misunderstanding of the new technology he was working with, or that the signals Tesla observed may have been non-terrestrial natural radio source such as the Jovianplasma torus signals. Other sources hypothesize that he may have intercepted Marconi’s European experiments—for in December 1901, Marconi successfully transmitted the letter S (dot/dot/dot, which were the same three impulses that Tesla claimed to have received from outer space while at Colorado in 1899) from Poldhu, Cornwall, England to Signal Hill in St John’s, Newfoundland (now part of Canada)—or signals from another experimenter in wireless transmission.
Tesla left Colorado Springs on 7 January 1900. The lab was torn down ca. 1905 and its contents sold to pay debts. The Colorado experiments prepared Tesla for the establishment of the trans-Atlantic wireless telecommunications facility known as Wardenclyffe near Shoreham, Long Island.
Wardenclyffe years (1901–1917)
Tesla’s Wardenclyffe plant on Long Island in partial stage of completion. Work on the 55-foot-diameter (17 m) cupola had not yet begun. There is a coal car parked next to the building. From this facility, Tesla hoped to demonstrate wireless transmission of electrical energy across the Atlantic. Circa 1902.
In 1900, with US$150,000 (more than $3 million today; 51% from J. Pierpont Morgan), Tesla began planning the Wardenclyffe Towerfacility.
Tesla later approached Morgan and told him that he needed more funds to build a more powerful transmitter. When Tesla was asked where all the money had gone, he responded by telling Morgan that he needed more money because of the Panic of 1901, which he (Morgan) had caused. Morgan was shocked by the reminder that he had caused the stock market crash and by Tesla’s having breached the contract by asking for more funds. Tesla wrote another plea to Morgan, but it was also fruitless. Morgan still owed Tesla money on the original agreement, and Tesla had been facing foreclosure even before construction of the tower began.
In December 1901, Marconi successfully transmitted the letter S from England to Newfoundland, terminating Tesla’s relationship with Morgan. Over the next 5 years, Tesla wrote over 50 letters to Morgan pleading for and demanding additional funding to complete the construction of Wardenclyffe. Tesla continued his project for another 9 months. The tower was raised to its full 187 feet. In July 1903, Tesla wrote to Morgan that in addition to wireless communication, Wardenclyffe would be capable of wireless transmission of electric power. On 14 October 1904, Morgan finally replied through his secretary, that “it will be impossible for [me/ Morgan] to do anything in the matter”, after Tesla had written to Morgan when the financier was meeting with the Archbishop of Canterbury in an attempt to appeal to his Christian spirit.
In June 1902, Tesla’s lab operations were moved to Wardenclyffe from Houston Street.
On his 50th birthday in 1906, Tesla demonstrated his 200 hp (150 kW) 16,000 rpm bladeless turbine. During 1910–1911 at the Waterside Power Station in New York, several of his bladeless turbine engines were tested at 100–5,000 hp.
In 1915, Tesla filed a lawsuit against Marconi attempting, unsuccessfully, to obtain a court injunction against Marconi’s claims. After Wardenclyffe, Tesla built the Telefunken Wireless Station in Sayville, Long Island. Some of what he wanted to achieve at Wardenclyffe was accomplished with the Telefunken Wireless. In 1917 the tower was seized and blown up with dynamite for scrap by theMarines, owing to fears that German spies were using it and that it could be used as a landmark for German submarines.
Before World War I (1914–1918), Tesla looked overseas for investors to fund his research. When the war started, Tesla lost the funding he was receiving from his patents in European countries. Tesla made predictions about the relevant issues of a post-World War I environment in a printed article, Science and Discovery are the great Forces which will lead to the Consummation of the War (20 December 1914). Tesla believed that the League of Nations was not a remedy for the times and issues.
Tesla started to exhibit pronounced symptoms of obsessive-compulsive disorder in the years following. He developed a hatred of jewelry and round objects, could not bear to touch hair, did not like to shake hands, and became obsessed with the number three; he often felt compelled to walk around a block three times before entering a building, and, whenever he went dining, demanded 18 napkins (a number divisible by 3) with which to polish his silver, glasses, and plates until they were impeccable. If he read one of an author’s books, he had to read all of them. The nature of OCD was little understood at the time and no treatments were available, so that his symptoms were considered by some to be evidence of partial insanity, undoubtedly hurting what was left of his reputation.
At this time, Tesla was staying at the sumptuous The Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, renting in an arrangement for deferred payments. Eventually, the Wardenclyffe deed was turned over to George Boldt, proprietor of the Waldorf-Astoria, to pay a US$20,000 debt (about $400,000 today). In 1917, around the time that the Wardenclyffe Tower was demolished by Boldt to make the land a more viable real estate asset, Tesla received AIEE’s highest honor, the Edison Medal.
Tesla, in August 1917, first established principles of frequency and power level for the first primitive radar units.
Nobel prize and Tesla
Since the Nobel Prize in Physics was awarded to Guglielmo Marconi for radio in 1909, Thomas Edison and Tesla were mentioned in a press dispatch as potential laureates to share the Nobel Prize of 1915, leading to one of several Nobel Prize controversies. Some sources have claimed that despite their scientific contributions, neither was given the award because of their animosity toward each other; that each sought to minimize the other’s achievements and right to win the award; that both refused ever to accept the award if the other received it first; and that both rejected any possibility of sharing it.
In the years after these rumors, neither Tesla nor Edison won the Prize (although Edison did receive one of 38 possible bids in 1915, and Tesla did receive one bid out of 38 in 1937). Earlier, Tesla alone was rumored to have been nominated for the Nobel Prize of 1912. The rumored nomination was primarily for his experiments with tuned circuits using high-voltage high-frequency resonant transformers.
Later years (1918-1943)
Tesla (9th from left), along with some of the greatest scientists at that time, including Albert Einstein (8th from left), taking an inspection tour of the New Brunswick Marconi Station. Circa 1921.
Tesla’s famous telegram exchange with Vladko Maček is preserved in the Technical Museum in Zagreb, Croatia
Tesla received his last patent, U.S. Patent 1,655,114, in 1928 for his idea for a type of biplane that could take off vertically (a vertical take-off and landing or VTOL aircraft) and then be “gradually tilted through manipulation of the elevator devices” in flight until it was flying like a conventional plane. Tesla stated it would weigh 800 pounds and would sell at $1,000 for both military and consumer uses. Although the aircraft was probably impractical it may be the earliest known design for what became the tiltrotor/tilt-wing concept as well as the earliest proposal for the use of turbine engines in rotor aircraft.
In the late 1920s, Tesla befriended George Sylvester Viereck, an illustrious German poet and mystic. Though nearly a hermit, Tesla occasionally attended dinner parties held by Viereck and his wife. Tesla composed a poem for his friend — “Fragments of Olympian Gossip”. It poked vitriolic fun at the scientific establishment of the day. For example, he derided Albert Einstein for claiming that matter and force are transmutable (Mass–energy equivalence), even thoughArchimedes and Isaac Newton had stated that they are not.
On Tesla’s 75th birthday in 1931, Time magazine put him on its cover. The cover caption “All the world’s his power house” noted his contribution to electrical power generation. He received congratulatory letters from more than 70 pioneers in science and engineering, including Albert Einstein.
In December 1931, Tesla released “Our Future Motive Power” which covered an ocean thermal energy conversionsystem.
In 1934, Tesla wrote to consul Janković of his homeland. The letter contained a message of gratitude toMihajlo Pupin who had initiated a donation scheme by which American companies could support Tesla.Tesla refused the assistance, choosing instead to live on a modest pension received from Yugoslavia, and to continue his research.
In 1936, replying to a birthday telegram from Vladko Maček, Tesla said he was “equally proud” of his “Serbian origin and Croatian homeland”, a phrase often paraphrased in conciliatory context at modern-day joint Croatian-Serbian Tesla celebrations. In addition, in the same telegram, Tesla wrote “Long live all Yugoslavs.” When others tried to co-opt him into ethnic and other conflicts in Yugoslavia, Tesla once replied: “If your hate could be turned into electricity, it would light up the whole world.”
At age 81, Tesla claimed to have completed a “dynamic theory of gravity”. He stated that it was “worked out in all details” and that he hoped to soon give it to the world.The theory was never published.
The bulk of the theory was developed between 1892 and 1894, during the period that he was conducting experiments with high frequency and high potential electromagnetism and patenting devices for their use. Reminiscent of Mach’s principle, Tesla stated in 1925 that:
Nikola Tesla, with Ruđer Bošković’s bookTheoria Philosophiae Naturalis, sits in front of the spiral coil of his high-frequency transformer at East Houston Street, New York.
There is no thing endowed with life—from man, who is enslaving the elements, to the nimblest creature—in all this world that does not sway in its turn. Whenever action is born from force, though it be infinitesimal, the cosmic balance is upset and the universal motion results.
Tesla was critical of Einstein’s relativity work, calling it:
…[a] magnificent mathematical garb which fascinates, dazzles and makes people blind to the underlying errors. The theory is like a beggar clothed in purple whom ignorant people take for a king … its exponents are brilliant men but they are metaphysicists rather than scientists …
Tesla also argued:
I hold that space cannot be curved, for the simple reason that it can have no properties. It might as well be said that God has properties. He has not, but only attributes and these are of our own making. Of properties we can only speak when dealing with matter filling the space. To say that in the presence of large bodies space becomes curved is equivalent to stating that something can act upon nothing. I, for one, refuse to subscribe to such a view.
Tesla also believed that much of Albert Einstein’s relativity theory had already been proposed by Ruđer Bošković, stating in an unpublished interview:
…the relativity theory, by the way, is much older than its present proponents. It was advanced over 200 years ago by my illustrious countryman Ruđer Bošković, the great philosopher, who, notwithstanding other and multifold obligations, wrote a thousand volumes of excellent literature on a vast variety of subjects. Bošković dealt with relativity, including the so-called time-space continuum …’.
Tesla poked fun of Einstein in his poem — “Fragments of Olympian Gossip” by deriding him for claiming that matter and force are transmutable (Mass–energy equivalence), even though Archimedes and Isaac Newton had stated that they are not.
Later in life, Tesla made remarkable claims concerning a “teleforce” weapon after studying the Van de Graaff generator. The press called it a “peace ray” or death ray. Tesla described the weapon as being able to be used against ground based infantry or for antiaircraft purposes.
Tesla gives the following description concerning the particle gun’s operation:
[The nozzle would] send concentrated beams of particles through the free air, of such tremendous energy that they will bring down a fleet of 10,000 enemy airplanes at a distance of 200 miles from a defending nation’s border and will cause armies to drop dead in their tracks.
In total, the components and methods included:
- An apparatus for producing manifestations of energy in free air instead of in a high vacuum as in the past.
- A mechanism for generating tremendous electrical force.
- A means of intensifying and amplifying the force developed by the second mechanism.
- A new method for producing a tremendous electrical repelling force. This would be the projector, or gun, of the invention.
Tesla worked on plans for a directed-energy weapon from the early 1900s until his death. In 1937, at a luncheon in his honor concerning the death ray, Tesla stated, “But it is not an experiment…. I have built, demonstrated and used it. Only a little time will pass before I can give it to the world.” His records indicate that the device is based on a narrow stream of small tungsten pellets that are accelerated via high voltage (by means akin to his magnifying transformer).
In 1937, Tesla wrote a treatise entitled “The Art of Projecting Concentrated Non-dispersive Energy through the Natural Media“, which concerned charged particle beams. Tesla published the document in an attempt to expound on the technical description of a “superweapon that would put an end to all war.” This treatise describing the particle beam is currently in the Nikola Tesla Museum archive in Belgrade. It describes an open-ended vacuum tube with a gas jet seal that allows particles to exit, a method of charging particles to millions of volts, and a method of creating and directing non-dispersive particle streams (through electrostatic repulsion).
Tesla tried to interest the US War Department in the device. He also offered this invention to European countries. Tesla revealed that he had carried on negotiations with Prime Minister Chamberlain for the sale of his teleforce weapon to Great Britain for $30,000,000. He was convinced that Mr. Chamberlin would adopt the device as it would have prevented the outbreak of the then threatening war, and would have made possible the continuation of the working agreement involving France, Germany and Britain to maintain the status quo in Europe. When Chamberlin failed to retain this state of European equilibrium, Baldwin replaced Neville Chamberlin as Prime Minister of Great Britain to make the effort to shift one corner of the triangle from Germany to Russia. Baldwin found no virtue in Tesla’s plan and ended negotiations. None of the governments purchased a contract to build the device and Tesla was unable to act on his plans.
During the period in which the negotiations were being carried on, Tesla stated that efforts had been made to steal the invention. His room had been entered and his papers had been scrutinized, but the thieves, or spies, left empty-handed. He said that there was no danger that his invention could be stolen for he had at no time committed any part of it to paper. The blueprint for the teleforce weapon was all in his mind.
Other theoretical inventions
Another of Tesla’s theorized inventions is commonly referred to as Tesla’s Flying Machine, which appears to resemble an ion-propelled aircraft. Tesla claimed that one of his life goals was to create a flying machine that would run without the use of an airplane engine, wings, ailerons, propellers, or an onboard fuel source. Initially, Tesla pondered about the idea of a flying craft that would fly using an electric motor powered by grounded base stations. As time progressed, Tesla suggested that perhaps such an aircraft could be run entirely electro-mechanically. The theorized appearance would typically take the form of a cigar or saucer.
Nikola Tesla’s father Milutin,Serbian Orthodox priest in the village of Smiljan.
Tesla possessed an eidetic memory. He was also a polyglot; along with his native tongue, he also spoke Czech, English, French, German, Hungarian, Italian, and Latin.
During his second year of study at Graz, Tesla developed a passion for (and became very proficient at) billiards, chess and card-playing, sometimes spending more than 48 hours in a stretch at a gaming table. Tesla by nature required little sleep, claiming to never sleep more than two hours. On one occasion at his laboratory Tesla worked for a period of 84 hours without sleep or rest.
Tesla probably suffered from obsessive-compulsive disorder. He developed a hatred of jewelry and round objects, couldn’t bear to touch hair, didn’t like to shake hands, and became obsessed with the number three – he often felt compelled to walk around a block three times before entering a building, and demanded 18 napkins (a number divisible by 3) to polish his silver and glasses and plates with, until they were impeccable, whenever he went dining. If he read one of an author’s books, he had to read all of their books.
Tesla was an animal-lover, often reflecting contentedly about a childhood cat, “The Magnificent Mačak.” Near the end of his life, Tesla showed signs of encroaching senility, walking to the park everyday to feed the pigeons and even bringing injured ones into his hotel room to nurse them back to health. If for any reason, he could not carry out this duty, he would pay a child to feed the pigeons in his place. He claimed to be have been visited by a specific white pigeon daily, saying, “I have been feeding pigeons, thousands of them for years. But there was one, a beautiful bird, pure white with light grey tips on its wings; that one was different. It was a female. I had only to wish and call her and she would come flying to me. I loved that pigeon as a man loves a women, and she loved me. As long as I had her, there was a purpose to my life.” Tesla recalled a light came from her eyes that was more intense than that produced by his most powerful lamp in his laboratory. Several biographers note that Tesla viewed the death of the pigeon as a “final blow” to himself and his work.
Tesla never married. He was celibate and claimed that his chastity was very helpful to his scientific abilities. Nonetheless there have been numerous accounts of women vying for Tesla’s affection, even some madly in love with him. Tesla, though polite, behaved rather ambivalently to these women in the romantic sense.
Tesla was prone to alienating himself and was generally soft-spoken. However, when he did engage in a social life, many people spoke very positively and admiringly of him. Robert Underwood Johnson described him as attaining a “distinguished sweetness, sincerity, modesty, refinement, generosity, and force.” His loyal secretary, Dorothy Skerrit, wrote: “his genial smile and nobility of bearing always denoted the gentlemanly characteristics that were so ingrained in his soul.” Tesla’s friend Hawthorne wrote that “seldom did one meet a scientist or engineer who was also a poet, a philosopher, an appreciator of fine music, a linguist, and a connoisseur of food and drink.”
Nevertheless, Tesla could be harsh at times; he openly expressed his disgust for overweight people, once firing a secretary because of her weight. He was quick to criticize others’ clothing as well, on several occasions directing a subordinate to go home and change her dress.
Tesla was widely known for his great showmanship, presenting his innovations and demonstrations to the public as an artform, almost like a magician. This seems to conflict with his observed reclusiveness; Tesla was a complicated figure. He refused to hold conventions without his Tesla coil blasting electricity throughout the room, despite the audience often being terrified, though he assured them everything was perfectly safe.
Mark Twain in Tesla’s lab, early 1894
In his middle age, Tesla became close friends with Mark Twain. They spent a lot of time together in his lab and elsewhere.
Tesla remained bitter in the aftermath of his dispute with Edison. The day after Edison died, the New York Times contained extensive coverage of Edison’s life, with the only negative opinion coming from Tesla, who was quoted as saying:
He had no hobby, cared for no sort of amusement of any kind and lived in utter disregard of the most elementary rules of hygiene … His method was inefficient in the extreme, for an immense ground had to be covered to get anything at all unless blind chance intervened and, at first, I was almost a sorry witness of his doings, knowing that just a little theory and calculation would have saved him 90 percent of the labor. But he had a veritable contempt for book learning and mathematical knowledge, trusting himself entirely to his inventor’s instinct and practical American sense.
Shortly before he died, Edison said that his biggest mistake had been in trying to develop direct current, rather than the superior alternating current system that Tesla had put within his grasp.
Tesla was good friends with Robert Underwood Johnson. He also had amicable relations with Francis Marion Crawford, Stanford White, Fritz Lowenstein, George Scherff, andKenneth Swezey.
Tesla ripped up a Westinghouse contract that would have made him the world’s first billionaire, in part because of the implications it would have on his future vision of free power, and in part because it would run Westinghouse out of business, and Tesla had no desire to deal with the creditors.
Tesla lived the last ten years of his life in a two-room suite on the 33rd floor of the Hotel New Yorker, room 3327.
Tesla believed that war could not be avoided until the cause for its recurrence was removed, but was opposed to wars in general. However, Tesla came to find exceptions in which he thought certain situations and wars were justifiable. Tesla sought to reduce distance, such as in communication for better understanding, transportation, and transmission of energy, as a means to ensure friendly international relations.
Tesla, like many of his era, became a proponent of an imposed selective breeding version of eugenics. His opinions stemmed from a belief that humans already interfered with the natural “ruthless workings of nature”, rather than conceptions of a “master race” or inherent superiority of one person over another. His advocacy of it was however to push it further. In a 1937 interview, he stated:
… man’s new sense of pity began to interfere with the ruthless workings of nature. The only method compatible with our notions of civilization and the race is to prevent the breeding of the unfit by sterilization and the deliberate guidance of the mating instinct …. The trend of opinion among eugenists is that we must make marriage more difficult. Certainly no one who is not a desirable parent should be permitted to produce progeny. A century from now it will no more occur to a normal person to mate with a person eugenically unfit than to marry a habitual criminal.
In 1926, Tesla commented on the ills of the social subservience of women and the struggle of women toward gender equality, indicated that humanity’s future would be run by “Queen Bees”. He believed that women would become the dominant sex in the future.
In his later years, Tesla became a vegetarian, living on only milk, bread, honey, and vegetable juices. In an article for Century Illustrated Magazine, he wrote: “It is certainly preferable to raise vegetables, and I think, therefore, that vegetarianism is a commendable departure from the established barbarous habit.” Tesla argued that it is wrong to eat uneconomic meat when large numbers of people are starving; he also believed that plant food was “superior to [meat] in regard to both mechanical and mental performance”. He also argued that animal slaughter was “wanton and cruel”.
In his final years, Tesla suffered from extreme sensitivity to light, sound and other influences.
Gilded urn with Tesla’s ashes, in his favorite geometrical object of sphere, Nikola Tesla Museum, Belgrade.
On 7 January 1943, at the age of 86, Tesla, alone in room 3327 of the New Yorker Hotel, died from coronary thrombosis. His corpse was found by maid Alice Monaghan after she entered Tesla’s room, ignoring the “do not disturb” sign that Tesla placed on his door two days prior to his passing.
The morning after Tesla’s death, his nephew, Sava Kosanović, hurried to his uncle’s room at the Hotel New Yorker. By the time he arrived, Tesla’s corpse had already been removed. Technical papers were missing, as well as a black notebook he knew Tesla kept— a notebook with several hundred pages, some of which were marked “Government.” Shortly thereafter Tesla’s papers and other property were impounded by the United States’ Alien Property Custodian office in Tesla’s compound at the Manhattan Warehouse, even though he was a naturalized citizen.
A few days after Tesla’s death, the information center of the Yugoslav royal government-in-exile released a statement giving a short review of Tesla’s achievements and the schedule for his memorial service and funeral. The speech, written by Louis Adamic, was read in a live broadcast on Radio New York by the mayor of New York City, Fiorello La Guardia, on 10 January 1943. The remains of Nikola Tesla were taken to Campbell cemetery. The protocol anticipated the funeral service would be conducted on 12 January in the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine in Manhattan. Bishop William T. Manning delivered the introductory and the last prayer in English. The funeral service was conducted in the name of the Serbian Orthodox Church by priest Dusan Sukletovic, the superior of the Church of St. Sava of the New York parish. The bereaved family members present at the funeral were Sava Kosanovic and Nikola Trbojevic. A state funeral was attended by 2000 people. Tesla’s casket was draped with U. S. and Yugoslav flags. The pallbearers were Nobel prize winners. Telegrams of condolence were received from many notables including the First Lady of the United States, MrsEleanor Roosevelt and Vice-President Henry A. Wallace. Tesla’s body was cremated and his ashes taken to Belgrade, Serbia, then-Yugoslavia in 1957. The urn containing his ashes was placed in the Nikola Tesla Museum in Belgrade. Despite having sold his AC electricity patents, Tesla died with significant debts. Later that year the US Supreme Courtupheld Tesla’s patent number 645576 in a ruling that served as the basis for patented radio technology in the United States.
Dr. John G. Trump, a well-known electrical engineer serving as a technical aide to the National Defense Research Committee, was the main government official who went over Tesla’s secret papers after Tesla’s death. Trump was also a professor at M.I.T. and had his feelings hurt by Tesla’s 1938 review and critique of M.I.T.’s huge Van de Graaff generator with its two thirty-foot towers and two 15-foot-diameter (4.6 m) balls, mounted on railroad tracks— which Tesla showed could be outperformed in both voltage and current by one of his tiny coils about two feet tall. Trump was asked to participate in the examination of Tesla’s papers at the Manhattan Warehouse & Storage Co. Trump reported afterwards that no examination had been made of the vast amount of Tesla’s property that had been in the basement of the New Yorker Hotel ten years prior to Tesla’s death, or of any of his papers, except those in his immediate possession at the time of his death. After a three-day investigation, Trump concluded in his report that there was nothing that would constitute a hazard in unfriendly hands, stating:
His [Tesla’s] thoughts and efforts during at least the past 15 years were primarily of a speculative, philosophical, and somewhat promotional character often concerned with the production and wireless transmission of power; but did not include new, sound, workable principles or methods for realizing such results.
After the FBI was contacted by the War Department, his papers were declared to be top secret. The personal effects were sequestered on the advice of presidential advisers; J. Edgar Hoover declared the case most secret, because of the nature of Tesla’s inventions and patents. One document stated that “[he] is reported to have some 80 trunks in different places containing transcripts and plans having to do with his experiments […]”. Altogether, in Tesla’s effects, there were the contents of his safe, two truckloads of papers and apparatuses from his hotel, another 75 packing crates and trunks in a storage facility, and another 80 large storage trunks in another storage facility. The Navy and several “federal officials” spent two days microfilming some of the material at the Office of Alien Properties storage facility in 1943, and that was it, until Oct., 1945.
Tesla’s family and the Yugoslav embassy struggled with the American authorities to gain these items after his death because of the potential significance of some of his research. Eventually Mr. Kosanović won possession of the materials, which are now housed in the Nikola Tesla Museum.
Tesla wrote a number of books and articles for magazines and journals. Among his books are My Inventions: The Autobiography of Nikola Tesla; The Fantastic Inventions of Nikola Tesla, compiled and edited by David Hatcher Childress and The Tesla Papers.
In the late 1920s, Tesla composed a poem — “Fragments of Olympian Gossip” — for his friend, George Sylvester Viereck, an illustrious German poet and mystic. It poked vitriolic fun at the scientific establishment of the day. For example, he derided Albert Einstein for claiming that matter and force are transmutable (Mass–energy equivalence), even though Archimedes and Isaac Newton had stated that they are not.
A number of Tesla’s writings are freely available on the web, including the article, The Problem of Increasing Human Energy, which he wrote for The Century Magazinein 1900, and the article, Experiments With Alternate Currents Of High Potential And High Frequency, published in his book, Inventions, Researches and Writings of Nikola Tesla.