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Mr John Wagner's web site

Autobiography of Nikola Tesla

Web site of the Rock Band "TESLA"- named after Nikola Tesla

E-mail to Mick Vakante for more info about Nikola Tesla

               Tesla's early life
               was tormented
                  by various

The Man Behind the Mind

In the small village of Smiljan, Croatia (then Austria-Hungary), Nikola Tesla was born exactly at the stroke of midnight between July 9 and 10, 1856 -- an incidental schism that befits the beginnings of a man who always seemed out of time with the world around him.

From early childhood, it was apparent that Nikola possessed an extraordinary mind. His father, Milutin Tesla, was a minister who trained Nikola to strengthen his memory and reasoning skills through a variety of regular mental exercises. But Tesla gave the highest credit for his talents to his mother's side of the family, whom he referred to as a long line of inventors. Despite Djouka Tesla's lack of formal education, she created numerous original tools for sewing and other tasks around her household.

Tesla had an older brother, Dane, whom he considered his superior in every way. When Nikola was five and Dane was twelve, Nikola was jealous of Dane's white stallion, which their father said Nikola was too young to ride. One day Nikola used a blow gun to shoot a pea at the horse, causing it to throw Dane from its back. Dane later died from his injuries. Feelings of guilt over this tragedy haunted Tesla throughout his life. No matter how great his achievements, he always believed that Dane could have outdone him.

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 hallucinations. Much of the time the visions were linked to a word or idea he might come across; just by hearing the name of an item, he would involuntarily envision it in realistic detail. The flashes and images caused Tesla great discomfort, and by the time he reached his teens he had taught himself to repress them from occurring except in certain times of stress. When they did happen, they sometimes had a nature that might be described as psychic.

In one case, the young Tesla recklessly attempted to swim beneath a large floating structure that extended further than he realized. Finding himself trapped in the dark water with no sign of the surface, a flash appeared, and with it a vision of a small opening to air. Tesla's vision turned out to be correct, and the strange curse apparently saved him from drowning. Upon the deaths of his father and mother, Tesla claimed to have detailed premonitions just before each passing. In his later years, Tesla boasted of successfully transmitting an image from his mind into that of a person in another room.

Shortly after his graduation from high school, Tesla suffered a devastating bout with cholera and nearly died. He was bedridden for nine months, and doctors announced that he would not live much longer. Tesla was occupying his still-active mind by reading as much as his body would permit, when he encountered a strange new kind of literature: "Innocents Abroad," by Mark Twain. Tesla was captivated by the humor and humanity of this up-and-coming American author, whose work so raised his spirits that he made a miraculously abrupt recovery to health. Years later in the United States, Tesla met Samuel Clemens and was able to thank him for having saved his life. Clemens went on to become one of Tesla's few close friends.

Tesla underwent another debilitating trauma a few years after recovering from cholera. This time, the nature of the illness and its causes were a complete mystery. Tesla's physical senses, which had always been remarkably acute, seemed to go inexplicably into overdrive, paralyzing him with an overabundance of sensation. The ticking of a pocket watch had become painfully deafening to him, even from several rooms away. He needed rubber cushion inserted beneath the feet of his bed to lessen the vibrations from outside passersby, which felt to him like an earthquake. Exposure to light was excruciating not only for his eyes, but to the surface of his skin, as well. After a time, the crippling condition eased, and Tesla returned to normal sensory perception with a mental breakthrough that led him to the invention of the alternating current motor.

The physical and emotional travails of Tesla's early life undoubtedly helped shape him into the singular man he was: a man of immense brilliance, and a nearly equal level of eccentricity. Tesla shunned physical contact with other people, with a special aversion to touching hair. To avoid shaking hands with people he met, he lied that he had injured his hands in a laboratory accident. He apparently never took part in a romantic relationship of any kind. A female acquaintance who grew enamored of Tesla reportedly once took the initiative to kiss him, causing the startled inventor to flee in agony. Still, Tesla exhibited some appreciation for feminine beauty by demanding that his secretaries conform to an exacting standard of dress and physique. His female employees were forbidden to wear pearls, which Tesla for some reason found hideously repulsive.

Other behaviors of Tesla's seemed to drift into the realm of compulsive-obsessive disorder. He required any repeated actions in his daily life (such as the footsteps he took in a walk) to be divisible by three, and would keep repeating them until he arrived at a suitable total. Quantities of twenty-seven were the most prized of all, since that number was three cubed. Tesla also felt compelled to calculate the exact volume of his food before he ate it. This involved measuring his meal portions with a ruler and dipping pieces in water to determine how many cubic centimeters they displaced. He was especially fond of saltine crackers because of their uniformity of volume. Many times, such as during the heat of a major project, Tesla would forget to eat altogether, and work for days without sleep. At one point his all-consuming devotion to the laboratory brought on an exhaustion so severe that for several days he lost all memory of who he was.

Tesla asserted that it was not until he reached adulthood that he discovered he was an inventor. He discounted his early years (perhaps unreasonably) as a time of undisciplined impulses, entirely lacking focus. But he did invent a wide array of creations and schemes as a child. The first was a simple hook-and-line device for catching frogs. All his young friends imitated it, and the mechanisms performed so well that the local frog population was nearly eradicated. He also built a miniature water wheel which was unique in that it propelled itself without blades. This memory would later inspire his innovation of the bladeless turbine.

The young Tesla created a remarkable machine powered by another natural energy source: June bugs (or, as Europeans call them, May bugs). He glued sixteen of the live insects to the blades of a small windmill-like structure, and they set the rotor spinning vigorously in their vain attempt to fly away. Some accounts have jokingly cited this effort as one of Tesla's rare failures, although the inventor himself remained rather proud of the June bug motor. In his autobiography, Tesla explained why he discontinued his research into insect energy:

"These creatures were remarkably efficient, for once they were started, they had no sense to stop and continued whirling for hours and hours and the hotter it was, the harder they worked. All went well until a strange boy came to the place. He was the son of a retired officer in the Austrian army. That urchin ate May-bugs alive and enjoyed them as though they were the finest blue-point oysters."

Adding one more entry to his long list of idiosyncrasies, after beholding that spectacle Tesla refused ever to touch another insect again.

Nikola Tesla:
Humanitarian Genius

Excerpted from vol 6, no. 4, "Power and Resonance", the "Journal of the International Tesla Society". For further information on the topics discussed below: "The Tesla Book Co.", Box 1649, Greenville, Texas 75401
Ask any school kid: "who invented radio"? If you get an answer at all it will doubtless be Marconi - an answer with which all the encyclopaedias and textbooks agree. Or ask most anyone: "who invented the stuff that makes your toaster, your stereo, the street lights, the factories and offices work?" Without hesitation, Thomas Edison, right? Wrong both times. The correct answer is Nikola Tesla, a person you have probably never heard of.There's more. He appears to have discovered x-rays a year before W. K. Roentgen did in Germany, he built a vacuum tube amplifier several years before Lee de Forest did, he was using fluorescent lights in his laboratory 40 years before the industry "invented" them, and he demonstrated the principles used in microwave ovens and radar decades before they became an integral part of our society. Yet we associate his name with none of them.
For about 20 years around the turn of the century, he was known and respected in academic circles world wide, corresponding with eminent physicists of his day, including Albert Einstein, quoted and conferred with on matters of electrical science, adopted by New York's high society, backed by such financial and industrial giants as J. P. Morgan, John Jacob Astor, and George Westinghouse. He counted as friends eminent artists such as Mark Twain and pianist Ignace Paderewski. His honorary degrees, major prizes, and other citations number in the dozens.
Tesla was born in Smiljan, Croatia in 1856, the son of a clergyman and an inventive mother. He had an extraordinary memory, one that made learning six languages easy for him. He entered the Polytechnic School at Gratz, where for four years he studied mathematics, physics and mechanics, confounding more than one professor by an understanding of electricity, an infant science in those days, that was greater than theirs. His practical career started in 1881 in Budapest, Hungary, where he made his first electrical invention, a telephone repeater (the ordinary loudspeaker) and conceived the idea of a rotating magnetic field, which later made him world famous in its form as the modern induction motor. The polyphase induction motor is what provides power to virtually every industrial application, from conveyer belts to winches to machine tools.
Tesla's mental abilities require some mention, since, not only did he have a photographic memory, he was able to use creative visualization with an uncanny and practical intensity. He describes in his autobiography how he was able to visualize a particular apparatus and was then able to actually test run the apparatus, disassemble it and check for proper action and wear! During the manufacturing phase of his inventions, he would work with all blueprints and specifications in his head. The invention invariably assembled together without redesign and worked perfectly. Tesla slept one to 2 hours a day and worked continuously on his inventions and theories without benefit of ordinary relaxation or vacations. He could judge the dimension of an object to a hundredth of an inch and perform difficult computations in his head without benefit of slide rule or mathematical tables. Far from an ivory tower intellectual, he was very much aware of the issues in the world around him, made it a point to render his ideas accessible to the general public by frequent contributions to the popular press, and to his field by numerous lectures and scientific papers.
He decided to come to this country (USA) in 1884. He brought with him the various models of the first induction motors, which, after a brief and unhappy period at the Edison works, were eventually shown to George Westinghouse. It was in the Westinghouse shops that the induction motor was perfected. Numerous patents were taken out on this prime invention, all under Tesla's name.
Tesla worked briefly for Thomas Edison when he first came to the United States, creating many improvements on Edison's dc motors and generators, but left under a cloud of controversy after Edison refused to live up to bonus and royalty commitments. This was the beginning of a rivalry, which was to have ugly consequences later when Edison and his backers did everything in their power to stop the development and installation of Tesla’s far more efficient, and practical ac current delivery system and urban power grid. Edison put together a travelling road show which attempted to portray ac current as dangerous, even to the point of electrocuting animals both small (puppies) and large (in one case an elephant) in front of large audiences. As a result of this propaganda crusade, the state of New York adopted ac electrocution as its method of executing convicts. Tesla won the battle by the demonstration of ac current's safety and usefulness when his apparatus illuminated and powered the entire New York World's Fair of 1899.
Tesla's most important work at the end of the nineteenth century was his original system of transmission of energy by wireless antenna. In 1900 Tesla obtained his two fundamental patents on the transmission of true wireless energy covering both methods and apparatus and involving the use of four tuned circuits. In 1943, the Supreme Court of the United States granted full patent rights to Nikola Tesla for the invention of the radio, superseding and nullifying any prior claim by Marconi and others in regards to the "fundamental radio patent" It is interesting to note that Tesla, in 1898, described the transmission of not only the human voice, but images as well and later designed and patented devices that evolved into the power supplies that operate our present day TV picture tubes. The first primitive radar installations in 1934 were built following principles, mainly regarding frequency and power level, that were stated by Tesla in 1917.
In 1889 Tesla constructed an experimental station in Colorado Springs where he studied the characteristics of high frequency or radio frequency alternating currents. While there he developed a powerful radio transmitter of unique design and also a number of receivers "for individualizing and isolating the energy transmitted". He conducted experiments designed to establish the laws of radio propagation which are currently being "rediscovered" and verified amid some controversy in high-energy quantum physics.
Tesla wrote in "Century Magazine" in 1900: "...that communication without wires to any point of the globe is practicable. My experiments showed that the air at the ordinary pressure became distinctly conducting, and this opened up the wonderful prospect of transmitting large amounts of electrical energy for industrial purposes to great distances without wires...its practical consummation would mean that energy would be available for the uses of man at any point of the globe. I can conceive of no technical advance which would tend to unite the various elements of humanity more effectively than this one, or of one which would more add to and more economize human energy..." This was written in 1900! After finishing preliminary testing, work was begun on a full sized broadcasting station at Shoreham, Long Island. Had it gone into operation, it would have been able to provide usable amounts of electrical power at the receiving circuits. After construction of a generator building (still standing) and a 180 foot broadcasting tower (dynamited in world war I on the dubious pretext of being a potential navigation reference for German U-boats), financial support for the project was suddenly withdrawn by J. P. Morgan when it became apparent that such a worldwide power project couldn't be metered and charged for.
Another one of Tesla's inventions that is familiar to anyone who has ever owned an automobile, was patented in 1898 under the name "electrical ignitor" for gas engines". More commonly known as the automobile ignition system, its major component, the ignition coil, remains practically unchanged since its introduction into use at the turn of the century.
Nikola Tesla also designed and built prototypes of a unique fuel burning rotary engine based upon his earlier design for a rotary pump. Recent tests that have been carried out on the Tesla bladeless disk turbine indicate that, if constructed using newly developed high temperature ceramic materials, it will rank as the world's most efficient gas engine, out-performing our present day piston type internal combustion engines in fuel efficiency, longevity, adaptability to different fuels, cost and power to weight ratio.
Tesla's generosity eventually left him without adequate funds to pursue and realize his inventions. His idealism and humanism left him with little stomach for the world of industrial and financial intrigue. His New York laboratory was destroyed by a mysterious fire. References to his work and accomplishments were systematically purged from the scientific literature and textbooks. Driven into a Hermetic exile in a New York hotel during the period between the two wars, 20 years of his potentially rich and productive contribution were taken from us. The only occasions of public appearance were the yearly press interview on his birthday when he would describe amazing and far-reaching inventions and technological possibilities. These were distorted and sensationalized in the popular press, particularly when he described advanced weapons systems on the eve of World War II. He died in obscurity in 1943. Only the FBI took note: they searched his papers (in vain) for the design of the "death-ray machine". It is interesting to note that the motivation for our "Star Wars" defence system was based upon fears that the soviets had begun deployment of weapons based upon Tesla high energy principles. Public reports of mysterious "blindings" of U.S. surveillance satellites, anomalous high altitude flashes and fireballs, elf wave radio interference, and other cases lend credence to this interpretation.
Credit must be given where credit is due for the labour saving and humanitarian inventions such as universal ac current that have been incorporated into the very fabric of our daily lives and also the devices who's design have been made available, but have not been utilized by society at large.

Short History of Nikola Tesla

This is a file to straighten out misconception and disinformation that has occurred over the years, about how supposedly "great" Edison was, and how Nikola Tesla was brushed under the capitalist power rug.
Edison was a thief, employing all kinds of people for their brains, he stole their inventions, their ideas, so much so, that it is unclear today what Edison actually invented, and what was stolen from others.
The Edison Electric Institute was formed to perpetuate the notion that Edison was the inventor of record, and to make sure that school textbooks, etc., only mentioned HIM in connection with these many inventions. Much like Bell Labs does today.
Nikola Tesla was pretty much always a genius, after having made many improvements in the electric trolleys, and trains in his country, he came to America, sought employment, and eventually ended up working for Edison.
Edison had contracted with New York City to build Direct Current (D.C.) power plants every square mile or so, so as to power the lights that he supposedly invented. Streetlights, hotel lighting etc. Having trenches dug throughout the city to lay the cables, copper, and as big around as a man's bicep, he told Tesla that if Tesla could save him money by redesigning certain aspects of the installation, that he would give Tesla a percentage of the savings. A verbal agreement. After approximately a year, Tesla went to Edison's office and showed him the savings that had occurred ($100,000 or so, which in those days was quite a piece of change) as a direct result of his (Tesla's) engineering, and Edison pretended ignorance of any agreement. Tesla quit. From that point on, the two men were enemies.
Tesla invented useable Alternating Current (A.C.) that we all use today, in a world where Edison and others already had a huge investment in D.C. power.
Tesla proselytised A.C. power and had some success building A.C. power plants, and providing A.C. power to various entities. One of these was Sing Sing prison, in upstate New York. Tesla provided A.C. power for the "electric chair" there. Edison had big articles printed in the New York newspapers, saying that A.C. power was dangerous "killing" power, and in general, gave a bad name to Tesla.
To contradict this jab, Tesla set out on his own positive marketing campaign, appearing at the 1880? World Exposition in Chicago passing high frequency "dangerous" A.C. power over his body to power light bulbs in front of the public. Shooting huge, long sparks from his "Tesla coil", and touching them, etc. "Proving" that A.C. power was safe for public consumption.
The advantage of A.C. power was that you could send it a long distance through reasonably sized wires with little loss, and if you touched the wires together, "shorted them", you got a lot of sparks, and only the place where they were touching melted until the two wires weren't touching anymore.
D.C. power, on the other hand, needed huge cables to go any distance at all, while using power, the cables heated up. When shorted, the cables melted all the way back to the Powerhouse, streets had to be dug up again and new cables laid. If a short occurred in a single light, it usually started a fire, and burned down the hotel or destroyed whatever it was in contact with! This was quite profitable for those in the D.C. power business, and quite good for those into ditch digging, construction, etc.
Tesla invented 2-phase, and 3-phase Alternating Current. He figured motors turned in a circle, so alternately driving separate, 180 degree, sections of the surrounding armature would build up less heat, and use less electricity. He was right.
1929 came, the stock market crashed, bankers, lawyers, everyone who had lost their wealth and hadn't jumped out a window, sought work, many as common labourers if lucky, for a dollar a day. Tesla found himself digging ditches in the company of broke but influential ex-Wall-streeters. During the short lunch period, he would tell his buddies about phased A.C. electricity, and how it was efficient, etc. Along about 1932, he was working at a small generator rebuilding shop in New York, and one of the bankers that he used to dig ditches with, found him, and took him to Mr. Westinghouse, to whom he told his stories. Westinghouse bought 19 patents outright, and gave Tesla a dollar per horsepower for any electric motor produced by Westinghouse using the Tesla 3-phase system.
Tesla finally had the money with which to start building his laboratories, 5 and conducting the experiments with free earth energy. The idea that really made him unpopular.
Something free, that the masters of war and business couldn't control? They couldn't have that! So, the day after Tesla died in 1943, his huge laboratory on Long Island mysteriously burned down, no records saved, and the remnants were bulldozed the day after that to further eradicate any equipment still left. So much for "free energy".

This diagram from
a 1888 patent
shows Tesla's
AC motor.

The Fight for AC

Tesla began his college education at Graz Polytechnic Institute, pursuing studies of the topic that fascinated him above all others: electricity. He had done fairly well in grade school, but his lack of facility at freehand drawing kept him from excelling in technical courses. But in college, Tesla was delighted to find, he was permitted to focus exclusively on what he was best at.

He studied feverishly almost around the clock, in a routine that began at 3 a.m. and ended at 11 p.m., every day. He aimed to impress his parents with his scholarly achievements, in part because his father had been reluctant to send him to the university, wishing Nikola would follow in his footsteps in the clergy. He also entertained fantasies of going to America and teaming up with the reigning leader of electrical invention, Thomas Edison, so that their combined forces might revolutionize the world.

Tesla was an extraordinary student who frequently enraged his professors, questioning the technological status quo with an insight that surpassed his instructors'. He rebelled most stringently against the acceptance of direct current as the sole means of delivering electrical power. It was plain to him that DC was inefficient and incapable of adequately transmitting power over long distances, and there had to be a better way. There was talk of a theoretical "alternating current" system, but no one had figured out how to make it work. AC was frowned upon as a fanciful dream by the scientific establishment, in much the same way as cold fusion is regarded today. Tesla's merest suggestion of AC brought scorn in his lecture halls, but he was never discouraged enough to abandon the enticing riddle.

In the middle of Tesla's sophomore year of college, his father was felled by a stroke. Nikola returned home, and his father died soon after. Tesla never returned to the Polytechnic Institute. Lacking funds for tuition, he took a job at a government telegraph office. Tesla despaired for his interrupted education, but held on to his dream of becoming an electrical pioneer.

It was at this time that Tesla endured his ordeal with hypersensitivity that reduced him to a bedridden invalid. Considering the depressing turns his life had just taken, the bizarre affliction could possibly have been psychosomatic in origin. Whatever its cause, when Tesla finally emerged from the prolonged fugue state, he was armed with a powerful new insight on how alternating current could be successfully attained.

His great mental leap was this: two coils positioned at right angles and supplied with alternating current 90 out of phase could make a magnetic field rotate, with no need for the cumbersome commutator used in direct current motors. Tesla knew it would work without even having to build it and test it. Constructing it mentally and letting it run in his mind was proof enough for him.

This was Tesla's method for developing inventions throughout his career: no journals, no blueprints, no prototypes. The propensity for turning ideas into concrete visualizations which had tormented him in his youth was now turned to Tesla's advantage. He believed his technique was not only a valid one, but actually superior to the common practice of getting everything down on paper and conducting tentative trials. "The moment one constructs a device to carry into practice a crude idea, he finds himself unavoidably engrossed with the details of the apparatus," Tesla wrote in his autobiography. "As he goes on improving and reconstructing, his force of concentration diminishes and he loses sight of the great underlying principle."

Tesla now possessed the answer, but the problem of putting it into practice remained. In 1882 he found employment with Continental Edison Company in Paris, distinguishing himself as a fine engineer. Two years later he traveled to New York to meet the company's president, Thomas Edison himself.

It was not the harmonious meeting of the minds Tesla had once dreamed of. Edison regarded the hotshot European with contempt, and assuredly held no intentions of collaborating with him on some harebrained AC scheme. Edison viewed AC as a pipe dream at best, or, at worst, a threat to usurp his DC-based empire.

Tesla tried to make the best of the situation by offering to improve Edison's existing technology to the highest level possible. He promised to increase the efficiency of the DC dynamos by 25%, within two months' time. The skeptical Edison said he would pay Tesla fifty thousand dollars if he succeeded.

Exerting a massive, virtually non-stop effort, Tesla accomplished the feat, enhancing the dynamos by an even better margin than he proposed. But when he asked for his fifty thousand dollars, Edison refused to honor the deal, claiming that he had only been joking. Infuriated, Tesla quit and never worked for Edison again.

Tesla was soon approached by a group of investors who wished to market the arc lamp he had developed. Thus was the Tesla Electric Company founded. Tesla was eager to seize this opportunity to bring AC into existence at last, but his investors wanted nothing to do with it -- so Tesla found himself rejected by the company that bore his own name.

That company soon ran afoul of financial hardships, leaving Tesla's stock shares worthless and stripping him of his rights to the arc light. Penniless, his enterprising spirit finally broken, one of the world's most brilliant men was reduced to shoveling in a labor crew for a dollar a day. He planned on committing suicide on his upcoming thirtieth birthday, at the stroke of midnight.

Before that could happen, A. K. Brown of Western Union learned of Tesla's plight. Aghast, Brown was determined to restore the genius to a worthy place, and offered to furnish him with a laboratory of his own. And what's more, Brown wanted Tesla to pursue the possibilities of alternating current.

Granted a blessed salvation, Tesla immediately went to work assembling his AC dynamo at last. It functioned in reality precisely as it had all those years inside his head. Tesla demonstrated his invention in a heavily publicized lecture, and instantly became the toast of the engineering community.

Among the AC converts in the lecture's audience was George Westinghouse, who negotiated with Tesla to manufacture the dynamos. The first application of the new technology: Niagara Falls. Westinghouse won the coveted contract to harness Niagara, bidding half of what Edison bid for the installation of a DC system. In 1895, the Niagara AC power system enjoyed a flawless inauguration, transmitting electricity to Buffalo twenty-two miles away -- a complete impossibility in the suddenly outmoded world of direct current. No longer a curious luxury reserved for the urban upper class, electric power in the home would now be commonplace.

For the first time in his life, Nikola Tesla was an indisputable success.


Another busy day
in Tesla's
Colorado Springs

Free Energy

From the beginning of A. K. Brown's and George Westinghouse's fortuitous partnerships with Tesla, the inventor was at work on other projects above and beyond the AC dynamo. Able to devote himself to the unhindered realization of his countless ideas, he would later recall these years of his life as "little short of continuous rapture."

Tesla's New York laboratory was a hive of continuous activity, with a small staff of assistants working solely from their employer's verbal instructions. His distaste for putting ideas down on paper, coupled with his tendency to get bored with a completed invention and move on to the next challenge, led Tesla to toss aside a large number of creations that he never even bothered to patent. Once, when exhaustion left Tesla in a state of temporary amnesia, his assistant filed for patents on many of the unregistered inventions on Tesla's behalf, and had the master sign the papers while still incapacitated. Tesla's shunning of documentation was of some benefit when fire destroyed the lab in 1895, right after the success at Niagara. The loss was a setback, but not a catastrophic one, since the most valuable of the laboratory's assets remained intact in Tesla's brain.

In 1891, Tesla developed the invention by which his name is most commonly known today: the Tesla coil. Simple enough for today's hobbyists and science-fair entrants to construct in fully functional homemade models, it was nonetheless a remarkable innovation which remains the basis for radios, televisions and other modern means of wireless communication.

Tesla became known for the lectures at which he demonstrated his inventions and concepts with a theatrical flair. Many attendees were laymen who had little comprehension of what Tesla said, but were mesmerized by the bolts of lightning that leapt from his ominously humming coils, and the unwired light bulbs that lit at the touch of Tesla's hand. These spectacular displays led Tesla to be popularly regarded as some sort of magician -- a title that was bestowed not in ridicule, but in awe.

The wireless transmission of energy would become the ultimate pursuit of Tesla's career. He discovered that a vacuum tube held in proximity to a Tesla coil would burst into illumination, without wires, without even a filament inside the glowing tube. Electrical resonance was the key to this discovery. By determining the frequency of the needed electrical current, Tesla was able to turn a series of different lights on and off selectively, from yards away. He had just become an American citizen in 1891, and this new technology was to be his gift of thanks to his adoptive country: a means of transmitting energy instantly, across any distance, through thin air. Free energy for everyone.

One of Tesla's assistants reportedly questioned the implications of putting such an energy distribution plan into practice. He wondered what incentive there would be for the electrical power establishment to begin giving away its goods for free, and whether Tesla could possibly be "allowed" to introduce such an arrangement. The presence of such doubts enraged Tesla, who was convinced, somewhat naively, that his plan would be accepted simply because it was the right thing to do.

As the years passed, Tesla's vision of wireless energy grew even grander in scope. He solved one of the problems implicit in his first theory, which was that transmission of power through air over long distances would result in a significant loss of energy. Rather than using air as a medium, he decided to send energy through the ground. This makes little sense in conventional electrical terms, whereby the earth's surface is regarded as, literally, "the ground" -- a sinkhole used for discharging excess current from a conductor. But Tesla found that if it were charged highly enough, the ground could become the conductor itself. In this way, the entire planet could be transformed into a colossal electric transmitter.

In 1899, as logistics prevented him from conducting the necessary experiments within the confines of New York City, Tesla headed west. A Colorado attorney named Leonard Curtis, who had previously defended Tesla in court, offered to help Tesla set up a testing facility in Colorado Springs. Curtis was also an officer of the local power company, and provided electricity to Tesla at no cost.

Tesla and his assistants built a one-of-a-kind laboratory on the outskirts of town, which looked like a large barn topped by a 180-foot metal tower. This was Tesla's "magnifying transformer," which he called the greatest of his inventions.

The townspeople of Colorado Springs were naturally curious about what this great inventor was up to, and respected the signs around the perimeter of the compound reading "KEEP OUT -- GREAT DANGER!" Still, they soon felt the effects of Tesla's apparatus. Sparks leapt from the ground as people walked the streets, singeing their feet through their shoes. The grass around the Tesla building glowed with a faint blue light. Metal objects held near fire hydrants would draw miniature lightning bolts from several inches away. Switched-off light bulbs within 100 feet of the tower spontaneously lit.

And Tesla was only tuning up his equipment. These were the side effects of adjusting the magnifying transformer into perfect resonance with the earth. Once it was properly calibrated, Tesla was ready to conduct his career's boldest symphony, using the entire planet as his orchestra.

Late one night in the fall of 1899, Tesla fired up his machine at full blast, in hopes of producing a phenomenon he called resonant rise. His tower pumped ten million volts into the earth's surface. The current raced through the earth at the speed of light, powerful enough to keep from dying out over the course of its journey. When it reached the opposite side of the planet, it bounced back, like ripples of water returning to their origin. Upon returning, the current was greatly weakened; but Tesla was sending out a series of pulses which reinforced one another, resulting in a tremendous cumulative effect.

At ground zero, where Tesla and his assistant stood bedazzled, the resonant rise manifested itself in an unearthly display of lightning that still stands as the most powerful man-made electrical surge in history. The returning current formed an arc of lightning that stretched skyward from Tesla's tower and progressively grew to an incredible 130 feet long. Apocalyptic crashes of thunder were heard twenty-two miles away. Tesla had been concerned that there might be an upper limit to generating resonant surges, but now he believed the potential was limitless. The demonstration did come to an unexpected halt, but that was because the power surge caused the overloaded Colorado Springs power generator to burst into flames. Tesla received no further free power from the plant's furious owners.

He returned to New York in search of backing for the global implementation of a resonant energy system. Now cognizant of the business world's inevitable reluctance to support giving away free energy, Tesla pitched his new project as a means of transmitting communication, rather than electrical power. Decades before the birth of the Internet, Tesla was envisioning an information superhighway that was a far more sophisticated communication network than the one we use today.

George Westinghouse passed on the idea. Tesla next proposed it to J. P. Morgan, the wealthiest man in America, who had previously declined to finance the inventor. The idea of a monopoly on world communications intrigued Morgan, and he enabled Tesla to build a new laboratory on Long Island. Named Wardenclyffe, it was to be a bigger and better version of his Colorado facility.

While Tesla worked on the project, a string of accidents and bad luck struck Wardenclyffe, and he was beginning to run out of money. Morgan's funds and enthusiasm seemed to evaporate. In a last-ditch effort to keep his investor from deserting him, Tesla revealed to Morgan that his true goal was not to replace the telegraph, but to replace the conventional transmission of electricity. Morgan responded by withdrawing his support entirely.

Tesla would never get another opportunity to bring free energy to the world.

Tesla: The Greatest Hacker of All Time

The question comes up from time to time. "Who's the greatest hacker ever? "Well, there are a lot of different opinions on this. Some say Steve Wozniak of Apple II fame. Maybe Andy Hertzfeld of the Mac operating system. Richard Stallman, say others, of MIT. Yet at such times when I mention whom I think the greatest hacker is, everyone agrees (provided they know of him), and there's no further argument. So, let me introduce you to him, and his greatest hack. I'll warn you right up front that it's mind numbing. By the way, everything I'm going to tell you is true and verifiable down at your local library. Don't worry -- we're not heading off into a Shirley MacLaine UFO-land story. Just some classy electrical engineering...

Colorado Springs is in southern Colorado, about 70 miles south of Denver. These days it is known as the home of several optical disk research corporations and of NORAD, the missile defence command under Cheyenne Mountain. (I have a personal interest in Colorado Springs; my wife Sandy grew up there.) These events took place some time ago in Colorado Springs. A scientist had moved into town and set up a laboratory on Hill Street, on the southern outskirts. The lab had a two hundred foot copper antenna sticking up out of it, looking something like a HAM radio enthusiast's antenna. He moved in and started work. And strange electrical things happened near that lab. People would walk near the lab, and sparks would jump up from the ground to their feet, through the soles of their shoes. One boy took a screwdriver, held it near a fire hydrant, and drew a four-inch electrical spark from the hydrant. Sometimes the grass around his lab would glow with an eerie blue corona, St. Elmo's Fire. What they didn't know was this was small stuff. The man in the lab was merely tuning up his apparatus. He was getting ready to run it wide open in an experiment that ranks as among the greatest, and most spectacular, of all time. One side effect of his experiment was the setting of the record for man-made lightning: some 42 meters in length (130 feet).

His name was Nikola Tesla. He was an immigrant from what is now Yugoslavia; there's a museum of his works in Belgrade. He's a virtual unknown in the United States, despite his accomplishments. I'm not sure why. Some people feel it's a dark plot, the same people who are into conspiracy theories. I feel it's more that Tesla, while a brilliant inventor, was also an awful businessman; he ended up going broke. Businessmen who go broke fade out of the public eye; we see this in the computer industry all the time. Edison, who wasn't near the inventor Tesla was, but who was a better businessman, is well remembered as is his General Electric. Still, let me list a few of Tesla's works just so you'll understand how bright he was. He invented the AC motor and transformer. (Think of every motor in your house.) He invented 3-phase electricity and popularised alternating current, the electrical distribution system used all over the world. He invented the Tesla Coil, which makes the high voltage that drives the picture tube in your computer's CRT. He is now credited with inventing modern radio as well; the Supreme Court overturned Marconi's patent in 1943 in favour of Tesla.

Tesla, in short, invented much of the equipment that gets power to your home every day from miles away, and many that use that power inside your home. His inventions made George Westinghouse (Westinghouse Corp.) a wealthy man. Finally, the unit of magnetic flux in the metric system is the "tesla". Other units include the "faraday" and the "henry", so you'll understand this is an honour given to few. So we're not talking about an unknown here, but rather a solid electrical engineer. Tesla whipped through a number of inventions early in his life. He found himself increasingly interested in resonance, and in particular, electrical resonance. Tesla found out something fascinating. If you set an electrical circuit to resonating, it does strange things indeed. Take for instance his Tesla Coil. This high frequency step-up transformer would kick out a few hundred thousand volts at radio frequencies. The voltage would come off the top of his coil as a "corona", or brush discharge. The little ones put out a six-inch spark; the big ones throw sparks many feet long. Yet Tesla could draw the sparks to his fingers without being hurt -- the high frequency of the electricity keeps it on the surface of the skin, and prevents the current from doing any harm. Tesla got to thinking about resonance on a large scale. He'd already pioneered the electrical distribution system we use today, and that's not small thinking; when you think of Tesla, think big. He thought, let's say I send an electrical charge into the ground. What happens to it? Well, the ground is an excellent conductor of electricity.

Let me spend a moment on this so you understand, because topsoil doesn't seem very conductive to most. The ground makes a wonderful sinkhole for electricity. This is why you "ground" power tools; the third (round) pin in every AC outlet in your house is wired straight to, literally, the ground.

Typically, the handle of your power tool is hooked to ground this way, if something shorts out in the tool and the handle gets electrified, the current rushes to the ground instead of into you. The ground has long been used in this manner, as a conductor.

Tesla generates a powerful pulse of electricity, and drains it into the ground. Because the ground is conductive, it doesn't stop. Rather, it spreads out like a radio wave, travelling at the speed of light, 186,000 miles per second. And it keeps going, because it's a powerful wave; it doesn't peter out after a few miles. It passes through the iron core of the earth with little trouble. After all, molten iron is very conductive. When the wave reaches the far side of the planet, it bounces back, like a wave in water bounces when it reaches an obstruction. Since it bounces, it makes a return trip; eventually, it returns to the point of origin. Now, this idea might seem wild. But it isn't science fiction. We bounced radar beams off the moon in the 1950's, and we mapped Venus by radar in the 1970's. Those planets are millions of miles away. The earth is a mere 3000 miles in diameter; sending an electromagnetic wave through it is a piece of cake. We can sense earthquakes all the way across the planet by the vibrations they set up that travel all that distance. So, while at first thought it seems amazing, it's really pretty straightforward. But, as I said, it's a typical example of how Tesla thought. And then he had one of his typically Tesla ideas.

He thought, when the wave returns to me (about 1/30th of a second after he sends it in), it's going to be considerably weakened by the trip. Why doesn't he send in another charge at this point, to strengthen the wave? The two will combine, go out, and bounce again. And then he'll reinforce it again, and again. The wave will build up in power. It's like pushing a swing set. You give a series of small pushes each time the swing goes out. And you build up a lot of power with a series of small pushes; ever tried to stop a swing when it's going full tilt? He wanted to find out the upper limit of resonance. And he was in for a surprise.

So Tesla moved into Colorado Springs, where one of his generators and electrical systems had been installed, and set up his lab. Why Colorado Springs? Well, his lab in New York had burned down, and he was depressed about that. And as fate would have it, a friend in Colorado Springs who directed the power company, Leonard Curtis, offered him free electricity. Who could resist that? After setting up his lab, he tuned his gigantic Tesla coil through that year, trying to get it to resonate perfectly with the earth below. And the townspeople noticed those weird effects; Tesla was electrifying the ground beneath their feet on the return bounce of the wave. Eventually, he got it tuned, keeping things at low power. But in the spirit of a true hacker, just once he decided to run it wide open, just to see what would happen. Just what was the upper limit of the wave he would build up, bouncing back and forth in the planet below? He had his Coil hooked to the ground below it, the 200-foot antenna above it, and getting as much electricity as he wanted right off the city power supply mains. Tesla went outside to watch (wearing three inch rubber soles for insulation) and had his assistant, Kolman Czito, turn the Coil on. There was a buzz from rows of oil capacitors, and a roar from the spark gap as wrist-thick arcs jumped across it. Inside the lab the noise was deafening. But Tesla was outside, watching the antenna. Any surge that returned to the area would run up the antenna and jump off as lightning. Off the top of the antenna shot a six-foot lightning bolt. The bolt kept going in a steady arc, though, unlike a single lightning flash. And here Tesla watched carefully, for he wanted to see if the power would build up, if his wave theory would work. Soon the lightning was twenty feet long, then fifty. The surges were growing more powerful. Eighty feet -- now thunder was following each lightning bolt. A hundred feet, a hundred twenty feet; the lightning shot upwards off the antenna. Thunder was heard booming around Tesla now (it was heard 22 miles away, in the town of Cripple Creek). The meadow Tesla was standing in was lit up with an electrical discharge very much like St. Elmo's Fire, casting a blue glow. His theory had worked! There didn't seem to be an upper limit to the surges; he was creating the most powerful electrical surges ever created by man. That moment he set the record, which he still holds, for manmade lightning. Then everything halted. The lightning discharges stopped, the thunder quit. He ran in, found the power company had turned off his power feed. He called them, shouted at them -- they were interrupting his experiment! The foreman replied that Tesla had just overloaded the generator and set it on fire, his lads were busy putting out the fire in the windings, and it would be a cold day in hell before Tesla got any more free power from the Colorado Springs power company!

All the lights in Colorado Springs had gone out. And that, readers, is to me the greatest hack in history. I've seen some amazing hacks. The 8-bit Atari OS. The Mac OS. The phone company computers -- well, lots of computers. But I've never seen anyone set the world's lightning record and shut off the power to an entire town, "just to see what would happen". For a few moments, there in Colorado Springs, he achieved something never before done. He had used the entire planet as a conductor, and sent a pulse through it. In that one moment in the summer of 1899, he made electrical history. That's right, in 1899 -- darn near a hundred years ago. Well, you may say to yourself, that's a nice story, and I'm sure George Lucas could make a hell of a move about it, special effects and all. But it's not relevant today. Or isn't it? Hang on to your hat.

Last month we talked about an amazing hack that Nikola Tesla did -- bouncing an electrical wave through the planet, in 1899, and setting the world's record for manmade lightning. This month, let me lay a little political groundwork. Last October I attended Hackercon 2.0, another gathering of computer hackers from all over. It was an informal weekend at a camp in the hills west of Santa Clara. One of the more interesting memories of Hackers 2.0 were the numerous diatribes against the Strategic Defence Initiative. Most speakers claimed it was impossible, citing technical problems. So many people felt obligated to complain about SDI that the conference was jokingly called "SDIcon 2.0". Probably the high(?) point of the conference was Jerry Pournelle and Timothy Leary up on stage debating SDI. I'll leave the description to your imagination -- it was everything you can think of and more. Personally, I was disturbed to see how many gifted hackers adopting the attitude of "let's not even try". That's not how micros got started. I mentioned to one Time magazine journalist that if anyone could make SDI go, it was the hackers gathered there. I also believe that the greatest hacker of them all, Nikola Tesla, solved the SDI technical problem back in 1899. The event was so long ago, and so amazing, that it's pretty much been forgotten; I described it last issue. Let me present my case for the Tesla Coil and SDI.

You will recall I said that Tesla was born in Yugoslavia (although back then, it was "Serbo-Croatia"). He is not unknown there; he is regarded as a national hero. Witness the Nikola Tesla museum in Belgrade, for instance. There's been interferences picked up, on this side of the planet, which is causing problems in the ham radio bands. Direction finding equipment has traced the interference in the SW band to two sources in the Soviet Union, which are apparently two high powered Tesla Coils. Why on earth are the Soviets playing with Tesla Coils? There's one odd theory that they're subjecting Canada to low level electrical interference to cause attitude change. Sigh. Moving right along, there's another theory, more credible, that they are conducting research in "over the horizon" radar using Tesla's ideas. (The Soviets are certainly not saying what they're doing.) When I read about this testing, it worried me. I don't think they're playing with attitude control or radar. I think they're doing exactly what Tesla did in Colorado Springs.

Time for another discussion of grounding. Consider your computer equipment. You've doubtlessly been warned about static electricity, always been told to ground yourself (thus discharging the static into the ground, an electrical sinkhole) before touching your computer. Companies make anti-static spray for your rugs. Static is in the 20,000 to 50,000 volt range. Computer chips run on five to twelve volts. The internal insulation is built for that much voltage. When they get a shot of static in the multiple thousand-volt range, the insulation is punctured, and the chip ruined. Countless computers have been damaged this way. Read any manual on inserting memory chips to a PC, and you'll see warnings about static; it's a big problem. Now Tesla was working in the millions of volts range. And his special idea -- that the ground itself could be the conductor -- now comes into relevance, nearly a hundred years after his dramatic demonstration in Colorado Springs. For, you see, in our wisdom we've grounded our many computers, to protect them from static. We've always assumed the ground is an electrical sinkhole. So, with our three-pin plugs we ground everything -- the two flat pins in your wall go to electricity (hot and neutral); the third, round pin, goes straight to ground. That third pin is usually hooked with a thick wire to a cold water pipe, which grounds it effectively. Tesla proved that you could give that ground a terrific charge, millions of volts of high frequency electricity. (Tesla ran his large coil at 33 KHz). Remember, the lightning surging off his Coil was coming from the wave bouncing back and forth in the planet below. In short, he was modifying the ground's electrical potential, changing it from an electrical sinkhole to an electrical source. Tesla did his experiment in 1899. There weren't any home computers with delicate chips hooked up to grounds then. If there had been, he'd have fried everything in Colorado Springs. There was, however, one piece of electrical equipment grounded at the time of the experiment, the city power generator. It caught fire and ended Tesla's experiment. The cause of its failure is interesting as well. It died from "high frequency kickback", something most electrical engineers know about. Tesla forgot that as the generator fed him power, he was feeding it high frequency from his Coil. High frequency quickly heats insulation; a microwave oven works on the same principle. In a few minutes, the insulation inside that generator grew so hot that the generator caught fire. When the lights went out all over Colorado Springs, there was the first proof that Tesla's idea has strategic possibilities. It gets scarier. Imagine Tesla's Coil, busily pumping an electrical wave in the Earth. On his side of the planet, he was getting 130-foot sparks, which is a hell of a lot of voltage and current. And simple wave theory will show you that those sorts of potentials exist on the far side of the planet as well. Remember, the wave was bouncing back and forth, being reinforced on every trip. The big question is how focused the opposite electrical pole will be. No one knows. But it seems probable that the far side of the planet's ground target area could be subjected to considerable electrical interference. And if computer equipment is plugged into that ground, faithfully assuming the ground will never be a source of electricity, it's just too bad for that equipment. This sort of electrical interference makes static look tiny by comparison. It doesn't take much difference in ground potential to kill a computer connected across it. Lightning strikes cause a temporary flare in ground voltage; I remember replacing driver chips on a network on all computers that had been caught by one lightning strike, when I lived in Austin. Imagine the effect on relatively delicate electronics if someone fires up a Tesla Coil on the far side of the planet, and subjects the grounds to steep electrical swings. The military applications are pretty obvious -- those ICBM's in North Dakota, for instance. It's possible they could be damaged in their silos, and from thousands of miles away. Running two or more Coils, you don't have to be exactly on the far side of the planet, either. Interference effects can give you high points where you need with varied tunings. Maybe, just maybe, the Soviets aren't doing "over the horizon" radar. Maybe they just bothered to read Tesla's notes. And maybe they are tuning up a real big surprise with their twin Coils.

You've heard of the Strategic Defence Initiative, or "Star Wars". We're searching for a way to stop a nuclear attack. Right now, we've got all sorts of high-powered research projects, with the emphasis on "new technology". Excimer laser, kinetic kill techniques, and even more exotic ideas. As any of you know that have written computer programs, it's darned hard to get something "new" to work. Maybe it's an error to focus on "new" exclusively. Wouldn't it be something if the solution to SDI lies a hundred years ago, in the forgotten brilliance of Nikola Tesla? For right now we can immobilize the electronics of installations half a planet away. The technology to do it was achieved in 1899, and promptly forgotten. Remember, we're not talking vague, unproven theories here. We're talking the world's record for lightning, and the inventor whose power system lights up your house at night.

All we'd have to do is build it. You might not believe the story about Tesla in Colorado Springs, and what he did. It's pretty amazing. It has a way of being forgotten because of that. And I'm not sure you want to hear about the SDI connection. Still, as you work on a computer, remember Tesla. His Tesla Coil supplies the high voltage for the picture tube you use. The electricity for your computer comes from a Tesla design AC generator, is sent through a Tesla transformer, and gets to your house through 3-phase Tesla power. Tesla's inventions... they have a way of working.

Wireless Electricity Of Nikola Tesla
.....by Melvin D. Saunders

........If a single one-megaton nuclear warhead were exploded 300 miles over the center of the country, a high-voltage electromagnetic pulse would in theory disrupt communication and electrical systems all over the continental U.S. Gamma rays emitted by such an explosion would instantly strip away the electrons from air molecules in the upper atmosphere in roughly a circular, pancake-shaped zone. The free electrons would then accelerate radially with the earth's magnetic field, separating from the heavier, positively charged ions and creating a downward directed high-voltage electromagnetic pulse. This in turn results in electrical surges in all exposed conductors on the ground.
........When Nikola Tesla invented the AC (alternating current) induction motor, he had great difficulty convincing men of his time to believe in it. Thomas Edison was in favor of direct current (DC) electricity and opposed AC electricity strenuously. Tesla eventually sold his rights to his alternating current patents to George Westinghouse for $1,000,000. After paying off his investors, Tesla spent his remaining funds on his other inventions and culminated his efforts in a major breakthrough in 1899 at Colorado Springs by transmitting 100 million volts of high-frequency electric power wirelessly over a distance of 26 miles at which he lit up a bank of 200 light bulbs and ran one electric motor! With this souped up version of his Tesla coil, Tesla claimed that only 5% of the transmitted energy was lost in the process. But broke of funds again, he looked for investors to back his project of broadcasting electric power in almost unlimited amounts to any point on the globe. The method he would use to produce this wireless power was to employ the earth's own resonance with its specific vibrational frequency to conduct AC electricity via a large electric oscillator. When J.P. Morgan agreed to underwrite Tesla's project, a strange structure was begun and almost completed near Wardenclyffe in Long Island, N.Y. Looking like a huge lattice-like, wooden oil derrick with a mushroom cap, it had a total height of 200 feet. Then suddenly, Morgan withdrew his support to the project in 1906, and eventually the structure was dynamited and brought down in 1917.
........A Tesla coil is a special transformer that can take the 110 volt electricity from your house and convert it rapidly to a great deal of high-voltage, high-frequency, low-amperage power. The high-frequency output of even a small Tesla coil can light up fluorescent tubes held several feet away without any wire connections. Even a large number of spent or discarded fluorescent tubes (their burned out cathodes are irrelevant) will light up if hung near a long wire running from a Tesla coil while using less than 100 watts drawn by the coil itself when plugged into an electrical outlet! Since the Tesla coil steps up the voltage to such a high degree, the alternating oscillations achieve sufficient excitations within the tubes of gases to produce lighting at a minimal expense of original power! Fluorescent tubes can be held under high-tension wires to produce the same lighting up effect. Remember the farmer a few years ago who was caught with an adaptive transformer under a set of high tension lines that ran over his property? Through the air, he pulled down all the power he needed to run his farm without using any connecting apparatus to the lines overhead! Any electrical engineer with the proper materials can do the same thing.
........Incandescent bulbs burn high resistance filaments that gobble up energy. Fluorescent tubes burn filaments (cathodes) to create an electrical flow that sets their internal phosphorus coatings aglow. Using a Tesla coil, high voltage AC can light up glass-enclosed vacuum bulbs coolly without any gases inside them at all! Any number of cold light bulbs can be lit using only one Tesla coil, and since there is nothing inside them to burn out, they can last indefinitely. It seems like a low cost form of street lighting, doesn't it?
........When Tesla was determining the resonant frequencies of the earth to potentially transmit unlimited electric power, he also recognized frequencies that acted as a damping field to nullify electric power. With the advent of the wireless and Tesla's unique investigations into broadcasting electricity, a dozen or more inventors thereafter announced their own means for transmitting electrical energy without wires. One British inventor, H. Grindell-Matthews, actually demonstrated his "mystery ray" apparatus in 1924 to a Popular Science Monthly writer in London (See: Pop. Sci. Monthly, Aug. 1924, P. 33). When his beam was directed toward the magneto system of a gasoline engine, it stopped the system. Afterwards, it ignited gun powder, lit an electric lamp bulb from a distance and killed a mouse in seconds! Grindell-Matthews said the secret was involved with the "carrier beam" he used to conduct a high-voltage, low-frequency electrical current. During 1936, Guglielmo Marconi experimented with extremely low frequency (ELF) waves and displayed their exceptional ability to penetrate metallic shielding. These waves could affect electrical devices, overload circuits and cause machines like generators, electric motors and automobiles to stall. Diesel engines, which do not rely on electrical ignition, were not affected. Mysteriously, Marconi's research on the subject was never found after the war.
........The above subject is just one of the many creative alternatives mentioned in the new manual, Creative Alternatives For A Changing World offered by: Creative Alternatives, P.O. Box 250, Palmdale, FL 33944 USA

Tesla's Wardenclyffe
laboratory, where
he tested his
death ray.

Tesla's Death Ray

Given that Tesla's inventions generally possessed an element of social conscience, of doing good for humanity, it may seem surprising that he created a number of devices with military applications. And the notion of the Tesla harnessing his mind for purposes of war may seem immensely frightening. After all, this is the man who boasted that with his resonance generator he could split the earth in two... and no one was ever quite sure whether he was joking.

The first Tesla invention with a proposed military use was his automaton technology, with which the labor of human beings could be performed by machines. Specifically, Tesla produced remote-controlled boats and submarines. He demonstrated the wireless ship at an exposition in Madison Square Garden in 1898. The automaton apparatus was so advanced, it used a form of voice recognition to respond to the verbal commands of Tesla and volunteers from the audience.

In public, Tesla spoke only of the humanitarian virtues of the invention: it would lessen the toils and drudgery of mankind and keep human lives out of harm's way. But Tesla actually had his hopes on a contract with the U.S. military. In a presentation before the War Department, Tesla argued that his unmanned torpedo craft could obliterate the Spanish Armada and end the war with Spain in an afternoon. The government never took Tesla up on his offer.

Tesla then decided to pitch the automated submarine to private industry, and submitted it for the approval of J. P. Morgan. According to some accounts, Morgan offered to manufacture Tesla's vessels, but only if Tesla would agree to marry Morgan's daughter. Such a deal was of course anathema to Tesla, and he and Morgan would not work together until Wardenclyffe, a couple of years later.

Tesla eventually landed a successful military contract -- with the German Marine High Command. The product here was not unmanned sea craft, but sophisticated turbines which Admiral von Tirpitz used to great success in his fleet of warships. After J. P. Morgan cut off his support of Wardenclyffe, this foreign contract was Tesla's only substantial source of income. Upon the outbreak of World War I, Tesla chose to forfeit his German royalties, lest he be charged with treason.

Nearly broke, and finding the United States on the brink of war, Tesla dreamed up a new invention that might interest the military: the death ray.

The mechanism behind Tesla's death ray is not well understood. It was apparently some sort of particle accelerator. Tesla said it was an outgrowth of his magnifying transformer, which focused its energy output into a thin beam so concentrated it would not scatter, even over huge distances. He promoted the device as a purely defensive weapon, intended to knock down incoming attacks -- making the death ray the great-great grandfather of the Strategic Defense Initiative.

It is not certain if Tesla ever used the death ray, or indeed if he even succeeded in building one. But the following is the often-related story of what happened one night in 1908 when Tesla tested the foreboding weapon.

At the time, Robert Peary was making his second attempt to reach the North Pole. Cryptically, Tesla had notified the expedition that he would be trying to contact them somehow. They were to report to him the details of anything unusual they might witness on the open tundra. On the evening of June 30, accompanied by his associate George Scherff atop Wardenclyffe tower, Tesla aimed his death ray across the Atlantic towards the arctic, to a spot which he calculated was west of the Peary expedition.

Tesla switched on the device. At first, it was hard to tell if it was even working. Its extremity emitted a dim light that was barely visible. Then an owl flew from its perch on the tower's pinnacle, soaring into the path of the beam. The bird disintegrated instantly.

That concluded the test. Tesla watched the newspapers and sent telegrams to Peary in hopes of confirming the death ray's effectiveness. Nothing turned up. Tesla was ready to admit failure when news came of a strange event in Siberia.

On June 30, a massive explosion had devastated Tunguska, a remote area in the Siberian wilderness. Five hundred thousand square acres of land had been instantly destroyed. Equivalent to ten to fifteen megatons of TNT, the Tunguska incident is the most powerful explosion to have occurred in human history -- not even subsequent thermonuclear detonations have surpassed it. The explosion was audible from 620 miles away. Scientists believe it was caused by either a meteorite or a fragment of a comet, although no obvious impact site or mineral remnants of such an object were ever found.

Nikola Tesla had a different explanation. It was plain that his death ray had overshot its intended target and destroyed Tunguska. He was thankful beyond measure that the explosion had -- miraculously -- killed no one. Tesla dismantled the death ray at once, deeming it too dangerous to remain in existence.

Six years later, the onset of the First World War caused Tesla to reconsider. He wrote to President Wilson, revealing his secret death ray test. He offered to rebuild the weapon for the War Department, to be used purely as a deterrent. The mere threat of such destructive force, he claimed, would cause the warring nations to agree at once to establish lasting peace.

The only response to Tesla's proposal was a form letter of appreciation from the president's secretary. The death ray was never reconstructed, and for that we should probably all be thankful.

Tesla made one one further attempt to aid in his country's war effort. In 1917, he conceived of a sending station that would emit exploratory waves of energy, enabling its operators to determine the precise location of distant enemy craft. The War Department rejected Tesla's "exploring ray" as a laughing stock.

A generation later, a new invention exactly like this helped the Allies win World War II. It was called radar.

Tesla's statue in Niagara Falls

Tesla died penniless
in obscurity, but his
legacy is slowly
gaining recognition

The Forgotten Genius

On January 7, 1943, Nikola Tesla died in New York City at the age of 87. He was virtually penniless, living at the dilapidated Hotel New Yorker in a room that he shared with a flock of pigeons, which he considered his only friends.

The thriving industries he had built had long since turned their backs on him. The scientific community shunned him and his eccentric views. To the general public, he was either unknown or an object of ridicule, a lunatic whose ravings were fit only for sensational tabloids. The popular Max Fleischer "Superman" cartoons of the 1940s pitted the Man of Steel against the death rays and electromagnetic terrors of a scheming mad scientist, whose name was Tesla.

How could this have happened? Whatever his flaws, however far afield he may have strayed at times, Tesla surely deserved better than this. Modern society owes him just as much as the people of his time did, if not more, and yet we have forgotten him.

There are several schools of thought on the question of Tesla's fall into obscurity. The first, and probably the most irrefutable, is that Tesla failed to make the history books because he failed as a businessman. The most successful people aren't necessarily the most brilliant, but those who can play the game to reach the top. Tesla was a disciple of the pure sciences as opposed to applied science, with little facility at figuring out how to profit from his ideas. His business associates often did not act on behalf of his best interests, and Tesla himself made scores of bad financial decisions.

For example, in the wake of Tesla's successful implementation of AC, he stood to collect an enormous amount of wealth. He had signed a contract with Westinghouse which could conceivably have put him among the richest men in America. But when George Westinghouse told Tesla that the financial drain of the arrangement would put his company's future in jeopardy, Tesla ripped the contract to shreds, as a gesture of friendship. Had he held Westinghouse to the deal, or at least negotiated for a fraction of it, Tesla would have died in luxury, and may have preserved his notoriety much more fittingly.

Other analysts take the blame off Tesla's shoulders, and propose that big business and the U.S. government conspired to suppress the inventor's genius. At the top of the suspected conspirator list is Thomas Edison. Edison despised his former employee's success with AC, and it is known that he set out on a campaign to smear Tesla's name. He held demonstrations at which animals were lethally electrocuted with AC-powered devices, in a deceptive and inhumane effort to warn the public of the danger posed by Tesla and Westinghouse's "unsafe" new electrical system. Edison also sat on the War Department advisory board that rejected Tesla's proposals of the death ray and his radar-like device.

J. P. Morgan is also implicated in the anti-Tesla cover-up. Morgan counted on increasing his already monumental wealth by exploiting Tesla's ideas, until he learned that Tesla was considering the free distribution of energy -- a terrifying idea to any self-respecting capitalist. He ended his funding of Tesla's experiments at once, and some think he used his considerable clout to ensure that no one else would bankroll Tesla's threatening schemes.

The government, which had always held Tesla at arm's length when he attempted to pitch a proposal, became suddenly fascinated with his work as soon as he died. The FBI ordered the Office of Alien Property to seize all of Tesla's papers and possessions. This confiscation was unequivocally illegal, since Tesla had been an American citizen since 1891.

The records of Tesla's work were judged to pose no threat to national security, and the FBI's file on Tesla was closed in 1943. It was reopened in 1957 in the wake of reports that the Russians were performing mysterious Tesla technology experiments. Many are convinced the Pentagon has followed suit with top-secret Tesla-based projects of its own, the most infamous being HAARP, the High-frequency Active Auroral Research Program. Reminiscent of Tesla's giant magnifying transmitter, only pointed in the opposite direction, the $30-million experiment is designed to pump enormous quantities of energy into the atmosphere over Alaska. The purposes of HAARP are unclear, although researchers probing the project have called it everything from a communications and surveillance network to a mass mind-control device.

A final theory is that Tesla ruined his reputation with his own outlandish inventions and claims. Some claim that Tesla went wrong as soon as he struck upon his quest for wireless energy. Others believe that he descended into insanity or senility when he began to speak of death rays and Martians. Tesla never accepted the work of Albert Einstein, which he criticized as being vague and incoherent. Given his adherence to these beliefs, many question how great a scientist Tesla could have been.

Strictly speaking, such arguments are probably correct. To the best of modern scientific knowledge, Tesla's free energy system simply would not work, there are no signals broadcast from Mars, and the theory of relativity is sound. But there are two things left to consider.

First, even if Tesla's later ideas were dead wrong, they by no means diminish the immense quantity of very right ideas that he contributed to our world. And second, it bears remembering that alternating current was also perceived as unrealistic Tesla gibberish for quite some time before its true brilliance was finally proven. There is the possibility, however remote, that Tesla's most bizarre concepts will be validated at some point in the future, when science finally catches up with him. Only time will tell.

For now, Tesla's true legacy is increasingly being recognized, bit by bit. The Supreme Court ruled shortly after his death that Tesla was the legal inventor of radio, not Guglielmo Marconi. Similarly, Tesla has been rightfully acknowledged as the inventor of the fluorescent bulb, the vacuum tube amplifier and the X-ray machine. History books are now starting to include these facts. Finding exposure in our current so-called "information age," in which technology is king and strange new ideas are tolerated more and more, Tesla is becoming something of a folk hero. This may run the risk of reducing Tesla and his work to an Internet fad, but any effort that keeps his name alive is worthwhile.

The final fate of Tesla's Wardenclyffe laboratory was strangely fraught with meaning. In 1917, it was consigned to demolition. Tesla's money for its upkeep had run dry, and its meager remaining contents were reportedly coveted by German spies. As a preemptive move, it was dynamited. But the proud steel tower of Wardenclyffe remained. The demolition crew blasted the site repeatedly, but the tower would not collapse. They had to return at a later date and dynamite it once more. It fell to the ground, but did not explode, nor did it shatter into pieces upon its thunderous impact.

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