Articles‎ > ‎

The Resurrection of Nikola Tesla

posted Jan 30, 2013, 10:31 PM by Ellen Pearlman

The Resurrection of Nikola Tesla

image

Scene from the opera “Violet Fire” showing Tesla and his beloved white pigeon inside a lightbulb. Photo from Violetfireopera.com

The computer you are using to read this post on, your probable wireless device, nay the entire grid that is lighting the room you are in as well as the wires that are transmitting power are all the fruit of Nicola Tesla’s inventions. His life, so full of triumph and failure reads like an opera, and in fact the 2006 opera  ”Violet Fire” was written about the unbelievable but true facts of his existence. Directed by Terry O’Reilly of Mabou Mines, with a libretto by Miriam Seidel, and score by Jon Gibson of the Phillip Glass Ensemble it portrays Tesla as a highly imaginative man who communes with his only love, a white pigeon - a fact not far from the truth as Tesla died an 86 year old virgin who, in his declining years befriended a lovely, wounded white pigeon. 

Tesla’s inventions encompass most of what we take to be the facts of modern life; the AC motor and distribution service; devices that use rotating magnetic fields; the radio and fundamentals of wireless communication; robotics; logic gates for secure radio frequency communication and radio frequency oscillators; electronic ignition of gas engines; coaxial cable; devices for x-rays and charged particle beams; apparatus for producing ozone and ionized gases; the bladeless turbine; and even Vertical Take-off and Landing (VTOL) aircraft, to mention just a few among his 700 patents.

Nikola Tesla was such an important inventor and all-time game changer for the first half of the 20th century that in 1931 his countenance graced the cover of Time Magazine. But by 1943, a  scant 12 years later, he died penniless and alone in the New Yorker Hotel, having his ideas, patents and inventions used and abused by some of the richest and most famous men in the United States including George Westinghouse, J.P. Morgan, John Jacob Astor IV, and most notably, Thomas Edison. 

image

The situation was so unfair that now, 70 years after his death there is a on-line comic book The Oatmeal decrying “Why Nikola Tesla Was the Greatest Geek Who Every Lived,” which also sparked a debate in Forbes Magazine with charges and counter-charges flying about who to did what to whom during Tesla’s lifetime.  The author of The Oatmeal, Matthew Inman then managed to go on and raise over a million dollars on Indie GoGo to help build a Tesla Museum.

image

Matthew Inman of The Oatmeal receiving award from Tesla Society in New York City, January 6, 2013

Tesla was born in 1856. His father was a Serbian Orthodox priest and his maternal grandfather was also a Serbian Orthodox priest. In 1884 he emigrated to New York and began to work for Thomas Edison, who deceptively offered him $50,000 to fix his unmanagable DC (Direct Current) motors and generators. When Tesla stepped to the task and succeeded  Edison laughingly withdrew the offer, and instead increased his pay to a a paltry $28.00 a week. Tesla quit. 

image
Coins and stamps depicting Nikoa Tesla
But it was in 1893, when Westinghouse was awarded the bid to provide AC electricity to the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago that Tesla became prominent. Besides working with Westinghouse he demonstrated his induction motor he called  Egg of Columbus that used a copper egg spinning on its axis powered by electro-magnetic gyroscopic principles. At that time Westinghouse was battling Thomas Edison for predominance over his and Tesla’s AC current versus Edison’s DC current, referred to as the “War of Currents.” In order to stay afloat financially in the fiercely competitive situation Westinghouse convinced Tesla to hand over his patents on the project for a lump sum, thereby depriving him of millions of dollars of royalties in later life. 
In 1898 at Madison Square Garden in NY, Tesla used radio waves to demonstrate remote control of a toy boat. The assembled crowd was sure it was either “magic to telepathy…(or) a trained monkey hidden inside.”
image
Tesla’s remote controlled boat in 1898
In 1899 he moved to Colorado Spring setting up a lab that produced artificial lightening, invoked blue arcs of St. Elmo’s fire around butterflies wings, and indadvertedly blowing out the electricity of the entire town. At that point John Jacob Astor IV stepped in as one of his funders to produce a new lighting system, but Tesla poured his money directly into the lab to fund development in other areas, and with the money running out it closed a scant year later.
image
Tesla in his lab in Colorado Springs
In 1900 J. Pierpont Morgan gave Tesla $150,000 to develop Wardenclyffe Tower in Shoreham, Long Island to build a wireless telegraphy station, and ultimately a wireless electrical generating station. Constructed by architect Stanford White, its initial purpose was to report yacht races, communicate with ocean steamers and send messages in Morse code to England. By 1901 Marconi beat Tesla to the punch by transmitting the letter “S” from England to Newfoundland.  At that point Morgan withdrew his financial support and in 1917 the 187 foot tower was blown up and sold for scrap to pay Tesla’s debts.
image
Wardenclyffe in 1904
image
Wireless transmission of electricity from a Tesla Coil to a flourscent light bulb, Tesla Conference, January 6, 2013
In later life Tesla moved into the New Yorker Hotel, existing on a minuscule stipend provided by the Westinghouse Company. He died in room 3327 of the hotel on January 7, 1943, alone and in debt.
 
However, he was accorded a state funeral at Cathedral St. John the Divine on  January 12, 1943 that was written up in the New York Times.  President and Eleanor Roosevelt sent condolences saying, “The President and I are deeply sorry to hear of the death of Mr. Nikola Tesla. We are grateful for his contribution to science and industry and to this country.”  Nobel prize winners were casket bearers and Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia delivered the Eulogy. Cremated against his religion by his nephew, as Belgrade was under siege and his remains could not be repatriated, Tesla’s ashes now reside in the Tesla Museum in Belgrade. But a scant three days previously upon his learning of his death the FBI ordered the Alien Property Custodian to confiscate all of his possessions from the New Yorker Hotel, despite the fact he was a naturalized American Citizen. They carted them off to the Manhattan Storage and Warehouse Company under official OAP (Office of Alien Property) seal. His possessions were combed over by Dr. John G. Trump, an MIT professor and technical consultant to the National Defense Research Committee who deemed them harmless, including rumors of Tesla’s supposed “death ray.” 
image
Urn of Tesla’s ashes in Telsa Museum, Belgrade
“The present is theirs. The future, for which I really worked, is mine.” - Nikoa Tesla
Comments