Tesla's Controversial Life and Death
by Jeane Manning

Electric power is everywhere, present in unlimited quantities and can drive the world's machinery without the need of coal, oil, gas or any other fuels.


Colorado Springs, International Tesla Symposium,

July, 1988

—The man sitting next to me was in tears, shaking with quiet hiccupping sobs as if trying to be unobtrusive. He was rotund and wore thick glasses, but otherwise there was little to distinguish his appearance from that of two hundred other electrical engineers and other Tesla fans in the convention hall, still attentive to the scientist who had addressed them so eloquently and was leaving the podium.

It was not difficult to figure out why the man beside me was moved emotionally. The guest speaker, astrophysicist Adam Trombly, seemed to have choreographed his talk to lead to the moment. First he warmed up his audience by praising their hero. He reminded them that Nikola Tesla was the turn-of-the-century genius who fathered alternating current technologies, radar, fluorescent tubes, and bladeless turbines. Tesla also presented the first viable arguments for robots, rockets, and particle beams.


If society had followed up on the inventions Nikola Tesla envisioned at the turn of the century as he rode in a carriage near what is now this hotel, said Trombly,

"we wouldn't have a fossil-fuel economy today. And J. P. Morgan, Rockefeller and a number of others wouldn't have amassed extraordinary fortunes on the basis of that fossil fuel economy."


Trombly added that if Tesla's vision had prevailed, we would be dipping into a clean and abundant energy, like taking water from the well of space.

After all, the theoretical basis for vacuum energy is now part of the physics literature:

. . . Not just in the literature of the fringe; it's been in Physical Review since 1975, Review of Modern Physics since 1962, and in European physics literature since the early 50s. Harold Puthoff in his May 1987 article in Physical Review D pointed out that in order for the hydrogen atom in its ground state not to collapse, it had to be absorbing energy from the vacuum.

The astrophysicist saw this scientific work as further vindication of Tesla. Trombly said that in the nineteenth century Tesla prophesied that people would someday hook their machinery up to "the very wheelworks of nature"—the energy of vacuum space.

Trombly noted that electrons themselves must spontaneously appear out of the background field of energy, or,

"we would have to invoke a rather Neanderthal concept that everything had its start in a certain moment."

The speaker paused as if to let the audience catch his sarcasm, then added,

"because we have embraced this [Big Bang] cosmology for the last couple of decades, we have some real problems."

In contrast, Trombly said, a more advanced cosmology sees everything as a modification of an energy-rich background field. Our physical bodies are relatively insignificant modifications of that field. The field itself has a potential energy equivalence, in grams, of 10-to-the-94th power grams per cubic centimeter. The human body, in comparison, has a gram equivalent of only about one gram per cubic centimeter.


That means that the background energy is 10 (wish 94 zeros after the ten) times more energy-rich than our physical bodies.


It's a lot of energy, Trombly said. Why not invent a pocket size device which could tap a kilowatt of this space energy? It could "just kind of scrape the surface, ever so slightly" of the 10-to-the-94th-power grams per cubic centimeter supply of energy.

"That's what Nikola Tesla was scheduled to tell Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1943. In 1943 he proposed to FDR that perhaps we should look carefully at the fact that we can get all the energy we need from any space we happen to be in.

"He didn't show up for the meeting; he was found dead in his apartment— 'natural causes.'"

The speaker added quietly that despite the official statement on the cause of death, then is some suspicion that Tesla's paranoia about what he ate was more premonition than paranoia. Trombly then related an incident which fueled this suspicion. He had given a speech at the University of Toronto, Canada, for the 1981 conference on Non-Conventional Energy.


Afterward, an older gentleman with a heavy New York accent came up to Trombly and said he had been a detective at the time Nikola Tesla was found dead, and had been involved in the investigation. The old man had produced vintage credentials to show Trombly that he had indeed been a detective. The man appeared to be old enough to have been an adult in 1943.

In a soft voice Trombly said that the old man had said that,

"for national security reasons no one was to know that the coroner's report showed that Tesla was poisoned."

A shocked silence descended on the Colorado Springs meeting room when the Tesla Society heard this, coming from a physicist who would not lightly risk his reputation by relating such a story. The silence lifted as the audience honored Trombly with applause at the end of his speech.

To understand why Tesla's story—the life of a dead inventor—can so grip the emotions of yet another generation of technophiles, we need to look at some highlights.


Tesla was a witty, elegantly-dressed loner, at the height of his fame in the late 1800s when the world knew he had invented the whole system of alternating current (AC) electrical generation and distribution which lit up the cities. But that was barely the beginning of his productivity.

Born in 1856 in the rural village of Smiljan in what became Yugoslavia, Nikola Tesla in his boyhood went from the highs of mystical communion with nature to the lows of suffering with cholera and the loss of his older brother. His father was a minister who wrote poetry and his mother a storyteller with a photographic memory. She was also an inventor of domestic laborsaving devices.

Nikola showed his true direction from an early age; at the age of five he invented a unique bladeless waterwheel and placed the little model in a creek. The child also built a motor powered by sixteen live June bugs. His father was not impressed. He insisted that Nikola would follow family tradition and be a clergyman, so he began his son's education at a young age with rigorous mental exercises.

When he was of legal age, Nikola managed to get his father's permission to study engineering instead of the ministry. After he completed his studies at the Austrian Polytechnic School in Graz and then in 1880 at the University of Prague, he worked for a European telephone company and upgraded their technology.

Meanwhile, a more difficult challenge which he had shouldered in his college days was always with him; he was determined to improve the electrical motor and dynamo. Dynamos naturally make alternating cur-rent, the type of electric flow which continually changes directions. Tesla intuitively felt that it should be possible to run a motor on AC electricity and eliminate the inefficient sparking of brushes from a commutator.


His theory went against textbook knowledge in those early days of electrification, when direct current (DC) was considered the only type of current that would run motors.


Despite ridicule from his engineering professor, Tesla maintained that there had to be a better way. He worked so intensely on this and other engineering problems that his health broke down. While Tesla recuperated, a friend who was a master mechanic and an athlete took him for long walks through Budapest. In February of 1882 one day while they walked in a park, Tesla was inspired by the setting sun. To his amazement, that is when he made a breakthrough to answering the technical challenge of making a workable AC electrical system to turn a motor.


He was reciting lines from the German poet Goethe's Faust:

The glow retreats, done is the break of toil; It yonder hastes, new fields of life exploring. Ah, that no wing can lift me from the soil, Upon its track to follow, follow soaring!

Tesla was stopped in his tracks by a vivid vision. It was as if a 3-D holographic picture of a rotating magnetic field was in motion in front of his eyes and he could reach out and put his hands into it. He saw how the field—a magnetic whirlwind—was produced by alternating currents out of step with each other. He saw separate coils of wire, arranged as four segments of a circle.


The first alternating current would energize a coil creating an electromagnetic field which attracted the magnet and then faded. The second overlapping current would feed the next coil and drag the magnet around further and then fade and so on. He saw it as a process similar to the sun traveling around and "giving life wherever she goes."

Speechless, Tesla waved his arms in excitement. His buddy tried to lead him to a nearby bench, but Tesla grabbed a stick to draw a diagram in the dust.

"See my motor here! Watch me reverse it," Tesla blurted out.

His friend was afraid that Tesla had lost his mind. Tesla was indeed in another world at that moment. As he watched his vision move, he saw the electrical principle that later made the twentieth century operate.

His rotating magnetic field would not only mean a better motor, it would revolutionize the electrical industry. He mapped out refinements of the idea with several or even five overlapping currents at a time—the basis of a polyphase transmission system. But first he had to convince someone to finance the development of these world-changing inventions. A stepping-stone to that goal was a job in Paris later that year, where he attracted the attention of the Continental Edison Company by his successes as a troubleshooter who fixed their dynamos. Another step was to demonstrate the first induction motor for the mayor of Strasburg.


The mayor had invited wealthy potential investors to the demonstration, but they failed to comprehend Tesla's vision of a future for the brushless motor.


Surely it would be welcomed in America, Tesla thought. At twenty-eight years of age he was ready to make his move to the land of opportunity, where he expected that his great discovery would be quickly developed for humanity's use. Before Tesla left Paris, one of his bosses at Continental Edison handed him a letter introducing him to the famous inventor Thomas Alva Edison.

"I know two great men and you are one of them; the other is this young man," the letter read.

When Tesla stepped off the ship in New York on June 6, 1884, he only had four pennies in his pocket, because he had been robbed on the way to the ship. But he did not at all resemble the stereotypical impoverished immigrant; he wore a bowler hat and stylish coat, and his posture was aristocratic. He still had the letter of introduction to Thomas Edison.

Edison, then age thirty-seven, had already proven his ability as a businessman as well as inventor. He was a hero to Tesla at first. The polite European admired Edison's accomplishments—discoveries made by trial-and-error and with only grade-school level of formal education. Tesla ignored his rough manners. But Edison on the other hand repudiated Tesla's theory on how to work with AC electricity; Edison used DC in his electric lamps and had invested all his efforts in DC technologies.

Tesla was put to work repairing and improving Edison's DC dynamos and motors on board a ship. He also won Edison's grudging respect by working eighteen-hour days in Edison's Manhattan workshop, seven days a week, and by conquering difficult technical problems.

One day Tesla described how he could improve the efficiency of Edison's dynamo, and Edison reportedly replied, "There's fifty thousand dollars in it for you if you can do it." The European immigrant worked tirelessly—thirty-two hours in one stretch. After months of work, the new machines were tested and found to measure up, and Edison prepared to profit from his improved dynamo.


When Tesla went to the boss and asked for the promised $50,000 bonus, however, Edison would not pay.

"Tesla," he said, "you don't understand our American humor."

Nikola Tesla had a well-developed sense of humor, but when someone reneged on a verbal deal he was not amused. He walked out, and into a job on a crew digging ditches with pick and shovel.

Two years later Tesla's luck changed; he had the opportunity to develop his "polyphase system" of AC and patented the AC motor, generator and transformer. By 1891, Tesla had forty patents on his AC induction motor and polyphase system.

An industrialist and inventor of the railroad air brake, George Westinghouse of Pittsburgh, helped Tesla to change history. Westinghouse, a stocky, adventurous man with a walrus mustache, shared Tesla's vision of a power system that could harness hydroelectric resources such as Niagara Falls and could send high-voltage electricity on wires over vast distances. He bought all of Tesla's patents on the polyphase AC system, and signed a contract to pay Tesla a million dollars cash, plus royalties of $2.50 per horsepower produced by the system.


Tesla thought he would never have to worry about money again; he could invent to his heart's content.


One of the first challenges that Westinghouse and Tesla faced together was what was called the War of the Currents—the AC/DC battle. It was a time when America's power grid had not yet been built but DC proponents were nevertheless becoming an entrenched interest group stubbornly lighting the use of alternating current (AC) for generating, sending and using electricity. Thomas Edison led the opposition. His own inventions used direct current (DC).


However, DC does not travel well. To give people electrical lights, heat and other uses of the current, a power plant had to be built for every square mile served. At the end of a mile of DC power line, light bulbs barely glowed. Skyscrapers and their elevators would have been impossible to build if Edison's views had won.

Tesla knew that AC was the better system for electrical distribution; it could easily travel for hundreds of miles down very slender wires at high pressures (high voltage) and then transformers could reduce the voltage for household use.

In the War of the Currents, most of the casualties were animals. During the time that Edison gave speeches defending the merits of DC over AC, the neighborhood around his New Jersey laboratory was mysteriously losing dogs and cats. Throughout 1887 Edison or his staff grabbed animals off the street by day, and at night invited reporters and other guests to watch what happened when an unsuspecting dog was pushed onto a tin sheet and electrocuted with high voltages—using the Tesla/Westinghouse AC current, of course. Edison referred to electrocuting as "Westinghousing."

Carrying on this strategy of linking AC with electrocution and death, the Edison camp distributed scare pamphlets warning that Westinghouse wanted to put this deadly AC current into every American home. However, Edison omitted the fact that the current would first be reduced in voltage. Through this disinformation campaign, Edison was determined to sway the public toward his DC technology, inefficient as it was.

To answer accusations against the safety of AC, Tesla in turn developed showmanship; he proved that he could conduct AC through his own body without ill effects. He stood on a platform in white tie and tails and cork-bottomed shoes. Bolts of electricity crackled and snapped, and he allowed several hundred thousand volts to dance over his body and light the bulbs in his hands.


However, although the voltage (pressure) of the electricity was high, he reduced the amperage (quantity) and used high frequencies. That type of electrical current crawls over a body and therefore doesn't reach vital organs. As an argument against Edison it was cheating, because domestic AC switches back and forth on a conductor 60 times a second, not thousands of times as in high frequencies.

Edison, however, played dirtier. He persuaded state prison authorities to kill a death-row prisoner with AC current instead of executing him by hanging. It was a further attempt to popularize the phrase "to Westinghouse" as a replacement for "to electrocute." Prison officials miscalculated the amount of current needed to kill the condemned man, and newspaper reporters witnessed a messy smoky execution.

Despite Edison's efforts, Tesla and Westinghouse won the Battle of the Currents. In 1892 Westinghouse built an AC system for lighting the 1893 world fair in Chicago.


A big hydroelectric project was the second major victory for AC supporters; in 1895 Tesla's first generating unit was put into operation at Niagara Falls. Eventually, Tesla's distribution system delivered immense amounts of electrical power across the continent. Since Westinghouse had signed a contract giving Tesla $2.50 per horsepower, Tesla could have died as a multibillionaire.

"Morganization" intervened, however, with cut-throat practices directed against George Westinghouse. Business competitors in the real-life game of Monopoly tried to squeeze him out of the power picture and gave him an ultimatum:

"get rid of your contract with Tesla or you're finished."

When Westinghouse laid his cards in front of Tesla and admitted to being in financial trouble, Tesla demonstrated his priorities. He remembered that

Westinghouse had believed in him and had invested in the new AC patents when others had not had such courage. Therefore, so that Westinghouse would survive financially and the technology would be developed, Tesla took a cash settlement and walked away from the millions of future dollars assigned to him by the per-horsepower deal. He tore up the lucrative contract in order to help a friend.

Meanwhile, the power monopolists were poised to grab as much money as possible. When Tesla's inventions made it possible to send electrical power from huge waterfalls across the states, tycoons prepared to make fortunes in utility companies. These captains of industry wanted the 60-cycle-per-second AC power system to continue to grow and cover the earth with power poles, transformers and wires.


Transmission towers would march up and down mountainsides and across deserts. Power companies would dam rivers for hydro power and make the people pay for every watt sent over the companies' copper wires. The power magnates did not want the inventor to uproot this growing forest of money trees.

J. Pierpont Morgan pulled the strings that formed the huge company General Electric, for example, and had already bought up copper mines knowing that transmission wires would eventually crisscross every industrialized continent.

But Tesla was a discoverer, not a business shark. His new plan was wireless transmission of energy—free energy for anyone who sticks a tuned receiver into the ground while Tesla's tuned transmitter was resonating frequencies!

The financiers on Wall Street didn't catch the drift of Tesla's "wireless" talk right away. The plan was so futuristic that it was literally over every-one's head. But he was giving enough clues for anyone who had been ready to catch his vision. In the same year that the lighting of the World's Fair dazzled society, he talked about "earth resonance" at a lecture to the prestigious Franklin Institute.


Earth resonance was part of his vision for wireless power. The secret is sending out the correct frequency—speed of vibration—with electrical pulses. Just as a piano string will vibrate when another instrument at a distance hits the same note as its tuned frequency, wireless receivers would resonate with the transmitter frequencies. The power would be tuned in just like you tune in a radio station. Some Tesla researchers also believe that he could have resonated the cavity between the ionosphere and the ground.


Just like the cavity within a violin, this spherical Schumann cavity has its own resonant frequency. Disregarding the danger of making his own previous inventions obsolete, in the next few years he thought up the processes necessary for futuristic wireless transmission.


While the business community assumed he was talking about wireless communications signals only, he had a far Suppressed Inventions and Other Discoveries grander plan—sending power wirelessly in order that anyone at any place on the planet could plug into freely-available electricity. Before his financiers figured out where Tesla's research was leading, it was briefly funded by men such as Colonel John Jacob Astor as well as Morgan.

The same year that Tesla's generator turned on the power from Niagara Falls, he suffered a major setback. One night in March of 1895 his laboratory burned down, with all files and apparatus destroyed. When he returned from a meeting, he discovered the smoking mess of twisted metal that had fallen through two floors to the foundations of the building. Afterward he wandered through the streets in a daze for hours.


The loss of his papers meant that he could not document what he had been working on. For example, later that year the discovery of X-rays by German physicist Wilhelm Conrad Roentgen was made public.


Tesla's papers could have proven that he had been the first to take pictures by X-ray.


Next Tesla concentrated on patenting his methods for sending power and messages wirelessly. In 1889 to 1890, Tesla moved his operations to the high country of Colorado Springs, Colorado, to test his new ideas and develop the art of tuned radio frequency. He built a high-voltage laboratory on a hillside cow pasture. Inside his lab was the world's largest Tesla coil, and the building was topped by a flagpole-like structure. While experimenting on a massive scale, toward his new goal of sending electromagnetic vibrations throughout Earth, he predicted that Tesla coils could also be pocket-size message receiving devices.

Tesla's God of Lightning experiments in Colorado Springs were truly dramatic. Thunder reverberated for at least 15 miles when he fired up the electrical discharges. His massive 52-foot diameter Tesla coils discharged more than 12 million volts at a burst, and threw electric sparks of more than a hundred feet in length from the copper ball on top of his pole.


The townspeople sometimes thought his laboratory was on fire. The ground under their feet was so highly charged that spectators at a distance from the laboratory would see tiny sparks between their heels and the sandy soil when they walked, according to biographer Margaret Cheney. Half a mile away, horses would get a shock from their metal horseshoes and would bolt in panic.

The inventor did start a fire one day, when his "magnifying transmitter" experiment accidentally burned out the power plant for the town of Colorado Springs. The town went dark and the overloaded dynamo was in flames. It took Tesla's team of technicians a week to repair the town's generator.


Satisfied that he knew enough to carry out his magnificent vision of a world telegraphy system and wireless power, Tesla returned to New York. He hired an architect to design a building with a 154 foot high wooden tower, to be used as a huge transmitter. The tower was topped with a doughnut-shaped copper electrode.


As the design changed, the structure evolved to the shape of a giant mushroom sprouting above the low hills of Long Island. Tesla named the project Wardenclyffe, envisioning a station to send out power as well as to broadcast communication channels of all radio wavelengths. The tower was nearly finished in 1902, along with the square brick building, 100 feet on each side, built below it for a power-house and laboratory.

Tesla predicted that when people experience wireless transmission of electrical power affecting their everyday lives,

"humanity will be like an ant heap stirred up with a stick."

The excitement that he anticipated never had a chance to develop, however. Work on the structure halted in 1906 after J. Pierpont Morgan stopped funding it.

Some historians believe that Morgan had been sincerely interested in wireless broadcasting. Others argue that Morgan's motivation for briefly funding Tesla's tower was to gain control over Tesla. As long as Tesla was an uncontrolled loner, a wild card in the industrial world, his inventions could threaten Morgan's investments in the electrical industry. If wireless transmission of power worked, of course, the value of power utilities and copper mines would plummet. Morgan's companies such as General Electric could have toppled.

While Tesla's fortunes went downhill starting in 1906, Morgan would not reply to Tesla's letters, and other financiers on Wall Street also turned their backs on Tesla for the remainder of his life. In a letter begging an associate for financial help, Tesla mentioned one of the tactics used to discredit him.

"My enemies have been so successful in representing me as a poet and a visionary . .."

One of Tesla's biographers is Dr. Marc Seifer, a psychology professor who researched a psycho-biography of Tesla for his doctoral thesis. Seifer believes that Tesla sowed the seeds of his own financial ruin by not making clear to J. P. Morgan, Sr. his intention to broadcast power from Wardenclyffe as well as to send communications.


However, Seifer also thinks that Morgan could have transcended his own limitations and given Tesla the money to complete at least the radio portion of the tower "and the world would have evolved in a totally different way."


Instead, from that time onward Tesla was unable to build the technologies which he believed would help humanity. Seifer mentions the influential men whom Morgan paid a visit when they were ready to close a deal with Tesla. "Morgan purposefully scuttled any future ways Tesla could raise money."

He was deeply in debt, having plowed all his resources into his experiments and Wardenclyffe. Having a strong taste for the elegant life, he had run up an outrageous tab in his more than twenty years of living at the Waldorf-Astoria hotel. The hotel took the deed for Wardenclyffe in lieu of payment. Seifer feels that one reason for Tesla handing over the property to the owner of the Waldorf-Astoria is that he thought he could eventually resurrect the project.


His plan was to develop an invention that would be a big money-maker, and his hopes were pinned onto his bladeless turbine/pump. Tesla expected the bladeless turbine to replace the gasoline engine in auto-mobiles, ocean liners and airplanes and then he would use the subsequent wealth to complete his project for world-wide wireless power.

Seifer concludes that one of Tesla's motivations for another invention, a beam weapon which was also called a death ray, was to convince his government that the Wardenclyffe tower should be saved for military use. By attaching a beam weapon to it, he could have claimed that the tower was a strategic property for shooting down incoming aircraft or submarines during World War I.

His efforts were further scattered during this time by a lawsuit against Guglielmo Marconi, the Italian who had hung around his laboratory before the fire of March 13, 1885. In 1901 Marconi sent a signal across the Atlantic which in the eyes of the public secured Marconi's claim to be the inventor of radio.


When Tesla had heard the news of the transatlantic wireless signal, he reportedly said,

"Marconi is a good fellow. Let him continue. He's using seventeen of my patents."

By the time Tesla tried to collect the hundreds of thousands of dollars owed him so he could rescue Wardenclyffe, most of his patents had elapsed. He did resurrect his main radio patent in 1914, Seifer said. Tesla did not win his suit against Marconi, not because of the legal strength of his case but because World War I interfered.


The assistant attorney general of the time, Franklin Roosevelt, and President Woodrow Wilson pushed for a law saying there could be no patent disputes during the war. Seifer added that by the time the war was over it was much more difficult for Tesla to sue. (Eight months after his death, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Tesla's radio-related patents preceded Marconi's. Even after the court's decision, school history books continue to credit Marconi for in venting radio.)

Tesla was squeezed out of the picture by the force of corporate interests.

"David Sarnoff was Marconi's front man, and Sarnoff created RCA and NBC and purposely kept Tesla's patents out of the loop," Seifer said. "So when people like Hammond and Marconi were getting $500,000 at a clip for their wireless patents, Tesla got nothing."


The picture of corporate ruthlessness is reinforced by the experience of the late Philo T. Farnsworth, an inventor of television. In Philo's biography, Elma G. Farnsworth told about Sarnoff's treatment of her husband, and about the early 1930s when RCA dominated the radio industry to the point where no one could make broadcasting or receiving equipment with-out paying patent royalties to RCA.

"RCA's policy regarding patents, licenses, and royalties was very simple: the company was formed to collect patent royalties. It never paid them."

Elma Farnsworth added that corporations have always been ambivalent toward inventors and patents. "Although they regard patents as a huge bulwark when protecting their own monopolies, they see the patent system as a great nuisance when it upholds the rights of an individual." She gives the example of two pioneers of radio who battled RCA for their rights unsuccessfully. Dr. Lee DeForest died bankrupt and Major Howard Armstrong put on his coat, hat and gloves and walked out the high window of his New York Apartment.

Tesla never threatened suicide, but he did admit to despairing. Before he could make much progress with the bladeless turbine, his dream of saving the Wardenclyffe structure began to crumble. For one thing, the new owner saw no value in the project and did not post guards on the property. Since the businessman believed that Tesla was just a vain dreamer, he did not try to protect the contents of the laboratory and it was vandalized and stripped.

The Wardenclyffe tower was dynamited in 1917, but not by the government as some legends would have it. Instead it was torn down to be sold as scrap metal. After this dramatic turning point in Tesla's career, he began to disappear from public view.


Perhaps partly to run away from the sight of the ruined Wardenclyffe structure, the inventor traveled to Chicago. That city held memories of earlier, more triumphant, times such as the World's Fair of 1893 which showcased his AC technologies. Now he spent time with biographer Hugo Gernsback as well as worked on technical problems with the round disks in his bladeless turbine. In his day the available steel was not strong enough far anything moving at such a high speed.


(Again, he was ahead of his time and in the 1990s engineers are beginning to catch up and even improve on his designs. The Tesla Engine Builders' Association is a cooperative network of researchers doing just what their name says. This is perhaps the most practical Tesla invention at this time, and could be extensively replacing fossil fuel or nuclear power generation.)

From Chicago he moved again, living alternately in Milwaukee and New York for a few years. During this time he sold a speedometer which he invented to a watch company. It was installed in the luxury cars of the day and provided him some income. Among other inventions which earlier had fleetingly provided income was a fountain which he designed in 1915.


He figured out how to power a decorative fountain to get aesthetically-pleasing effects with little water.


Was Tesla also a would-be defense contractor? Tesla had a liaison in Germany before World War I and in 1916 to 1917 they planned to put the bladeless turbine in tanks and other war vehicles. This was the reason that J. P. Morgan, Jr. doled out more than $20,000 to Tesla to develop the turbine, Seifer notes.

In a recent book, Dr. Seifer chronicles Tesla's "lost years," from 1915 onward, when the inventor tried unsuccessfully to raise money for resurrecting his wireless project. Seifer encountered correspondence and articles linking Tesla to such shadowy figures as a Nazi propagandist and a German munitions manufacturer from whom the desperate inventor was trying to get funding by selling his death ray concepts. Those attempts ended when war was declared between their two countries.


About Tesla's links to warlords during the 1930s, Seifer says,

"There's a whole secret side here that needs to be explored further. I did the best I could."

Unknown to most Teslaphiles, the inventor was not always based in New York during those hidden years. For example, around the year 1925 to 1926 he was in Philadelphia working on the turbine design, and in 1931 he was in Massachusetts working with the head of U.S. Steel in an attempt to put his turbines in the steel mills.

Seifer says a 300 page book was written about Tesla's turbine, but it has not surfaced since the inventor's death.


Tesla kept a much lower profile regarding another invention. The story— seemingly impossible to document, generations later—is that when he was around sixty-five, Tesla or his helpers pulled the gasoline engine out of a new Pierce-Arrow and stuck in an 80 horsepower alternating current electric motor. But no batteries! Instead, he bought a dozen vacuum tubes, wires and resistors.


Soon he had the parts arranged in a box which sat beside him in the front seat of the car. One account says the mysterious box was two feet long, a foot wide and six inches high, with two rods sticking out of it. From the driver's side, Tesla reached over and pushed the rods in, and the car took off at up to 80 miles per hour. He is reported to have test-driven the loaned Pierce-Arrow for a week. If this story is true, the secret of his power source died with him.

There are clues that indicate he could well have driven a car on "free energy." For example, Tesla wrote to his friend Robert Johnson, editor of Century magazine, that he had invented an electrical generator that didn't need an outside source of power. In the early 1930s, Tesla announced that he had, more than twenty-five years earlier, harnessed cosmic rays and made them operate a moving device.

Trying to discover what he had been talking about, today's researchers comb through his patents, such as "Apparatus for the Utilization of Radiant Energy," U.S. Patent No. 658,957, 1901. The research indicates Tesla was working on his "free energy" generator before he hammered out a major article for Robert Johnson's June 1900 issue of Century, in which he describes sending power wirelessly.


He writes that a device for getting energy directly from the sun would not be very profitable and there-fore would not be the best solution. Researchers such as scientist Oliver Nichelson of Utah read this to mean that Tesla had learned that a "free energy" device would never be allowed to reach the market, but a system in which someone could still profit by selling power delivered wirelessly had more of a chance of being allowed by the financial tycoons.

Today's creative-edge physicists may be vindicating Tesla's so-called free energy invention with their theories about the possibility of tapping incredibly abundant—estimated to be the energy equivalent of 10-to-the-94th-power grams per cubic centimeter —supply of energy from the vacuum of space that Adam Trombly spoke about.


According to his biographers, Tesla died in genteel poverty in a hotel room in 1943 at age eighty-seven. His memory was honored in a funeral service at St. John's cathedral, attended by more than two thousand people including the elite of the day.

Although Tesla had become a United States citizen in 1899 and valued his citizenship highly for the next fifty-nine years, he was strangely treat-ed like a recent immigrant at the end of his life. After his death the public was told that his papers had been shipped back to Yugoslavia, and that authorities in Washington had sent in the Custodian of Alien Property to deal with his belongings. U.S. government agents reportedly had first crack at his safe and other papers. Later a Tesla museum was built in Zagreb, Yugoslavia, to house whatever Tesla memorabilia survived the events after his death.

When biographer Margaret Cheney looked into the military's possession of Tesla papers taken from the Office of Alien Properties, the trail led to Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio. The response from Wright-Patterson AFB under the Freedom of Information Act in 1980 was that "The organization (Equipment Laboratory) that performed the evaluation of Tesla's papers was deactivated several years ago. After conducting an extensive search of lists of records retired by that organization, in which we found no mention of Tesla's papers, we concluded that the documents were destroyed at the time the laboratory was deactivated."

Believe that or not, the fact remains that a great discoverer was left out of our history books but is known among researchers of alternative technology. Does the military own Tesla technology information which could be used for cleaning up the planet instead of for destructive purposes? Did those industrialists who have monopolies on coal and oil also try to control Tesla's legacy?


Consider his claim of inventing an electrical generator that would not consume any fuel.

"In many generations pass, our machinery will be driven by a power obtainable at any point in the universe," Tesla said. "...Throughout space there is energy."

If that energy had been harnessed, those who profit by the myth of scarcity would not have been able to drum up support for their oil wars.

Whether he died of natural causes or was deliberately given arsenic, the story of Nikola Tesla is clouded by the actions of those who lacked his dedication to improving the lot of humanity.

The man softly crying as he sat beside me at the Tesla symposium may have been a finely-tuned receiver for the prevailing mood in the room. His fist clenched when Adam Trombly said,

"Thomas Edison was promoted and promoted, but Nikola Tesla was a genius who was orders of magnitude greater."


  1. Bearden, Tom. Planetary Association for Clean Energy, Vol. 8 (1995), p. 10.

  2. Bird, Christopher, and Nichelson, Oliver. "Great Scientist, Forgotten Genius Nikola Tesla," New Age Magazine (1967).

  3. Cheney, Margaret. Tesla: Man Out of Time. New York: Dell Publishing, 1981.

  4. Farnsworth, Elma G. Distant Vision: Romance and Discovery on an Invisible Frontier. Salt Lake City: PemberlyKent Publishers, 1990.

  5. Marvin, Carolyn. When Old Technologies Were New. Oxford University Press,1988.

  6. The Suppression of Fuel Savers and Alternate Energy Resources 427

  7. O'Neill, John J. Prodigal Genius. California: Angriff Press, 1978.

  8. Peterson, Gary. "Nikola Tesla, Man with Many Solutions," Journal of Power and Resonance. Colorado Springs, 1990.

  9. Quinby, E.J., USN Commander (ret). "Nikola Tesla, World's Greatest Engineer." Proceedings of Radio Club of America Inc., Fall 1971.

  10. Rauscher, Elizabeth. Planetary Association for Clean Energy, Vol. 8(1995), p. 9.Seifer, Marc.

  11. Nikola Tesla & John Hays Hammond Jr., A History of Remote Control Robotics. Fall River, Massachusetts.

  12. Tesla, Nikola. "My Inventions: The Autobiography of Nikola Tesla," Electrical Experimenter Magazine, 1919. (Vermont: Hart Brothers, 1982).

  13. Tesla, Nikola, "The Problem of Increasing Human Energy," The Century Illustrated Monthly Magazine (New York, June 1900).

  14. The Tesla Journal. (Lackawanna, New York, 1989/90).

  15. Wohleber, Curt. "The Work of the World," Invention & Technology (Winter, 1992).

  16. Wright, Charles. "The Great AC/DC War," 1988 International Tesla Symposium, Colorado Springs.

Back to Contents  or  Next Article


Back to Nikola Tesla