Tesla's Controversial Life
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,
—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
FREE ENERGY FROM "VACUUM" OF SPACE
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.
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
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
THE PLAN: TELL ROOSEVELT
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
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
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.
DITCH-DIGGER TO MILLIONAIRE
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
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
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
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
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.
TYCOONS PUT SQUEEZE ON WESTINGHOUSE
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
GOD OF LIGHTNING
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
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
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."
MORGAN SABOTAGED TESLA DEALS
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
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
"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."
RADIO CORPORATION ELBOWS HIM OUT
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.
HOPES PINNED ON TURBINE
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
(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.
DESPERATELY SEEKING FUNDS
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,
"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
Seifer says a 300 page book was written about Tesla's turbine, but
it has not surfaced since the inventor's death.
CAR RAN ON FREE ENERGY?
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
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
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
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
GOVERNMENT AGENTS TAKE HIS PAPERS
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
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."
Bearden, Tom. Planetary Association for Clean
Energy, Vol. 8 (1995), p. 10.
Bird, Christopher, and Nichelson, Oliver.
"Great Scientist, Forgotten Genius Nikola Tesla," New Age
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York: Dell Publishing, 1981.
Farnsworth, Elma G. Distant Vision: Romance
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Marvin, Carolyn. When Old Technologies Were
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O'Neill, John J. Prodigal Genius. California:
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Peterson, Gary. "Nikola Tesla, Man with Many
Solutions," Journal of Power and Resonance. Colorado
Quinby, E.J., USN Commander (ret). "Nikola
Tesla, World's Greatest Engineer." Proceedings of Radio Club
of America Inc., Fall 1971.
Rauscher, Elizabeth. Planetary Association
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Nikola Tesla & John Hays Hammond Jr., A
History of Remote Control Robotics. Fall River,
Tesla, Nikola. "My Inventions: The
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Magazine, 1919. (Vermont: Hart Brothers, 1982).
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Wright, Charles. "The Great AC/DC War," 1988
International Tesla Symposium, Colorado Springs.
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