from Chaozation23 Website
He was the electrical engineer who invented the AC (alternating current) induction motor, which made the universal transmission and distribution of electricity possible. Tesla began his studies in physics and mathematics at Graz Polytechnic, and then took philosophy at the University of Prague.
his discovery that a magnetic field could be made to rotate if two
coils at right angles are supplied with AC current 90Á out of phase
made possible the invention of the AC induction motor. The major
advantage of this motor being its brush less operation, which many
at the time believed impossible.
During this time, Tesla was commissioned with the design of the AC generators installed at Niagara Falls. George Westinghouse purchased the patents to his induction motor, and made it the basis of the Westinghouse power system which still underlies the modern electrical power industry today.
He also did notable research on high-voltage electricity and
wireless communication; at one point creating an earthquake which
shook the ground for several miles around his New York laboratory.
He also devised a system which anticipated worldwide wireless
communications, fax machines, radar, radio-guided missiles and
Yet his life and times have vanished largely from public access.
This autobiography is released to remedy this situation.
It is the most important product of his creative brain. Its ultimate purpose is the complete mastery of mind over the material world, the harnessing of the forces of nature to human needs.
This is the difficult task of the inventor who is often misunderstood and unrewarded. But he finds ample compensation in the pleasing exercises of his powers and in the knowledge of being one of that exceptionally privileged class without whom the race would have long ago perished in the bitter struggle against pitiless elements.
Speaking for myself, I have already had more than my full
measure of this exquisite enjoyment; so much, that for many years my
life was little short of continuous rapture. I am credited with
being one of the hardest workers and perhaps I am, if thought is the
equivalent of labour, for I have devoted to it almost all of my
waking hours. But if work is interpreted to be a definite
performance in a specified time according to a rigid rule, then I
may be the worst of idlers.
On the contrary, I have thrived on my thoughts. In attempting to give a connected and faithful account of my activities in this story of my life, I must dwell, however reluctantly, on the impressions of my youth and the circumstances and events which have been instrumental in determining my career.
Our first endeavors are purely instinctive prompting of an
imagination vivid and undisciplined. As we grow older reason asserts
itself and we become more and more systematic and designing. But
those early impulses, though not immediately productive, are of the
greatest moment and may shape our very destinies. Indeed, I feel now
that had I understood and cultivated instead of suppressing them, I
would have added substantial value to my bequest to the world.
We owned a horse which had been presented to us by a dear
friend. It was a magnificent animal of Arabian breed, possessed of
almost human intelligence, and was cared for and petted by the whole
family, having on one occasion saved my dear father's life under
This horse was responsible for my brother's injuries from which he died. I witnessed the tragic scene and although so many years have elapsed since, my visual impression of it has lost none of its force. The recollection of his attainments made every effort of mine seem dull in comparison. Anything I did that was creditable merely caused my parents to feel their loss more keenly.
So I grew up with little
confidence in myself.
Coming to me, he suddenly stopped and commanded,
I met his gaze, my hand outstretched to receive the much valued coin, when to my dismay, he said,
They used to tell a funny story about me. I had two old aunts with wrinkled faces, one of them having two teeth protruding like the tusks of an elephant, which she buried in my cheek every time she kissed me.
Nothing would scare me more then the prospects of being by these affectionate, unattractive relatives. It happened that while being carried in my mother's arms, they asked who was the prettier of the two. After examining their faces intently, I answered thoughtfully, pointing to one of them,
Then again, I was intended from my very birth, for the clerical profession and this thought constantly oppressed me.
I longed to be an engineer, but my father was inflexible. He was the son of an officer who served in the army of the Great Napoleon and in common with his brother, professor of mathematics in a prominent institution, had received a military education; but, singularly enough, later embraced the clergy in which vocation he achieved eminence.
He was a very erudite man, a veritable natural philosopher, poet and writer and his sermons were said to be as eloquent as those of Abraham a-Sancta-Clara. He had a prodigious memory and frequently recited at length from works in several languages. He often remarked playfully that if some of the classics were lost he could restore them. His style of writing was much admired. He penned sentences short and terse and full of wit and satire. The humorous remarks he made were always peculiar and characteristic.
Just to illustrate, I may mention one or two
instances. Among the help, there was a cross-eyed man called Mane,
employed to do work around the farm. He was chopping wood one day.
As he swung the axe, my father, who stood nearby and felt very
uncomfortable, cautioned him, "For God's sake, Mane, do not strike
at what you are looking but at what you intend to hit."
He had the odd habit of talking to himself and would often carry on an animated conversation and indulge in heated argument, changing the tone of his voice.
A casual listener might have sworn that several people were in the room. Although I must trace to my mother's influence whatever inventiveness I possess, the training he gave me must have been helpful. It comprised all sorts of exercises - as, guessing one another's thoughts, discovering the defects of some form of expression, repeating long sentences or performing mental calculations.
These daily lessons were intended to strengthen memory and reason, and especially to develop the critical sense, and were undoubtedly very beneficial. My mother descended from one of the oldest families in the country and a line of inventors. Both her father and grandfather originated numerous implements for household, agricultural and other uses.
She was a truly great woman, of rare skill, courage and fortitude, who had braved the storms of life and passed through many a trying experience.
When she was sixteen, a virulent pestilence swept the
country. Her father was called away to administer the last
sacraments to the dying and during his absence she went alone to the
assistance of a neighboring family who were stricken by the dread
disease. She bathed, clothed and laid out the bodies, decorating
them with flowers according to the custom of the country and when
her father returned he found everything ready for a Christian
She worked indefatigably, from break of day till late at night, and most of the wearing apparel and furnishings of the home were the product of her hands.
When she was past sixty, her fingers were still nimble enough to tie three knots in an eyelash. There was another and still more important reason for my late awakening. In my boyhood I suffered from a peculiar affliction due to the appearance of images, often accompanied by strong flashes of light, which marred the sight of real objects and interfered with my thoughts and action.
They were pictures of things and scenes which i had really seen, never of those imagined. When a word was spoken to me the image of the object it designated would present itself vividly to my vision and sometimes I was quite unable to distinguish weather what I saw was tangible or not. This caused me great discomfort and anxiety.
None of the students of psychology or physiology whom i have consulted, could ever explain satisfactorily these phenomenon. They seem to have been unique although I was probably predisposed as I know that my brother experienced a similar trouble. The theory I have formulated is that the images were the result of a reflex action from the brain on the retina under great excitation.
They certainly were not hallucinations such as are produced in diseased and anguished minds, for in other respects I was normal and composed. To give an idea of my distress, suppose that I had witnessed a funeral or some such nerve-wracking spectacle. The, inevitably, in the stillness of night, a vivid picture of the scene would thrust itself before my eyes and persist despite all my efforts to banish it.
my explanation is correct, it should be possible to project on a
screen the image of any object one conceives and make it visible.
Such an advance would revolutionize all human relations. I am
convinced that this wonder can and will be accomplished in time to
come. I may add that I have devoted much thought to the solution of
As I performed these mental operations for the second or third time, in order to chase the appearances from my vision, the remedy gradually lost all its force. Then I instinctively commenced to make excursions beyond the limits of the small world of which I had knowledge, and I saw new scenes.
These were at first very blurred and indistinct, and would flit away when I tried to concentrate my attention upon them.
They gained in strength and distinctness and finally assumed the concreteness of real things. I soon discovered that my best comfort was attained if I simply went on in my vision further and further, getting new impressions all the time, and so I began to travel; of course, in my mind.
Every night, (and sometimes during the day), when alone, I would start on my journeys -- see new places, cities and countries; live there, meet people and make friendships and acquaintances and, however unbelievable, it is a fact that they were just as dear to me as those in actual life, and not a bit less intense in their manifestations. This I did constantly until I was about seventeen, when my thoughts turned seriously to invention.
Then I observed to
my delight that i could visualize with the greatest facility. I
needed no models, drawings or experiments. I could picture them all
as real in my mind. Thus I have been led unconsciously to evolve
what I consider a new method of materializing inventive concepts and
ideas, which is radially opposite to the purely experimental and is
in my opinion ever so much more expeditious and efficient.
My method is different. I do not rush into actual work.
When I get an idea, I start at once building it up in my imagination. I change the construction, make improvements and operate the device in my mind. It is absolutely immaterial to me whether I run my turbine in thought or test it in my shop. I even note if it is out of balance.
There is no difference whatever; the results are the same.
In this way I am able to rapidly develop and perfect a conception without touching anything.
When I have gone so far as to embody in the invention every possible improvement I can think of and see no fault anywhere, I put into concrete form this final product of my brain. Invariably my device works as I conceived that it should, and the experiment comes out exactly as I planned it. In twenty years there has not been a single exception.
Why should it be otherwise?
Engineering, electrical and mechanical, is
positive in results. There is scarcely a subject that cannot be
examined beforehand, from the available theoretical and practical
data. The carrying out into practice of a crude idea as is being
generally done, is, I hold, nothing but a waste of energy, money,
After a while this effort grew to be almost automatic and I gained great facility in connecting cause and effect. Soon I became aware, to my surprise, that every thought I conceived was suggested by an external impression. Not only this but all my actions were prompted in a similar way. In the course of time it became perfectly evident to me that I was merely an automation endowed with power of movement responding to the stimuli of the sense organs and thinking and acting accordingly.
The practical result of this was the art of tele-automatics which has been so far carried out only in an imperfect manner. Its latent possibilities will, however be eventually shown.
I have been years planning self-controlled automata and believe that mechanisms can be produced which will act as if possessed of reason, to a limited degree, and will create a revolution in many commercial and industrial departments. I was about twelve years of age when I first succeeded in banishing an image from my vision by willful effort, but I never had any control over the flashes of light to which I have referred. They were, perhaps, my strangest and [most] inexplicable experience.
They usually occurred when I found myself in a dangerous or distressing situations or when i was greatly exhilarated. In some instances i have seen all the air around me filled with tongues of living flame.
Their intensity, instead of
diminishing, increased with time and seemingly attained a maximum
when I was about twenty-five years old.
flashes diminished in frequency and force but it took more than
three weeks before they wholly subsided. When a second invitation
was extended to me, my answer was an emphatic NO!
When I close my eyes I invariably observe first, a background of very dark and uniform blue, not unlike the sky on a clear but starless night. In a few seconds this field becomes animated with innumerable scintillating flakes of green, arranged in several layers and advancing towards me.
Then there appears, to the right, a beautiful pattern of two systems of parallel and closely spaced lines, at right angles to one another, in all sorts of colors with yellow, green, and gold predominating. Immediately thereafter, the lines grow brighter and the whole is thickly sprinkled with dots of twinkling light.
This picture moves slowly across the field of vision and in about ten seconds vanishes on the left, leaving behind a ground of rather unpleasant and inert grey until the second phase is reached. Every time, before falling asleep, images of persons or objects flit before my view.
When I see them I know I am about to
lose consciousness. If they are absent and refuse to come, it means
a sleepless night. To what an extent imagination played in my early
life, I may illustrate by another odd experience.
During that period I contracted many strange likes, dislikes and habits, some of which I can trace to external impressions while others are unaccountable.
I had a violent aversion against the earring of women, but other ornaments, as bracelets, pleased me more or less according to design. The sight of a pearl would almost give me a fit, but I was fascinated with the glitter of crystals or objects with sharp edges and plane surfaces. I would not touch the hair of other people except, perhaps at the point of a revolver. I would get a fever by looking at a peach and if a piece of camphor was anywhere in the house it caused me the keenest discomfort.
Even now I am not insensible to some of these upsetting impulses. When I drop little squares of paper in a dish filled with liquid, I always sense a peculiar and awful taste in my mouth. I counted the steps in my walks and calculated the cubical contents of soup plates, coffee cups and pieces of food, otherwise my meal was unenjoyable.
All repeated acts or operations I performed had to be divisible by three and if I missed I felt impelled to do it all over again, even if it took hours. Up to the age of eight years, my character was weak and vacillating. I had neither courage or strength to form a firm resolve. My feelings came in waves and surges and variated unceasingly between extremes.
My wishes were of consuming force and like the heads of the hydra, they multiplied. I was oppressed by thoughts of pain in life and death and religious fear. I was swayed by superstitious belief and lived in constant dread of the spirit of evil, of ghosts and ogres and other unholy monsters of the dark.
Then all at once, there came a tremendous
change which altered the course of my whole existence.
On one occasion I came across a novel entitled 'Aoafi,' (the son of Aba), a Serbian translation of a well known Hungarian writer, Josika. This work somehow awakened my dormant powers of will and I began to practice self-control.
At first my resolutions faded like
snow in April, but in a little while I conquered my weakness and
felt a pleasure I never knew before - that of doing as I willed.
My father led an exemplary life and could not excuse the senseless waste of my time and money in which I indulged. I had a strong resolve, but my philosophy was bad. I would say to him, 'I can stop whenever I please, but it it worth while to give up that which I would purchase with the joys of paradise?'
On frequent occasions he gave vent to his anger and contempt, but my mother was different. She understood the character of men and knew that one's salvation could only be brought about through his own efforts.
One afternoon, I remember, when I had lost all my money and was craving for a game, she came to me with a roll of bills and said, 'Go and enjoy yourself. The sooner you lose all we possess, the better it will be. I know that you will get over it.' She was right. I conquered my passion then and there and only regretted that it had not been a hundred times as strong. I not only vanquished but tore it from my heart so as not to leave even a trace of desire.
Ever since that time I have been as indifferent to any form of gambling as to picking teeth. During another period I smoked excessively, threatening to ruin my health. Then my will asserted itself and I not only stopped but destroyed all inclination.
Long ago I suffered from heart trouble until I discovered that it was due to the innocent cup of coffee I consumed every morning. I discontinued at once, though I confess it was not an easy task. In this way I checked and bridled other habits and passions, and have not only preserved my life but derived an immense amount of satisfaction from what most men would consider privation and sacrifice.
After finishing the studies at the Polytechnic Institute
and University, I had a complete nervous breakdown and while the
malady lasted I observed many phenomena, strange and unbelievable...
But it is indispensable to first relate the circumstances and conditions which preceded them and in which might be found their partial explanation.
From childhood I was compelled to concentrate attention upon myself. This caused me much suffering, but to my present view, it was a blessing in disguise for it has taught me to appreciate the inestimable value of introspection in the preservation of life, as well as a means of achievement.
The pressure of occupation and the incessant stream of impressions pouring into our consciousness through all the gateways of knowledge make modern existence hazardous in many ways. Most persons are so absorbed in the contemplation of the outside world that they are wholly oblivious to what is passing on within themselves.
The premature death of
millions is primarily traceable to this cause. Even among those who
exercise care, it is a common mistake to avoid imaginary, and ignore
the real dangers. And what is true of an individual also applies,
more or less, to a people as a whole.
At the same instant there was a flash in my brain. The nerves responded, the muscles contracted. I swung 180 degrees and landed on my hands.
I resumed my walk as though nothing had happened when the stranger caught up with me.
About a month ago I wanted to order new eyeglasses and went to an oculist who put me through the usual tests.
He looked at me incredulously as I read off with ease the smallest print at considerable distance. But when I told him I was past sixty he gasped in astonishment. Friends of mine often remark that my suits fit me like gloves but they do not know that all my clothing is made to measurements which were taken nearly fifteen years ago and never changed.
During this same period
my weight has not varied one pound. In this connection I may tell a
Edison felt me all over and said:
Stripped I weighed 142 pounds, and that is still my weight.
I whispered to Mr. Johnson:
My friend, the Hon. Chauncey M. Dupew, tells of an Englishman on whom he sprung one of his original anecdotes and who listened with a puzzled expression, but a year later, laughed out loud.
I will frankly confess it took me longer than that to appreciate Johnson's joke. Now, my well-being is simply the result of a careful and measured mode of living and perhaps the most astonishing thing is that three times in my youth I was rendered by illness a hopeless physical wreck and given up by physicians. MORE than this, through ignorance and lightheartedness, I got into all sorts of difficulties, dangers and scrapes from which I extricated myself as by enchantment.
I was almost drowned, entombed, lost and frozen. I had hairbreadth escapes from mad dogs, hogs, and other wild animals. I passed through dreadful diseases and met with all kinds of odd mishaps and that I am whole and hearty today seems like a miracle.
But as I recall these incidents to my mind I feel convinced that my preservation was not altogether accidental, but was indeed the work of divine power. An inventor's endeavor is essentially life saving. Whether he harnesses forces, improves devices, or provides new comforts and conveniences, he is adding to the safety of our existence.
He is also better qualified than the average individual to protect himself in peril, for he is observant and resourceful. If I had no other evidence that I was, in a measure, possessed of such qualities, I would find it in these personal experiences. The reader will be able to judge for himself if I mention one or two instances. On one occasion, when about fourteen years old, I wanted to scare some friends who were bathing with me. My plan was to dive under a long floating structure and slip out quietly at the other end.
Swimming and diving came to me as naturally as to a duck and I was confident that I could perform the feat. Accordingly I plunged into the water and, when out of view, turned around and proceeded rapidly towards the opposite side. Thinking that I was safely beyond the structure, I rose to the surface but to my dismay struck a beam.
Of course, I quickly dived and forged ahead with rapid strokes until my breath was beginning to give out.
Rising for the second time, my head came again in contact with a beam. Now I was becoming desperate. However, summoning all my energy, I made a third frantic attempt but the result was the same. The torture of suppressed breathing was getting unendurable, my brain was reeling and I felt myself sinking.
At that moment, when my situation seemed absolutely hopeless, I experienced one of those flashes of light and the structure above me appeared before my vision.
I either discerned or guessed that there was a little space between the surface of the water and the boards resting on the beams and, with consciousness nearly gone, I floated up, pressed my mouth close to the planks and managed to inhale a little air, unfortunately mingled with a spray of water which nearly choked me. Several times I repeated this procedure as in a dream until my heart, which was racing at a terrible rate, quieted down, and I gained composure.
After that I made a number of unsuccessful dives, having completely lost the sense of direction, but finally succeeded in getting out of the trap when my friends had already given me up and were fishing for my body.
That bathing season was spoiled for me through recklessness
but I soon forgot the lesson and only two years later I fell into a
One day I went alone to the river to enjoy myself as usual. When I was a short distance from the masonry, however, I was horrified to observe that the water had risen and was carrying me along swiftly. I tried to get away but it was too late. Luckily, though, I saved myself from being swept over by taking hold of the wall with both hands.
The pressure against my chest was great and I was barely able to keep my head above the surface.
Not a soul was in sight and my voice was lost in the roar of the fall. Slowly and gradually I became exhausted and unable to withstand the strain longer. Just as I was about to let go, to be dashed against the rocks below, I saw in a flash of light a familiar diagram illustrating the hydraulic principle that the pressure of a fluid in motion is proportionate to the area exposed and automatically I turned on my left side.
As if by magic, the pressure was reduced and I found it comparatively easy in that position to resist the force of the stream.
But the danger still confronted me. I knew that sooner or later I would be carried down, as it was not possible for any help to reach me in time, even if I had attracted attention. I am ambidextrous now, but then I was left-handed and had comparatively little strength in my right arm.
For this reason I did not dare to turn on the other side to rest and nothing remained but to slowly push my body along the dam. I had to get away from the mill towards which my face was turned, as the current there was much swifter and deeper. It was a long and painful ordeal and I came near to failing at its very end, for I was confronted with a depression in the masonry.
I managed to get over with the last ounce of my strength and fell in a swoon when I reached the bank, where I was found. I had torn virtually all the skin from my left side and it took several weeks before the fever had subsided and I was well.
These are only two of many instanced,
but they may be sufficient to show that had it not been for the
inventor's instinct, I would not have lived to tell the tale.
One of my playmates had come into the possession of a hook and fishing tackle which created quite an excitement in the village, and the next morning all started out to catch frogs. I was left alone and deserted owing to a quarrel with this boy.
I had never seen a real hook and pictured it as something wonderful, endowed with peculiar qualities, and was despairing not to be one of the party.
Urged by necessity, I somehow got hold of a piece of soft iron wire, hammered the end to a sharp point between two stones, bent it into shape, and fastened it to a strong string. I then cut a rod, gathered some bait, and went down to the brook where there were frogs in abundance. But I could not catch any and was almost discouraged when it occurred to me dangle the empty hook in front of a frog sitting on a stump.
At first he collapsed but by and by his eyes bulged out and became bloodshot, he swelled to twice his normal size and made a vicious snap at the hook. Immediately I pulled him up. I tried the same thing again and again and the method proved infallible.
When my comrades, who in spite of their fine outfit had
caught nothing, came to me, they were green with envy. For a long
time I kept my secret and enjoyed the monopoly but finally yielded
to the spirit of Christmas. Every boy could then do the same and the
following summer brought disaster to the frogs.
The bushes were black with them. I would attach as many as four of them to a crosspiece, rotably arranged on a thin spindle, and transmit the motion of the same to a large disc and so derive considerable 'power.'
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 Maybugs alive and enjoyed them as though they were the finest blue-point oysters.
sight terminated my endeavors in this promising field and I have
never since been able to touch a Maybug or any other insect for that
Moreover, these were not of the formal kind but the genuine article. I had all this and more behind me before I was six years old and had passed through one year of elementary school in the village of Smiljan where my family lived. At this juncture we moved to the little city of Gospic nearby.
This change of residence was like a calamity to me. It almost broke my heart to part from our pigeons, chickens and sheep, and our magnificent flock of geese which used to rise to the clouds in the morning and return from the feeding grounds at sundown in battle formation, so perfect that it would have put a squadron of the best aviators of the present day to shame. In our new house I was but a prisoner, watching the strange people I saw through my window blinds.
My bashfulness was such that I would rather have faced a roaring lion than one of the city dudes who strolled about. But my hardest trial came on Sunday when I had to dress up and attend the service.
There I met with an accident, the mere thought of which
made my blood curdle like sour milk for years afterwards. It was my
second adventure in a church. Not long before, I was entombed for a
night in an old chapel on an inaccessible mountain which was visited
only once a year. It was an awful experience, but this one was
My father was livid with rage. He gave me a gentle slap on the cheek, the only corporal punishment he ever administered to me, but I almost feel it now.
The embarrassment and confusion
that followed are indescribably. I was practically ostracized until
something else happened which redeemed me in the estimation of the
When all the speeches and ceremonies were concluded, the command was given to pump, but not a drop of water came from the nozzle.
The professors and experts tried in vain to locate the trouble. The fizzle was complete when I arrived at the scene. My knowledge of the mechanism was nil and I knew next to nothing of air pressure, but instinctively I felt for the suction hose in the water and found that it had collapsed. When I waded in the river and opened it up, the water rushed forth and not a few Sunday clothes were spoiled.
Archimedes running naked
through the streets of Syracuse and shouting Eureka at the top of
his voice did not make a greater impression than myself. I was
carried on the shoulders and was hero of the day.
My method of procedure was extremely simple. I would go into the forest, hide in the bushes, and imitate the call of the birds. Usually I would get several answers and in a short while a crow would flutter down into the shrubbery near me.
After that, all I needed to do was to throw a piece of cardboard to detract its attention, jump up and grab it before it could extricate itself from the undergrowth. In this way I would capture as many as I desired. But on one occasion something occurred which made me respect them.
I had caught a fine pair of birds and was returning home with a friend. When we left the forest, thousands of crows had gathered making a frightful racket. In a few minutes they rose in pursuit and soon enveloped us. The fun lasted until all of a sudden I received a blow on the back of my head which knocked me down.
attacked me viciously. I was compelled to release the two birds and
was glad to join my friend who had taken refuge in a cave.
I made all kinds of other contrivances and contraptions but among those, the arbalests I produced were the best. My arrows, when short, disappeared from sight and at close range traversed a plank of pine one inch thick.
Through the continuous tightening of the bows I developed a skin on my stomach much like that of a crocodile and I am often wondering whether it is due to this exercise that I am able even now to digest cobblestones! Nor can I pass in silence my performances with the sling which would have enabled me to give a stunning exhibit at the Hippodrome.
And now I will tell of one of my
feats with this unique implement of war which will strain to the
utmost the credulity of the reader.
Of course any boy might have hit a fish under these propitious conditions but I undertook a much more difficult task and I foretold to my uncle, to the minutest detail, what I intended doing.
I was to hurl a stone to meet the fish, press its body against the rock, and cut it in two. It was no sooner said than done. My uncle looked at me almost scared out of his wits and exclaimed "Vade retra Satanae!" and it was a few days before he spoke to me again.
Other records, however great, will be eclipsed
but I feel that I could peacefully rest on my laurels for a thousand
In the department of physics were various models of classical scientific apparatus, electrical and mechanical. The demonstrations and experiments performed from time to time by the instructors fascinated me and were undoubtedly a powerful incentive to invention. I was also passionately fond of mathematical studies and often won the professor's praise for rapid calculation.
This was due to my acquired facility of visualizing the figures and performing the operation, not in the usual intuitive manner, but as in actual life.
Up to a certain degree of complexity it was absolutely the same to me whether I wrote the symbols on the board or conjured them before my mental vision. But freehand drawing, to which many hours of the course were devoted, was an annoyance I could not endure. This was rather remarkable as most of the members of the family excelled in it.
Perhaps my aversion was
simply due to the predilection I found in undisturbed thought. Had
it not been for a few exceptionally stupid boys, who could not do
anything at all, my record would have been the worst.
The pump incident, of which I have been told, had set afire my youthful imagination and impressed me with the boundless possibilities of a vacuum. I grew frantic in my desire to harness this inexhaustible energy but for a long time I was groping in the dark.
Finally, however, my endeavors crystallized in an invention which was to enable me to achieve what no other mortal ever attempted. Imagine a cylinder freely rotatable on two bearings and partly surrounded by a rectangular trough which fits it perfectly.
The open side of the trough is enclosed by a partition so
that the cylindrical segment within the enclosure divides the latter
into two compartments entirely separated from each other by airtight
sliding joints. One of these compartments being sealed and once for
all exhausted, the other remaining open, a perpetual rotation of the
cylinder would result. At least, so I thought.
Every day I used to transport myself through the air to distant regions but could not understand just how I managed to do it. Now I had something concrete, a flying machine with nothing more than a rotating shaft, flapping wings, and; - a vacuum of unlimited power!
From that time on I made my daily aerial excursions in a vehicle of comfort and luxury as might have befitted King Solomon. It took years before I understood that the atmospheric pressure acted at right angles to the surface of the cylinder and that the slight rotary effort I observed was due to a leak! Though this knowledge came gradually it gave me a painful shock.
I had hardly completed my course at the Real Gymnasium when I was prostrated with a dangerous illness or
rather, a score of them, and my condition became so desperate that I
was given up by physicians. During this period I was permitted to
read constantly, obtaining books from the Public Library which had
been neglected and entrusted to me for classification of the works
and preparation of catalogues.
They were the earlier works of Mark Twain and to them might have been due the miraculous recovery which followed. Twenty-five years later, when I met Mr. Clemens and we formed a friendship between us, I told him of the experience and was amazed to see that great man of laughter burst into tears...
My studies were continued at the higher Real Gymnasium in Carlstadt, Croatia, where one of my aunts resided. She was a distinguished lady, the wife of a Colonel who was an old war-horse having participated in many battles, I can never forget the three years I passed at their home. No fortress in time of war was under a more rigid discipline.
I was fed like a canary bird.
All the meals were of the highest quality and deliciously prepared, but short in quantity by a thousand percent. The slices of ham cut by my aunt were like tissue paper. When the Colonel would put something substantial on my plate she would snatch it away and say excitedly to him; "Be careful. Niko is very delicate." I had a voracious appetite and suffered like Tantalus.
But I lived in an atmosphere of refinement and artistic taste quite unusual for those times and conditions. The land was low and marshy and malaria fever never left me while there despite the enormous amounts of quinine I consumed.
Occasionally the river would rise and drive an army of rats into the
buildings, devouring everything, even to the bundles of fierce
paprika. These pests were to me a welcome diversion. I thinned their
ranks by all sorts of means, which won me the unenviable distinction
of rat-catcher in the community. At last, however, my course was
completed, the misery ended, and I obtained the certificate of
maturity which brought me to the crossroads.
Among these I recall a device in the shape of a freely rotatable bulb, with tinfoil coating, which was made to spin rapidly when connected to a static machine. It is impossible for me to convey an adequate idea of the intensity of feeling I experienced in witnessing his exhibitions of these mysterious phenomena.
Every impression produced a thousand echoes in my mind. I wanted to know more of this wonderful force; I longed for experiment and investigation and resigned myself to the inevitable with aching heart. Just as I was making ready for the long journey home I received word that my father wished me to go on a shooting expedition.
It was a strange request as he had been always strenuously opposed to this kind of sport.
But a few days later I learned that the cholera was raging in that district and, taking advantage of an opportunity, I returned to Gospic in disregard to my parent's wishes. It is incredible how absolutely ignorant people were as to the causes of this scourge which visited the country in intervals of fifteen to twenty years.
They thought that the deadly
agents were transmitted through the air and filled it with pungent
odors and smoke. In the meantime they drank infested water and died
in heaps. I contracted the dreadful disease on the very day of my
arrival and although surviving the crisis, I was confined to bed for
nine months with scarcely any ability to move. My energy was
completely exhausted and for the second time I found myself at
I still see his pallid face as he tried to cheer me in tones belying his assurance.
A heavy weight was lifted from my mind but the relief would have come too late had it not been for a marvelous cure brought through a bitter decoction of a peculiar bean.
I came to life like Lazarus to the utter amazement of everybody. My father insisted that I spend a year in healthful physical outdoor exercise to which I reluctantly consented.
of this term I roamed in the mountains, loaded with a hunter's
outfit and a bundle of books, and this contact with nature made me
stronger in body as well as in mind. I thought and planned, and
conceived many ideas almost as a rule delusive. The vision was clear
enough but the knowledge of principles was very limited.
Only one trifling detail, of no consequence, was lightly dismissed.
I assumed an arbitrary velocity of the water and, what is more, took
pleasure in making it high, thus arriving at a stupendous
performance supported by faultless calculations. Subsequent
reflections, however, on the resistance of pipes to fluid flow
induced me to make this invention public property.
The plan was difficult of execution, I
will admit, but not nearly so bad as that of a well known New York
professor, who wanted to pump the air from the torrid to temperate
zones, entirely forgetful of the fact that the Lord had provided a
gigantic machine for this purpose.
From this results a great change in momentum which could be utilized in the simplest imaginable manner to furnish motive effort in any habitable region of the world. I cannot find words to describe my disappointment when later I realized that I was in the predicament of Archimedes, who vainly sought for a fixed point in the universe.
At the termination of my vacation I was sent to the Poly-Technic School in Gratz, Styria (Austria), which my father had chosen as one of the oldest and best reputed institutions.
That was the moment I had eagerly awaited and I began my studies under good auspices and firmly resolved to succeed. My previous training was above average, due to my father's teaching and opportunities afforded. I had acquired the knowledge of a number of languages and waded through the books of several libraries, picking up information more or less useful.
again, for the first time, I could choose my subjects as I liked,
and free-hand drawing was to bother me no more.
Armed with their flattering certificate, I went home for a short rest, expecting triumph, and was mortified when my father made light of these hard-won honors.
That almost killed my ambition; but later, after he had died, I was pained to find a package of letters which the professors had written to him to the effect that unless he took me away from the Institution I would be killed through overwork.
Thereafter I devoted myself chiefly to physics, mechanics and mathematical studies, spending the hours of leisure in the libraries. I had a veritable mania for finishing whatever I began, which often got me into difficulties.
occasion I started to read the works of Voltaire, when I learned, to
my dismay that there were close to one hundred large volumes in
small print which that monster had written while drinking
seventy-two cups of black coffee per diem. It had to be done, but
when I laid aside that last book I was very glad, and said, "Never
Among these, Professor Rogner, who was teaching arithmetical subjects and geometry; Professor Poeschl, who held the chair of theoretical and experimental physics, and Dr. Alle, who taught integral calculus and specialized in differential equations.
This scientist was the most brilliant lecturer to whom I ever listened.
He took a special interest in my progress and would frequently remain for an hour or two in the lecture room, giving me problems to solve, in which I delighted. To him I explained a flying machine I had conceived, not an illusory invention, but one based on sound, scientific principles, which has become realizable through my turbine and will soon be given to the world.
Both Professors Rogner and Poeschl were curious men. The former had peculiar ways of expressing himself and whenever he did so, there was a riot, followed by a long embarrassing pause. Professor Poeschl was a methodical and thoroughly grounded German. He had enormous feet, and hands like the paws of a bear, but all of his experiments were skillfully performed with clock-like precision and without a miss.
It was in the second year of my studies that we received a Gramoe Dyname from Paris, having the horseshoe form of a laminated field magnet, and a wire wound armature with a commutator. It was connected up and various effects of the currents were shown.
While Professor Poeschl was making demonstrations, running the machine was a motor, the brushes gave trouble, sparking badly, and I observed that it might be possible to operate a motor without these appliances.
But he declared that it could not be done and did me the honor of delivering a lecture on the subject, at the conclusion he remarked, Mr. Tesla may accomplish great things, but he certainly will never do this. It would be equivalent to converting a steadily pulling force, like that of gravity into a rotary effort. It is a perpetual motion scheme, an impossible idea. But instinct is something which transcends knowledge.
We have, undoubtedly, certain
finer fibbers that enable us to perceive truths when logical
deduction, or any other willful effort of the brain, is futile.
Then I would imagine an alternator and investigate the progresses taking place in a similar manner. Next I would visualize systems comprising motors and generators and operate them in various ways. The images I saw were to me perfectly real and tangible.
All my remaining term in Gratz was passed in intense but fruitless efforts of this kind, and I almost came to the conclusion that the problem was insolvable. In 1880 I went to Prague, Bohemia, carrying out my father's wish to complete my education at the University there.
It was in that city
that I made a decided advance, which consisted in detaching the commutator from the machine and studying the phenomena in this new
aspect, but still without result. In the year following there was a
sudden change in my views of life.
It was here that I suffered the complete breakdown of the nerves to which I have referred. What I experienced during the period of the illness surpasses all belief. My sight and hearing were always extraordinary. I could clearly discern objects in the distance when others saw no trace of them.
Several times in my boyhood I saved the houses of our neighbors from fire by hearing the faint crackling sounds which did not disturb their sleep, and calling for help. In 1899, when I was past forty and carrying on my experiments in Colorado, I could hear very distinctly thunderclaps at a distance of 550 miles.
My ear was thus over thirteen times more
sensitive, yet at that time I was, so to speak, stone deaf in
comparison with the acuteness of my hearing while under the nervous
A fly alighting on a table in the room would cause a dull thud in my ear. A carriage passing at a distance of a few miles fairly shook my whole body. The whistle of a locomotive twenty or thirty miles away made the bench or chair on which I sat, vibrate so strongly that the pain was unbearable.
The ground under my feet trembled continuously. I had to support my bed on rubber cushions to get any rest at all. The roaring noises from near and far often produced the effect of spoken words which would have frightened me had I not been able to resolve them into their accumulated components.
The sun rays, when periodically intercepted, would cause blows of such force on my brain that they would stun me. I had to summon all my will power to pass under a bridge or other structure, as I experienced the crushing pressure on the skull. In the dark I had the sense of a bat, and could detect the presence of an object at a distance of twelve feet by a peculiar creepy sensation on the forehead.
My pulse varied from a few to two hundred
and sixty beats and all the tissues of my body with twitchings and
tremors, which was perhaps hardest to bear. A renowned physician who
have me daily large doses of Bromide of Potassium, pronounced my
malady unique and incurable.
Can anyone believe that so hopeless a physical wreck could ever be transformed into a man of astonishing strength and tenacity; able to work thirty-eight years almost without a day's interruption, and find himself still strong and fresh in body and mind? Such is my case.
A powerful desire to live and to continue the work and the assistance of a devoted friend, an athlete, accomplished the wonder.
My health returned and with it the vigor of mind in attacking the problem again, I almost regretted that the struggle was soon to end. I had so much energy to spare. When I understood the task, it was not with a resolve such as men often make. With me it was a sacred vow, a question of life and death.
I knew that I would perish if I failed.
Now I felt that the battle was won. Back in the deep recesses of the
brain was the solution, but I could net yet give it outward
The sun was just setting and reminded me of the glorious passage,
As I uttered these inspiring words the idea came like a flash of lightening and in an instant the truth was revealed.
I drew with a stick on the sand, the diagram shown six years later in my address before the American Institute of Electrical Engineers, and my companion understood them perfectly.
The images I saw were wonderfully sharp and clear and had the solidity of metal and stone, so much so that I told him,
I cannot begin to describe my emotions. Pygmalion seeing his statue come to life could not have been more deeply moved.
A thousand secrets of nature which I might
have stumbled upon accidentally, I would have given for that one
which I had wrested from her against all odds and at the peril of my