Science is but a perversion of itself unless it has as its goal the betterment of humanity--Nikola Tesla
His name is not generally celebrated or well known, but this intense man basically invented the Twentieth Century. “Like all great magicians, he has all but disappeared,” says Sidian M.S. Jones in her blog. Nikola Tesla is, however, responsible for so many things we often take for granted or think someone else invented: things like alternating current, wireless communication, the electric motor, lasers and radar, x-rays, neon, robotics, remote control, the expansion of ballistics, nuclear physics and theoretical physics, cellular technology, and even tactical space-warfare. Yet, he died alone, destitute, in a New York hotel room, ridiculed and vilified as a “mad scientist” – even a buffoon. How did this come to be?
Tesla was born two years prior to when Darwin published The Origin of Species. In 1884, when he was eighteen years old and penniless, Tesla emigrated from Serbia to New York and presented himself to Thomas Edison with a letter of recommendation that said: “I know two great men and you are one of them; the other is this young man.”
Tesla disagreed with scientists of quantum mechanics and the theory of relativity. He predicted that quantum mechanics and relativity theorists would eventually enter a crisis and he believed that the universe was filled with “ether”, which was the source of matter.
The scientific community ultimately shunned Tesla for his “bizarre” claims, eccentric personality, his many phobias and his serious obsessive-compulsive disorder. These severely hurt his reputation. Condemnations spilled over into the media. In 1941, the first of Max Fleischer’s Superman comics, depicted Tesla as a mad gentleman scientist evoking the dark forces of his insane inventions like evil robots and deadly lasers. Even recent depictions of him feature Tesla as an eccentric, if not unstable man (e.g., the motion picture, Prestige).
Tesla was influenced by the Vedic teachings of the Swami Vivekanda and used his spiritual beliefs and the science of the ancient works of the Vedas (prana, akasha and concepts of “ether”) to describe the physics of the universe. He even adopted Sanskrit words to name some of his fundamental concepts about matter and energy. Tesla used to say, “The present time is theirs (the quantum mechanics scientists), but the future is mine.”
In the latter years of his life, Tesla worked on plans for a directed-energy weapon, a Teleforce or particle beam weapon “that would put an end to all war,” he said. It consisted of an open-ended vacuum tube with a gas jet seal that charged particles to millions of volts and propelled non-dispersive particle streams through electrostatic repulsion to about 48 times the speed of sound. Tesla tried to interest the US War Department in the device. He also offered the invention to European countries. None of the governments purchased a contract to build the device. Various theories persist regarding the nature of this device and the whereabouts of Tesla's complete schematics for it. Immediately after his death, his effects were confiscated and declared top secret by the War Department of the U.S. and the room's safe opened. The FBI never found the schematics nor any prototype.
1882: Tesla comes up with the induction motor and devices that use rotating magnetic fields
1884: Tesla arrives in New York and is hired by Thomas Edison to redesign the company’s direct current generators
1886: Tesla quits due to a wage dispute and works as a laborer
1887: Tesla constructs the initial brushless alternating current induction motor and develops the principles of the Tesla coil (a high frequency air-core transformer or magnifying transmitter), other ways to increase the intensity of electrical oscillations (including condenser discharge transformations) and X-rays using a single terminal vacuum tube design (called braking radiation)
1891: Tesla established his South Fifth Avenue New York laboratory. He later established a lab on 46th Houston Street and lit electric lamps wirelessly at both locations.
1892: Tesla developed polyphase power systems and researched rotating magnetic field principles.
1893: Tesla investigated high frequency alternating currents and he generated AC of one million volts using a conical Tesla coil. He investigated the skin effect in conductors and invented a machine for inducing sleep, cordless gas discharge lamps. He built the first radio transmitter, transmitting electromagnetic energy without wires. Tesla demonstrated his fluorescent lamps and single node bulbs at the World’s Fair in Chicago in 1893.
1895: Tesla developed the Tesla generator in conjunction with developments in the liquefaction of air. Tesla proposed a “world system” for the transmission of electrical energy without wires that depended on the electrical conductivity of the earth. He demonstrated the transmission of electrical energy without wires as early as 1891. This movement of energy through space and matter (not just the production of voltage across a conductor) is called the Tesla effect. Just prior to his completion of his work the filing of a patent application, his lab burned down and all his equipment, models and inventions were destroyed. Immediately after the fire, Linde, in Germany, filed a patent application for the same process.
1896: Along with partner George Westinghouse, Tesla created the world’s first hydro electric system at Niagara Falls.
1899: Tesla set up his lab in Colorado Springs, which had enough room for his high-voltage, high-frequency experiments. He told reporters that he “was conducting wireless telegraphy experiments transmitting signals from Pikes Peak to Paris and concerning the ionosphere and the ground’s telluric currents via transverse waves and longitudinal waves. He proved that the earth was a conductor and produced artificial lightning. It was also at this lab that Tesla observed unusual signals that he attributed to extraterrestrial radio wave communications.
1902: Tesla began building the Wardenclyffe Tower facility (essentially a wireless communication and power transmitting system) but got scooped for his invention of radio by Marconi in 1904. In 1917 the Wardenclyffe Tower facility was torn down, after which he built Telefunken Wireless Station in Layville, Long Island. It was seized and torn down by the Marines, who claimed it could be used by German spies.
1906: Tesla demonstrated his 200 hp bladeless turbine engines
1917: Tesla established principles about frequency and power level for radar. By the 1920s Tesla was negotiating with the UK about a ray system.
1934: Tesla announces the Teleforce weapon, a particle beam weapon. based upon a large Van de Graaff generator of unique design and a special type of open-ended vacuum tube.
Nina Munteanu is an ecologist and internationally published author of novels, short stories and essays. She coaches writers and teaches writing at George Brown College and the University of Toronto. For more about Nina’s coaching & workshops visit www.ninamunteanu.me. Visit www.ninamunteanu.ca for more about her writing.