Friday, July 10, 2009

Day 140/365 Time Travel and All The Rest

Thomas Edison hated him.

Mark Twain counted him as a close friend.

Some of his contemporaries thought he was an angel from Venus, sent to help Earth with technology.

And in his later years he was in love with a pigeon.

Nikola Tesla would have been 153 years old today.

This is the man who invented radio, introduced the robot in the 1890's, invented alternating current, VTOL aircraft (Vertical Take Off and landing) which includes helicopters, wireless transmission of electricity, designed a remote control, perfected AC hydroelectric power (still operating at Niagra Falls), believed he had received radio transmissions from space, and is rumored to have experienced time travel when he absorbed a massive electrical shock.

He once tore up a contract with George Westinghouse -one that would have made him millions- because he believed in free electricity for the world.

His friends included Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt, Rudyard Kipling, the naturalist John Muir, John Jacob Astor, Theodore Roosevelt, architect Stanford White, and his most important financial backer: J. Pierpont Morgan.

In fact, Morgan may be responsible for your monthly utilities payment.

From 1901-1905, Tesla oversaw construction of the famous Wardenclyffe Transmission Tower, a 187 foot tower, topped with a 55-ton steel "cupola" . Tesla designed this tower to provide wireless electrical transmission to the world.

After last minute design improvements temporarily halted operation, Morgan asked Tesla what good power production was, if there was no place to put the meter? At that point, he cut off his funding, and local newspapers labeled the tower "Tesla's Million Dollar Folly". The newspapers failed to mention that five years earlier, in 1900, Tesla had built a successful wireless transmission facility in Colorado Springs - one that lit up a bank of 200 incandescent light bulbs, without wires of any kind, from 25 miles away.

Between the loss of the Wardenclyffe funding, and a disastrous laboratory fire that destroyed many of his notes and experiments, Tesla fell into depression, living out the rest of his life at the Waldorf-Astoria, finally dying in 1943.

And the pigeon?

"Tesla had been feeding pigeons for years. Among them, there was a very beautiful female white pigeon with light gray tips on its wings that seemed to follow him everywhere. As Tesla confessed, he loved that pigeon: "Yes, I loved that pigeon, I loved her as a man loves a woman, and she loved me." If the pigeon became ill, he would nurse her back to health and as long as she needed him and he could have her, nothing else mattered and there was purpose in his life.

"One night as he was lying in bed, she flew in through the window and he knew right away that she had something important to tell him: she was dying. "And then, as I got her message, there came a light from her eyes - powerful beams of light". "...Yes," " was a real light, a powerful, dazzling, blinding light, a light more intense than I had ever produced by the most powerful lamps in my laboratory."

"Tesla admitted to O'Neill that when that particular pigeon died, something went out of his life. Before that time, he could complete the most ambitious programs he could ever dream of but after the pigeon flew into the beyond, he knew his life's work was done for good."John J. O'Neill Prodigal Genius - the Life of Nikola Tesla, pp. 316-7, Ives Washburn Inc., 1964; 1st ed. 1944

Imagine if J. Pierpont Morgan has been a bit more of a revolutionary, with a more humanitarian ambition, instead of one driven by profit?

To read more on Nikola Tesla (and there is so, so much more, including Earthquake Machines, Thought Photography, Radio-Controlled Torpedos, Death Rays, Force Fields)


  1. Interesting - thanks for sharing that. I've learned something today.

  2. As I remember it... also did the electrical theory for the telegraph, the telephone and massive amounts of electromagnetic development. To me he was the true developer and expert on magnetices and AC electricity. The unit of magnetic flux density is named after him, etc etc. A great American scientist and hero.