Originally published by Ives Washburn, New York, 1944; Published in Great Britain by Neville Spearman Ltd., 1968; Reprinted in the United States by Angriff Press, Los Angeles, 1973
(C)1994 Brotherhood of Life, Inc., 110 Dartmouth, SE, Albuquerque, New Mexico 87106 USA
New Typeset Edition - First printing, 1994, Reprinted 1996
Uploaded to the Internet October, 1996
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THE year 1900 marked to Tesla not only the opening of a new century but also the beginning of the world-superpower and radio-broadcasting era. With the encouragement of J. P. Morgan to spur him on--if he could accommodate any more spurring than his own inner drive furnished--and with $150,000 in cash from the same source, he was set to embark upon a gigantic venture, the building of a world wireless-power and a world broadcasting station.
The cash on hand would be totally inadequate to Wnance the project to completion, but this did not deter him from making a start. He needed a laboratory both to replace the Houston Street establishment, which had become entirely inadequate, and to include equipment of the type employed at Colorado Springs, but designed for use in the actual world-broadcasting process. The location was determined as the result of an arrangement he made with James S. Warden, manager and director of the SuVolk County Land Company, a lawyer and banker from the West who had acquired two thousand acres of land at Shoreham, in SuVolk County, Long Island, about sixty miles from New York. The land was made the basis of a real-estate development under the name WardencliV.
Tesla visualized a power-and-broadcasting station which would employ thousands of persons. He undertook the establishment, eventually, of a Radio City, something far more ambitious than the enterprise in Rockefeller Center in New York which bears this name today. Tesla planned to have all wavelength channels broadcast from a single station, a project which would have given him a complete monopoly of the radio-broadcasting business. What an opportunity near-sighted businessmen of his day overlooked in not getting in on his project! But in that day Tesla was about the only one who visualized modern broadcasting. Everyone else visualized wireless as being useful only for sending telegraphic communications between ship and shore and across the ocean.
Mr. Warden saw possibilities of a sort in Tesla's plan, however, and oVered him a tract of two hundred acres, of which twenty acres were cleared, for his power station, with the expectation that the two thousand men who would shortly be employed in the station would build homes on convenient sites in the remainder of the 2,000-acre tract. Tesla accepted.
Stanford White, the famous designer of many churches and other architectural monuments throughout the country, was one of Tesla's friends. He now disclosed to the famous architect his vision of an industrial ``city beautiful'' and sought his co-operation in realizing his dream. Mr. White was enthusiastic about the idea and, as his contribution to Tesla's work, oVered to underwrite the cost of designing the strange tower the inventor sketched, and all of the architectural work involved in the general plan for the city. The actual work was done by W. D. Crow, of East Orange, N. J., one of Mr. White's associates, who later became famous as a designer of hospitals and other institutional buildings.
It was a fantastic-looking tower, with strange structural limitations, which Mr. Crow found himself designing. Tesla required a tower, about 154 feet high, to support at its peak a giant copper electrode 100 feet in diameter and shaped like a gargantuan doughnut with a tubular diameter of twenty feet. (This was later changed to a hemispherical electrode.)
The tower would have to be a skeletonized structure, built almost entirely of wood, metal to be reduced to an utter minimum and any metal Wxtures employed to be of copper. No engineering data were available on wood structures of this height and type.
The structure Tesla required had a large amount of ``sail area,'' or surface exposed to wind, concentrated at the top, creating stresses that had to be provided for in a tower that itself possessed only limited stability. Mr. Crow solved the engineering problems and then the equally diYcult task of incorporating esthetic qualities in such an ediWce.
When the design was completed another diYculty was encountered. None of the well-known builders could be induced to undertake the task of erecting the tower. A competent framer, associated with Norcross Bros., who were a large contracting Wrm in those days, Wnally took over the contract, although he, too, expressed fears that the winter gales might overturn the structure. (It stood, however, for a dozen years. When the Government, for military reasons decided it was necessary to remove this conspicuous landmark during the First World War, heavy charges of dynamite were necessary in order to topple it, and even then it remained intact on the ground like a fallen Martian invader out of Wells' War of the Worlds.) The tower was completed in 1902, and with it a large low brick building more than 100 feet square which would provide quarters for the powerhouse and laboratory. While the structures were being built, Tesla commuted every day from the Waldorf-Astoria to WardencliV, arriving at the near-by Shoreham station shortly after eleven am and remaining until three-thirty. He was always accompanied by a man servant, a Serbian, who carried a heavy hamper Wlled with food. When the laboratory transferred from Houston Street was in full operation at WardencliV, Tesla rented the Bailey cottage near the Long Island Sound shore and there made his home for a year.
The heavy equipment, the dynamos and motors, that Tesla desired for his plant were of an unusual design not produced by manufacturers, and he encountered many vexatious delays in securing such material. He was able to carry on a wide range of high-frequency current and other experiments in his new laboratory, but the principal project, that of setting up the worldwide broadcasting station, lagged. Meanwhile, he had a number of glass blowers making tubes for use in transmitting and receiving his broadcast programs. This was a dozen years before De Forest invented the form of radio tube now in general use. The secret of Tesla's tubes died with him.
Tesla seemed to be entirely fearless of his high-frequency currents of millions of volts. He had, nevertheless, the greatest respect for the electric current in all forms, and was extremely careful in working on his apparatus. When working on circuits that might come ``alive,'' he always worked with one hand in his pocket, using the other to manipulate tools. He insisted that all of his workers do likewise when working on the 60-cycle low-frequency alternating-current circuits, whether the potential was 50,000 or 110 volts. This safeguard reduced the possibility of a dangerous current Wnding a circuit through the arms across the body, where there was chance that it might stop the action of the heart.
In spite of the great care which he manifested in all of his experimental work, he had a narrow escape from losing his life at the WardencliV plant. He was making experiments on the properties of small-diameter jets of water moving at high velocity and under very high pressures, of the order of 10,000 pounds per square inch. Such a stream could be struck by a heavy iron bar without the stream being disrupted. The impinging bar would bounce back as if it had struck another solid iron bar--a strange property for a mechanically weak substance like water. The cylinder holding the water under high pressure was a heavy one made of wrought iron. Tesla was unable to secure a wrought-iron cap for the upper surface, so he used a heavier one of cast iron, a more brittle metal. One day when he raised the pressure to a point higher than he had previously used, the cylinder exploded. The cast-iron cap broke and a large fragment shot within a few inches of his face as it went on a slanting path upward and Wnally crashed through the roof. The high-pressure stream of water had peculiar destructive eVects on anything with which it came in contact, even tough, strong metals. Tesla never revealed the purpose or the results of these high-pressure experiments.
Tesla's insistence on the utmost neatness in his laboratory almost resulted in a tragedy through a case of thoughtlessness on the part of an assistant. Arrangements were being made for installing a heavy piece of machinery which was to be lag bolted to the thick concrete Xoor. Holes had been drilled in the concrete. The plan called for pouring molten lead into these holes and screwing the heavy bolts into the metal when it cooled. As soon as the holes were drilled, a young assistant starting cleaning up the debris. He not only swept up the stone chips and dust: he got a mop and thoroughly washed that area of the Xoor, thoughtlessly letting some of the water get into the holes. He then dried the Xoor. In the meantime Tesla and George ScherV, who was his Wnancial secretary but also served in any way in which he could be helpful, were melting the lead which would hold the lag screws in the holes in the Xoor. ScherV took the Wrst large ladleful of lead from the furnace and started across the laboratory to where the holes had been drilled, followed shortly by Tesla bearing another ladle.
ScherV bent down--and as he poured the hot liquid metal into one of the holes an explosion followed instantly. The molten lead was blown upward into his face in a shower of searing hot drops of liquid metal. The water which the assistant used to swab the Xoor had settled into the holes and, when the melted lead come in contact with it, it was changed to steam which shot the lead out of the hole like a bullet out of the barrel of a riXe. Both men were showered with drops of hot metal and dropped their ladles. Tesla, being several feet away, was only slightly injured; but ScherV was very seriously burned about the face and hands. Drops of the metal had struck his eyes and so severely burned them that it was feared for a while that his sight could not be saved.
However, despite the almost unlimited possibilities for accidents in connection with the vast variety of experiments which Tesla conducted in totally unexplored Welds, using high voltages, high amperages, high pressures, high velocities and high temperatures, he went through his entire career with only one accident in which he suVered injury. In that a sharp instrument slipped, entered his palm and penetrated through the hand. The accident to ScherV was the only one in which a member of his staV was injured, with the exception of a young assistant who developed X-ray burns. He had probably been exposed to the rays from one of Tesla's tubes which, unknown to Tesla and everyone else, had been producing them even before Roentgen announced their discovery. Tesla had given them another name and had not fully investigated their properties. This was probably the Wrst case of X-ray burns on record.
Tesla was an indefatigable worker, and it was hard for him to understand why others were incapable of such feats of endurance as he was able to accomplish. He was willing to pay unusually high wages to workers who were willing to stick with him on protracted tasks but never demanded that anyone work beyond a reasonable day's labor. On one occasion a piece of long-awaited equipment arrived and Tesla was anxious to get it installed and operating as quickly as possible. The electricians worked through twenty-four hours, stopping only for meals, and then for another twenty-four hours. The workers then dropped out, one by one, picking out nooks in the building in which to sleep. While they took from eight to twelve hours' sleep, Tesla continued to work; and when they came back to the job Tesla was still going strong and worked with them through his third sleepless twenty-four-hour period. The men were then given several days oV in which to rest up; but Tesla, apparently none the worse for his seventy-two hours of toil, went through his next day of experiments, accomplishing a total of eighty-four hours without sleep or rest.
The plant at WardencliV was intended primarily for demonstrating the radio-broadcasting phase of his ``World System''; the power-distribution station was to be built at Niagara Falls.
Tesla at this time published a brochure on his ``World System'' which indicates the remarkable state of advancement he had projected in the wireless art, now called radio, while other experimenters were struggling to acquire familiarity with rudimentary devices. At that time, however, his promises seemed fantastic. The brochure contained the following description of his system and his objectives:
The World System has resulted from a combination of several original discoveries made by the inventor in the course of long continued research and experimentation. It makes possible not only the instantaneous and precise wireless transmission of any kind of signals, messages or characters, to all parts of the world, but also the interconnection of the existing telegraph, telephone, and other signal stations without any change in their present equipment. By its means, for instance, a telephone subscriber here many call up any other subscriber on the Globe. An inexpensive receiver, not bigger than a watch, will enable him to listen anywhere, on land or sea, to a speech delivered, or music played in some other place, however distant. These examples are cited merely to give an idea of the possibilities of this great scientiWc advance, which annihilates distance and makes that perfect conductor, the Earth, available for all the innumerable purposes which human ingenuity has found for a line wire. One far reaching result of this is that any device capable of being operated through one or more wires (at a distance obviously restricted) can likewise be actuated, without artiWcial conductors and with the same facility and accuracy, at distances to which there are no limits other than those imposed by the physical dimensions of the Globe. Thus, not only will entirely new Welds for commercial exploitation be opened up by this ideal method of transmission, but the old ones vastly extended.
The World System is based on the application of the following important inventions and discoveries:
1. The Tesla Transformer. This apparatus is, in the production of electrical vibrations, as revolutionary as gunpowder was in warfare. Currents many times stronger than any ever generated in the usual ways, and sparks over 100 feet long have been produced by the inventor with an instrument of this kind.
2. The Magnifying Transmitter. This is Tesla's best invention--a peculiar transformer specially adapted to excite the Earth, which is in the transmission of electrical energy what the telescope is in astronomical observation. By the use of this marvelous device he has already set up electrical movements of greater intensity than those of lightning and passed a current, suYcient to light more than 200 incandescent lamps, around the Globe.
3. The Tesla Wireless System. This system comprises a number of improvements and is the only means known for transmitting economically electrical energy to a distance without wires. Careful tests and measurements in connection with an experimental station of great activity, erected by the inventor in Colorado, have demonstrated that power in any desired amount can be conveyed clear across the Globe if necessary, with a loss not exceeding a few per cent.
4. The Art of Individualization. This invention of Tesla is to primitive tuning what reWned language is to unarticulated expression. It makes possible the transmission of signals or messages absolutely secret and exclusive both in active and passive aspect, that is, non-interfering as well as non-interferable. Each signal is like an individual of unmistakable identity and there is virtually no limit to the number of stations or instruments that can be simultaneously operated without the slightest mutual disturbance.
5. The Terrestrial Stationary Waves. This wonderful discovery, popularly explained, means that the Earth is responsive to electrical vibrations of deWnite pitch just as a tuning fork to certain waves of sound. These particular electrical vibrations, capable of powerfully exciting the Globe, lend themselves to innumerable uses of great importance commercially and in many other respects.
The Wrst World System power plant can be put in operation in nine months. With this power plant it will be practical to attain electrical activities up to ten million horsepower and it is designed to serve for as many technical achievements as are possible without undue expense. Among these the following may be mentioned:
1. Interconnection of the existing telegraph exchanges of oYces all over the World;
2. Establishment of a secret and non-interferable government telegraph service;
3. Interconnection of all the present telephone exchanges or oYces all over the Globe;
4. Universal distribution of general news, by telegraph or telephone, in connection with the Press;
5. Establishment of a World System of intelligence transmission for exclusive private use;
6. Interconnection and operation of all stock tickers of the world;
7. Establishment of a world system of musical distribution, etc.;
8. Universal registration of time by cheap clocks indicating the time with astronomical precision and requiring no attention whatever;
9. Facsimile transmission of typed or handwritten characters, letters, checks, etc.;
10. Establishment of a universal marine service enabling navigators of all ships to steer perfectly without compass, to determine the exact location, hour and speed, to prevent collisions and disasters, etc.;
11. Inauguration of a system of world printing on land and sea;
12. Reproduction anywhere in the world of photographic pictures and all kinds of drawings or records.
Thus, more than forty years ago, Tesla planned to inaugurate every feature of modern radio, and several facilities which have not yet been developed. He was to continue, for another twenty years, to be the only ``wireless'' inventor who had yet visualized a broadcasting service.
While at work on his WardencliV radio-broadcasting plant, Tesla was also evolving plans for establishing his world power station at Niagara Falls. So sure was he of the successful outcome of his eVorts that he stated in a newspaper interview in 1903 that he would light the lamps of the coming international exposition in Paris with power wirelessly transmitted from the Falls. Circumstances, however, prevented him from making good this promise. His diYculties and his plans were outlined in a statement published in the Electrical World and Engineer, March 5, 1904:
The Wrst of these central plants would have been already completed had it not been for unforeseen delays which, fortunately, have nothing to do with its purely technical features. But this loss of time, while vexatious, may, after all, prove to be a blessing in disguise. The best design of which I know has been adopted, and the transmitter will emit a wave complex of a total maximum activity of 10,000,000 horsepower, one percent of which is amply suYcient to ``girdle the globe.'' This enormous rate of energy delivery, approximately twice that of the combined falls of Niagara, is obtainable only by the use of certain artiWces, which I shall make known in due course.
For a large part of the work which I have done so far I am indebted to the noble generosity of Mr. J. Pierpont Morgan, which was all the more welcome and stimulating, as it was extended at a time when those, who have since promised most, were the greatest of doubters. I have also to thank my friend Stanford White, for much unselWsh and valuable assistance. This work is now far advanced, and though the results may be tardy, they are sure to come.
Meanwhile, the transmission of energy on an industrial scale is not being neglected. The Canadian Niagara Power Company have oVered me a splendid inducement, and next to achieving success for the sake of the art, it will give me the greatest satisfaction to make their concession Wnancially proWtable to them. In this Wrst power plant, which I have been designing for a long time, I propose to distribute 10,000 horsepower under a tension of 10,000,000 volts, which I am now able to produce and handle with safety.
This energy will be collected all over the globe preferably in small amounts, ranging from a fraction of one to a few horsepower. One of the chief uses will be the illumination of isolated homes. It takes very little power to light a dwelling with vacuum tubes operated by high frequency currents and in each instance a terminal a little above the roof will be suYcient. Another valuable application will be the driving of clocks and other such apparatus. These clocks will be exceedingly simple, will require absolutely no attention and will indicate rigorously correct time. The idea of impressing upon the earth American time is fascinating and very likely to become popular. There are innumerable devices of all kinds which are either now employed or can be supplied and by operating them in this manner I may be able to oVer a great convenience to the whole world with a plant of no more than 10,000 horsepower. The introduction of this system will give opportunities for invention and manufacture such as have never presented themselves before.
Knowing the far reaching importance of this Wrst attempt and its eVect upon future development, I shall proceed slowly and carefully. Experience has taught me not to assign a term to enterprises the consummation of which is not wholly dependent on my own abilities and exertions. But I am hopeful that these great realizations are not far oV and I know that when this Wrst work is completed they will follow with mathematical certitude.
When the great truth accidentally revealed and experimentally conWrmed is fully recognized, that this planet, with all its appalling immensity, is to electric current virtually no more than a small metal ball and that by this fact many possibilities, each baZing the imagination and of incalculable consequence, are rendered absolutely sure of accomplishment; when the Wrst plant is inaugurated, and it is shown that a telegraphic message, almost as secret and non-interferable as a thought, can be transmitted to any terrestrial distance, the sound of the human voice, with all its intonations and inXections, faithfully and instantly reproduced at any point of the globe, the energy of a waterfall made available for supplying light, heat or motive power, anywhere on sea, or land, or high in the air--humanity will be like an ant heap stirred up with a stick: See the excitement coming.
The Niagara Falls plant was never built; and diYculties, soon enough, were encountered at the WardencliV plant not only in securing desired equipment but also Wnances.
Tesla's greatest oversight was that he neglected to invent, so to speak, a device for making the unlimited quantities of money that were necessary to develop his other inventions. As we have seen, he was utterly lacking in the phase of personality that made possible the securing of Wnancial returns directly from his inventions. An individual with his ability could have made millions out of each of a number of Tesla's minor inventions. If he had taken the trouble, for example, to collect annual royalties on twenty or more diVerent kinds of devices put out by as many manufacturers employing his Tesla coil for medical treatments, he would have had ample income to Wnance his World Wireless System.
His mind, however, was too fully occupied with fascinating scientiWc problems. He had, at times, nearly a score of highly skilled workmen constantly employed in his laboratory developing the electrical inventions he was continuing to make at a rapid rate. Armed guards were always stationed around the laboratory to prevent spying on his inventions. His payroll was heavy, his bank balance became dangerously low, but he was so immersed in his experimental work that he continuously put oV the task of making an eVort to repair his Wnances. He soon found himself facing judgments obtained by creditors on accounts upon which he could not make payments. He was forced, in 1905, to close the WardencliV laboratory.
The fantastic tower in front of the laboratory was never completed. The doughnut-shaped copper electrode was never built because Tesla changed his mind and decided to have a copper hemisphere 100 feet in diameter and 50 feet high built on top of the 154-foot cone-shaped tower. A skeleton framework for holding the hemispherical plates was built, but the copper sheeting was never applied to it. The 300-horsepower dynamos and the apparatus for operating the broadcasting station were left intact, but they were eventually removed by the engineering Wrm that installed them and had not been paid.
Tesla opened an oYce at 165 Broadway, in New York, where for a while he tried to contrive some means for reviving his project. Thomas Fortune Ryan, the well-known Wnancier, and H. O. Havemeyer, the leading sugar reWner, aided him with contributions of $10,000 and $5,000 respectively. Instead of using these to open another laboratory, he applied them to paying oV the debts on his now defunct World Wireless System. He paid oV every penny due to every creditor.
When it became apparent that Tesla was in Wnancial diYculties, many who had assumed that Morgan was Wnancially involved as an investor in his project were disillusioned. When speciWc inquiries revealed that the great Wnancier held no interest whatever in the enterprise, the rumor got into circulation that Morgan had withdrawn his support; and when no reason for such action could be learned the rumor expanded to carry the story that Tesla's system was impracticable. As a matter of fact, Morgan continued to make generous personal contributions to Tesla almost up to the time of his own death; and his son did so to a lesser extent for a short time.
Tesla made no eVort to combat the growing rumors.
If Tesla could have tolerated a business manager, and had placed the development of his patents in the hands of a businessman, he could have established as early as 1896 a practical ship-to-shore, and probably a trans-oceanic wireless service; and these would have given him a monopoly in this Weld. He was asked to rig up a wireless set on a boat to report the progress of the international yacht race for Lloyds of London in 1896, but he refused the oVer, which was a lucrative one, on the grounds that he would not demonstrate his system publicly on less than a world-wide basis because it could be confused with the amateurish eVorts being made by other experimenters. If he had accepted this oVer--and he could have met the requirements without the least technical diYculty--he undoubtedly would have found his interests diverted to some extent into a proWtable commercial channel that might have made a vast, and favorable, change in the second half of his life.
Tesla, however, could not be bothered with minor, even though proWtable projects. The superman, the man magniWcent, was too strong in him. The man who had put industry on an electrical power basis, the man who had set the whole earth in vibration, could not Wll a minor rôle of carrying messages for hire. He would function in his major capacity or not at all; he would be a Jupiter, never a Mercury.
George ScherV, who was engaged by Tesla as bookkeeper and secretary when he opened his Houston Street laboratory, was a practical individual. He managed, as far as was humanly possible, to keep the inventor disentangled in his contacts with the business world. The more he knew Tesla, the better he liked him; and the more respect he had for his genius and his ability as an inventor, the more he became conscious of the fact that this genius was totally lacking in business ability.
ScherV was understandably distressed by a situation in which an enterprise was continuously spending money but never receiving any. He sought to protect as far as possible the $40,000 which Tesla received from Adams as an investment in the enterprise; and it was stretched to cover more than three years of great activity. ScherV wanted Tesla to work out plans for deriving an income from his inventions. Each new development which Tesla produced was studied by ScherV and made the basis for a plan for manufacture and sale of a device. Tesla uniformly rejected all the suggestions. ``This is all small-time stuV,'' he would reply. ``I cannot be bothered with it.''
Even when it was pointed out to him that many manufacturers were using his Tesla coils, selling great numbers of them and making plenty of money out of them, his interest could not be aroused to enter this proWtable Weld, nor to permit ScherV to arrange to have a sideline set-up which could be conducted without interfering with his research work. Nor could he be induced to bring suits to protect his invention and seek to make the manufacturers pay him royalties. He admitted, however, ``If the manufacturers paid me twenty-Wve cents on each coil they sold I would be a wealthy man.''
When Lloyds of London made their request that he set up a wireless outWt on a boat and report the international yacht races of 1896, by his new wireless system, and oVered a generous honorarium, ScherV became insistent that the oVer be accepted; and he urged Tesla to drop all other work temporarily and use the publicity he would get from the exploit as a means of Xoating a commercial company for transmitting wireless messages between ship and shore and across the ocean, pointing out that money would be made both in manufacturing the apparatus and in transmitting messages. The company, ScherV suggested, could be operated by managers to produce an income and Tesla could return to his work of making inventions and always have plenty of money to pay for the cost of his researches.
ScherV can look back today, as he sits on the porch of his Westchester home, and decide, through a retrospect of Wfty years, that his plan was basically sound, with the Radio Corporation of America, its extensive manufacturing facilities and its worldwide communication system, its tremendous capital system and earnings, as evidence in support of the claim.
Tesla's reply to the proposal was, as usual, ``Mr. ScherV, that is small-time stuV. I cannot be bothered with it. Just wait until you see the magniWcent inventions I am going to produce, and then we will all make millions.''
Tesla's millions never came. ScherV remained with him until the WardencliV laboratory closed, owing to the lack of income, which he had been trying to circumvent. ScherV then established a lucrative connection with the Union Sulphur Co. but he still continued, without taking compensation, to give Tesla one day a week of his time and keep his business aVairs disentangled as far as possible. Tesla was meticulously careful about paying everyone who performed any service for him, but this was counterbalanced by an active faculty for contracting bills without waiting to see if he had funds on hand to meet them. Money was an annoying anchor that always seemed to be dragging and hindering his research activities--something that was too mundane to merit the time and attention he should be giving to more important things.
ScherV, tight-lipped and businesslike, cannot be induced to talk of Tesla's aVairs. If he were, instead, a loquacious philosopher, he might be induced to smile over the frailties of human nature, and the strange pranks which fate can play on individuals, as he thinks of Tesla, who, on the basis of a single invention, might have become an individual Radio Corporation of America and failed to do so, and who passed up equal chances on two hundred other inventions, any one of which could have produced a fortune. And for contrast, he can recall occasions in recent decades when it was necessary to make modest loans to the great Tesla to permit him to meet the need for current personal necessities. But ScherV refuses to permit any close questions or discussion about these incidents.
WHEN his World Wireless System project crashed, Tesla turned again to a project to which he had given considerable thought at the time he was developing his polyphase alternating-current system: that of developing a rotary engine which would be as far in advance of existing steam engines as his alternating-current system was ahead of the direct-current system, and which could be used for driving his dynamos.
All of the steam engines in use in powerhouses at that time were of the reciprocating type; essentially the same as those developed by Newcomer and Watt, but larger in size, better in construction and more eYcient in operation.
Tesla's engine was of a diVerent type--a turbine in which jets of steam injected between a series of disks produced rotary motion at high velocity in the cylinder on which these disks were mounted. The steam entered at the outer edge of the disks, pursued a spiral path of a dozen or more convolutions, and left the engine near the central shaft.
When Tesla informed a friend in 1902 that he was working on an engine project, he declared he would produce an engine so small, simple and powerful that it would be a ``powerhouse in a hat.'' The Wrst model, which he made about 1906, fulWlled this promise. It was small enough to Wt into the dome of a derby hat, measured a little more than six inches in its largest dimension, and developed thirty horsepower. The power-producing performance of this little engine vastly exceeded that of every known kind of prime mover in use at that time. The engine weighed a little less than ten pounds. Its output was therefore three horsepower per pound. The rotor weighed only a pound and a half, and its light weight and high power yield gave Tesla a slogan which he used on his letterheads and envelopes--``Twenty horsepower per pound.''
There was nothing new, of course, in the basic idea of obtaining circular motion directly from a stream of moving Xuid. Windmills and water wheels, devices as old as history, performed this feat. Hero, the Alexandrian writer, about 200 bc, described, but he did not invent, the Wrst turbine. It consisted of a hollow sphere of metal mounted on an axle, with two tubes sticking out of the sphere at a tangent to its surface. When water was placed in the sphere and the device was suspended in a Wre, the reaction of the steam coming out of the tubes caused the device to rotate.
Tesla's ingenious and original development of the turbine idea probably had its origin in that amusing and unsuccessful experiment he made when, as a boy, he tried to build a vacuum motor and observed its wooden cylinder turn slightly by the drag of the air leaking into the vacuum chamber. Later, too, when as a youth he Xed to the mountains to escape military service and played with the idea of transporting mail across the ocean through an underwater tube, through which a hollow sphere was to be carried by a rapidly moving stream of water, he had discovered that the friction of the water on the walls of the tube made the idea impracticable. The friction would slow down the velocity of the stream of water so that excessive amounts of power would be required to move the water at a desired speed and pressure. Conversely, if the water moved at this speed, the friction caused it to try to drag the enclosing tube along with it.
It was this friction which Tesla now utilized in his turbine. A jet of steam rushing at high velocity between disks with a very small distance separating them was slowed down by the friction--but the disks, being capable of rotation, moved with increasing velocity until it was almost equal to that of the steam. In addition to the friction factor, there exists a peculiar attraction between gases and metal surfaces; and this made it possible for the moving steam to grip the metal of the disks more eVectively and drag them around at high velocities. The Wrst model which Tesla made in 1906 had twelve disks Wve inches in diameter. It was operated by compressed air, instead of steam, and attained a speed of 20,000 revolutions per minute. It was Tesla's intention eventually to use oil as fuel, burning it in a nozzle and taking advantage of the tremendous increase in volume, in the change from a liquid to burned highly expanded gases, to turn the rotor. This would eliminate the use of boilers for generating steam and give the direct process proportional increased eYciency.
Had Tesla proceeded with the development of his turbine in 1889 when he returned from the Westinghouse plant, his turbine might perhaps have been the one eventually developed to replace the slow, big, lumbering reciprocating engines then in use. The Wfteen years, however, which he devoted to the development of currents of high potential and high frequency, had entailed a delay which gave opportunity for developers of other turbine ideas to advance their work to a stage which now was eVective in putting Tesla in the status of a very late starter. In the meantime, turbines had been developed which were virtually windmills in a box. They consisted of rotors with small buckets or vanes around the circumference which were struck by the incoming steam jet. They lacked the simplicity of the Tesla turbine; but by the time Tesla introduced his type, the others were well entrenched in the development stage.
Tesla's Wrst tiny motor was built in 1906 by Julius C. Czito, who operated at Astoria, Long Island, a machine shop for making inventor's models. He also built the subsequent 1911 and 1925 models of the turbine, and many other devices on which Tesla worked up to 1929. Mr. Czito's father had been a member of Tesla's staV in the Houston Street laboratories, from 1892 to 1899, and at Colorado Springs.
Mr. Czito's description of the Wrst model is as follows:
The rotor consisted of a stack of very thin disks six inches in diameter, made of German silver. The disks were one thirty-second of an inch thick and were separated by spacers of the same metal and same thickness but of much smaller diameter which were cut in the form of a cross with a circular center section. The extended arms served as ribs to brace the disks.
There were eight disks and the edgewise face of the stack was only one-half inch across. They were mounted on the center of a shaft about six inches long. The shaft was nearly an inch in diameter in the mid section and was tapered in steps to less than half an inch at the ends. The rotor was set in a casing made in four parts bolted together.
The circular chamber where the rotor turned was accurately machined to allow a clearance of one sixty-fourth of an inch between the casing and the face of the rotor. Mr. Tesla desired an almost touching Wt between the rotor face and the casing when the latter was turning. The large clearance was necessary because the rotor attained tremendously high speeds, averaging 35,000 revolutions per minute. At this speed the centrifugal force generated by the turning movement was so great it appreciably stretched the metal in the rotating disks. Their diameter when turning at top speed was one thirty-second of an inch greater than when they were standing still.
A larger model was built by Tesla in 1910. It had disks twelve inches in diameter, and with a speed of 10,000 revolutions per minute it developed 100 horsepower, indicating a greatly improved eYciency over the Wrst model. It developed more than three times as much power at half the speed.
During the following year, 1911, still further improvements were made. The disks were reduced to a diameter of 9.75 inches and the speed of operation was cut down by ten per cent, to 9,000 revolutions per minute--and the power output increased by ten per cent, to 110 horsepower!
Following this test, Tesla issued a statement in which he declared:
I have developed 110 horsepower with disks nine and three quarter inches in diameter and making a thickness of about two inches. Under proper conditions the performance might have been as much as 1,000 horsepower. In fact there is almost no limit to the mechanical performance of such a machine. This engine will work with gas, as in the usual type of explosion engine used in automobiles and airplanes, even better than it did with steam. Tests which I have conducted have shown that the rotary eVort with gas is greater than with steam.
Enthusiastic over the success of his smaller models of the turbine, operated on compressed air, and to a more limited extent by direct combustion of gasoline, Tesla designed and built a larger, double unit, which he planned to test with steam in the Waterside Station, the main powerhouse of the New York Edison Company.
This was a station which had originally been designed to operate on the direct-current system developed by Edison--but it was now operating throughout on Tesla's polyphase alternating-current system.
Now Tesla, invading the Edison sanctum to test a new type of turbine which he hoped would replace the types in use, was deWnitely in enemy territory. The fact that he had Morgan backing, and that the Edison Company was a ``Morgan company,'' had no nullifying eVect on the Edison-Tesla feud.
This situation was not softened in any way by Tesla's method of carrying on his tests. Tesla was a conWrmed ``sun dodger''; he preferred to work at night rather than in the daytime. Powerhouses, not from choice but from necessity, have their heaviest demands for current after sunset. The day load would be relatively light; but as darkness approached, the dynamos started to groan under the increasing night load. The services of the workers at the Waterside Station were made available to Tesla for the setting up and tests of his turbine with the expectation that the work would be done during the day when the tasks of the workers were easiest.
Tesla, however, would rarely show up until Wve o'clock in the afternoon, or later, and would turn a deaf ear to the pleas of workers that he arrive earlier. He insisted that certain of the workers whom he favored remain after their Wve-o'clock quitting time on the day shift to work with him on an overtime basis. Nor did he maintain a conciliatory attitude toward the engineering staV or the oYcials of the company. The attitudes, naturally, were mutual.
The turbine Tesla built for this test had a rotor 18 inches in diameter which turned at a speed of 9,000 revolutions per minute. It developed 200 horsepower. The overall dimensions of the engine were--three feet long, two feet wide and two feet high. It weighed 400 pounds.
Two such turbines were built and installed in a line on a single base. The shafts of both were connected to a torque rod. Steam was fed to both engines so that, if they were free to rotate, they would turn in opposite directions. The power developed was measured by the torque rod connected to the two opposing shafts.
At a formal test, to which Tesla invited a great many guests, he issued a statement in which he said, as reported, in part:
It should be noted that although the experimental plant develops 200 horsepower with 125 pounds at the supply pipe and free exhaust it could show an output of 300 horsepower with full pressure of the supply circuit. If the turbine were compounded and the exhaust were led to a low pressure unit carrying about three times the number of disks contained in the high pressure element, with connection to a condenser aVording 28.5 to 29.0 inches of vacuum the results obtained in the present high pressure machine indicate that the compounded unit would give an output of 600 horsepower without great increase of dimensions. This estimate is very conservative.
Tests have shown that when the turbine is running at 9,000 revolutions per minute under an inlet pressure of 125 pounds to the square inch and with free exhaust 200 brake horsepower are developed. The consumption under these conditions of maximum output is 38 pounds of saturated steam per horsepower per hour, a very high eYciency when we consider that the heat drop, measured by thermometers, is only 130 B.T.U. and that the energy transformation is eVected in one stage. Since three times the number of heat units are available in a modern plant with superheat and high vacuum the utilization of these facilities would mean a consumption of less than 12 pounds per horsepower hour in such turbines adapted to take the full drop.
Under certain conditions very high thermal eYciencies have been obtained which demonstrate that in large machines based on this principle steam consumption will be much lower and should approximate the theoretical minimum thus resulting in the nearly frictionless turbine transmitting almost the entire expansive energy of the steam to the shaft.
It should be kept in mind that all of the turbines which Tesla built and tested were single-stage engines, using about one-third of the energy of the steam. In practical use, they were intended to be installed with a second stage which would employ the remaining energy and increase the power output about two or three fold. (The two types of turbines in common use each have a dozen and more stages within a single shell.)
Some of the Edison electric camp, observing the torque-rod tests and apparently not understanding that in such a test the two rotors remain stationary--their opposed pressures staging a tug of war measured as torque--circulated the story that the turbine was a complete failure; that this turbine would not be practical if its eYciency had been increased a thousand fold. It was stories such as these that contributed to the imputation that Tesla was an impractical visionary. The Tesla turbine, however, used as a single-stage engine, functioning as a pygmy power producer, in the form in which it was actually tested, anticipated by more than twenty-Wve years a type of turbine which has been installed in recent years in the Waterside Station. This is a very small engine, with blades on its rotor, known as a ``topping turbine,'' which is inserted in the steam line between the boilers and the ordinary turbines. Steam of increased pressure is supplied, and the topping turbine skims this ``cream'' from the steam and exhausts steam that runs the other turbines in their normal way.
The General Electric Company was developing the Curtis turbine at that time, and the Westinghouse Electric and Manufacturing Company was developing the Parsons turbine; and neither company showed the slightest interest in Tesla's demonstration.
Further development of his turbine on a larger scale would have required a large amount of money--and Tesla did not possess even a small amount.
Finally he succeeded in interesting the Allis Chalmers Manufac-
turing Company of Milwaukee, builders of reciprocating engines and turbines, and other heavy machinery. In typical Tesla fashion, though, he manifested in his negotiations such a lack of diplomacy and insight into human nature that he would have been better oV if he had completely failed to make any arrangements for exploiting the turbine.
Tesla, an engineer, ignored the engineers on the Allis Chalmers staV and went directly to the president. While an engineering report was being prepared on his proposal, he went to the Board of Directors and ``sold'' that body on his project before the engineers had a chance to be heard. Three turbines were built. Two of them had twenty disks eighteen inches in diameter and were tested with steam at eighty pounds pressure. They developed at speeds of 12,000 and 10,000 revolutions per minute, respectively, 200 horsepower. This was exactly the same power output as had been achieved by Tesla's 1911 model, which had disks of half this diameter and was operated at 9,000 revolutions under 125 pounds pressure. A much larger engine was tackled next. It had Wfteen disks sixty inches in diameter, was designed to operate at 3,600 revolutions per minute, and was rated at 500 kilowatts capacity, or about 675 horsepower.
Hans Dahlstrand, Consulting Engineer of the Steam Turbine Department, reports, in part:
We also built a 500 kw steam turbine to operate at 3,600 revolutions. The turbine rotor consisted of Wfteen disks 60 inches in diameter and one eighth inch thick. The disks were placed approximately one eighth inch apart. The unit was tested by connecting to a generator. The maximum mechanical eYciency obtained on this unit was approximately 38 per cent when operating at steam pressure of approximately 80 pounds absolute and a back pressure of approximately 3 pounds absolute and 100 degrees F superheat at the inlet.
When the steam pressure was increased above that given the mechanical eYciency dropped, consequently the design of these turbines was of such a nature that in order to obtain maximum eYciency at high pressure, it would have been necessary to have more than one turbine in series.
The eYciency of the small turbine units compares with the eYciency obtainable on small impulse turbines running at speeds where they can be directly connected to pumps and other machinery. It is obvious, therefore, that the small unit in order to obtain the same eYciency had to operate at from 10,000 to 12,000 revolutions and it would have been necessary to provide reduction gears between the steam turbine and the driven unit.
Furthermore, the design of the Tesla turbine could not compete as far as manufacturing costs with the smaller type of impulse units. It is also questionable whether the rotor disks, because of light construction and high stress, would have lasted any length of time if operating continuously.
The above remarks apply equally to the large turbine running at 3,600 revolutions. It was found when this unit was dismantled that the disks had distorted to a great extent and the opinion was that these disks would ultimately have failed if the unit had been operated for any length of time.
The gas turbine was never constructed for the reason that the company was unable to obtain suYcient engineering information from Mr. Tesla indicating even an approximate design that he had in mind.
Tesla appears to have walked out on the tests at this stage. In Milwaukee, however, there was no George Westinghouse to save the situation. Later, during the twenties, the author asked Tesla why he had terminated his work with the Allis Chalmers Company. He replied: ``They would not build the turbines as I wished''; and he would not amplify the statement further.
The Allis Chalmers Company later became the pioneer manufacturers of another type of gas turbine that has been in successful operation for years.
While the Dahlstrand report may appear to be severely critical of the Tesla turbine and to reveal fundamental weaknesses in it not found in other turbines, such is not the case. The report is, in general, a fair presentation of the results; and the description of apparent weaknesses merely oVers from another viewpoint the facts which Tesla himself stated about the turbine in his earlier test--that when employed as a single-stage engine it uses only about a third of the energy of the steam, and that to utilize the remainder, it would have to be compounded with a second turbine.
The reference to a centrifugal force of 70,000 pounds resulting from the high speed of rotation of the rotor, causing damage to the disks, refers to a common experience with all types of turbines. This is made clear in a booklet on ``The Story of the Turbine,'' issued during the past year by the General Electric Company, in which it is stated:
It [the turbine] had to wait until engineers and scientists could develop materials to withstand these pressures and speeds. For example, a single bucket in a modern turbine travelling at 600 miles per hour has a centrifugal force of 90,000 pounds trying to pull it from its attachment on the bucket wheel and shaft. . . .
In this raging inferno the high pressure buckets at one end of the turbine run red hot while a few feet away the large buckets in the last stages run at 600 miles per hour through a storm of tepid rain--so fast that the drops of condensed steam cut like a sand blast.
Dahlstrand reported that diYculties were encountered in the Tesla turbine from vibration, making it necessary to re-enforce the disks. That this diYculty is common to all turbines is further indicated by the General Electric booklet, which states:
Vibration cracked buckets and wheels and wrecked turbines, sometimes within a few hours and sometimes after years of operation. This vibration was caused by taking such terriWc amounts of power from relatively light machinery--it some cases as much as 400 horsepower out of a bucket weighing but a pound or two. . . .
The major problems of the turbine are four--high temperatures, high pressures, high speeds and internal vibration. And their solution lies in engineering, research and manufacturing skill.
These problems are still awaiting their Wnal solution, even with the manufacturers who have been building turbines for forty years; and the fact that they were encountered in the Tesla turbine, and so reported, is not a Wnal criticism of Tesla's invention in the earliest stages of its development.
There have been whisperings in engineering circles during the past year or two to indicate a revival of interest in the Tesla turbine and the possibility that the makers of the Curtis and Parsons types may extend their lines to include the Tesla type for joint operation with the others. The development of new alloys, which can now almost be made to order with desired qualities of mechanical stability under conditions of high temperature and great stresses, is largely responsible for this turn of events.
It is a possibility that if the Tesla turbine were constructed with the beneWt of two or more stages, thus giving it the full operating range of either the Curtis or the Parsons turbine, and were built with the same beneWts of engineering skill and modern metallurgical developments as have been lavished on these two turbines, the vastly greater simplicity of the Tesla turbine would enable it to manifest greater eYciencies of operation and economies of construction.
THE highest honor which the world can confer upon its scholars is the Nobel Prize founded by Alfred B. Nobel, the Swedish scientist who gained his wealth through the invention of dynamite. Five awards are made annually, and each carries an honorarium of about $40,000 in normal times.
An announcement came from Sweden, in 1912, that Nikola Tesla and Thomas A. Edison had been chosen to share the 1912 award in physics. The awards, however, were never made; and the prize went instead to Gustav Dalen, a Swedish scientist.
The full story of what took place is not known. The correspondence on the subject is not available. It is deWnitely established that Tesla refused to accept the award. Tesla was very much in need of money at this time and the $20,000, which would have been his share of the divided award, would have aided him to continue his work. Other factors, however, had a more potent inXuence.
Tesla made a very deWnite distinction between the inventor of useful appliances and the discoverer of new principles. The discoverer of new principles, he stated in conversation with the author, is a pioneer who opens up new Welds of knowledge into which thousands of inventors Xock to make commercial applications of the newly revealed information. Tesla declared himself a discoverer and Edison an inventor; and he held the view that placing the two in the same category would completely destroy all sense of the relative value of the two accomplishments.
It is quite probable that Tesla was also inXuenced by the fact that the Nobel Prize in physics had been awarded to Marconi three years earlier, a situation that greatly disappointed him. To have the award go Wrst to Marconi, and then to be asked to share the award with Edison, was too great a derogation of the relative value of his work to the world for Tesla to bear without rebelling.
Tesla was the Wrst, and probably the only, scientist to refuse this famous prize.
One of the highest honors in the engineering world, too, is the Edison Medal, founded by unnamed friends of Thomas A. Edison, and aw-arded each year by the American Institute of Electrical Engineers, at its annual convention, for outstanding contribution to electrical art and science. Usually, the recipients are very happy to receive the award; but in 1917, when the committee voted to present the medal to Tesla, a diVerent situation developed.
The chairman of the Edison Medal committee was B. A. Behrend, who had been one of the Wrst electrical engineers to grasp the tremendous signiWcance of Tesla's alternating-current discoveries and their far-reaching importance to every department of the electrical industry. A few outstanding engineers were able, at the beginning, to understand the intricacies of new alternating-current procedures which Tesla's discoveries made of immediate practical importance; but it was Behrend who developed a beautiful, simple mathematical technique, known as the ``circle diagram,'' which made it possible to work out problems of designing alternating-current machinery with great ease, and also to understand the complex phenomena that were taking place within such devices. He published innumerable articles on the subject in the technical journals and wrote the standard textbook on the subject, The Induction Motor. Fame and fortune came to Behrend. He achieved recognition as one of the outstanding electrical engineers, and was later elected vice-president of the American Institute of Electrical Engineers. So important was his work to the commercial world that he was considered a probable recipient of the Edison Medal.
Behrend had started publishing articles on his circle diagram discovery in 1896 but he did not meet Tesla until 1901, when Tesla required a particular type of motor for his World Wireless plant being built at WardencliV, L. I., and the task of designing it was assigned to the engineering department of a manufacturing company of which Behrend was in charge. After Tesla and Behrend met, a very close personal friendship developed between the two men. Behrend was one of the few who thoroughly understood Tesla's work; and the inventor, lonely in the absence of individuals with minds of his own caliber, greatly appreciated Behrend's friendship.
Behrend believed, therefore, that he was rendering Tesla a token of his highest appreciation when he managed to maneuver the award of the Edison Medal to him; and he was quite happy to carry out the mission of bearing the good news to the inventor. The announcement, however, did not make Tesla happy. He did not want the Edison Medal, he would not receive it!
Behrend, greatly surprised at Tesla's rebuV, asked him if he would not explain the situation that caused it.
``Let us forget the whole matter, Mr. Behrend. I appreciate your good will and your friendship but I desire you to return to the committee and request it to make another selection for a recipient. It is nearly thirty years since I announced my rotating magnetic Weld and alternating-current system before the Institute. I do not need its honors and someone else may Wnd them useful.''
It would have been impossible for Behrend to deny that the Institute had indeed failed, over this long period, to honor the man whose discoveries were responsible for creating the jobs held by probably more than three quarters of the members of the Institute, while honors had been distributed to many others for relatively minor accomplishments. Still, using the privilege of friendship, Behrend pressed for a further explanation.
``You propose,'' Tesla replied, ``to honor me with a medal which I could pin upon my coat and strut for a vain hour before the members and guests of your Institute. You would bestow an outward semblance of honoring me but you would decorate my body and continue to let starve, for failure to supply recognition, my mind and its creative products which have supplied the foundation upon which the major portion of your Institute exists. And when you would go through the vacuous pantomime of honoring Tesla you would not be honoring Tesla but Edison who has previously shared unearned glory from every previous recipient of this medal.''
Behrend, however, after several visits, Wnally prevailed upon Tesla to accept the medal.
Custom requires that the recipient of a medal deliver a formal address. On the occasions, a quarter of a century earlier, when Tesla was invited to address the Institute, he had had ample laboratory facilities, and had invested a great deal of time, eVort, thought and money in the preparation of his lectures. For them, however, he was awarded no honors. Now he was without laboratory facilities and without adequate Wnancial resources, although his more mature mind was as Wlled with ideas and unborn inventions as it had ever been. He was not required to present a demonstration lecture. In this matter, however, Tesla was a victim of his own past performances; and there was an expectancy that he would emerge from the comparative oblivion which had enshrouded him for more than a decade, and come, like a master magician, bearing some wondrous new gifts of invention to the world.
Tesla attended some of the meetings of the convention, and Behrend, none too certain about what the medalist might do, took him in tow following the afternoon session and escorted him to the Hotel St. Regis, where Tesla now made his home, and where both donned their formal dress for the evening's ceremonies.
The Wrst event on the evening's program was a private dinner at the Engineers' Club, tendered by the Institute to the medalist, who was the guest of honor, and attended by previous recipients of the Edison Medal, as well as members of the committee and the oYcers of the Institute. It was a gala occasion and represented an unusual concentration of the world's greatest electrical engineering talent. Tesla could be relied upon to lend brilliance to any such occasion, but, while his sparkling conversation added to the gayety of the group, he was distinctly ill at ease.
The Engineers' Club, on the south side of 40th Street, between Fifth and Sixth Avenues, faces Bryant Park, the eastern third of which is occupied by the classical building of the New York Public Library, facing Fifth Avenue from 40th to 42nd Streets. The United Engineering Societies Building, an imposing structure on the north side of 39th, stands almost back-to-back with the Engineers' Club. By stepping a few feet across an alley, it is possible to go from one building to the other.
Following the dinner in the Engineers' Club, the brilliant group at the medalist's dinner made their way across the alley and proceeded through the crowded lobby of the Engineering Societies Building, which was abuzz with the multitudinous activities associated with a convention. The party entered the elevators which carried them to the large auditorium on the Wfth Xoor where the medal presentations were to take place.
The auditorium was crowded with an audience that had come largely from formal dinners held as part of the convention program. The Xoor and gallery were Wlled to capacity. The buzz of animated conversation died down as there Wled onto the stage the outstanding Wgures of the electrical world, in ``tails'' and white ties, who were to serve as the ``wax works'' of the ceremonies and to take some part in the presentation.
As the wax works took their previously assigned chairs, the stage was set for the opening of the ceremonies. But the opening did not take place according to schedule. There was consternation in the group as it was discovered that the chair reserved for the chief participant in the event was empty.
Tesla was missing!
The side hall, leading oV the stage, and the anterooms were searched, but there was no sign of him. Members of the committee slipped out to retrace their steps through the lobby and back to the Club dining room. A man as tall as Tesla could not be hidden in any group, yet there was not a sign of him in either building.
The delay in opening the meeting in the auditorium was embarrassing--but the ceremonies could not be started without Tesla, and where was he?
It seemed hardly possible that an imposing Wgure like Tesla, his height exaggerated by the streamlined contours of his swallow-tailed formal evening dress, and in the almost worshipful custody of a score of outstanding intellects, could vanish without any of them observing his going.
Behrend rushed back from the Club to the auditorium, hopeful that Tesla had preceded him; but he found that such was not the case. All the washrooms in both buildings had been searched; he was concealed in none of them. No one could oVer a theory to account for his disappearance.
None but Behrend knew of Tesla's aversion to accepting the Edison Medal, yet even he had not the slightest knowledge of what had become of the famous inventor. He recalled noting the shadowy walks of Bryant Park opposite the Club as he and Tesla stepped from the taxicab earlier in the evening, and he wondered if Tesla had retreated there for some quiet meditation before the ceremony. He hurried out of the Club.
As Behrend stepped into Bryant Park, the last faint glimmerings of dusk were visible in the high sky; but in the park the shades of night were gathering and here and there could be heard the faint twitterings of birds. The twittering of the birds brought, like a Xash, to Behrend's mind the scene he had observed in Tesla's apartment at the Hotel St. Regis. In the room which Tesla had arranged as a reading room and oYce was a roll-top desk, and on top of this were four neat circular baskets, in two of which pigeons were nestled. Before they left the apartment Tesla went to the window, which was kept open at all times, whistled softly, and two more pigeons quickly Xew into the room. Just before leaving for the dinner Tesla fed the pigeons, and having done so slipped a paper bag Wlled with something into his pocket. The possible signiWcance of this latter act did not occur to Behrend until he heard the twittering of the birds in the park.
With all possible speed Behrend rushed out of the park, down 40th Street toward Fifth Avenue, and up the steps to the plaza of the Library. Here he beheld a sight that amazed him almost beyond belief in what his eyes told him. Here was the missing man. He had recalled that Tesla regularly visited the Library, St. Patrick's Cathedral, or other places to feed the pigeons.
In the center of a large thin circle of observers stood the imposing Wgure of Tesla, wearing a crown of two pigeons on his head, his shoulders and arms festooned with a dozen more, their white or pale-blue bodies making strong contrast with his black suit and black hair, even in the dusk. On either of his outstretched hands was another bird, while seemingly hundreds more made a living carpet on the ground in front of him, hopping about and pecking at the bird seed he had been scattering.
It was Behrend's impulse to rush in, shoo the birds away and, seizing the missing man, rush him back to the auditorium. Something caused him to halt. Such an abrupt action seemed almost sacrilegious. As he hesitated momentarily, Tesla caught sight of him and slowly shifted the position of one hand to raise a warning Wnger. As he did so, however, he moved slowly toward Behrend; and as he came close, some of the birds Xew from Tesla's shoulders to Behrend's. Apparently sensing a disturbing situation, though, all the birds Xew to the ground.
Appealing to Tesla not to let him down, nor to embarrass those who were waiting at the meeting, Behrend prevailed upon the inventor to return to the auditorium. Little did Behrend know how much more the pigeons meant to Tesla than did the Edison Medal; and little could anyone have suspected the fantastic secret in Tesla's life, of which the outer manifestation was his faithful feeding of his feathered friends. To Behrend it was just another, and in this case very embarrassing, manifestation of the nonconformity of genius. Of this, more later.
Returning to the auditorium, Behrend explained in a quick aside to the president that Tesla had been temporarily ill, but that his condition was now quite satisfactory. The opening of the meeting had been delayed about twenty minutes.
In his presentation speech, Behrend pointed out that by an extraordinary coincidence, it was exactly 29 years ago, to the very day and hour, that Nikola Tesla presented his original description of his polyphase alternating-current system. He added:
Not since the appearance of Faraday's ``Experimental Researches in Electricity'' has a great experimental truth been voiced so simply and so clearly as this description of Mr. Tesla's great discovery of the generation and utilization of polyphase alternating currents. He left nothing to be done by those who followed him. His paper contained the skeleton even of the mathematical theory.
Three years later, in 1891, there was given the Wrst great demonstration, by Swiss engineers, of the transmission of power at 30,000 volts from LauVen to Frankfort by means of Mr. Tesla's system. A few years later this was followed by the development of the Cataract Construction Company, under the presidency of our member, Mr. Edward D. Adams, and with the aid of the engineers of the Westinghouse Company. It is interesting to recall here tonight that in Lord Kelvin's support to Mr. Adams, Lord Kelvin recommended the use of direct current for the development of power at Niagara Falls and for its transmission to BuValo.
The due appreciation or even enumeration of the results of Mr. Tesla's invention is neither practicable nor desirable at this moment. There is a time for all things. SuYce it to say that, were we to seize and eliminate from our industrial world the results of Mr. Tesla's work, the wheels of industry would cease to turn, our electric cars and trains would stop, our towns would be dark, our mills would be dead and idle. Yes, so far reaching is this work, that it has become the warp and woof of industry. . . . His name marks an epoch in the advance of electrical science. From that work has sprung a revolution in the electrical art.
We asked Mr. Tesla to accept this medal. We did not do this for the mere sake of conferring a distinction, or of perpetuating a name; for so long as men occupy themselves with our industry, his work will be incorporated in the common thought of our art, and the name of Tesla runs no more risk of oblivion than does that of Faraday, or that of Edison.
Nor indeed does this Institute give this medal as evidence that Mr. Tesla's work has its oYcial sanction. His work stands in no need of such sanction.
No, Mr. Tesla, we beg you to cherish this medal as a symbol of our gratitude for a new creative thought, the powerful impetus, akin to revolution, which you have given to our art and to our science. You have lived to see the work of your genius established. What shall a man desire more than this? There rings out to us a paraphrase of Pope's lines on Newton:
``Nature and Nature's laws lay hid in night:
``God said, Let Tesla be, and all was light.''
No record remains of Tesla's acceptance speech. He did not prepare a formal address. He had intended to make but a brief response, but instead he became involved in anecdotal narration and a preview of the future of electrical science which, in the absence of the limiting inXuence of a written copy, became quite lengthy.
It is doubtful if anyone in the audience, or on the stage, grasped the full signiWcance of Behrend's words when he said, ``We asked Mr. Tesla to accept this medal.'' And fewer still were the members of the Institute who had any conception of the extent or importance of Tesla's contribution to their science. His major inventions had been announced thirty years before. The majority of the engineers present belonged to the younger generation; and they had been taught from textbooks that almost completely omitted mention of Tesla's work.
THE announcement by Tesla in his latter years that attracted the greatest amount of attention concerned his discovery of what has brieXy, but not too accurately, been termed a death ray. Earlier reports had come from Europe of the invention of death rays, beams of radiation that would cause airships on which they impinged to burst into Xame, the steel bodies of tanks to melt and the machinery of ships to stop operating, but all gave indications of being part of the game of diplomatic buncombe.
The prelude to Tesla's death-ray announcement came several years in advance, in the form of a declaration that he had made discoveries concerning a new form of power generation which, when applied, would make the largest existing turbine-dynamo units in the powerhouses look like pygmies. He made this announcement in interviews with the press in 1933, and declared that he was also working on a new kind of generator for the production of radiation of all kinds and in the greatest inten-sities. He made similar announcements the following year.
Both of these announcements were entitled to receive the most serious consideration, even though they were not accompanied by experimental evidence, and revealed no technical details.
When Tesla was talking as a scientist he was opposed to wars on moral, economic and all practical and theoretical grounds. But, like most scientists, when he stopped thinking as a scientist and let his emotions rule his thoughts, he found exceptions in which he felt some wars and situations were justiWable. As a scientist he was unwilling to have the discoveries of scientists applied to the purposes of war makers, but when the emotional phase of his nature took the ruling position he was willing to apply his genius to devising measures that would prevent wars by supplying protective devices.
This attitude is exempliWed in the following statement, which he had prepared in the twenties but did not publish:
At present many of the ablest minds are trying to devise expedients for preventing a repetition of the awful conXict which is only theoretically ended and the duration and main issues of which I correctly predicted in an article printed in the Sun of December 20, 1914. The League is not a remedy but, on the contrary, in the opinion of a number of competent men, may bring about results just the opposite. It is particularly regrettable that a punitive policy was adopted in framing the terms of peace because a few years hence it will be possible for nations to Wght without armies, ships or guns, by weapons far more terrible, to the destructive action and range of which there is virtually no limit. Any city at any distance whatever from the enemy can be destroyed by him and no power on earth can stop him from doing so. If we want to avert an impending calamity and a state of things which may transform this globe into an inferno, we should push the development of Xying machines and wireless transmission of energy without an instant's delay and with all the power and resources of the nation.
Tesla saw preventive possibilities in his new invention which embodied ``death-ray'' characteristics, and which was made several years after the foregoing statement was written. He saw it providing a curtain of protection which any country, no matter how small, could use as a defense against invasion. While he might oVer it as a defensive weapon, however, there would be nothing to stop military men from using it as a weapon of oVense.
Tesla never gave the slightest hint concerning the principles under which his device operated.
There are indications, at any rate, that Tesla was working on a high-potential direct-current system for generating and transmitting electricity to long distances. Direct current at very high voltages can be transmitted much more eYciently than alternating current. There has been no practical way of generating direct current at high voltages. It was because of this that Tesla's polyphase alternating-current system was adopted for our present nationwide superpower system, since it made the use of high voltages practicable. But, despite its eYciencies, it entailed certain losses which could be eliminated if direct current of suYciently high voltage could be obtained. Such a system would supersede his alternating-current system but not displace it.
Direct current, perhaps at several million volts potential, would be used to transmit current for long distances, perhaps clear across the continent, providing a kind of express transmission system, to which the existing alternating-current system would be tied for local distribution. In addition to the direct-current transmission system, he appears to have worked out a high-voltage direct-current generator and a new type of direct-current motor which would operate without a commutator.
The inventions were starting to dam up in Tesla's mind like water in a reservoir to which there was no outlet.
Just as he developed his alternating-current system into the high-frequency, high-potential Weld of power distribution by wireless, which he demonstrated at Colorado Springs, so he appears to have carried his direct-current system forward and linked it with his alternating-current wireless distribution system, so that he could use both in a super-interlocking system. As this remained unapplied, he further evolved it and produced a plan for operating with it what appears to be a beam system of wireless transmission of energy which might involve the use of a stream of particles such as are used in the atom-smashing cyclotron.
As time passed from the latter twenties, through the latter thirties, the hints which Tesla would drop about his work became more complicated, and so ambiguous that they aroused skepticism rather than respect. He would not reveal the nature of his discoveries until he had secured patents, and he would not apply for patents until he had made actual working models, and he could not make the working models because he had no money. Samuel Insull, the public utilities magnate, had for many years made frequent and generous contributions to Tesla. They were usually applied to outstanding debts and were not large enough to enable him to engage in laboratory research work.
Tesla, however, never exhibited the slightest outward sign of bitterness over the situation. Instead, he always appeared in the rôle of conWrmed optimist, always maintaining a spirit of hopefulness that he would achieve by his own eVorts the money he needed to carry out his elaborated plans. This is indicated in a letter he wrote to B. A. Behrend, who had induced him to accept the Edison Medal, and who was probably in his conWdence to a greater extent than anyone else:
``I am hard at work on those discoveries of mine, I told you about, from which I hope to derive a sum in eight Wgures (not counting the cents, of course) enabling me to erect that wireless power plant at my own expense. And what I shall accomplish by that other invention I came specially to see you about, I do not dare to tell you. This is stated in all seriousness.''
The invention about which he dared not speak was probably his direct-current generating and transmitting system.
In an interview given in 1933, he said his power generator was of the simplest kind--just a big mass of steel, copper and aluminum, comprising a stationary and a rotating part, peculiarly assembled. He was planning, he said, to generate electricity and transmit it to a distance by his alternating system; but the direct-current system could also be employed if the heretofore insuperable diYculties of insulating the transmission line could be overcome.
A year later he had developed the beam-transmission plan; and he made an ambiguous statement concerning it which was reported in the press as news of a ``death ray'' since the description seemed to Wt into the same mold as those wild and improbable statements that had come out of Europe some years before. A writer in the New York World-Telegram described Tesla's plan as ``nebulous.'' This drew a reply from Tesla July 24, 1934) in which the following paragraphs appeared:
Still another item which has interested me is a report from Washington in the World Telegram of July 13, 1934, to the eVect that scientists doubt the death ray eVects. I am quite in agreement with these doubters and probably more pessimistic in this respect than anybody else, for I speak from long experience.
Rays of the requisite energy cannot be produced, and, then again, their intensity diminishes with the square of the distance. Not so the agent I employ, which will enable us to transmit to a distant point more energy than is possible by any other kind of ray.
We are all fallible, but as I examine the subject in the light of my present theoretical and experimental knowledge I am Wlled with deep convictions that I am giving to the world something far beyond the wildest dreams of inventors of all time.
This is the Wrst written statement by Tesla in which he mentions his ``ray''; but I had, as already noted, obtained some conWdential statements from him, during the preceding year or so, concerning results he hoped to achieve through his new discovery, the nature of which he kept as a well-protected secret. Three years later, in 1937, Tesla permitted me to write a news story for the New York Herald Tribune on his new power-and-ray discovery. In it I stressed the usefulness of the discovery for delivering power to ships for travel across the ocean, thus eliminating the need for carrying fuel supplies, rather than its use as a weapon for defense or oVense.
On this occasion I tried to get him to reveal some technical details, but he successfully parried every question and gave no information beyond the statement that the transmitting plant on shore was one which he would be able to erect at a cost of about $2,000,000, and the energy would be transmitted by a ray or beam of inWnitesimally small cross section, one hundred thousandth of a centimeter in diameter. To other newspapers which copied my story he gave the Wgure as one millionth of a square centimeter.
Later, I wrote a somewhat critical review of his plan and sought to draw him out by reviewing the properties of electro-magnetic radiation in all parts of the spectrum. Finding none that possessed any known characteristics needed to make his ray practical, I also reviewed the properties of all known particles of matter, and stated that none of these would serve his purpose with the possible exception of the unelectriWed particle, the neutron. He made no revealing response to the article.
At his birthday dinner in 1938, at the Hotel New Yorker, Tesla described brieXy his combination wireless-power transmission and death ray, adding little to what has already been stated; and in a later part of his speech he declared that he had developed a method for interplanetary communication, in which he would be able to transmit not only communication signals of small strength but energies involving thousands of horsepower.
On this occasion I asked him if he would be speciWc concerning the eVects produced, and whether they would be visible from the earth; for example--could he produce an eVect on the moon suYciently large to be seen by an astronomer watching the moon through a high-power telescope? To this he replied that he would be able to produce in the dark region of the thin crescent new moon an incandescent spot that would glow like a bright star so that it could be seen without the aid of a telescope.
It would appear probable that Tesla proposed to use for this purpose the beam he described in connection with his wirelesspower ``death ray.'' The limitation of the destructive eVects of the beam, which he visualized as two hundred miles, was due to the fact that the beam had a straight-line trajectory. Tesla stated that the curvature of the earth set a limit on the distance of operation, so the two-hundred-mile span of operation gave an indication of the greatest practical height of a tower from which the beam could be directed. He expected to use potentials of about 50,000,000 volts in his system, but whether of direct or alternating current is unknown.
The only written statement by Tesla on this subject is in his manuscript of the talk which was delivered, in absentia, some months later before the Institute of Immigrant Welfare in response to its honorary citation. In this was included the following paragraph:
``To go to another subject: I have devoted much of my time during the year past to perfecting of a new small and compact apparatus by which energy in considerable amounts can now be Xashed through interstellar space to any distance without the slightest dispersion. I had in mind to confer with my friend, George E. Hale, the great astronomer and solar expert, regarding the possible use of this invention in connection with his own researches. In the meantime, however, I am expecting to put before the Institute of France an accurate description of the device with data and calculations and claim the Pierre Gutzman Prize of 100,000 francs for means of communication with other worlds, feeling perfectly sure that it will be awarded to me. The money, of course, is a triXing consideration, but for the great historical honor of being the Wrst to achieve this miracle I would be almost willing to give my life.''