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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DESPITE his celibate life, and his almost hermitlike existence in his own intellectual sphere, Tesla was, in his social contacts, a charming individual. The year he had spent digging ditches and doing hard manual labor, when he could get a job of any kind, and his experience during that time of sleeping in any shelter he could obtain and eating any kind of food he could manage to secure, undoubtedly made a tremendous and lasting, impression on him. The fact that he could never be induced to discuss this period would so indicate. Yet it probably softened him in a beneWcial way--by a going-through-the-mill process. But it had been a grievous insult to his personality to be valued only for the brute strength in his muscles; and this rankled ever after.
Once he had obtained funds through the founding of his laboratory and the sale of his patents to Westinghouse, he thereafter maintained an almost princely status. He knew how to wear clothes to increase the impressiveness of his appearance; his tallness gave him something of an advantage over others; his obvious physical strength brought him a respect that forbade any invasion of his attitude; his excellent English and the care he exercised to use the language correctly, and his command of a half-dozen other languages, established him as a scholar; and the Wrst batch of his alternating-current inventions created for him in the mind of the public a reputation for outstanding scientiWc accomplishment. The fact that he always spoke of the value of his inventions to the world, and not of the greatness of his own accomplishment, endeared him to all who met him.
When Tesla was riding a tidal wave of popularity during the nineties, he was averse to publicity; but frequently well-known writers for the newspapers were able to break through the barriers and secure ``feature'' articles. An excellent description of him, keyed to the manner of the period, is contained in an article written by Franklin Chester, in the Citizen of August 22, 1897. The portion referring to his personal appearance and activities follows:
So far as personal appearance goes no one can look upon him without feeling his force. He is more than six feet tall and very slender. Yet he possesses great physical power. His hands are large, his thumbs abnormally long, and this is a sign of great intelligence. His hair is black and straight, a deep shining black. He brushes it sharply from over his ears, so that it makes a ridge with serrated edges.
His cheekbones are high and prominent, the mark of the Slav: his skin is like marble that age has given the Wrst searing of yellow. His eyes are blue, deeply set, and they burn like balls of Wre. Those weird Xashes of light he makes with his instruments seem also to shoot from them. His head is wedge shaped. His chin is almost a point.
Never was a human being Wlled with loftier ideals. Never did a man labor so unceasingly, so earnestly, so unselWshly for the beneWt of the race. Tesla is not rich. He does not trouble himself about money. Had he chosen to follow in the footsteps of Edison he could be, perhaps, the richest man in the world, and Tesla is just 40 years old.
Tesla is, above all things, a serious man, undoubtedly the most serious man in New York. Yet he has a keen sense of humor and the most beautiful manners. He is the most genuinely modest of men. He knows no jealousy. He has never decried the accomplishments of another, never refused credit.
When he talks you listen. You do not know what he is saying, but it enthralls you. You feel the importance without understanding the meaning. He speaks the perfect English of a highly educated foreigner, without accent and with precision. He speaks eight languages equally well.
The daily life of this man has been the same, practically, ever since he has been in New York. He lives in the Gerlach, a very quiet family hotel, in 27th street, between Broadway and Sixth avenue. He starts for his laboratory before 9 o'clock in the morning, all day long he lives in his weird, uncanny world, reaching forth to capture new power to gain fresh knowledge.
No stranger ever sees him at his work. No one knows of his assistants. At rare intervals he presents some experiments in his laboratory, and there is no sacriWce that thousands of people would not make to gain admission to these.
Usually he works until 6 o'clock, but he may stay later. The absence of natural light does not trouble him. Tesla makes sunlight in his workshop.
At exactly 8 o'clock he enters the Waldorf. He is attired in irreproachable evening clothes. In the winter time he never wears an evening jacket, but always the coat with tails.
He Wnishes his dinner at exactly 10 o'clock, and leaves his hotel, either to go to his rooms to study or to return to his laboratory to work through the night.
Arthur Brisbane, who later became Hearst's famous editor, interviewed Tesla and published in The World, August 22, 1894, the longest story he had written on a famous person. He declared Tesla ``Our Foremost Electrician--Greater Even than Edison,'' and included the following description of him:
He has eyes set very far back in his head. They are rather light. I asked him how he could have such light eyes and be a Slav. He told me that his eyes were once much darker, but that using his mind a great deal had made them many shades lighter. I have often heard it said that using the brain makes the eyes lighter in color. Tesla's conWrmation of the theory through his personal experience is important.
He is very thin, is more than six feet tall, and weighs less than a hundred and forty pounds. He has very big hands. His thumbs are remarkably big, even for such big hands. They are extraordinarily big. This is a good sign. The thumb is the intellectual part of the hand. The apes have very small thumbs. Study them and you will notice this.
Nikola Tesla has a head that spreads out at the top like a fan. His head is shaped like a wedge. His chin is as pointed as an ice-pick. His mouth is too small. His chin, though not weak, is not strong enough. His face cannot be studied and judged like the faces of other men, for he is not a worker in practical Welds. He lives his life up in the top of his head, where ideas are born, and up there he has plenty of room. His hair is jet black and curly. He stoops--most men do when they have no peacock blood in them. He lives inside of himself. He takes a profound interest in his own work. He has that supply of self-love and self-conWdence which usually goes with success. And he diVers from most of the men who are written and talked about in the fact that he has something to tell.
Tesla had, to be sure, a sense of humor and enjoyed putting over a subtle joke. Before the period in which he became a regular diner at the Waldorf-Astoria, he dined nightly at Delmonico's, then the smartest hostelry in the city, and a gathering place for ``The 400.'' Tesla was the most famous and spectacular Wgure among the famous patrons of the famous place, but he always dined alone. He could never be induced to join other groups and never had a guest of his own. After dining he would always return to work at his laboratory.
One evening some of his friends, believing that he was working too hard and should get some relaxation, induced him to join them in a game of billiards. They assumed he had neglected to learn how to play games, so, on arriving at the billiard room, they explained to him how to hold the cue, strike the balls, and other elements of the game. Tesla had not played billiards in a dozen years; but during his second year at Grätz, when he was a year ahead in his studies and spent his evenings in the café's, he had become an expert billiardist. When the experts at Delmonico's gave him preparatory instruction, he asked some ``dumb'' questions, and made some intentional miscues. Taking on one of the players and still asking silly questions, he tried the most diYcult way of making shots--to demonstrate his purely amateur status--and made them, to the amazement of the experts. Several of them took him on that evening, and he defeated all of them with badly unbalanced scores. He declared the new game give him a wonderful opportunity to practice very abstract mathematical theories; and the experts at Delmonico's spread stories about the wonderful accomplishment of Scientist Tesla in mastering the game in a single evening and defeating the best players in the city. The story got into the newspapers. Tesla refused to play any more, declaring he was in danger of becoming so enthusiastic over the game that it would interfere with his researches.
This same man magniWcent who graced the Waldorf-Astoria and Delmonico's was not averse, however, to visiting the Bowery, which was but a block away from his Houston Street laboratory. He repaired to a thirst-quenching emporium on that thoroughfare one afternoon shortly after a denizen of the Bowery, Steve Brodie, had achieved fame by jumping, or at least claiming to have jumped, oV the Brooklyn Bridge. As Tesla raised his glass of whiskey he said to the bartender: ``You know what Steve said as he was about to jump oV the bridge--`Down he goes'''; and with that he downed his liquor in a gulp.
A near-by drinker, a little the worse for several, misunderstood Tesla's remark and got the impression he had heard Steve Brodie telling the Wnal episode of his feat. He rushed up to Tesla to buy him a drink, and was joined by his friends. Tesla with a laugh shook them oV and dashed out of the bar, while the misguided drinker started after him yelling, ``Stop him, that's Steve.'' On the street the pedestrians misunderstood the thick-tongued drinker's shout and joined him in the chase, calling ``Stop, thief!'' Tesla's long legs rendered him a valuable service and he got a lead on the crowd, dashed into an alley, over a fence and climbed a Wre escape on the back of his own building, reached his laboratory through a window, quickly donned a blacksmith's apron and started hammering a bar of metal. His pursuers, however, failed to trace him.
Tesla was idolized by the Serbians in New York. A great many of them could claim to be distant relatives through either the Tesla or Mandich side of the family, and those who could not claim this distinction revered him none the less, despite the fact he never accepted invitations to take part in their social or other functions.
One day an excited Serbian, a laborer, came to his apartment at the Waldorf-Astoria to beg his aid. He had gotten into a Wght and pummeled a fellow Serbian, who had sworn out a warrant for his arrest. The visitor did not have any money but wanted to go to Chicago to escape arrest. Would Tesla please lend him the money for his railroad fare?
``So you assaulted a man and now want to run away to escape punishment,'' said Tesla. ``You may run away from the law but you are not going to escape punishment; you are going to get it right now!'' Seizing a cane and grasping the man by the back of the neck, he ran him around the room, beating the dust out of the seat of his trousers until the man cried for mercy.
``Do you think you can be a better man in Chicago and keep out of Wghts?'' Tesla asked him. The man was sure he could. He received the money for his railroad fare and a few dollars more.
So great was Tesla's popularity in the nineties that many persons came to dine in the Palm Room at the Waldorf just to catch a glimpse of the famous inventor. He arranged to leave his oYce at six, but just before leaving he would telephone the order for his dinner to the headwaiter, always insisting that none less could serve him. The meal was required to be ready at eight o'clock. In the meantime he would go to his room and array himself in formal evening attire--white tie and tails. He dined alone, except on the rare occasions when he would give a dinner to a group to meet his social obligations.
Money was always a nuisance detail to Tesla. For about Wfteen years, following 1888, he always had all he needed to meet his obligations; and he lived well. After about 1902 his Wnancial road became quite rocky--but his fame was greater than ever, and likewise the need for maintaining his standard of living if he was to recoup his fortune. He continued to stage frequent large dinners at the Waldorf to repay his social obligations, and had diYculty in accustoming himself to a money deWciency. On one occasion, when a large party was assembled in a private dining room, the headwaiter whispered to him that a most excellent dinner was prepared and ready to serve as he had ordered it, but that the credit department insisted it could not be served until he paid for it in advance. ``Get Mr. Morgan on the telephone in the manager's oYce and I will be down there immediately,'' Tesla fumed. In a short time a more-than-adequate check was delivered to Tesla by a messenger. Many such occasions are reported to have arisen, but were always straightened out in the manager's oYce, usually without any outside intervention.
The closest approach to home life which Tesla enjoyed came to him through Robert Underwood Johnson diplomat and poet, and one of the editors of the Century Magazine, whose home was in Madison Avenue in the fashionable Murray Hill district. Tesla and Johnson were very close friends. A love of poetry was one of the several interests they had in common. Johnson wrote, and published in the Century, in April, 1895, a short poem on his visit to Tesla's laboratory. This led to a cooperative enterprise in which he paraphrased many pieces of Serbian poetry from literal translations made by Tesla, who could recite many thousands of lines of such material from memory. About forty pages of these translations, with an introductory note by Tesla, appeared in the next edition of Poems by Johnson.
Persons famous in all Welds of activity were frequent guests in the Johnson home, and formal dinners were constantly being held for brilliant assemblages of personalities. Tesla was present as frequently as he could be induced to come, but he preferred to avoid all formal dinners as much as possible. He was, however, a very frequent informal visitor, arriving unexpected, and often at most unusual hours. It was not uncommon for Tesla to arrive at the Johnson home after midnight, after the family had retired, and for ``Bob'' and ``Nick'' to sit up for hours reveling in the exchange of a magniWcent array of ideas. (Johnson and ``Willie'' K. Vanderbilt, were, as has been noted, the only individuals who rated the exchange of Wrst names with Tesla.)
Tesla's visits to the Johnson home were always many hours long. He would arrive in a hansom cab, which he always required to wait for him to return to his hotel only a few blocks distant. The Johnson children learned to take advantage of this, and when he arrived early in the evening they would get his permission to use the cab for a drive through Central Park while he chatted at home.
Tesla enjoyed the opera and at one time attended the performances quite frequently. William K. Vanderbilt's box was always available to him, as likewise were those of many other patrons of the Metropolitan. He occasionally attended the theatre. His favorite actress was Elsie Ferguson who, he declared, knew how to dress and was the most graceful woman he had ever seen on the stage. He gradually dropped both the theatre and opera in favor of the movies, but was an infrequent attendant even at those. He would not witness a tragedy but enjoyed comedy and the lighter aspects of entertainment.
One of his close friends was Rear Admiral Richmond Pearson Hobson, the Spanish American War hero. In later years, Hobson was the only person who was able to cajole Tesla into breaking a long vigil at his intellectual pursuits for a session at the movies.
Tesla did not subscribe to any religion. Early in life he severed his relations with the Church and did not accept its doctrines. At his seventy-Wfth birthday dinner he declared that that which is called the soul is merely one of the functions of the body, and that when the activities of the body cease, the soul ceases to exist.
It is difficult for a man to appear as a hero to his secretary, but to Miss Dorothy F. Skerritt, who served Tesla in this capacity for many years until he closed his oYce when he was seventy, he remained a saintly superman. Her description of Tesla, at this age, records him as possessing the same magnetic personality that so impressed writers thirty years earlier. She wrote:
As one approached Mr. Tesla he beheld a tall, gaunt man. He appeared to be an almost divine being. When about 70 he stood erect, his extremely thin body immaculately and simply attired in clothing of a subdued coloring. Neither scarf pin nor ring adorned him. His bushy black hair was parted in the middle and brushed back briskly from his high broad forehead, deeply lined by his close concentration on scientiWc problems that stimulated and fascinated him. From under protruding eyebrows his deepset, steel gray, soft, yet piercing eyes, seemed to read your innermost thoughts. As he waxed enthusiastic about Welds to conquer and achievements to attain his face glowed with almost ethereal radiance, and his listeners were transported from the commonplaces of today to imaginative realms of the future. His genial smile and nobility of bearing always denoted the gentlemanly characteristics that were so ingrained in his soul.
Until the last, Tesla was meticulously careful about his clothes. He knew how to dress well and did so. He declared to a secretary, in 1910, that he was the best-dressed man on Fifth Avenue and intended to maintain that standard. This was not because of personal vanity. Neatness and fastidiousness in clothes were entirely in harmony with every other phase of his personality. He did not maintain a large wardrobe and he wore no jewelry of any kind. Good clothes Wtted in very nicely with his courtly bearing. He observed, however, that in the matter of clothes the world takes a man at his own valuation, as expressed in his appearance, and frequently eases his way to his objective through small courtesies not extended to less prepossessing individuals.
He was partial to the waisted coat. No matter what he wore, however, it carried an air of quiet elegance. The only type of hat he wore was the black derby. He carried a cane and wore, usually, gray suede gloves.
Tesla paid $2.50 a pair for his gloves, wore them for a week and then discarded them even though they still appeared as fresh as when they came from the maker. He standardized his style of ties and always wore the four-in-hand. The design motive was of minor importance but the colors were limited to a combination of red and black. He purchased a new tie every week, paying always one dollar.
Silk shirts, plain white, were the only kind Tesla would wear. As with other articles of his clothing, such as pajamas, his initials were always embroidered on the left chest.
Handkerchiefs he purchased in large numbers because he never sent them to the laundry. After their Wrst use they were discarded. He liked a good quality of linen and purchased a standard package brand. His collars were never laundered, either. He never wore one more than once.
Tesla always wore high-laced shoes, except on formal occasions. He required a long narrow shoe and insisted on a last that had a neatly tapered square-toe eVect. His shoes were undoubtedly made to order, for the tops extended halfway up his calf, a style that could not be purchased in merchant shoe stores. His tallness in all probability made this additional support at the ankles desirable.
The single use of articles, such as handkerchiefs and collars, extended to napkins. Tesla had a germ phobia, and it acted like so much sand in the social machinery of his life. He required that the table he used in the dining room of his hotel be not used by others. A fresh table cloth was required for every meal. He also required that a stack of two dozen napkins be placed on the left side of the table. As each item of silverware and each dish was brought to him--and he required that they be sterilized by heat before leaving the kitchen--he would pick each one up, interposing a napkin between his hand and the utensil, and use another napkin to clean it. He could then drop both napkins on the Xoor. Even for a simple meal, he usually ran through the full stock of napkins. Flies were his pet abomination. A Xy alighting on his table was adequate cause for removing everything from the table and making an entirely new start with the meal.
Tesla was fortunate in that the headwaiter at the Waldorf-Astoria, during the period he was living there, Mr. Peterson, was afterward headwaiter at the Hotel Pennsylvania, where he later lived for several years. A story was in circulation to the eVect that both at the Waldorf and at the Pennsylvania a special chef was employed to prepare Tesla's meals, but Mr. Peterson states that this story was untrue.
In his earlier years, for dinner, he greatly enjoyed Wne thick steaks, preferably the Wlet mignon, and it was not unusual for him to consume two or three at a sitting. Later his preference turned to lamb, and he would frequently order a roast saddle of it. While the saddle was usually large enough to serve a party of several persons, as a rule he ate of it only the central portion of the tenderloin. A crown of baby lamb chops was another favorite dish. He also relished roast squab with nut stuYng. In fowl, however, his choice was roast duck. He required that it be roasted under a smothering of celery stalks. This method of preparing the duck was of his own devising. He very often made it the central motif around which a dinner was designed when entertaining friends, and on such occasions he would go to the kitchen to superintend its preparation. Duck so prepared was nevertheless delicious. Of the duck he ate only the meat on either side of the breast bone.
With the passing decades, Tesla shifted away from a meat diet. He substituted Wsh, always boiled, and Wnally eliminated the meat entirely. He later almost entirely eliminated the Wsh and lived on a vegetarian diet. Milk was his main standby, and toward the end of his life it was the principal item of diet, served warm.
As a youth he drank a great deal of coVee, and, while he gradually became aware that he suVered unfavorable inXuences from it, he found it a diYcult habit to break. When he Wnally made the decision to drink no more of it, he adhered to his good intentions but was forced to recognize the fact that the desire for it remained. He combated this by ordering with each meal a pot of his favorite coVee, and having a cup of it poured so that he would get the aroma. It required ten years for the aroma of the coVee to transform itself into a nuisance so that he felt secure in no longer having it served. Tea and cocoa he also considered injurious.
He was a heavy smoker in his youth, mostly of cigars. A sister who seemed fatally ill, when he was in his early twenties, said she would try to get better if he would give up smoking. He did so immediately. His sister recovered, and he never smoked again.
Tesla drank whiskey, for this he considered a very beneWcial source of energy and an invaluable means for prolonging life. It was responsible, he believed, for the longevity enjoyed by many of his ancestors. It would enable him, he declared early in the century, to live to one hundred and Wfty. When prohibition came along with the First World War, he denounced it as an intolerable interference with the rights of citizens. Nevertheless, he promptly gave up the use of whiskey and all other beverages except milk and water. He declared, however, that the elimination of whiskey would reduce his expectation of life to one hundred and thirty years.
Stimulants were not necessary to help him to think, Tesla said. A brisk walk he found much better as an aid for concentration. He seemed to be in a dream when walking. Even one whom he knew very well he would pass at close range and not see, though he might appear to be looking directly at him. His thoughts were usually miles away from where he was. It was this practice, apparently, which was responsible for the accident, in 1937, when he was struck and severely injured by a taxicab. As a matter of fact, he had stated in an interview two years earlier that he would probably be killed by a truck or taxicab while jaywalking.
Tesla's weight, stripped, was 142 pounds, and, except during brief periods of illness, hardly varied a pound from 1888 to about 1926, when he intentionally reduced his weight Wve pounds.
One of Tesla's indulgences, over many years, was scalp massages. He would visit a barbershop three times a week and have the barber rub his scalp for half an hour. He was insistent upon the barber placing a clean towel on his chair but, strangely enough, he did not object to the use of the common shaving mug and brush.
Tesla always claimed that he never slept more than two hours a night. His retiring time, he said, was Wve am, and he would arise at ten am after spending only two hours in sleep, three hours being too much. Once a year, he admitted, he would sleep for Wve hours--and that would result in building up a tremendous reserve of energy. He never stopped working, he claimed,--even when asleep. Tesla laughed at Edison's claim that he slept only four hours a night. It was a regular practice with Edison, he said, to sit down in his laboratory and doze oV into a three-hour nap about twice a day. It is possible that Tesla, too, obtained some sleep in a similar fashion, perhaps without being conscious of the fact. Hotel employees have related that it was quite common to see Tesla standing transWxed in his room for hours at a time, so oblivious to his surroundings that they were able to work around his room without his being, apparently, aware of their presence.
Tesla always provided his oYce with a separate washroom which no one but himself was permitted to use. He would wash his hands on the slightest pretext. When he did so, he required that his secretary hand him a freshly laundered towel each time to dry them.
He went to extremes to avoid shaking hands. He usually placed his hands behind his back when anyone approached who he feared might make an eVort to shake hands, and this frequently led to embarrassing moments. If by chance a visitor to his oYce should catch him oV guard and shake his hand, Tesla was so upset that he would be unable to pay attention to the visitor's mission and frequently would dismiss him before it was completely stated; and immediately he would rush to the washroom and scour his hands. Workmen eating their lunch with dirty hands almost nauseated him.
Pearls, too, were one of Tesla's phobias. If a woman guest at a dinner party to which he was invited wore pearls, he was unable to eat. Smooth round surfaces, in general, were an abomination to him; it had even taken him a long time to learn to tolerate billiard balls.
Tesla never knew the experience of having a headache. In spite of a number of cases of serious illness, in his independent years he was never attended by a doctor.
There were reasons for practically all of Tesla's phobias, not all of them generally known. His germ phobia can be traced back to his two serious illnesses early in life, both of which were probably cholera, a disease constantly prevalent in his native land, caused by a germ transmitted by impure drinking water and by contact between individuals.
Tesla was not oblivious of his idiosyncrasies; he was quite aware of them and of the friction which they caused in his daily life. They were an essential part of him, however, and he could no more have dispensed with them than he could his right arm. They were probably one of the consequences of his solitary mode of life or, possibly, a contributing cause of it.
Tesla's mind always seemed to be under an explosive pressure. An avalanche of ideas was forever straining for release. He seemed to be unable to keep up with the Xood of his own thoughts. He never had suYcient facilities to keep his accomplishments equal to his projects. If he had an army of adequately trained assistants, he would still be insuYciently equipped. As a result, those associated with him always experienced a sense of ``drive''; yet he was a most generous employer both in the matter of wages paid and the number of hours of work required. He frequently demanded overtime work but always paid generously for it.
Nevertheless, Tesla was not an easy man to work for. He was most meticulously neat in his personal aVairs and required all workers to be the same. He was an excellent mechanic and set extremely high standards, by his own accomplishments, for all work done in his shops. He greatly admired cleverness in his assistants, frequently rewarding them with extra compensation for diYcult jobs well done, but was extremely impatient with stupidity and carelessness.
Although Tesla maintained a staV of draughtsmen, he never used them in his own design work on machines, and tolerated them only because of unavoidable contacts with other organizations. When having machines constructed for his own use, he would give individual instruction on each part. The workman scheduled to do the machinework would be summoned to Tesla's desk, where the inventor would make an almost microscopically small sketch in the middle of a large sheet of paper. No matter how detailed the piece of work, or its size, the sketch was always less than one inch in its largest dimensions. If Tesla made the slightest slip of the pencil in drawing the sketch, he would not make an erasure but would start over on another sheet of paper. All dimensions were given verbally. When the drawing was Wnished, the workman was not permitted to take it with him to the shop to guide him in his work. Tesla would destroy the drawing and require the machinist to work from memory. Tesla depended entirely on his memory for all details, he never reduced his mentally completed plans to paper for guidance in construction--and he believed others could achieve this ability if they would make suYcient eVort. So he sought to force them to try by insisting on their working without drawings.
All those who worked with Tesla greatly admired him for his remarkable ability to keep track of a vast number of Wnest details concerning every phase of the many projects he had under way simultaneously. No employee was ever given any more information than was absolutely essential for completing a project. No one was ever told the purposes for which a machine or article was to be used. Tesla claimed that Edison received more ideas from his associates than he contributed, so he himself bent over backward to avoid this situation. He felt that he was the richest man in the world in the matter of ideas and needed none from anyone else; and he intended to prevent all from contributing any.
Tesla was probably very unfair to Edison in this respect. The two men were entirely diVerent and distinct types. Tesla was totally lacking in the university type of mind; that is, the mind which is adapted to cooperate with others in acquiring knowledge and conducting research. He could neither give nor receive, but was entirely adequate to his own requirements. Edison had more of the cooperative, or executive, type of mind. He was able to attract brilliant associates and to delegate to them major portions of his inventive research projects. He had the ability to act as a catalyzer, to stimulate them to creative mental activities, and thus multiply his own creative abilities. If Tesla had possessed this ability, his record of accomplishment would have been tremendously magniWed.
The inability to work with others, the inability to share his plans, was the greatest handicap from which Tesla suVered. It completely isolated him from the rest of the intellectual structure of his time and caused the world to lose a vast amount of creative thought which he was unable to translate into complete inventions. It is a duty of a master to train pupils who will carry on after him--but Tesla refused to accept this responsibility. Had Tesla, in his most active period, associated with him a half-dozen brilliant young scientists, they would have been in a position to link him with the engineering and scientiWc worlds from which, despite his eminence and his outstanding accomplishments, he was to a great extent isolated because of his unusual personal characteristics. His fame was so secure that the success of his assistants could not have detracted from it; but the master would have shone more brightly in the brilliant accomplishments of his pupils. He might well have attracted some practical young men who could have aided him by assuming the burden of making practical application of some of the minor but important inventions from which he could have earned suYcient proWt to pay the cost of maintaining his laboratories. Many scores of important inventions have undoubtedly been lost to the world because of Tesla's intellectual hermit characteristics. Undoubtedly, he indirectly inspired many young men to become inventors.
Tesla responded powerfully to personal idiosyncrasies in individuals with whom he worked. When his reaction was unfavorable, he was unable to tolerate the presence of the person within eyeshot. When carrying on his experimental work at the Allis Chalmers plant in Milwaukee, for example, he did not increase his popularity by insisting that certain workers be dropped from the crew working on the turbine because he did not like their looks. Since, as noted earlier, he had already antagonized the engineers in that plant by going over their heads to the president and board of directors, the turbine job went forward in something less than a cooperative atmosphere.
Tesla was thoroughly impractical throughout, too, in handling money matters. When he was working on the Union Sulphur Company turbine project, a ship was made available for his use, free, during the day; but if he worked after six pm it would cost him $20 per hour. He never showed up at the ship until six o'clock. Every night, in addition, he had to hand out $10 for suppers for the crew. In the course of a year these costs totaled about $12,000, which must have cut heavily into the retainer he received. Nor were these his only additional expenses. Almost every night he handed a $5 tip to his principal assistants among the crew, and once a week to all members of the crew. These manifestations of generosity were not, of course, a total loss to Tesla; they might rather be classed as necessities, for he was very dictatorial in directing his assistants.
Inquiries among the employees at hotels where he lived revealed that he had a reputation for acting in a most cavalier manner toward the servants. He was almost cruel in the manner in which he ordered them around, but would make immediate compensation by the generous tips he bestowed.
He was always, however, very considerate of women, and even men, on his oYce staV. If any one of them did an unusually Wne piece of work, everyone on the staV was informed of it. Criticism was always delivered privately to the individual involved.
Tesla had a standing rule that every messenger boy who came to his oYce was to receive a tip of twenty-Wve cents, and he set aside a fund of $10 a week for this purpose.
If necessity required that he keep his staV of young women secretaries and typists working overtime for several hours, he would provide them with a dinner at Delmonico's. He would hire a cab for the girls and would follow them in another cab. After making arrangements to pay the bill, and paying the tip in advance, he would leave.
Tesla timed his arrival at the oYce so that he entered at the stroke of noon. He required that his secretary should be standing immediately inside the door to receive him and take his hat, cane and gloves. His oYces were opened by nine o'clock each morning, so all routine matters would be handled before his arrival. Before Tesla arrived, all the shades in the oYce had to be drawn so that no outdoor light was admitted and night conditions were simulated. The inventor, as remarked, was a ``sun dodger.'' He appeared to be at his best at night and at some kind of disadvantage in daylight; at any rate, he preferred the night for work and what he called his recreation.
The only time Tesla would permit the shades of his oYce to be raised was when a lightning storm was raging. The various oYces he leased faced on open spaces. The 8 West 40th Street oYce was on the south side of Bryant Park, in the east end of which was the low-roofed structure that housed the New York Public Library. From his windows on the twentieth Xoor, he could look beyond the city roof scape below him and obtain a broad view of the sky.
When the rumbles of distant thunder announced that the Wreworks of the sky would presently be Xashing, it was not only permissible to raise the shades--it was obligatory. Tesla loved to watch lightning Xash. The black mohair couch would be drawn close to the windows so that he could lie on it, completely relaxed, while his vision commanded a full view of the northern or the western sky. He was always talking to himself, but during a lightning storm he would become eloquent. His conversation on such occasions was never recorded. He wished to be a lone observer of this gorgeous spectacle, and his secretaries were quite willing that he should be so accommodated. By Wnger measurements and counting seconds he was able to calculate the distance, length and voltage of each Xash.
How thrilled Tesla must have been by these tremendous sparks, many times longer than he had been able to produce in his Colorado Springs laboratory! He had successfully imitated Nature's electrical Wreworks, but he had not as yet exceeded her performance.
The ancient Romans sublimated their frustrations by the forces of Nature by creating the mental concept of their mightiest god, Jupiter, as one endowed with the power of creating lightning and hurling his bolts at earth. Tesla had refused to accept frustration; but, like the ancient Romans, he too set up a mental concept, a superman not inferior to the Romans' ruling god, who would control the forces of Nature. Yes, Tesla thoroughly enjoyed a lightning storm. From his mohair couch, he used to applaud the lightning; he approved of it. He may even have been a little bit jealous.
Tesla never married; no woman, with the exception of his mother and his sisters, ever shared the smallest fraction of his life. He idolized his mother and admired his sisters for their intellectual accomplishments. One of his sisters, Marica, exhibited unusual ability as a mathematician and had greater ability than his own for memorizing long passages from books. He attributed to his mother most of his abilities as an inventor, and he continuously spoke in praise of her ability to contrive useful gadgets for the household, often regretting that she had not been born into an environment in which she would have been able to manifest to a larger world her many creative talents. He was not unaware of the values which a woman could bring into a man's life, for he had ever before him the vast contributions which his mother made to his father's welfare and happiness. However, he lived instead a blueprint life, one which he had planned in his early youth, one designed along engineering lines, with all of the time and energies available to be directed to invention and none to be dissipated on emotional projects.
From the romantic point of view, Tesla as a young man was not unattractive. He was too tall and slender to pose as the physical Adonis, but his other qualiWcations more than compensated for this possible defect. He was handsome of face, had a magnetic personality, but was quiet, almost shy; he was soft spoken, well educated and wore clothes well in spite of inadequate funds with which to keep up a wardrobe. However, he avoided romantic encounters, or any situations that would lead up to them, just as assiduously as other young men sought them. He would not permit his thoughts to wander into romantic channels, and with thoughts successfully controlled, action control became a problem of vanishing magnitude. He did not develop an antagonism to women; he solved the problem, instead, by idealizing them.
A typical instance of how he avoided romance is furnished by an incident that occurred in Paris when he returned to that city to give a lecture on his alternating-current system after he had become world famous. His wonderful discoveries were the principal topic of conversation of the day, and he was the cynosure of all eyes wherever he went. The situation was entirely pleasant to Tesla. Less than ten years before, the executives the Continental Edison Company, in that city, had not alone rejected the alternating-current system he had oVered them but had cheated him of his just earnings. Now he was returning to that city after receiving recognition and wealth in the United States and fame throughout the world. He was in Paris as a returned hero and the world was at his feet.
As he sat in an outdoor café with a young male friend, amidst a chattering, fashionably dressed crowd, a graceful, gorgeously gowned young woman, with a stylishly coiVured crown of red hair, whom he instantly recognized as Sarah Bernhardt, the famous French actress--the ``divine Sarah''--swung close to his table and when a few feet away very auspiciously dropped a tiny lace handkerchief.
Tesla was on his feet in an instant. He recovered the handkerchief, and with his hat in his other hand, bowing low from the waist, he handed the wisp of lace to the beautiful tragedienne, saying: ``Mademoiselle, your handkerchief.'' Without even an upward glance at her graciously smiling face, he returned to his chair and resumed his conversation about his experiments on a world wireless system of power transmission.
When a newspaper reporter once asked Tesla why he had not married, his reply, as contained in the published interview was:
I have planned to devote my whole life to my work and for that reason I am denied the love and companionship of a good woman; and more, too.
I believe that a writer or a musician should marry. They gain inspiration that leads to Wner achievement.
But an inventor has so intense a nature, with so much in it of wild, passionate quality that, in giving himself to a woman, he would give up everything, and so take everything from his chosen Weld: It is a pity, too; sometimes we feel so lonely.
In my student days I have known what it was to pass forty-eight hours at a stretch at a gaming table, undergoing intense emotion, that which most people believe is the strongest that can be known, but it is tame and insipid compared with that sublime moment when you see the labor of weeks fructify in a successful experiment that proves your theories. . . .
``Many times has Nikola Tesla known that supreme happiness,'' said the interviewer, ``and he is likely to know it often again. It is impossible that his life work can be Wnished at forty. It would seem that his powers are only reaching their maturity.''
Tesla was not unappreciative of the activities of the many women who showed a sincere interest in his welfare, and who tried to make life tolerable and pleasant for an obviously none-too-well-adjusted scientist projected into a social world from which he would have been only too willing to escape. He spoke glowingly of the Wrst Mrs. Clarence Mackay (née Duer), Mrs. Jordan L. Mott, and of the beauty of Lady Ribblesdale (the former Mrs. John Jacob Astor). He admired the energetic idealism of Miss Anne Morgan; but never was the situation brightened by a single tint of romance.
He was impressed by the tall, graceful and charming Miss Marguerite Merington, a talented pianist and writer on musical subjects, who was a frequent dinner guest at the Johnson home.
``Why do you not wear diamonds and jewelry like other women?'' Tesla undiplomatically asked Miss Merington, one evening.
``It is not a matter of choice with me,'' she replied, ``but if I had enough money to load myself with diamonds I could think of better ways of spending it.''
``What would you do with money if you had it?'' the inventor continued.
``I would prefer to purchase a home in the country, except that I would not enjoy commuting to the suburbs,'' Miss Merington replied.
``Ah! Miss Merington, when I start getting my millions I will solve that problem. I will buy a square block here in New York and build a villa for you in the center and plant trees all around it. Then you will have your country home and will not have to leave the city.''
Tesla was most generous in the distribution of his always still-to-be-gotten millions; none of his friends would ever have lacked anything they desired if he had had suYcient funds with which to satisfy their wishes. His promises, however, were always to be fulWlled--''When I start getting my millions.''
Tesla had, as might be expected, very deWnite ideas about how women should dress. He also had clear-cut ideas about the feminine Wgure. He disliked the big ``hefty'' type and utterly detested fat women. The super-upholstered type, Xashily dressed and heavily jeweled, that wasted time in hotel lobbies, were his pet abomination. He liked women trim, slim, graceful and agile.
One of his secretaries, well proportioned and a graceful blonde, wore to the oYce one day a dress that was in the very latest style. It was a summer dress made from a pretty print. The prevailing style called for an extremely low waist line, well down on the hips, several inches below its natural location. This gave a relatively short skirt and from the neck to the hips the dress was almost a plain cylinder. The style was very new, and was enjoying an intense but brief wave of popularity. The secretary was an excellent seamstress and had made the dress herself, an accomplishment of which she was justly proud.
Tesla summoned the secretary. She breezed into his sanctum not expecting, but hoping, that he would say something nice about her new dress.
``Miss,'' he said, ``what is that you are wearing? You cannot wear that on this errand on which I wish you to go. I wished to have you take a note to a very important banker down town, and what would he think if someone from my oYce should come to him wearing such a monstrosity of a gown? How can you be such a slave to fashion? Whatever the fashion designers say is the style you buy and wear. Miss, you have good sense and good taste, so why did you let the saleslady in the store force a dress like this on you? Now if you were also very clever like my sister who makes all her own dresses you would not be forced to wear any such abominable style as this, then you too could make your own clothes and you could wear sensible gowns. You should always follow nature in the design of your clothes. Do not let a style designer deform nature for you, for then you become hideous instead of attractive. Now, Miss, you get into a cab, so not many people will see you, and go to your home and get into a sensible dress and return as soon as you can so you can take this letter down town for me.''
Tesla never addressed any of his woman employees by either their Christian names or surnames. The only form of address he used to them was ``Miss.'' As he spoke it, it sounded like ``Meese,'' and he could make it very expressive. When he addressed the secretary wearing the gown of which he disapproved, it sounded like ``Meeeeeeesssse.'' It could also be an abrupt, abbreviated expletive.
When a young woman on his oYce staV left his employ to get married, Tesla preached this sermonette to the remaining members:
``Do not marry too young. When you marry too young, men marry you mostly for your beauty and ten years later when your beauty is gone, they tire of you and become interested in someone else.''
Tesla's attitude toward woman was paradoxical; he idealized woman--put her up on a pedestal--and yet he also viewed women in a purely objective and materialistic way, as if no spiritual concepts were involved in their make-up. This was undoubtedly an outward expression of the conXict that was taking place within his own life, between the normal healthy attitude toward female companionship, and the coldly objective planning of his life under which he refused to share the smallest fraction of his life with any woman.
Only the Wnest type of women could approach within friendship distance of Tesla, and such individuals were idealized by him without the least diYculty; he could desex them mentally so that the vector or emotional attraction was eliminated. To the remainder he did not bother to apply this process. They had no attraction for him.
Out of the welter of human aVairs, however, he visioned the rising of a superior breed of human beings, few in number but of vastly elevated intellectual status, while the remainder of the race leveled itself on a merely productive and reproductive plane, which, however, could represent a considerable improvement over existing conditions. He sought to fashion an idealism out of purely materialistic concepts of human nature. This was a hold-over from the materialistic, agnostic views which were fashionable and prevalent among scientists in the formative period of his youth. This phase of his attitude was not particularly hard to break down in his latter years; but the phase which represented an engineering approach to the solution of problems of the human race was more Wrmly held, although he was willing to admit that spiritual factors had a real existence and should be considered in such planning.
His views concerning women received their only expression in published form in the article written for Collier's, in 1924, by John B. Kennedy, from an interview with Tesla. On this occasion, he said:
The struggle of the human female toward sex equality will end up in a new sex order, with the females superior. The modern woman, who anticipates in merely superWcial phenomenon the advancement of her sex, is but a surface symptom of something deeper and more potent fomenting in the bosom of the race.
It is not in the shallow physical imitation of the men that women will assert Wrst their equality and later their superiority, but in the awakening of the intellect of women.
But the female mind has demonstrated a capacity for all the mental acquirements and achievements of men, and as generations ensue that capacity will be expanded; the average woman will be as well educated as the average man, and then better educated, for the dormant faculties of her brain will be stimulated into an activity that will be all the more intense because of centuries of repose
Women will ignore precedent and startle civilization with their progress.
The acquisition of new Welds of endeavor by women, their gradual usurpation of leadership, will dull and Wnally dissipate feminine sensibilities, will choke the maternal instinct so that marriage and motherhood may become abhorrent and human civilization draw closer and closer to the perfect civilization of the bee.
The signiWcance of this lies in the principle dominating the economy of the bee--the most highly organized and intelligently coordinated system of any form of non-rational animal life--the all governing supremacy of the instinct for immortality which makes divinity out of motherhood.
The center of all bee life is the queen. She dominates the hive, not through hereditary right, for any egg may be hatched into a reigning queen, but because she is the womb of the insect race.
There are vast desexualized armies of workers whose sole aim and business in life is hard work. It is the perfection of communism, of socialized, cooperative life wherein all things, including the young, are the common property of all.
Then there are the virgin bees, the princess bees, the females which are selected from the eggs of the queen when they are hatched and preserved in case an unfruitful queen should bring disappointment to the hive. And there are the male bees, few in number, unclean in habit, tolerated only because they are necessary to mate with the queen. . . .
The queen returns to the hive, impregnated, carrying with her tens of thousands of eggs--a future city of bees, and then begins the cycle of reproduction, the concentration of the teeming life of the hive in unceasing work for the birth of the new generation.
Imagination falters at the prospect of a human analogy to this mysterious and superbly dedicated civilization of the bee; but when we consider how the human instinct for race perpetuation dominates life in all its normal and exaggerated and perverse manifestations, there is ironic justice in the possibility that this instinct, with the intellectual advance of women, may be Wnally expressed after the manner of the bee, though it will take centuries to break down the habits and customs of peoples that bar the way to such a simply and scientiWcally ordered civilization.
If Tesla had been even half as well informed in the biological sciences as he was in the physical sciences, he probably would not have seen a possible solution of human problems in the social structure adapted to the limitations of an insect species which can never hope to utilize tools, and draw upon natural forces vastly exceeding their own energy sources, to work out their destiny. And more important is the fact that the bees can never hope to use advanced intellectual powers to improve their biological status, as can the human race. With a better knowledge of biological sciences he might have discovered that the physiological processes that control perpetuation of the individual are indissolubly linked to the processes that control the perpetuation of the race, and that by utilizing as much biological knowledge and spiritual insight, in designing a superman, as he utilized materialistic engineering principles, he might have designed himself as a more complete and potent superman, better adjusted to merging his intellectual creations into the current life of the race through a better understanding of human aVairs.
Tesla tried to convince the world that he had succeeded in eliminating love and romance from his life; but he did not succeed. That failure (or perhaps from another aspect it was a success), is the story of the secret chapter of Tesla's life.
THE most obvious outward characteristic of Tesla's life was his proclivity for feeding pigeons in public places. His friends knew he did it but never knew why. To the pedestrians on Fifth Avenue he was a familiar Wgure on the plazas of the Public Library at 42nd Street and St. Patrick's Cathedral at 50th Street. When he appeared and sounded a low whistle, the blue- and brown- and white-feathered Xocks would appear from all directions, carpet the walks in front of him and even perch upon him while he scattered bird seed or permitted them to feed from his hand.
During the last three decades of his life, it is probable that not one out of tens of thousands who saw him knew who he was. His fame had died down and the generation that knew him well had passed on. Even when the newspapers, once a year, would break out in headlines about Tesla and his latest predictions concerning scientiWc wonders to come, no one associated that name with the excessively tall, very lean man, wearing clothes of a bygone era, who almost daily appeared to feed his feathered friends. He was just one of the strange individuals of whom it takes a great many of varying types to make up a complete population of a great metropolis.
When he started the practice, and no one knows just when that was, he was always dressed in the height of fashion and some of the world's most famous Wgures could frequently be seen in his company and joining him in scattering the bird seed, but there came a time when he paid less attention to his clothes, and those he wore became more and more old fashioned.
Fifth Avenue after midnight is a far diVerent thoroughfare than the busy artery of human and vehicular traYc it is during the day. It is deserted. One can walk for blocks and meet no one except a policeman. On several occasions the author, by chance, met Tesla on an after-midnight walk up Fifth Avenue, going toward the library. Usually Tesla was quite willing to have one walk with him and chat upon a street encounter during the day, but on these after-midnight occasions he was deWnite about his desire to be left alone. ``You will leave me now,'' he would say, bringing an abrupt end to a conversation hardly begun. The natural assumption was that Tesla was engaged on a deWnite line of thought and did not wish his mind to be diverted from its concentration on some knotty scientiWc problem. How far this was from the truth! And, as I learned much later, what a sacred signiWcance these midnight pilgrimages to feed the pigeons--which would come to his call, even from their nocturnal roost--had for him!
It was hard for almost everyone to understand why Tesla, engaged in momentous scientiWc developments, working twice as many hours as the average individual, could see his way clear to spend time scattering bird seed. The Herald Tribune, in an editorial, once stated: ``He would leave his experiments for a time and feed the silly and inconsequential pigeons in Herald Square.''
It was a routine procedure in Tesla's oYce, however, for one of his secretaries to go down town on a given day each week and purchase three pounds each of rape, hemp and canary seed. This was mixed in his oYce, and each day he took a small paper bag Wlled with the seed and started on his rounds.
If, on any day, he was unable to make his pigeon-feeding rounds, he would call a Western Union messenger boy, pay him his fee, plus a dollar tip, and send him to feed the birds.
In addition to feeding the birds in the streets, Tesla took care of pigeons in his rooms in the various hotels in which he made his home. He usually had basket nests for from one to four pigeons in his room and kept a cask of seed on hand to feed them. The window to the room in which he kept these nests was never closed.
Tesla became quite ill in his 40th Street oYce, one day in 1921. He was unable to work and lay upon his couch. As the symptoms became more alarming and there was a possibility that he might not be able to return to his room in the Hotel St. Regis, he summoned his secretary to give her an ``important'' message. As he spoke the important message, he required the secretary to repeat each phrase after him to make sure that no errors would be made. This required repetition was a usual procedure with him; but in this case he was so ill, practically prostrate, that he seemed hardly to have energy enough to speak the message a single time.
``Miss,'' he whispered, ``Call Hotel St. Regis--''
``Yes sir,'' she responded, ``Call Hotel St. Regis--''
``Get the housekeeper on the fourteenth Xoor--''
``Get the housekeeper on the fourteenth Xoor--''
``Tell her to go to Mr. Tesla's room--''
``Tell her to go to Mr. Tesla's room--''
``And feed the pigeon today--''
``And feed the pigeon today--''
``The white female with touches of light gray in its wings--''
``The white female with touches of light gray in its wings--''
``And to continue doing this--''
``And to continue doing this--''
``Until she receives further orders from me--''
``Until she receives further orders from me--''
``There is plenty of feed in Mr. Tesla's room.''
``There is plenty of feed in Mr. Tesla's room.''
``Miss,'' he pleaded, ``this is very important. Will you repeat the whole message to me so I can be sure you have it correct.''
``Call Hotel St. Regis; get the housekeeper on the fourteenth Xoor. Tell her to go to Mr. Tesla's room and feed the pigeon today, the white female with touches of light gray on its wings, and continue doing this until she receives further orders from me. There is plenty of feed in Mr. Tesla's room.''
``Ah, yes,'' said Tesla, his eyes brightening as he spoke, ``the white one with touches of light gray in its wings. And if I am not here tomorrow, you will repeat that message then and every day until you get my further orders. Do it now, Miss--it is very important.''
Tesla's orders were always carried out to the letter and this one particularly, since he had placed such unusual emphasis on it. His secretary and the members of his staV felt that his illness must be more serious than it seemed to be, since at a time when he had a great many very serious problems on his hands and he appeared to be on the verge of a siege of illness, the more pressing situations were completely forgotten and his only thought was of a pigeon. He must be delirious, so they thought.
Some months later Tesla failed one day to show up at his oYce, and when his secretary telephoned to his hotel, the inventor informed her that he was all right, but that his pigeon was ill and he dared not leave the room for fear she would need him. He remained in his room for several days.
About a year later Tesla came to his oYce earlier than usual one day, and apparently very much disturbed. He carried a small bundle in a tender manner on his bent arm. He telephoned to Julius Czito, a machinist on whom he frequently depended to perform unusual tasks, and asked him to come to the oYce. Czito lived in the suburbs. He told him brieXy that the bundle contained a pigeon that had died in his room at the hotel, and that he desired to have it properly buried on Czito's property where the grave could be cared for. Czito, in relating the incident years afterward, said he was tempted, on leaving the oYce, to drop the package in the Wrst garbage can he found; but something caused him to desist and he took it to his home. Before he could perform the burial, Tesla telephoned to his home and asked him to return the package the next morning. How Tesla disposed of it is not known.
In 1924 Tesla's Wnancial condition fell to a very low level. He was completely broke. He was unable to pay his rent and there were some judgments against him for other unpaid bills. A deputy sheriV appeared at his oYce one afternoon to seize everything in the oYce to satisfy a judgment. Tesla managed to talk the sheriV into delaying seizure. When the oYcial had gone he took stock of his situation. He had not paid his secretaries' wages for two weeks and he now owed them for another fraction of a week. He was entirely without funds in the bank. A search of his safe disclosed that the only object of negotiable value was the heavy gold Edison Medal presented to him by the American Institute of Electrical Engineers in 1917.
``Miss, and Miss,'' he said, addressing the secretaries. ``This medal contains about one hundred dollars' worth of gold. I will have it cut in half and give each of you one-half, or one of you can take all of it and I will later pay the other.''
The two young women, Miss Dorothy F. Skerritt and Miss Muriel Arbus, refused to permit him either to damage or part with the medal, and oVered instead to aid him with the meager amounts of cash they had in their purses, which oVer he refused with thanks. (A few weeks later the girls received their back salaries, at $35 per week, and an additional two weeks' salary.)
A search of the cash drawer revealed a little over $5.00--all the money he possessed.
``Ah! Miss,'' he said, ``that will be enough to buy the bird seed. I am all out of seed, so will you go down town in the morning and purchase some and deliver it to my hotel.''
Again calling his trusted aide, Czito (whom he was forced to leave unpaid to the extent of $1,000), he put up to him the problem of vacating the oYce immediately. Within a few hours the entire contents of the oYces were stored in a near-by oYce building.
A short time later he was forced to leave his apartment in the Hotel St. Regis. His bill had been unpaid for some time, but the immediate cause was associated with pigeons. He had been spending more time in his hotel room, which also became his oYce, and devoted more time to feeding pigeons. Great Xocks of them would come to his windows and into the rooms, and their dirt on the outside of the building became a problem to the management and on the inside to the maids. He sought to solve the problem by putting the birds in a hamper and having George ScherV take them to his Westchester home. Three weeks later, when Wrst given their freedom, they returned, one making the trip in half an hour. Tesla was given his choice of ceasing to feed the pigeons or leaving the hotel. He left.
He next made his home at the Hotel Pennsylvania. He remained there a few years and the same situation, both as to bills and pigeons, developed. He moved to the Hotel Governor Clinton--and in about a year went through the same experience. He next moved to the Hotel New Yorker, in 1933, where he spent the Wnal ten years of his life.
After midnight one night in the fall of 1937, Tesla started out from the Hotel New Yorker to make his regular pilgrimage to the Cathedral and the Library to feed the pigeons. In crossing a street a couple of blocks from the hotel an accident happened, how is unknown. In spite of his agility, he was unable to avoid contact with a moving taxicab, and was thrown heavily to the ground. He raised no question as to who was at fault, refused medical aid, and asked merely to be taken to his hotel in another cab.
Arriving at the hotel, he went to bed and had scarcely got under the covers when he telephoned for his favorite messenger boy, Kerrigan, from a near-by Western Union oYce, gave him the package of bird seed and directed him to complete the task which he had started and the accident interrupted.
The next day, when it was apparent that he would be unable to take his usual daily walks for some time to come, he hired the messenger for six months to feed the pigeons every day. Tesla's back had been severely wrenched in the accident, and three ribs broken, but the full extent of his injuries will never be known for, in keeping with his almost lifelong custom, he refused to consult a doctor. Pneumonia developed but for this he also refused medical aid. He was bedridden for some months, and was unable to carry on his practice of feeding pigeons from his window; and soon they failed to come.
In the spring of 1938 he was able to get up. He at once resumed his pigeon-feeding walks on a much more limited scale, but frequently had a messenger act for him.
This devotion to his pigeon-feeding task seemed to everyone who knew him like nothing more than the hobby of an eccentric scientist, but if they could have looked into Tesla's heart, or read his mind, they would have discovered that they were witnessing the world's most fantastic, yet tender and pathetic love aVair.
Tesla, as a self-made superman, suVered from the limitations of his maker. Endowed with an intelligence above the average in both quality and quantity, and with some supernormal faculties, he was able to erect a superman higher in stature than himself; but the greater height was attained by sacriWcing other dimensions, and in this diminution of breadth and thickness existed a deWciency.
When he was a youth and his mind was in its most plastic and formative stage, he adopted, as we have seen, the then prevalent agnostic and materialistic view of life. Today science has emancipated itself from slavery to either an antagonistic mysticism or materialism, and is willing to consider both as harmonious parts of a comprehensive approach to the understanding of Nature, but is conscious that it has not yet learned how to manipulate or control the more intangible factors upon which the mystics have builded their structures of knowledge. Vast realms of human experience have been rejected in all ages by scientists, of whatever name, who failed to Wt them in logical arrangement in their inadequate and too simpliWed natural philosophies. By rejecting the phenomena that lay beyond their intellectual abilities, the scientists and philosophers did not eliminate them nor prevent their manifestations. The phenomena so rejected, however, were given an academic home by the ecclesiasts, who accepted them without understanding, or hope of understanding, and thus incarcerated them in the foundation of the religious mysteries where they served a useful purpose, for upon an unknown it is possible to build a greater unknown.
The mystical experiences of the saints, of whatever faith, are demonstrations of forces which are natural functions of the phenomenon of life, expressed in varying degree in step with the expanding unfoldment of the individual toward an advanced state of evolution.
Tesla was an individual in an advanced state of development, and there came to him experiences which he refused to accept as experiments; accepting the beneWts which came to him but which transported them. This was true, for example, in the case of the burst of revelation which came to him revealing scores of tremendously valuable inventions--while he strolled in the park at Budapest, and which diVered only in degree and type, but not in fundamental nature, from the blinding light which came to Saul on the road to Damascus, and to others to whom illumination has come by similar processes.
His materialistic concepts made him intellectually blind to the strange phenomenon by which revelation, or illumination, had come to him, but made him more keenly appreciative of the value of that which was revealed. It must not be understood that this revelation was a happenstance phenomenon of the moment, for Tesla, endowed by Nature with an intellect capable of vast unfoldment, had exerted almost superhuman eVorts to achieve that which was revealed to him, and the eVort was not unassociated with the result.
In a contrary direction, Tesla suppressed a tremendously large or important realm of his life by the planned elimination of love and romance from his thoughts and experience. Just as his eVorts to discover the physical secrets of Nature built up forces that penetrated to the plane of revelation, so did his equally tremendous eVort to suppress love and romance build up forces, beyond his control, that were operating to express themselves. There was a parallel situation in his philosophy of natural phenomena, in that he suppressed all spiritual aspects of Nature and conWned himself to the purely materialistic aspects.
Two forces, one of love and romance in his personal nature, and the other the spiritual aspects of Nature in his philosophy, as applied to his work, were incarcerated in a limbo of his personality, seeking an outlet into the paradise of expression and manifestation. And they obtained that outlet, expressing their nature by the form of the manifestation; but Tesla failed to recognize them. Tesla, rejecting the love of woman and thinking that he had engineered a complete elimination of the problem of love, failed to excise from his nature the capacity to love, and when this capacity expressed itself, it did so by directing its energies through a channel he left unguarded in planning the self-made superman.
The manifestation of these united forces of love and spirituality resulted in a fantastic situation, probably without parallel in human annals. Tesla told me the story; but if I did not have a witness who assured me that he heard exactly what I heard, I would have convinced myself that I had had nothing more tangible than a dream experience. It was the love story of Tesla's life. In the story of his strange romance, I saw instantly the reason for those unremitting daily journeys to feed the pigeons, and those midnight pilgrimages when he wished to be alone. I recalled those occasions when I had happened to meet him on deserted Fifth Avenue and, when I spoke to him, he replied, ``You will now leave me.'' He told his story simply, brieXy and without embellishments, but there was still a surging of emotion in his voice.
``I have been feeding pigeons, thousands of them, for years; thousands of them, for who can tell--
``But there was one pigeon, a beautiful bird, pure white with light gray tips on its wings; that one was diVerent. It was a female. I would know that pigeon anywhere.
``No matter where I was that pigeon would Wnd me; when I wanted her I had only to wish and call her and she would come Xying to me. She understood me and I understood her.
``I loved that pigeon.
``Yes,'' he replied to an unasked question. ``Yes, I loved that pigeon, I loved her as a man loves a woman, and she loved me. When she was ill I knew, and understood; she came to my room and I stayed beside her for days. I nursed her back to health. That pigeon was the joy of my life. If she needed me, nothing else mattered. As long as I had her, there was a purpose in my life.
``Then one night as I was lying in my bed in the dark, solving problems, as usual, she Xew in through the open window and stood on my desk. I knew she wanted me; she wanted to tell me something important so I got up and went to her.
``As I looked at her I knew she wanted to tell me--she was dying. And then, as I got her message, there came a light from her eyes--powerful beams of light.
``Yes,'' he continued, again answering an unasked question, ``it 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.
``When that pigeon died, something went out of my life. Up to that time I knew with a certainty that I would complete my work, no matter how ambitious my program, but when that something went out of my life I knew my life's work was Wnished.
``Yes, I have fed pigeons for years; I continue to feed them, thousands of them, for after all, who can tell--''
There was nothing more to say. We parted in silence. The talk took place in a corner of the mezzanine in the Hotel New Yorker. I was accompanied by William L. Laurence, science writer of the New York Times. We walked several blocks on Seventh Avenue before we spoke.
No longer was there any mystery to the midnight pilgrimages when he called the pigeons from their niches in the Gothic tracery of the Cathedral, or from under the eaves of the Greek temple that houses the Library--pursuing, among the thousands of them . . . ``For after all, who can tell . . .?''
It is out of phenomena such as Tesla experienced when the dove Xew out of the midnight darkness and into the blackness of his room and Xooded it with blinding light, and the revelation that came to him out of the dazzling sun in the park at Budapest, that the mysteries of religion are built. But he comprehended them not; for, if he had not suppressed the rich mystical inheritance of his ancestors that would have brought enlightenment, he would have understood the symbolism of the Dove.
MUCH valuable aid has been received from many sources in the preparation of this volume. For this helpful co-operation my thanks are due to:
Sava N. Kosanovic, Minister of State of Yugoslavia, and Tesla's nephew, for making available books, family records, transcripts of records, pictures, and for correcting the manuscript of many chapters; and to his secretary, Miss Charlotte Muzar;
Miss Dorothy Skerritt and Miss Muriel Arbus, Tesla's secretaries; and George ScherV and Julius C. Czito, business associates;
Mrs. Margaret C. Behrend, for the privilege of reading correspondence between her husband and Tesla; and to Dr. W. B. Earle, Dean of Engineering, Clemson Agricultural College, for pictures and other material from the Behrend Collection in the college library;
Mrs. Agnes Holden, daughter of the late Robert Underwood Johnson, ambassador, and editor of the Century Magazine; Miss Marguerite Merington; Mrs. Grizelda M. Hobson, widow of the late Rear Admiral Hobson; Waldemar KaempVert, Science Editor of the New York Times; Professor Emeritus Charles F. Scott, Department of Electrical Engineering, Yale University; Hans Dahlstrand, of the Allis Chalmers Manufacturing Co.; Leo Maloney, Manager of the Hotel New Yorker; and W. D. Crow, architect of the Tesla tower, for reminiscences, data, or helpful conversations concerning their contacts with Tesla;
Florence S. Hellman, Chief of the Bibliographic Division, Library of Congress; Olive E. Kennedy, Research Librarian of the Public Information Center, National Electric Manufacturers Association; A. P. Peck, Managing Editor of the ScientiWc American; Myrta L. Mason, and Charles F. PXaging, for bibliographic aid;
G. Edward Pendray and his associates in the Westinghouse Electric and Manufacturing Co., and C. D. Wagoner and his associates in the General Electric Co., for correcting, or reading and making helpful suggestions in connection with many chapters;
William L. Laurence, science writer of the New York Times, and Bloyce Fitzgerald, for exchange of data;
Randall Warden; William Spencer Bowen, President of the Bowen Research Corp.; G. H. Clark, of the Radio Corporation of America; Kenneth M. Swezey, of Popular Science; Mrs. Mabel Fleischer and Carl Payne Tobey, who have aided in a variety of ways;
Colliers--The National Weekly; The American Magazine; the New York World-Telegram and the General Electric Co., for permission to quote copyrighted material, for which credit is given where quoted; and
Peggy O'Neill Grayson, my daughter, for extended secretarial service.
To all the foregoing I extend my sincere thanks.
John J. O'Neill
Freeport, L. I.
July 15, 1944