An Inconvenient Genius
September 12, 2012
The Timeless Legacy of an Untimely Man
How often has one person affected humanity to such a degree that were the fruits of his labor withdrawn immediately from our day-to-day existence, the world as we know it … would essentially stop?
A True Story
This story is about one such real-life person. And, we will interview the pre-eminent world authority on this person, Marc J. Seifer, who wrote his biography. Marc’s book has been highly praised by such diverse sources as the New York Times, M.I.T and the American Academy for the Advancement of Science.
Timely Timeless Question … for You
At the end of this story is a question, both timeless and timely … for you.
Leonardo da Vinci has a person’s mind spawned such a plethora of humanity-elevating ideas. You could take away da Vinci, and the world would be lessened by the loss of art, brilliance of character and thought, and would go on – but not this person.
In Your Mind
For a moment, we’ll take this wizard, this real-life person’s contributions to humanity away and…
Lights would go off around the world. Trains halt. Planes would fall from the sky.
Industries driven by motors?
Cell phones? Dead.
Cars? Unable to start.
Computers? Not without him.
He was the “Father of Radio.” Ahh… you say, I know who that is.
But Marconi did use many of his patents, and historically speaking, was a much better businessman. So much so that history books credit Marconi with inventing radio.
Wrong History Righted
The United States Supreme Court righted the wrong in 1943. But it was too late for this person, this wizardly inventor … he had just died.
What about flourescent lights, neon lights, fax machines? Gone too. He was mucking around with them in the early 1890’s.
STEVE! You just screwed up. You made a typo. 1890’s?
No I didn’t.
This person was demonstrating wireless electricity and lights at the World’s Fair in 1893.
Would a picture help?
X-Rays? You thought Roentgen? Not really. Not without him.
Wireless communications, wireless transmission of power?
Not without him.
HAVE YOU FIGURED OUT WHO THIS PERSON IS YET?
No? Hmm …
Well you could try the history books.
A Great Disservice
He’s not there. He’s been removed. A great disservice to humanity, history and truth.
I’ll give you a hint.
Once Upon a Time …
He was on the cover of Time Magazine on July 20,1931.
Yes … I did too.
Let me give you some more of his inventions. Robotics? Particle-beam Weapons?
The original inventor of “STAR WARS” weapons?
Not one person. Surely not one person could bring to this earth such a diverse array of inventions over a single life span … let alone history be silent about him.
Hard to believe, but true. There’s more.
Remote control, e.g., garage-door opener, remote-control toys, ozone-producing machines, bladeless turbines and pumps, reactive jet dirigible (precursor to Harrier jet), Hovercraft Flivver plane (precursor to Osprey helicopter/aircraft).
Surely we have crossed the boundary from science fiction into fantasy, right?
We have crossed the boundary back from the systematic removal of the world’s greatest genius from the history books.
Good Business Sense Is Always Good Business Sense
And believe it or not, it was mainly because he wasn’t a good businessman. He was altruistic – preferring to try to better humanity’s lot and improve living conditions for all human beings.
Oil Barons Be Gone!
He created a distribution system that could deliver wireless energy anywhere on the globe. Once his financial backers learned the inventors’ true intentions, and that there was no way to meter and charge for this energy, they withdrew financial support.
This crushed him.
It drove him out of town, and in time, history. To that end, he was destroyed, and all have suffered since. What I mention above are just some of the remains of his contributions. He failed to patent a lot of his ideas, and he wound up simply giving them away – like the telephone speaker.
That Person’s Name?
Who counted as friends and confidants such luminaries as Mark Twain, George Westinghouse, John Jacob Astor, Albert Einstein, Thomas Edison, and J.P. Morgan,
INTRO: Marc Seifer, Author of …
“Wizard: The Life and Times of Nikola Tesla”
“The story of one of the most prolific, independent and iconoclastic inventors of this century is a fascinating one.”- Scientific American
“Despite Tesla’s impact on electricity, history does not regard him as highly as many of his inventive contemporaries. … As Seifer shows in great detail … Tesla’s story is complicated and tests our definition of science. … Where does someone like Tesla fit in?”
- M.I.T. Technology Review
Steve: What are some of Tesla’s most notable inventions?
Marc Seifer (Marc): Where do I begin? How about …
1. The induction motor
2. The rotating magnetic field (precursor to gyroscope)
3. The AC polyphase system: electric power transmission
4. Inventor of efficient hydroelectric station – renewable clean energy
5. Arc lighting
6. Fluorescent and neon lights
7. Laser beams
9. Dematerialization devices
10. Radio tube and precursor to TV tube, also precursor to fax machine
11. Tesla coil
13. Selective tuning
14. Encryption technology and scrambler
15. Electric railroad (subway)
16. Wireless communication
17. Wireless power transmission
18. Framework for sending voice and pictures by means of wireless
19. Stealth technology (radar jamming)
20. Radio guidance technology
21. Cell phone technology
22. Artificial intelligence
23. Remote control, e.g., garage-door opener, remote-control toys
25. Telautomaton (incorporated above: remote control robotics)
27. Telegeodynamics (a way to search for metals and minerals)
28. Tachometer and speedometer
29. Earthquake machine
30. Weather modification (part of Wardenclyffe)
31. Harnessing solar power, geothermal and tides
32. Electrotherapeutics – use of high-frequency phenomena to promote healing
33. Electric bath
34. Machine that stimulates laxative effect*(remember this one)
35. Fertilizer machine abstracts nitrogen from the environment
36. Refrigeration machines
37. Ozone-producing machines
38. Bladeless turbines and pumps
39. Reactive jet dirigible – (precursor to Harrier jet)
41. Flivver plane (precursor to Osprey helicopter/aircraft)
42. Particle-beam weapons (precursor to Starwars)
Steve: How many of his notable inventions are typically credited to others?
Marc: A number of these inventions are often wrongly credited to others. Tom Edison may have invented the first workable electric light, but without Tesla’s invention of AC electrical transmission, these light bulbs and corresponding lighting systems would have remained highly inefficient.
So the concept of transmitting electricity for lighting and power for long distances is often wrongly credited to Tom Edison and Elihu Thomson of the Thomson Houston company, (later GE), when in fact the system was invented by Tesla and moved into the market by George Westinghouse.
Steve: The perfect partnership of Westinghouse and Tesla later turned imperfect and financially devastated Tesla. He agreed to waive $2.50 per-watt royalties as contractually agreed to by Westinghouse in order to get his AC system to the market. He knew it would immeasurably and beneficially change the world forever. Tesla felt no one else could, or would, do it successfully. His good faith gesture eventually cost him $billions (with a “b”) of dollars.
E=MC2 … Albert Who?
The idea of harnessing alternating current efficiently is Tesla’s creation, but it is sometimes wrongly attributed to Charles Steinmetz, a brilliant mathematician who worked for General Electric. Steinmetz wrote two key textbooks on the AC polyphase system but neglected to put Tesla’s name in these books. This would be equivalent to writing books on the Theory of Relativity and forgetting to mention the name of Einstein!
The radio is often wrongly attributed to Marconi.
Marconi was the first inventor to send a Morse-coded signal across the Atlantic. This invention, however, is missing most of the key components to what later became the radio. Marconi was using Hertz’ spark gap method to create the impulses. To send complex forms of information such as voice, pictures and wireless power, (which led to the radio, TV and cell phone) one needs continuous frequencies. These are actually Tesla currents. Tesla’s work predates Marconi by about four years and makes very clear that one needs continuous waves, resonant frequencies, transmitting equipment, a ground connection and a receiver.
When an engineer named Otis Pond, who was working for Tesla mentioned, “Looks as if Marconi got the jump on you” regarding Marconi’s radio system, Tesla answered.
“Marconi is a good fellow. Let him continue. He is using seventeen of my patents.”
Wireless Circa 1901 (Patented Anyway)
Tesla was also the first to display a remote controlled robot, which he called the “teleautomaton,” which was a boat that responded to his wireless signals.
This was in 1898 in Madison Square Garden. The invention responded to a combination of frequencies and laid the groundwork for such devices as the garage-door opener, the TV remote, radio guidance systems and cell-phone technology. By creating, sending and receiving equipment that could respond to combined frequencies, Tesla was able to create an unlimited number of wireless channels, and that was as far back as 1901 when he got that patent.
Steve: When/where did Tesla first exhibit wireless/fluorescent lights etc. to the public?
Marc: Tesla first exhibited wireless devices at a major conference at Columbia University in May of 1891. Present were many engineers such as Professor Michael Pupin, physics professor at Columbia University; Elihu Thomson, later head of GE; Robert Millikin a later-day Nobel prizewinner for his work on cosmic rays; and Elmer Sperry, the inventor of the gyroscope.
A Rotating Egg?
Tesla actually displayed his rotating egg at that time, which explained his rotating magnetic field. This device allowed alternating current to be harnessed efficiently for the first time.
Steve: And the practical implication of this was?
Marc: This system laid the basis for the great turbines at Niagara Falls.
Tesla’s lecture was such a success, that he repeated it in Philadelphia, St. Louis and the Chicago World’s Fair of 1891 (in America) and also at the Royal Societies in London and Paris. Present at these lectures were all of the great scientists of the day such as Lord Rayleigh, Ernst Rutherford (Nobel Prize for structure of the atom), JJ Thompson (Nobel prize for discovery of the electron), Lord Kelvin, Sir William Crookes (Crookes tubes), Sir Oliver Lodge (wireless), Dewar (flask), Fleming & Preece (who would later both work for Marconi), and in France, d’Arsenoval who invented electrotheropeutic machines based on Tesla’s work.
At these lectures, Tesla laid out all of the major principles to the radio and even the precursor to such devices as the TV tube and fax machine. Tesla displayed wireless cold lamps, which was the invention of fluorescent and neon lights as well as the principle of selective tuning, that is, how to create separate channels on the radio.
First, Do No Harm
Second, Send Hundreds of Thousands of Volts Through Your Body for Yucks
As a finale, Tesla would send hundreds of thousands of volts through his body to show the world that his AC system was safe. Tesla had experimented and realized that he could generate very high voltages (that is, high frequencies) but keep the amperage (power) very low. The electricity would essentially surround his body and do no harm.
When sitting on a Tesla coil this way, Tesla could hold up lamps that would illuminate, or he could transmit sparks from metal caps attached to his fingertips.
Noble Thinking Loses Nobel Prize
Further, Tesla also speculated that the atom may be set up like a solar system. Rutherford, working with Niels Bohr 10 years later would say the very same thing, and both men got a Nobel Prize for their discovery.
Steve: What was “The War of the Currents?”
Marc: This refers to the battle to harness Niagara Falls between Thomas Edison, of Edison Electric, who was touting direct current (DC); Elihu Thomson of Thomson Houston, who was working with alternating current (AC) and George Westinghouse, who also had an AC system.
The difference was that Westinghouse had Tesla’s AC system, which was the only one to do away with the commutator, a device that greatly limited the distance that electricity could be transmitted. Both the Edison DC system and the Elihu Thomson AC systems could only transmit current about a mile.
The Tesla AC system under Westinghouse could transmit electrical power hundreds of miles. This meant that for the first time in history, major factories would not have to sit right beside waterfalls.
The Tesla/Westinghouse AC system was a clean, energy-renewable source of continuous power. From one plant at Niagara Falls, electric power could be sent hundreds of miles to light the homes of hundreds of thousands of customers and also run tens of thousand of factories.
It was a monumental achievement, which is basically unchanged today.
Steve: What was the biggest difference between Tesla and Edison, besides Tesla had a higher goal – helping humanity? Edison wanted to help humanity but make a buckaroo too.
“If Edison had a needle to find in a haystack, he would proceed at once with the diligence of the bee to examine straw after straw until he found the object of his search … I was a sorry witness of such doings, knowing that a little theory and calculation would have saved him 90 percent of his labor.”
- Nikola Tesla, New York Times, October 19, 1931
“I knew Tesla. He worked for me once and accomplished not a little.”
- Thomas Edison
Marc: There are a number of major differences between Tesla and Edison. In general, Edison was able to take the ideas of others and construct the first practical machines.
Edison – Not the First But …
In terms of originality, Edison may not have been the first to light a lightbulb, but he was definitely the first to make efficient lightbulbs.
Edison - Knew How to Bring Products to Market
I do think his invention of the phonograph was a great leap forward, which was essentially comparable to any one of Tesla’s great inventions. Edison built the first practical motion-picture camera. Edison also liked to work with many workers. He knew how to bring his inventions to market.
Tesla – Planter of Seeds
Tesla, on the other hand, was more of a planter of seeds. He let others raise the crops. From Tesla’s point of view, he said that he was a creator of new principles.
Edison Built Better Existing Mousetraps
Tesla’s original creations, many listed above, include the rotating magnetic field, wireless fluorescent tubes, the principles to the wireless communication of complex forms of information (e.g., voice and pictures), the idea of remote control, robotics, and also entirely different areas such as a unique bladeless steam turbine that he hoped would replace the gasoline engine. He also created two forms of aircraft: (1) the reactive jet dirigible, which led to the vectored thrust aircraft such as the Harrier and also the flying wing or stealth bomber, and (2) his “flivver” plane that took off like a helicopter and then rotated the propeller into the airplane position. This tilt-rotor aircraft evolved into the Osprey helicopter/airplane used by the military today.
He also invented particle-beam weapons.
Edison Built Better Mousetraps for a Market That Needed Mousetraps
Steve: Resonance – Tesla’s vision of the wireless transmission of energy using earth’s resonant capabilities. Was that really practicable? And if so, is it still?
Marc: Tesla had the ability to transmit great amounts of electrical power by means of wireless. Most wireless systems send a signal, and then a battery in the receiver (e.g., a cell phone) provides the additional power needed to run the machine.
Tesla – 100 Years Ahead of His Time
Tesla had that exact same idea at the turn of the century. He also said that he could jump large amounts of power by wireless means from, say, Niagara Falls to the Sahara Desert. By knowing the earth’s resonant frequency, a sending tower could jump the energy to a receiving tower thousands of miles away. And then from the receiving tower, electrical energy could be distributed locally either by using wires and by wireless means.
Steve: He was testing this at Wardenclyffe?
Steve: And what went wrong?
Marc: What else?
Marc: Yes. Financing was pulled when it was discovered that he intended to give the world free electricity – anywhere in the world – but forgot to invent a meter to charge for it.
Steve: Money, that’s all?
“A child of five could understand this -
Quick! Someone fetch a child of five.” - Groucho Marx
Marc: I think Tesla could probably have done this, but it is still unproven. In theory, Tesla hoped to transmit electrical power from one planet to another by similar means.
Steve: What future invention (since his death) will Tesla be most remembered for (if properly attributed)?
Marc: I think the one I just discussed.
Let’s say we set up a base on the moon. If we somehow set up an electrical tower tuned to the Earth’s resonant frequency and use that system to send energy to receiving stations on the moon, this invention will be attributed to Tesla.
Steve: Now … I have to ask. I asterisked* number 34 above on the list of Tesla’s inventions – “the machine that stimulates laxative effect.” I know it has something to do with Mark Twain – one of my favorite writers of all time. Tesla and Twain were friends? And what about this machine?
Marc: Yes, dear friends. And Tesla had a diabolical sense of humor as well. Twain used to love to come to his laboratory and witness Tesla’s fascinating experiments. But one day, for entertainment, Tesla convinced his good friend Mark Twain to test out a vibrating platform in his Manhattan lab.
Twain took him up on the offer and found it to his liking.
When Tesla commanded Twain to come down off the platform, Twain refused because he was having a good time.
A few minutes later Twain ran from the device.
It seems that Tesla had deliberately neglected to tell Twain that the vibration tended to cause diarrhea.
Steve: How does this story about this wizardly incandescent lightning-strike of genius, Tesla, end?
Marc: Sad. Tesla, the iconic genius, was left out of the history books. He should have been a billionaire, but died essentially penniless on January 7th, 1943, at the age of 87.
He was living in room 3327 on the 33rd floor of the Hotel New Yorker in Manhattan, with a flock of pigeons – whom he considered his only friends.
“Sie ruckt und weicht, der Tag ist uberlebt,
Dort eilt sie hin und fordert neues Leben.
Oh, dass kein Flugel mich vom Boden hebt
Ihr nach und immer nach zu streben!
Ein schoner Traum indessen sie entweicht,
Ach, zu des Geistes Flugeln wird so leicht
Kein korperlicher Flugel sich gesellen!”
[The glow retreats, done is the day of toil;
It yonder hastes, new fields of life exploring;
Ah, that no wing can lift me from the soil
Upon its track to follow, follow soaring!
A glorious dream! though now the glories fade.
Alas! the wings that lift the mind no aid.
Of wings to lift the body can bequeath me.]
Steve: Thanks Marc. I appreciate you taking the time to talk with us.
Timely Timeless Question … for You
Where does one such as Nikola Tesla fit in our world?
Unquestionably society would be much further advanced today if 100 hundred years ago, philanthropists like Bill Gates or Bono would have stood behind and supported Tesla.
Every human being in this world would have benefited had Tesla’s seeds been adequately watered, nutured, cherished and harvested.
But it’s all about money.
Thomas Edison understood this.
He’s in the history books.
Marconi understood this.
He’s in the history books.
But wait a minute. Tesla – unlimited, free wireless energy …
How much does a gallon of gas cost right now?
Hmmm … nah.
It’s all about the money.