Canada Slim and the Current War

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 17 October 2018

(Continued from Canada Slim and the Visionary)

What has gone before….

I visited Serbia this past April and spent a few wonderful days exploring the Serbian capital of Belgrade.

Flag of Serbia

Of the many wonders to explore and of the many things Belgrade and Serbia have to offer, one particular attraction that stands out is the Nikola Tesla Museum.

Nikola Tesla was a great Serb physicist and inventor who almost, but not quite, became an international household name.

Photograph of Nikola Tesla, a slender, moustachioed man with a thin face and pointed chin.

Above: Nikola Tesla (1856 – 1943)

Many say that if it were not for occasional stubbornness and a poor sense of financial management, Tesla might have ended up as famous as Edison or Einstein.

Despite a lack of international recognition, Tesla remains a Serbian national hero.

It is his face that currently decorates the 100 dinar note.

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In the first part of three (this is the second) I briefly spoke of Hugo Gernsback that made Tesla as famous as he did become and I spoke of his life before he left for the United States.

Gernsback portrait by Fabian, date unknown

Above: Hugo Gernsback (1884 – 1967)

 

What follows is the sad story of a prisoner execution, a deadly blizzard and a very ugly battle between two business magnates with Tesla smack dab in the middle of it all….

 

But first….

Let there be light.

 

The first type of widely used electric light was the arc lamp.

These lamps had been around for most of the 19th century but by the late 1870s were beginning to be installed in cities in large scale systems powered by central generating plants.

Arc lighting systems were extremely brilliant and capable of lighting whole streets, factory yards, or the interior of large buildings.

They needed high voltages (above 3,000 volts) and some ran better on alternating current.

Alternating current had been under development for a while in Europe with contributions being made to the field by Guillaume Duchenne (1850s), the dynamo work of Zénobe Gramme, Ganz Works (1870s), Sebastian Ziani de Ferranti (1880s), Lucien Gaulard, and Galileo Ferraris.

The high voltages allowed a central generating station to supply a large area, up to 7-mile (11 km) long circuits since the capacity of a wire is proportional to the square of the current traveling on it, each doubling of the voltage allowed the same size cable to transmit the same amount of power four times the distance.

1880 saw the installation of large-scale arc lighting systems in several US cities including a central station set up by the Brush Electric Company in December 1880 to supply a 2-mile (3.2 km) length of Broadway in New York City with a 3,500–volt demonstration arc lighting system.

The disadvantages of arc lighting were:

It was maintenance intensive, buzzed, flickered, constituted a fire hazard, was really only suitable for outdoor lighting, and, at the high voltages used, was dangerous to work with.

 

In 1878 inventor Thomas Edison saw a market for a system that could bring electric lighting directly into a customer’s business or home, a niche not served by arc lighting systems.

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Above: Thomas Edison (1847 – 1931)

 

By 1882 the investor-owned utility Edison Illuminating Company was established in New York City.

Edison designed his “utility” to compete with the then established gas lighting utilities, basing it on a relatively low 110 volt direct current supply to power a high resistance incandescent lamp he had invented for the system.

Edison direct current systems would be sold to cities throughout the United States, making it a standard with Edison controlling all technical development and holding all the key patents.

 

Direct current worked well with incandescent lamps, which were the principal load of the day.

Direct-current systems could be directly used with storage batteries, providing valuable load-leveling and backup power during interruptions of generator operation.

Direct-current generators could be easily paralleled, allowing economical operation by using smaller machines during periods of light load and improving reliability.

Edison had invented a meter to allow customers to be billed for energy proportional to consumption, but this meter worked only with direct current.

Direct current also worked well with electric motors, an advantage DC held throughout the 1880s.

The primary drawback with the Edison direct current system was that it ran at 110 volts from generation to its final destination giving it a relatively short useful transmission range:

To keep the size of the expensive copper conductors down generating plants had to be situated in the middle of population centers and could only supply customers less than a mile from the plant.

 

Starting in the 1880s, alternating current gained its key advantage over direct current with the development of functional transformers that allowed the voltage to be “stepped up” to much higher transmission voltages and then dropped down to a lower end user voltage for business and residential use.

Using induction coils to transfer power between electrical circuits had been around for 40 years with Pavel Yablochkov using them in his lighting system in 1876 and Lucien Gaulard and John Dixon Gibbs using the principle to create a “step down” transformer in 1882, but the design was not very efficient.

A prototype of the high efficiency, closed core shunt connection transformer was made by the Hungarian “Z.B.D.” team (composed of Károly Zipernowsky, Ottó Bláthy and Miksa Déri) at Ganz Works in 1884.

Above: (left to right) Károly Zipernowsky, Otto Bláthy, Miksa Déri

The new Z.B.D. transformers were 3.4 times more efficient than the open core bipolar devices of Gaulard and Gibbs.

Transformers in use today are designed based on principles discovered by the three engineers.

Their patents included another major related innovation:

The use of parallel connected (as opposed to series connected) power distribution.

Ottó Bláthy also invented the first AC electricity meter.

The reliability of this type of AC technology received impetus after the Ganz Works electrified Rome, a large metropolis, in 1886.

 

In North America the inventor and entrepreneur George Westinghouse entered the electric lighting business in 1884 when he started to develop a DC system and hired William Stanley, Jr. to work on it.

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Above: George Westinghouse (1846 – 1914)

Westinghouse became aware of the new European transformer based AC systems in 1885 when he read about them in the UK technical journal Engineering.

He grasped that AC combined with transformers meant greater economies of scale could be achieved with large centralized power plants transmitting stepped up voltage very long distances to be used in arc lighting as well lower voltage home and commercial incandescent lighting supplied via a “step down” transformer at the other end.

Westinghouse saw a way to build a truly competitive system instead of simply building another barely competitive DC lighting system using patents just different enough to get around the Edison patents.

The Edison DC system of centralized DC plants with their short transmission range also meant there was a patchwork of un-supplied customers between Edison’s plants that Westinghouse could easily supply with AC power.

Westinghouse purchased the US patents rights to the Gaulard-Gibbs transformer and imported several of those as well as Siemens AC generators to begin experimenting with an AC-based lighting system in Pittsburgh.

 

William Stanley used the Gaulard-Gibbs design and designs from the ZBD transformer to develop the first practical transformer.

The Westinghouse Electric Company was formed at the beginning of 1886.

In March 1886 Stanley, with Westinghouse’s backing, installed the first multiple-voltage AC power system, a demonstration incandescent lighting system, in Great Barrington, Massachusetts.

Expanded to the point where it could light 23 businesses along main street with very little power loss over 4000 feet, the system used transformers to step 500 AC volts at the street down to 100 volts to power incandescent lamps at each location.

By fall of 1886 Westinghouse, Stanley, and Oliver B. Shallenberger had built the first commercial AC power system in the US in Buffalo, New York.

By the end of 1887 Westinghouse had 68 alternating current power stations to Edison’s 121 DC-based stations.

Above: William Stanley (1858 – 1916)

 

To make matters worse for Edison, the Thomson-Houston Electric Company of Lynn, Massachusetts (another competitor offering AC- and DC-based systems) had built 22 power stations.

Thomson-Houston was expanding their business while trying to avoid patent conflicts with Westinghouse, arranging deals such as coming to agreements over lighting company territory, paying a royalty to use the Stanley AC transformer patent, and allowing Westinghouse to use their Sawyer-Man incandescent bulb patent.

 

Besides Thomson-Houston and Brush there were other competitors at the time included the United States Illuminating Company and the Waterhouse Electric Light Company.

 

All of the companies had their own electric power systems, arc lighting systems, and even incandescent lamp designs for domestic lighting, leading to constant lawsuits and patent battles between themselves and with Edison.

 

Elihu Thomson of Thomson-Houston was concerned about AC safety and put a great deal of effort into developing a lightning arrestor for high-tension power lines as well as a magnetic blowout switch that could shut the system down in a power surge, a safety feature the Westinghouse system did not have.

Thomson also worried what would happen with the equipment after they sold it, assuming customers would follow a risky practice of installing as many lights and generators as they could get away with.

He also thought the idea of using AC lighting in residential homes was too dangerous and had the company hold back on that type of installations until a safer transformer could be developed.

 

Due to the hazards presented by high voltage electrical lines most European cities and the city of Chicago in the US required them to be buried underground.

The City of New York did not require burying and had little in the way of regulation so by the end of 1887 the mishmash of overhead wires for telephone, telegraph, fire and burglar alarm systems in Manhattan were now mixed with haphazardly strung AC lighting system wires carrying up to 6000 volts.

Insulation on power lines was rudimentary, with one electrician referring to it as having as much value “as a molasses covered rag“, and exposure to the elements was eroding it over time.

A third of the wires were simply abandoned by defunct companies and slowly deteriorating, causing damage to, and shorting out the other lines.

In June 1884, Tesla emigrated to the United States from Paris.

He arrived in America with four cents in his pocket (he had been robbed aboard ship), a book of poetry and a letter of recommendation.

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“I wish that I could put into words my first impressions of this country.

In the Arabian Tales I read how genii transported people into a land of dreams to live through delightful adventures.

My case was just the reverse.

What I had left was beautiful, artistic and fascinating in every way.

What I saw here was machined, rough and unattractive.

A burly policeman was twirling his stick which looked to me as big as a log.

I approached him politely with the request to direct me.

Six blocks down, then to the left.“, he said, with murder in his eyes.

Is this America?“, I asked myself in painful surprise.

It is a century behind Europe in civilization.

When I went abroad in 1889 – five years having elapsed since my arrival here – I became convinced that it was more than one hundred years AHEAD of Europe and nothing has happened to this day to change my opinion.”

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“The meeting with Edison was a memorable event in my life.

I was amazed at this wonderful man who, without early advantages and scientific training, had accomplished so much.

I had studied a dozen languages, delved in literature and art, and had spent my best years in libraries reading all sorts of stuff that fell into my Hands, from Newton’s Principia to the novels of Paul de Kock, and felt that most of my life had been squandered.

Portrait of man in black with shoulder-length, wavy brown hair, a large sharp nose, and a distracted gaze

Above: Isaac Newton (1642 – 1727)

But it did not take long before I recognized that it was the best thing I could have done.

Within a few weeks I had won Edison’s confidence and it came about this way:

The SS Oregon, the fastest passenger steamship at the time, had both of its lighting machines disabled and its sailing delayed.

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As the superstructure had been built after their installation it was impossible to remove them from the hold.

The predicament was a serious one and Edison was much annoyed.

In the evening I took the necessary instruments with me and went aboard the vessel where I stayed for the night.

The dynamos were in bad condition, having several short circuits and breaks, but with the assistance of the crew I succeeded in putting them in good shape.

At five o’clock in the morning, when passing along 5th Avenue on my way to the shop, I met Edison with Batchelor and a few others as they were returning home to retire.

Above: Charles Batchelor (1845 – 1910)

Here is our Parisian running around at night.“, he said.

When I told him that I was coming from the Oregon and had repaired both machines, he looked at me in silence and walked away without another word.

But when he had gone some distance I heard him remark:

Batchelor, this is a damn good man.

 

From that time on I had full freedom in directing the work.

 

For nearly a year my regular hours were from 10:30 am to 5 o’clock the next morning without a day’s exception.

 

Edison said to me:

I have had many hard-working assistants but you take the cake.

 

During this period I designed 24 different types of standard machines with short cores and of uniform pattern which replaced the old ones.”

(A few notes for those of an unscientific background:

Imagine a blanket that covers everything and stretches into infinity.

Imagine that this blanket consists of two types of energy: that which remains stationary (magnetic) and that which is constantly in motion (electrical).

Further imagine that within all matter there is, on the subatomic level, particles of a positive nature (protons) and a negative nature (electrons) and that they create fields that either attract or repel other particles towards or away from them.

This force’s presence and motions between these particles is manifested in current (how this flow varies over time) by either direct current (DC) or alternating current (AC).

Direct current means that there is a one-way flow from positive magnetic spot to negative magnetic spot.

Alternating current means that the current flow can reverse direction repeatedly.

Direct current means direct contact with a conductor, for example, a copper wire, but much energy is lost as heat due to wire resistance.

Alternating current means that the waves of electromagnetic radiation (manifested in the form of heat) rather than travelling through a wire will instead ride upon the surface of the wire.

Direct current motors sparked, needed constant replacements and servicing, and offered limited range.

But until Tesla no one had found an effective method to create an AC motor.)

 

Meanwhile, Hugo Gernsback (né Gernsbacher)(1884 – 1967) was born in Luxembourg Ville to Moritz Gernsbacher, a Jewish winemaker, and his wife Berta (née Dürlacher).

Flag of Luxembourg

Above: Flag of Luxembourg

 

Tesla began working almost immediately at the Machine Works on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, in an overcrowded shop with a workforce of several hundred machinists, labourers, managing staff and 20 field engineers struggling with the task of building the largest electric utility in New York City.

As in Paris, Tesla was working on troubleshooting installations and improving generators.

Tesla met Thomas Alva Edison only a couple of times.

Edison called Tesla “the Poet of Science“, for both men had very different approaches.

Where Edison was a practical, mercantile, trial and error man, Nikola Tesla was a theoretical, well-educated business-naive visionary who never fully understood the American tendency to disbelief in science unless it was cloaked in the “show me” sensibility.

Tesla had been working at the Machine Works for a total of six months when he quit.

Tesla had made considerable improvements on DC dynamos, but when he approached Edison for the money he had been promised he was told:

Tesla, you don’t understand American humour.

head-and-shoulder shot of slender man with dark hair and moustache, dark suit and white-collar shirt

Above: Nikola Tesla

 

This caused Tesla to resign and to form his own company, Tesla Electric Light and Manufacturing, but this came to nought as his investors pulled out over his plan for an alternating current motor.

Soon after leaving the Edison company, Tesla was working on patenting an arc lighting system.

Tesla worked for the rest of the year obtaining the patents that included an improved AC generator, but investors showed little interest in his ideas for new types of alternating current motors and electrical transmission equipment.

By 1886 the inventor was left penniless so he had to work at various electrical repair jobs and as a ditch digger.

 

In late 1886, Tesla met Alfred S. Brown, a Western Union superintendent, and New York attorney Charles F. Peck.

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The two men were experienced in setting up companies and promoting inventions and patents for financial gain.

Based on Tesla’s new ideas for electrical equipment, including a thermo-magnetic motor idea, they agreed to back the inventor financially and handle his patents.

Together they formed the Tesla Electric Company in April 1887, with an agreement that profits from generated patents would go 1/3 to Tesla, 1/3 to Peck and Brown, and 1/3 to fund development.

They set up a laboratory for Tesla at 89 Liberty Street in Manhattan, where he worked on improving and developing new types of electric motors, generators, and other devices.

 

In 1887, Tesla developed an induction motor that ran on AC, a power system format that was rapidly expanding in Europe and the United States because of the advantages in long-distance, high-voltage transmission.

The motor used polyphase current, which generated a rotating magnetic field to turn the motor.

This innovative electric motor had a simple self-starting design that avoided sparking and the high maintenance of constantly servicing and replacing mechanical brushes.

Along with getting Tesla’s motor patented, Peck and Brown arranged to get the motor publicized, starting with independent testing to verify that it was a functional improvement, followed by press releases sent to technical publications for articles to run concurrent with the issue of the patent.

Physicist William Arnold Anthony (who tested the motor) and Electrical World magazine editor Thomas Commerford Martin arranged for Tesla to demonstrate his AC motor on 16 May 1888 at the American Institute of Electrical Engineers.

Engineers working for the Westinghouse Electric & Manufacturing Company reported to George Westinghouse that Tesla had a viable AC motor and related power system – something Westinghouse needed for the alternating current system he was already marketing.

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Westinghouse decided that Tesla’s patent would probably control the market.

In July 1888, Brown and Peck negotiated a licensing deal with George Westinghouse for Tesla’s polyphase induction motor and transformer designs for $60,000 in cash and stock and a royalty of $2.50 per AC horsepower produced by each motor.

Westinghouse also hired Tesla for one year for the large fee of $2,000 ($54,500 in today’s dollars) per month to be a consultant at the Westinghouse Electric & Manufacturing Company’s Pittsburgh labs.

During that year, Tesla worked in Pittsburgh, helping to create an alternating current system to power the city’s streetcars.

He found it a frustrating period because of conflicts with the other Westinghouse engineers over how best to implement AC power.

Between them, they settled on a 60-cycle AC system that Tesla proposed (to match the working frequency of Tesla’s motor), but they soon found that it would not work for streetcars, since Tesla’s induction motor could run only at a constant speed.

They ended up using a DC traction motor instead.

 

Tesla’s demonstration of his induction motor and Westinghouse’s subsequent licensing of the patent, both in 1888, came at the time of extreme competition between electric companies.

The three big firms, Westinghouse, Edison, and Thompson-Houston, were trying to grow in a capital-intensive business while financially undercutting each other.

There was even a propaganda campaign going on with Edison Electric trying to claim their direct current system was better and safer than the Westinghouse alternating current system.

Competing in this market meant Westinghouse would not have the cash or engineering resources to develop Tesla’s motor and the related polyphase system right away.

The Great Blizzard of 1888 (11 – 14 March 1888) was one of the most severe recorded blizzards in the history of the United States of America.

The storm, referred to as the Great White Hurricane, paralyzed the East Coast from Chesapeake Bay to Maine, as well as the Atlantic provinces of Canada.

Snowfalls of 10 to 58 inches (25 to 147 cm) fell in parts of New Jersey, New York, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Connecticut, and sustained winds of more than 45 miles per hour (72 km/h) produced snowdrifts in excess of 50 feet (15 m).

Railroads were shut down, and people were confined to their houses for up to a week.

Railway and telegraph lines were disabled, and this provided the impetus to move these pieces of infrastructure underground.

Emergency services were also affected.

 

The Great Blizzard of 1888 tore down a large number of the lines, cutting off utilities in the city.

This spurred on the idea of having these lines moved underground but it was stopped by a court injunction obtained by Western Union.

Legislation to give all the utilities 90 days to move their lines into underground conduits supplied by the city was slowly making its way through the government but that was also being fought in court by the United States Illuminating Company, who claimed their AC lines were perfectly safe.

As AC systems continued to spread into territories covered by DC systems, with the companies seeming to impinge on Edison patents including incandescent lighting, things got worse for the company.

The price of copper was rising, adding to the expense of Edison’s low voltage DC system, which required much heavier copper wires than higher voltage AC systems.

Thomas Edison’s own colleagues and engineers were trying to get him to consider AC.

Edison’s sales force was continually losing bids in municipalities that opted for cheaper AC Systems and Edison Electric Illuminating Company president Edward Hibberd Johnson pointed out that if the company stuck with an all DC system it would not be able to do business in small towns and even mid-sized cities.

Edison Electric had a patent option on the ZBD transformer, and a confidential in-house report recommended that the company go AC, but Thomas Edison was against the idea.

 

After Westinghouse installed his first large scale system Edison wrote in a November 1886 private letter to Edward Johnson:

Just as certain as death Westinghouse will kill a customer within six months after he puts in a system of any size.

He has got a new thing and it will require a great deal of experimenting to get it working practically.

 

Edison seemed to hold a view that the very high voltage used in AC systems was too dangerous and that it would take many years to develop a safe and workable system.

Safety and avoiding the bad press of killing a customer had been one of the goals in designing his DC system and he worried that a death caused by a mis-installed AC system could hold back the use of electricity in general, Edison’s understanding of how AC systems worked seemed to be extensive.

He noted what he saw as inefficiencies and that, combined with the capital costs in trying to finance very large generating plants, led him to believe there would be very little cost savings in an AC venture.

Edison was also of the opinion that DC was a superior system (a fact that he was sure the public would come to recognize) and inferior AC technology was being used by other companies as a way to get around his DC patents.

 

In February 1888 Edison Electric president Edward Johnson published an 84-page pamphlet titled “A Warning from the Edison Electric Light Company” and sent it to newspapers and to companies that had purchased or were planning to purchase electrical equipment from Edison competitors, including Westinghouse and Thomson Houston, stating that the competitors were infringing on Edison’s incandescent light and other electrical patents.

It warned that purchasers could find themselves on the losing side of a court case if those patents were upheld.

The pamphlet also emphasized the safety and efficiency of direct current, with the claim DC had not caused a single death, and included newspaper stories of accidental electrocutions caused by alternating current.

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As arc lighting systems spread so did stories of how the high voltages involved were killing people, usually unwary linemen, a strange new phenomenon that seemed to instantaneously strike a victim dead.

One such story in 1881 of a drunken dock worker dying after he grabbed a large electric dynamo led Buffalo, New York, dentist Alfred P. Southwick to seek some application for the curious phenomenon.

He worked with local physician George E. Fell and the Buffalo ASPCA, electrocuting hundreds of stray dogs, to come up with a method to euthanize animals via electricity.

Southwick’s 1882 and 1883 articles on how electrocution could be a replacement for hanging, using a restraint similar to a dental chair (an electric chair) caught the attention of New York State politicians who, following a series of botched hangings, were desperately seeking an alternative.

An 1886 commission appointed by New York governor David B. Hill, which including Southwick, recommended in 1888 that executions be carried out by electricity using the electric chair.

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Above: William Kemmler (1860 – 1890), the world’s first person to be executed by electric chair (6 August 1890)

 

There were early indications that this new form of execution would become mixed up with the war of currents.

As part of their fact-finding, the commission sent out surveys to hundreds of experts on law and medicine, seeking their opinions, as well as contacting electrical experts, including Elihu Thomson and Thomas Edison.

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Above: Elihu Thomson (1853 – 1937)

 

In late 1887, when death penalty commission member Southwick contacted Edison, the inventor stated he was against capital punishment and wanted nothing to do with the matter.

After further prompting, Edison hit out at his chief electric power competitor, George Westinghouse, in what may have been the opening salvo in the war of currents, stating in a December 1887 letter to Southwick that it would be best to use current generated by “‘alternating machines,’ manufactured principally in this country by George Westinghouse“.

 

Soon after the execution by electricity bill passed in June 1888, Edison was asked by a New York government official what means would be the best way to implement the state’s new form of execution.

“Hire out your criminals as linemen to the New York electric lighting companies” was Edison’s tongue in cheek answer.

 

As the number of deaths attributed to high voltage lighting around the country continued to mount, a cluster of deaths in New York City in the spring of 1888 related to AC arc lighting set off a media frenzy against the “deadly arc-lighting currentand the seemingly callous lighting companies that used it.

These deaths included a 15-year-old boy killed on 15 April by a broken telegraph line that had energized with alternating current from a United States Illuminating Company line, a clerk killed two weeks later by an AC line, and a Brush Electric Company lineman killed in May by the AC line he was cutting.

The press in New York seemed to switch overnight from stories about electric lights vs gas lighting to “death by wire” incidents, with each new report seeming to fan public resentment against high voltage AC and the dangerously tangled overhead electrical wires in the city.

 

Tesla became a US citizen in 1889.

In 1889, Tesla moved out of the Liberty Street shop Peck and Brown had rented and for the next dozen years would work out of a series of workshop/laboratory spaces in Manhattan.

These included a lab at 175 Grand Street (1889–1892), the fourth floor of 33–35 South Fifth Avenue (1892–1895), and sixth and seventh floors of 46 & 48 East Houston Street (1895–1902).

Mark Twain in Tesla's lab, 1894

Above: Mark Twain (1835 – 1910) at Tesla’s 5th Avenue laboratory

 

Tesla and his hired staff would conduct some of his most significant work in these workshops.

 

In the summer of 1889, Tesla traveled to the Exposition Universelle in Paris and learned of Heinrich Hertz’s 1886–88 experiments that proved the existence of electromagnetic radiation, including radio waves.

Tesla found this new discovery “refreshing” and decided to explore it more fully.

In repeating, and then expanding on, these experiments, Tesla tried powering a Ruhmkorff coil with a high speed alternator he had been developing as part of an improved arc lighting system but found that the high frequency current overheated the iron core and melted the insulation between the primary and secondary windings in the coil.

To fix this problem Tesla came up with his Tesla coil with an air gap instead of insulating material between the primary and secondary windings and an iron core that could be moved to different positions in or out of the coil.

Two years after signing the Tesla contract, Westinghouse Electric was in trouble.

The near collapse of Barings Bank in London triggered the financial panic of 1890, causing investors to call in their loans to Westinghouse Electric.

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The sudden cash shortage forced the company to refinance its debts.

The new lenders demanded that Westinghouse cut back on what looked like excessive spending on acquisition of other companies, research, and patents, including the per motor royalty in the Tesla contract.

At that point, the Tesla induction motor had been unsuccessful and was stuck in development.

Westinghouse was paying a $15,000-a-year guaranteed royalty even though operating examples of the motor were rare and polyphase power systems needed to run it were even rarer.

 

After 1890, Tesla experimented with transmitting power by inductive and capacitive coupling using high AC voltages generated with his Tesla coil.

He attempted to develop a wireless lighting system based on near-field inductive and capacitive coupling and conducted a series of public demonstrations where he lit Geissler tubes and even incandescent light bulbs from across a stage.

He would spend most of the decade working on variations of this new form of lighting with the help of various investors but none of the ventures succeeded in making a commercial product out of his findings.

 

In 1891 Tesla established his own laboratory in Houston Street, where he lit up vacuum tubes as evidence for the potential of wireless power transmission.

 

In early 1891, George Westinghouse explained his financial difficulties to Tesla in stark terms, saying that, if he did not meet the demands of his lenders, he would no longer be in control of Westinghouse Electric and Tesla would have to “deal with the bankers” to try to collect future royalties.

The advantages of having Westinghouse continue to champion the motor probably seemed obvious to Tesla and he agreed to release the company from the royalty payment clause in the contract.

 

At the beginning of 1893, Westinghouse engineer Benjamin Lamme had made great progress developing an efficient version of Tesla’s induction motor and Westinghouse Electric started branding their complete polyphase AC system as the “Tesla Polyphase System“.

Westinghouse Electric asked Tesla to participate in the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago where the company had a large space in a building devoted to electrical exhibits.

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Westinghouse Electric won the bid to light the Exposition with alternating current and it was a key event in the history of AC power, as the company demonstrated to the American public the safety, reliability, and efficiency of a fully integrated alternating current system.

 

Tesla showed a series of electrical effects related to alternating current as well as his wireless lighting system, using a demonstration he had previously performed throughout America and Europe.

These included using high-voltage, high-frequency alternating current to light a wireless gas-discharge lamp.

An observer noted:

“Within the room were suspended two hard-rubber plates covered with tin foil.

These were about fifteen feet apart and served as terminals of the wires leading from the transformers.

When the current was turned on, the lamps or tubes, which had no wires connected to them, but lay on a table between the suspended plates, or which might be held in the hand in almost any part of the room, were made luminous.

These were the same experiments and the same apparatus shown by Tesla in London about two years previous, where they produced so much wonder and astonishment.”

 

Tesla also explained the principles of the rotating magnetic field in an induction motor by demonstrating how to make a copper egg stand on end, using a device that he constructed known as the Egg of Columbus and introduced his new steam powered oscillator AC generator.

The Egg of Columbus

 

At St. Louis’s Franklin Institute in Philadelphia and the National Electric Light Association, Tesla told his audience that he was sure a system like his could eventually conduct “intelligible signals or perhaps even power to any distance without the use of wires” by conducting it through the Earth.

 

Edward Dean Adams, who headed up the Niagara Falls Cataract Construction Company, sought Tesla’s opinion on what system would be best to transmit power generated at the falls.

The city of Niagara Falls. In the foreground are the waterfalls known as the American Falls and Bridal Veil Falls, respectively, from left to right.

Over several years, there had been a series of proposals and open competitions on how best to use power generated by the falls.

Among the systems proposed by several US and European companies were two-phase and three-phase AC, high-voltage DC and compressed air.

Adams pumped Tesla for information about the current state of all the competing systems.

Tesla advised Adams that a two-phased system would be the most reliable, and that there was a Westinghouse system to light incandescent bulbs using two-phase alternating current.

The company awarded a contract to Westinghouse Electric for building a two-phase AC generating system at the Niagara Falls, based on Tesla’s advice and Westinghouse’s demonstration at the Columbian Exposition that they could build a complete AC system.

At the same time, a further contract was awarded to General Electric to build the AC distribution system.

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In 1897 Westinghouse purchased Tesla’s patent for a lump sum payment of $216,000 as part of a patent-sharing agreement signed with General Electric (a company created from the 1892 merger of Edison and Thompson-Houston).

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The money Tesla made from licensing his AC patents made him independently wealthy and gave him the time and funds to pursue his own interests.

And it would be this pursuit of his own interests that would take a highly-respected engineer and, through Hugo Gernsback, make him into a legend….

Sources:  Wikipedia / Nikola Tesla, My Inventions

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Canada Slim and the Anachronic Man

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 8 October 2018

anachronic: not belonging to the time where one finds oneself

 

There are some places in the world where a person is immediately drawn to explore, either because of the sheer immensity of the place or because there is something truly remarkable there that cries out to be visited.

Kilchberg, a small town just south of Zürich on the western shore of the Lake of Zürich, fits neither description.

Kilchberg - Albis-Uetliberg - ZSG Pfannenstiel 2013-09-09 14-34-19.JPG

Kilchberg, unlike huge metropolises like London or Istanbul, does not offer surprises around every corner.

It takes only a well-planned excursion to see what little there is to see in this town: the Mann legacy of house and gravesites, the chocolate factory, and a museum dedicated to an anachronic man.

This post is this anachronic man’s story.

His museum is, to be frank, only of interest to those who can read fluently in German, for there are no descriptions in any other language within his last abode and his works seem to be only available in the Teutonic tongue.

The Museum, though named after the man who lived there, is not exclusively about him, as the scattered collections also focus on the bulk of the Klaus Mann family who lived and died in Kilchberg, as well as the local history of the community.

And those who run the Museum certainly do nothing to make a person want to make an effort to visit it, as the Museum is open only six hours a week on Wednesdays and Sundays from 2 to 5 pm.

 

(To be fair to the Museum, limited opening times and almost non-existent promotion are a typical problem of many museums in Switzerland.

The motivation to see such an attraction must have been driven from yourself, for it won’t have been created by anything the Swiss did.

For example, there is a Police and Criminal Museum in St. Gallen I knew nothing about until recently, despite my having worked in St. Gallen for the past eight years.

Now that I know it exists I am compelled to visit it soon, but its promised treasures are available for viewing at very limited opening times and with next to nothing and no one actively promoting it.)

 

As related in the previous post Canada Slim and the Family of Mann, my visit on 12 August 2018 to Kilchberg’s Conrad Ferdinand Meyer Museum was a third and final attempt to learn about Meyer.

And though Meyer is of little interest to most folks except those with either a passion for local history or Swiss literature, there are certain aspects about the life of Meyer with which I (and maybe you too, my gentle reader)can relate.

Conrad Ferdinand Meyer was born on 11 October 1825 in Zürich of patrician descent (i.e. nobility).

Conrad Ferdinand Meyer.gif

Above: Conrad Ferdinand Meyer (1825 – 1898)

 

His father, who died early, was a statesman and historian, while his mother was a highly cultured woman.

Throughout Meyer’s childhood two traits were observed that later characterized the man and the writer:

  • He had a most scrupulous regard for neatness and cleanliness (a place for everything and everything in its place to the point of cleanliness nest to godliness).
  • He lived and experienced more deeply in memory than in the immediate present.

 

(Blogger’s personal note:

I have always been surprised that any museum one visits always show the subject of the museum as an organized and tidy individual, when it has been my experience that those of a creative nature rarely are.)

 

Meyer suffered from bouts of mental illness, sometimes requiring hospitalization.

His mother, similarly but more severely affected, killed herself.

 

I am reminded of Lewis Carroll….

Image result for all the best people are crazy

 

Once Meyer’s secondary education was completed, he took up the study of law, but history and the humanities were of greater interest to him.

He spent considerable amounts of time in Lausanne, Genève, Paris and Italy, immersed in historical research.

The two historians who influenced Meyer the most were Louis Vulliemin at Lausanne and Jacob Burkhardt in Basel whose book on the Culture of the Renaissance stimulated his imagination and interest.

Jacburc2.gif

Above: Jacob Burkhardt (1818 – 1897)

 

From Meyer’s travels in France and Italy, he derived much inspiration for the settings and characters of his historical novels.

Meyer’s master of realism was uncanny to the point that the reader is convinced that he lived what he wrote.

Reading his historical novels or narrative ballads the readers feel that they are living the past settings now.

 

What follows is the stuff of science fiction and immense improbability….

 

It is uncertain if time travel to the past is physically possible, but there are solutions in general relativity that allow for it, though the solutions require conditions not feasible with current technology.

The earliest science fiction work about backwards time travel is uncertain.

 

Samuel Madden’s Memoirs of the Twentieth Century (1733) is a series of letters from British ambassadors in 1997 and 1998 to diplomats in the past, conveying the political and religious conditions of the future.

Above: Samuel Madden (1686 – 1765)

 

In the science fiction anthology Far Boundaries (1951), editor August Darleth claims that the earliest short story about time travel is “Missing One’s Coach: An Anachronism“, written for the Dublin Literary Magazine by an anonymous author in 1838.

The narrator of this short story waits under a tree for a coach to take him out of Newcastle, when he is transported in time over a thousand years.

The narrator encounters the Venerable Bede (672 – 735) in a monastery and explains to him the developments of the coming centuries.

The Venerable Bede translates John 1902.jpg

Above: Bede the Venerable

 

The story never makes it clear whether these events are real or a dream.

 

There are a number of science fiction classics that suggest that the mind can transport a person back into the past.

 

Mark Twain (1835 – 1910)(Tom Sawyer / Huckleberry Finn), A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court (1889):

Connecticut engineer Hank Morgan receives a severe blow to the head and is somehow transported in time and space to England during the reign of King Arthur.

After some initial confusion and his capture by one of Arthur’s knights, Hank realizes that he is actually in the past, and he uses his knowledge to make people believe that he is a powerful magician.

He attempts to modernize the past in order to make people’s lives better, but in the end he is unable to prevent the death of Arthur and an interdict against him by the Catholic Church of the time which grows fearful of his power….

Portrait by Mathew Brady, February 1871

Above: Mark Twain (pen name of Samuel Clemens)

 

Daphne du Maurier (1907 – 1989)(Rebecca / Jamaica Inn), The House on the Strand (1969):

Dick Young, has given up his job and been offered the use of the ancient Cornish house of Kilmarth by an old university friend Magnus Lane, a leading biophysicist in London.

He reluctantly agrees to act as a test subject for a drug that Magnus has secretly developed.

On taking it for the first time, Dick finds that it enables him to enter into the landscape around him as it existed during the early 14th century.

He becomes drawn into the lives of the people he sees there and is soon addicted to the experience….

The young Daphne du Maurier (about 1930)

Above: Daphne du Maurier

 

Jack Finney (1911 – 1995)(The Body Snatchers), Time and Again (1970)

In November 1970, Simon Morley, an advertising sketch artist, is approached by U.S. Army Major Ruben Prien to participate in a secret government project.

He is taken to a huge warehouse on the West Side of Manhattan, where he views what seem to be movie sets, with people acting on them. It seems this is a project to learn whether it is feasible to send people back into the past by what amounts to self-hypnosis—whether, by convincing oneself that one is in the past, not the present, one can make it so.

As it turns out, Simon (usually called Si) has a good reason to want to go back to the past—his girlfriend, Kate, has a mystery linked to New York City in 1882.

She has a letter dated from that year, mailed to an Andrew Carmody (a fictional minor figure who was associated with Grover Cleveland).

The letter seems innocuous enough—a request for a meeting to discuss marble—but there is a note which, though half burned, seems to say that the sending of the letter led to “the destruction by fire of the entire world“, followed by a missing word.

Carmody, the writer of the note, mentioned his blame for that incident.

He then killed himself.

Si agrees to participate in the project, and requests permission to go back to New York City in 1882 in order to watch the letter being mailed (the postmark makes clear when it was mailed).

The elderly Dr. E.E. Danziger, head of the project, agrees, and expresses his regret that he can’t go with Si, because he would love to see his parents’ first meeting, which also occurred in New York City in 1882.

The project rents an apartment at the famous Dakota apartment building.

Si uses the apartment as both a staging area and a means to help him with self-hypnosis, since the building’s style is so much of the period in which it was built and faces a section of Central Park which, when viewed from the apartment’s window, is unchanged from 1882.

Si is successful in going back to 1882….

Time and Again.jpg

 

Richard Matheson (1926 – 2013)(I Am Legend), Bid Time Return (1975):

Richard Collier is a 36-year-old screenwriter who has been diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor and has decided, after a coin flip, to spend his last days hanging around the Hotel del Coronado.

Most of the novel represents a private journal he is continually updating throughout the story.

He becomes obsessed with the photograph of a famous stage actress, Elise McKenna, who performed at the hotel in the 1890s.

Through research, he learns that she had an overprotective manager named William Fawcett Robinson, that she never married and that she seemed to have had a brief affair with a mysterious man while staying at this hotel in 1896.

The more Richard learns, the more he becomes convinced that it is his destiny to travel back in time and become that mysterious man.

Through research, he develops a method of time travel that involves using his mind to transport himself into the past.

After much struggle, he succeeds.

At first, he experiences feelings of disorientation and constantly worries that he will be drawn back into the present, but soon these feelings dissipate.

He is unsure what to say to Elise when he finally does meet her, but to his surprise she immediately asks, “Is it you?

(She later explains that two psychics told her she would meet a mysterious man at that exact time and place.)

Without telling her where (or, rather, when) he comes from, he pursues a relationship with her, while struggling to adapt himself to the conventions of the time.

Inexplicably, his daily headaches are gone, and he believes that his memory of having come from the future will ultimately disappear.

But Robinson, who assumes that Richard is simply after Elise’s wealth, hires two men to abduct Richard and leave him in a shed while Elise departs on a train.

Richard manages to escape and make his way back to the hotel, where he finds that Elise never left.

They go to a hotel room and passionately make love.

In the middle of the night, Richard leaves the room and bumps into Robinson.

After a brief physical struggle, Richard quickly runs back into the room, and he casually picks a coin out of his pocket.

Realizing too late that it is a 1970s coin, the sight of it pushes him back into the present.

At the end of the book, we find out that Richard died soon after.

A doctor claims that the time-traveling experience occurred only in Richard’s mind, the desperate fantasy of a dying man, but Richard’s brother, who has chosen to publish the journal, is not completely convinced….

BidTimeReturn.jpg

 

There have been various accounts of persons who allegedly travelled through time reported by the press or circulated on the Internet.

These reports have generally turned out either to be hoaxes or to be based on incorrect assumptions, incomplete information, or interpretation of fiction as fact, many being now recognized as urban legends.

 

I am not suggesting that Meyer’s writing is superior to other historical writers.

Nor am I suggesting at all that Conrad Ferdinand Meyer was a time traveller, but rather he was an anachronic man, a man more at home in the memory of the past than the reality of the present.

Perhaps Meyer had even hypnotized himself into believing he had visited the past upon which he wrote so convincingly, but there is absolutely not a shred of proof to support such a wild hypothesis.

Above: Conrad Ferdinand Meyer

 

In 1875, Meyer settled at Kirchberg.

Meyer found his calling only late in life.

(He was 46 when his first work Hutten’s Last Days was published.)

Being fluently bilingual, Meyer wavered between French and German.

The Franco-Prussian War (1870 – 1871) cemented his final decision to write in German.

In Meyer’s novels, a great crisis releases latent energies and precipitates a catastrophe.

In the same manner, his own life, which before the War had been one of dreaming and experimenting, was stirred to the very depths by the events of 1870.

Meyer identified himself with the German cause and as a manifesto of his sympathies published the aforementioned Hutten’s Last Days in 1871.

After that his works appeared in rapid succession and were collected into eight volumes in 1912, fourteen years after his death.

Image result for c f meyer museum kilchberg

The periods of the Renaissance (14th to 17th centuries) and the Counter Reformation (1545 – 1648) furnished the subjects for most of his novels.

Most of his plots spring from the deeper conflict between freedom and fate and culminate in a dramatic crisis in which the hero, in the face of a great temptation, loses his moral freedom and is forced to fulfill the higher law of destiny.

 

His two most famous novels are gripping and provocative.

In Jürg Jenatsch (1876), which takes place in Swiss Canton Graubünden during the Thirty Years War (1618 – 1648), a Protestant minister and fanatic patriot who, in his determination to preserve the independence of Switzerland, does not shrink from murder and treason and in whom noble and base motives are strangely blended.

Georg Jenatsch.jpg

Above: Jörg Jenatsch (1596 – 1639)

 

In The Wedding of the Monk (1884), the renowned writer Dante Alighieri (1265 – 1321) is introduced at the court of Cangrande in Verona, who narrates the strange adventure of a monk who, after the death of his brother, is forced by his father to break his monastic vows but who, instead of marrying the widow, falls in love with another young girl and runs blindly to his fate.

head-and-chest side portrait of Dante in red and white coat and cowl

Above: Dante Aligheri

 

Meyer has written about the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre (the night of 23 – 24 August 1572)(The Amulet), Thomas Becket (1119 – 1170)(The Saint), the Renaissance in Switzerland (Plautus in the Nunnery), France during the reign of Louis XIV (1638 – 1715)(The Suffering of a Boy), Charlemagne (742 – 814) and his Palace School (The Judge), and a tale of a great crisis in the life of Fernando d’Ávalos (1489 – 1525)(The Temptation of Pescara).

Yet if Meyer is remembered by the Swiss at all, it is as a master of narrative ballads, such as the aforementioned Hutten’s Last Days.

Meyer fascinated a man whose name is more recognizable to my gentle readers: psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud.

Freud in reflecting on Meyer’s life and works argued that there is a widespread existence among neurotics of a fable in which the present day parents are imposters, replacing a real and more aristocratic pair.

In repudiating the parents of today, the child is merely “turning away from the father whom he knows today to the father he believed in the earliest years of his childhood“.

He identified this psychological complex as the family romance.

Sigmund Freud, by Max Halberstadt (cropped).jpg

Above: Sigmund Freud (1856 – 1939)

 

(I am reminded of Joanne Greenberg’s semi-autobiographical novel – written under the pen name Hannah GreenI Never Promised You a Rose Garden, where Hannah shares a room with a memory-impaired girl who gives herself multiple sets of musical celebrity parents. “My father is (Igancy Jan) Paderewski (1860 – 1941) and my mother is Sophie Tucker (1886 – 1996).”

Greenberg’s novel was made into a film in 1977 and a play in 2004.

Perhaps it may have inspired Lynn Anderson’s 1967 song Rose Garden.)

INeverPromisedYouARoseGarden.jpg

 

Perhaps Meyer’s legacy of a father’s early death and a mother’s suicide made Meyer retreat from his grim reality and escape into the past.

Perhaps his pain made it possible for him to write so convincingly about a past he never personally witnessed except through his research.

Meyer’s genius is such that his readers are made to believe that they too are in the midst of the past stories he relates.

 

(If years rather than places were made into travel guides for time travellers I would suggest adapting Meyer’s works into such a form.

Imagine such a concept….

1313: A Travel Guide

This time travel guide is invaluable for showing the prospective reader what dates to visit, what places are “happening” then, and all the dangers and delights of the time of the Battle of Gamelsdorf and the Siege of Rostock, the birth of the Infanta Maria of Portugal and the death of Austrian Saint Notburga.

Don’t leave your era without it!“)

 

Perhaps the difference, then as now, between a good artist and a great one is not only a question of talent….

Perhaps it is a question of successfully marketing that talent….

Though Meyer is lost in the shadows of time, perhaps a consideration of who he was and what he wrote is finally due.

Perhaps his story makes his Museum, even with German-only captions, worth a visit….

Image result for c f meyer museum kilchberg

Sources: Wikipedia, http://www.kilchberg.ch

Above: The TARDIS, BBC Doctor Who

 

Canada Slim and the Visionary

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 7 October 2018

I caution you.

Expect much!

(Hugo Gernsback, Electrical Experimenter, January 1919)

Gernsback portrait by Fabian, date unknown

Above: Hugo Gernsback (1884 – 1967)

 

In my apartment we have many things.

Flag of Switzerland

These things seem so commonplace that we have taken this electrical world in which we live in for granted.

Amongst the flotsam and jetsam and choas that is a modern apartment, much is powered by electricity: the lamps and overhead lights, the computer upon which I type this blog, the TV and two radios, the toaster, the kettle, the dishwasher, the fridge, the freezer, my wife’s hairdryer and iron, the vacuum cleaner, and batteries and cables used for mobile devices.

Our apartment is by no means super-modern nor overly luxurious in terms of all the bells and whistles other flats might produce, but we are nevertheless grateful for the manner in which our lives are blessed, materialistically and otherwise.

There are names you might have heard of in regards to the history of electricity: Thales, Aristophanes, Euclid, Pliny, William Gilbert, Benjamin Franklin, Joseph Priestley, Charles Coulomb, Luigi Galvini, Alessandro Volta, Humphrey Davy, André-Marie Ampère, Georg Ohm, Michael Faraday, Samuel Morse, James Prescott Joule, Thomas Edison and Heinrich Hertz.

I have even written at great length about Alessandro Volta….

Alessandro Volta.jpeg

Above: Alessandro Volta (1745 – 1827)

(See Canada Slim and the Life Electric of this blog.)

 

There are names equally important to the development of electricity that you may have never heard of: Shen Kuo, Alexander Neckham, Pierre de Maricourt, Gerolamo Cardano, Cabaeus, Sir Thomas Browne (who first coined the word “electricity“), Otto von Guericke, Robert Boyle, Francis Hauksbee, Stephan Gray and the Reverend Granville Wheler, Charles Francois de Cisternay du Fay, Pieter van Musschenbroek of Leyden, Ewald Georg von Kleist, William Watson, C.M. of Scotland (still unidentifiable to this day), Georges-Louis LeSage, William Nicholson, Anthony Carlisle,  Johann Ritter, Gian Domenico Romagnosi, Thomas Young, Étienne-Louis Malus, Hans Christian Orsted, Johann Schweigger, Thomas Seebeck, William Sturgeon, Francesco Zantedeschi, Paul Schilling, Heinrich Lenz, Jean-Charles Peltier, Joseph Henry, David Alter, Alexandre Becquerel, James Clark Maxwell, John Kerr, Oliver Heaviside, Galileo Ferraris, John Fleming, Heike Onnes, Louis de Broglie and Martin Ryte.

To name a few….

 

There is one man who we might never had heard of were it not for his greatest fan’s determination to demonstrate to the world his hero’s legacy.

A legacy remembered in Croatia, Serbia, Austria, Hungary and America.

A determined traveller can find plaques and memorials to this man in Smilijan (Croatia), Zagreb (Croatia), Niagara Falls (USA / Canada), Baku (Azerbaijan), Wardenclyffe (USA), Manhattan (USA), Palo Alto (USA), Hamilton (Canada) and Belgrade (Serbia).

This great inventor has had his name given to a ship, a song, a high school, a planetoid, a crater on the Moon, a power plant, a museum-archive, an airport, a unit of measurement, an electric vehicle rally, three holidays, a rock band, an electrotechnical conglomerate, an electric car manufacturer and a major scientific award.

His name has endured in books, films, radio, TV, music, live theater, comics and video games, and most recently a new Hollywood film (The Current War) and a Netflix documentary.

But much like Sherlock Holmes needed Dr. John Watson for his fame, so we are grateful to Hugo Gernsback (“The man who invented the future“) for the fame of a man he called “the greatest inventor of all time“: Nikola Tesla.

Photograph of Nikola Tesla, a slender, moustachioed man with a thin face and pointed chin.

Above: Nikola Tesla (1856 – 1943)

 

Were it not for Tesla’s eccentric personality and a poor sense of financial management, he might have ended up as famous as Edison or Einstein.

Tesla was the electrical engineer who invented the AC (alternating current) induction motor, which made the universal transmission and distribution of electricity possible.

 

This spring I spent six days, by invitation from my good friend Nesha, in Serbia, a country that everyone in the West thinks they know but hardly anyone in the West really knows.

(For a further description of Serbia, please see Canada Slim and the Holy Field of Sparrows & Canada Slim and the Land of Long Life of this blog.)

Flag of Serbia

Above: The flag of Serbia

 

Ask the average North American what little they know about Serbia and chances are strong they will mention NATO bombings, Milosevician atrocities and…. Nikola Tesla.

 

I have often believed that Americans are the world’s best marketers and there is a grain of truth to the song dedicated to the American metropolis of New York City, but applicable to America as a whole….

If you can make it there, you’ll make it anywhere.

East Side of Midtown Manhattan, showing the terraced crown of the Chrysler Building lit at twilight

In other words, until America knows you, very few others will.

 

Were it not for Tesla’s work in America and Gernsback’s American technical science monthly magazine for which Tesla wrote for and in which his autobiography appears, the world might not remember as it does the name of Tesla.

 

Were it not for my visit to the Tesla Museum in Belgrade I might never have learned of the legacy of Tesla and his greatest publicist….

Despite a lack of enduring international recognition, Tesla remains a Serbian national hero and it is his face that currently decorates the 100 dinar note.

The Museum has captions in English and guidebooks available in Serbian and English.

Regular tours in English are given by the enthusiastic and knowledgable staff.

Some of the rooms relate to Tesla’s scientific work and have a number of hands-on displays and dynamic working models that are fun for children and adults alike.

Two more rooms are dedicated to the personal life of the physicist.

The urn containing his ashes is housed here too as well as his death mask.

Museum of Nikola Tesla, Belgrade, Serbia-cropped.JPG

Above: Nikola Tesla Museum, Belgrade, Serbia

 

Belgrade, Serbia, 5 April 2018

To say that Hugo Gernsback was a fan of Nikola Tesla is an understatement.

In Gernsback’s own words:

Nikola Tesla, in the opinion of authorities, today is conceded to be the greatest inventor of all time. 

Tesla has more original inventions to his credit than any other man in history. 

He is considered greater than Archimedes, Faraday or Edison. 

His basic, as well as revolutionary, discoveries for sheer audacity have no equal in the annals of the world. 

His master mind is easily one of the seven wonders of the intellectual world.

Tesla has secured more than 100 patents on inventions, many of which have proved revolutionary.

Science accords to him over 75 original discoveries, not mere mechanical improvements.

90% of the entire electrical industry pays tribute to his genius.

The question as to why the world at large does not know Tesla is answered best by stating that he committed the unpardonable crime of not having a permanent press agent to shout his greatness from the housetops.

Then, too, most of Tesla’s inventions, at least to the public mind, are more or less intangible on account of the fact that they are very technical and, therefore, do not catch the popular imagination, as, for instance, wireless, the X-ray, the airplane or the telephone.

Tesla is a man of extraordinary knowledge.

He is remarkably well read and has a photographic memory whereby it is possible for him to recite page after page of nearly every classical work, be it Goethe, Voltaire or Shakespeare.

He speaks and writes twelve languages.

He is an accomplished calculator, who has little use for tables and textbooks and holds the slide rule in contempt.”

My Inventions - The Autobiography of Nikola Tesla.jpg

Nikola Tesla’s autobiography, My Inventions, appeared in Hugo Gernsback’s magazine Electrical Experimenter in six monthly installments (February to June 1919 and October 1919) and is in a hard cover book offered by the Nikola Tesla Museum, which has been in operation since the 150th anniversary of Tesla’s birth (2006).

To fully appreciate and comprehend both men and the Museum dedicated to Tesla and Tesla’s autobiography printed by Gernsback, we need to look back at not only both men’s histories but as well back to an age where electricity existed in a realm that lay somewhere between magic, science and commerce.

 

Nikola Tesla (1856 – 1943) was born an ethnic Serb in the village of Smiljan, then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, now Croatia.

Above: Tesla’s house, Smiljan, Croatia

 

His father Milutin was a Serbian Orthodox priest, his mother Duka was the daughter of another priest.

Above: Milutin Tesla, Nikola’s father

Milutin was the son of an officer who served in Napoleon’s army and, in common with Nikola’s uncle, a professor of mathematics, had received a military education but later embraced the clergy in which vocation he achieved eminence.

Milutin was a very erudite man, a veritable natural philosopher, poet and writer.

Nikola’s father had a prodigious memory and frequently recited at length from works in several languages.

Milutin often remarked playfully that if some of the classics were lost he could restore them.

His style of writing was much admired.

He penned sentences short and terse and was full of wit and satire.

 

Nikola’s mother, Duka, descended from one of the oldest families in the country and a line of inventors.

Both her father and grandfather originated numerous implements for household, agricultural and other uses.

Duka had a talent for making homemade craft tools and mechanical appliances and the ability to memorize lengthy Serbian epic poems, even though she had never received a formal education.

Tesla credited his eidetic memory and creative abilities to his mother’s genetics and influence.

Nikola was the 4th of five children.

 

Nikola Tesla was born during a lightning storm at the stroke of midnight on 10 July 1856.

His midwife is reported to have exclaimed:

He’ll be a child of the storm.

To which his mother replied:

No, of light.

How does the world’s greatest inventor invent?

How does he carry out an invention?

What sort of mentality does Nikole Tesla have?

Was his early life as commonplace as ours?

(Hugo Gernsback, foreword to Nikola Tesla’s My Inventions, 1: My Early Life, Electrical Experimenter, February 1919)

 

Our first endeavours are purely instinctive, promptings of an imagination vivid and undisciplined.

As we grow older, reason asserts itself and we become more and more systematic and designing.

But those early impulses, though not immediately productive, are of the greatest moment and may shape our very destinies.

(Nikola Tesla, My Inventions)

 

Nikola had three sisters (Milka, Angelina and Marica) and an older brother named Dane, who was killed in a horse riding accident when Tesla was five.

Nikola attended primary school in Smiljan and Gospic and middle school in the latter town.

View of Gospić

Above: Gospic, Croatia

 

In my boyhood I suffered from a peculiar affliction due to the appearance of images, often accompanied by strong flashes of light, which marred the sights of real objects and interfered with my thought and action.

They were pictures of things and scenes which I had really seen, never of those I imagined.

When a word was spoken to me the image of the object it designated would present itself vividly to my vision and sometimes I was quite unable to distinguish whether what I saw was tangible or not.

This caused me great discomfort and anxiety….

To free myself of these tormenting appearances, I tried to concentrate my mind on something else I had seen, and in this way I would often obtain temporary relief.

But in order to get it I had to conjure continuously new images….”

(Nikola Tesla, My Inventions)

 

In 1870, Tesla moved far north to Karlovac to attend high school where he became interested in demonstrations of electricity by his physics teacher.

Tesla noted that these demonstrations of this “mysterious phenomena” made him want “to know more of this wonderful force.”

Tesla was able to perform integral calculus in his head, which prompted his teachers to believe that he was cheating.

Nonetheless he finished a four-year term, in three years, graduating in 1873.

Karlovac Train Station with HŽ 7122.jpg

This (mental imaging) I did constantly until I was about 17 when my thoughts turned seriously to invention.

Then I observed to my great delight that I could visualize with the greatest facility.

I needed no models, drawings or experiments.

I could picture them all as real in my mind.

(Nikola Tesla, My Inventions)

 

That same year, Tesla returned to Smiljan.

Shortly after he arrived, he contracted cholera, was bedridden for nine months and was near death multiple times.

 

In 1874 Tesla evaded conscription into the Austro-Hungarian army by running away southeast to Tomingaj.

There he explored the mountains wearing hunter’s garb, believing that this contact with nature made him stronger, both physically and mentally.

Tesla read many books while in Tomingaj and later said that Mark Twain’s works had helped him to miraculously recover from his earlier illness.

Image result for tomingaj

Above: Tomingaj, Croatia

 

In 1875, Tesla enrolled at Austrian Polytechnic in Graz, on a military frontier scholarship.

The Schlossberg (Castle Hill) with the clock tower (Uhrturm), as seen from town hall

Above: Graz, Austria

 

During his first year, he never missed a lecture, earned the highest grades possible, passed nine exams (twice as many as were required), started a Serbian cultural club, and received a letter of recommendation from the dean of the technical faculty to his father, which stated:

Your son is a star of the first rank.

Tesla claimed that he worked from 3 a.m. to 11 p.m., no Sundays or holidays excepted.

 

(After Milutin’s death in 1879, Nikola found a package of letters from his professors to his father, warning that unless Nikola were removed from the school, he would die through overwork.)

 

At the end of his second year, Tesla lost his scholarship and became addicted to gambling.

During his third year, Tesla gambled away his allowance and his tuition money, later winning back his initial losses and returning the balance to his family.

When examination time came, Tesla was unprepared and asked for an extension to study, but was denied.

He did not receive grades for the last semester of the third year and he never graduated.

 

In December 1878, Tesla left Graz and severed all relations with his family to hide the fact that he dropped out of school.

His friends thought that he had drowned in the nearby Mur River.

 

Tesla moved to Maribor where he worked as a draftsman, spending his spare time playing cards with local men on the streets.

In March 1879, Tesla’s father went to Maribor to beg his son to return home, but he refused.

Nikola suffered a nervous breakdown.

Maribor's Old Town along the Drava River

Above: Maribor, Slovenia

 

On 24 March 1879, Tesla was returned to Gospic under police guard for not having a residence permit.

On 17 April 1879, Milutin Tesla died.

That year Nikola taught a large class of students in his old school in Gospic.

 

In January 1880, two of Tesla’s uncles put together enough money to help him leave Gospic for Prague, where he attended lectures in philosophy at Charles Ferdinand University as an auditor but did not receive grades for the courses.

Charles Bridge - Prague, Czech Republic - panoramio.jpg

Above: Prague, Czech Republic

 

In 1881 Tesla moved to Budapest to work as chief electrician for the Budapest Telephone Exchange.

Upon arrival, Tesla realized that the company, then under construction, was not functional, so he worked as a draftsman in the Central Telegraph Office.

Within a few months, the Budapest Telephone Exchange became functional and Tesla was allocated the chief electrician position.

During his time with the BTE, Tesla made many improvements to the Central Station Equipment and invented a device known as the telephone repeater, a precursor to the modern wireless telephone.

Széchenyi Chain Bridge in Budapest at night.jpg

Above: Budapest, Hungary

 

In 1882, Tesla moved to Paris to work for the Continental Edison Company, in what was then a brand new industry, installing indoor incandescent lighting citywide in the form of an electric power utility.

Seine and Eiffel Tower from Tour Saint Jacques 2013-08.JPG

Above: Paris, France

Logo of Consolidated Edison

Management took notice of Tesla’s advanced knowledge in engineering and physics and soon had him designing and building improved versions of generating dynamos and motors, as well as sending him on to troubleshoot engineering problems at other Edison utilities being built across France and Germany.

In 1884, Edison manager Charles Batchelor, who had been overseeing the Paris Installation, was brought back to the US to manage the Edison Machine Works, a manufacturing division situated in New York City, and asked that Tesla be brought to the US as well.

Above: Charles Batchelor (1845 – 1910)

 

In June 1884, Tesla left Paris for New York City and the United States.

An amazing future awaited him.

Fame, fortune and amazing creativity would be both his bane and his blessing.

And there would literally be blood as two business magnates fought a merciless war for power….electrical power….with Tesla in the middle and Gernsback and the world as witness….

(To be continued….)

Sources: Wikipedia / Bradt Serbia / Nikola Tesla, My Inventions

Multiple lightning strikes on a city at night