In Tesla's Laboratory

On Nikola Tesla

mong the few persons whom I have met who I think are possessed of genius is my friend Nikola Tesla, the electrical discoverer and inventor. His fundamental inventions are not of the sort to give him the popular vogue of Bell or Edison, and I fancy that not the one per cent of the readers of these lines are aware that he was the discoverer of the principle of the rotating magnetic field, which is the basis of the transmission of water power and its conversion for electrical purposes - first employed, I believe, at Niagara Falls, and now in general use all over the world. If he had done nothing else this would entitle him to fame of the first order. In addition, his many inventions in the field of high potential and high frequency currents and in that of the production of electrical power are acknowledged by his peers as the foundation of many so-called practical applications. The Tesla coil, the Tesla oscillator and many other basic inventions have put his fame beyond the reach of cavil.

made his acquaintance at a time when he was engaged in some of his profoundest explorations. He was introduced to us in my home in Lexington Avenue in 1893 by my friend Commerford Martin, afterward President of the American Institute of Electrical Engineers, and we soon became intimate friends. My deepest regret is that I did not make record of many prophecies which he made in my house, a number of which have since "materialized", but which then we thought to be the wildest fancies. He once said to Mrs. Johnson: "the time will come when crossing the ocean by steamer you will be able to have a daily newspaper on board with the important news all over the world, and when by means of a pockets instruments and a wire stuck in the ground, you can communicate from any distance with friends at home trough with instruments similarly attuned." He believed it possible to direct the movements of an airplane or torpedo boat by wireless, and said confidentially that some day it will be practicable to run street cars in London by the power of Niagara. When I mentioned such prophecies as this to my friends - some of them of the scientific world - they will shrug their shoulders and tap their heads significantly. Tesla is perhaps is the most imaginative of all the electrical savants and it is amusing to me to see haw others inventors have availed themselves of his ideas of an earlier day of have re-invented his methods and apparatus. There is a pathetic side to this, since personally Tesla has not reaped where he was sown. Bu this is the fate of all pioneers, and he would be the last man to expect it to be otherwise.

hen we first met him, his laboratory, in South Fifth Avenue, was a place of absorbing interest. We were frequently invited to witness his experiments, which included the demonstration of the rotating magnetic field, and the production of electrical vibrations of an intensity not before achieved. Lighting-like flashes of electrical fire of the length of fifteen feet where an every-day occurrence, and his tubes of electric light were used to make photographs of many of his friends as a souvenir of their visits. He was the first person to make use of phosphorescent light for photographic purposes - not a small item of invention in itself. I was one of a group consisting of Mark Twain, Joseph Jefferson, Marion Crawford, and others who had the unique experience of being thus photographed. At another time the company consisted of the Kneisel Quartet, Gericke, conductor of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, Madame Milka Ternina, the great prima donna, and ourselves. we took many of our friends to the laboratory, included John Muir, Captain Hobson and Maurice Boutet de Monvel the French painter. I was myself at that time the medium of the passage of an electric current of a million volts of the Tesla system of high frequency, whereas I believe twenty-five hundred volts of the ordinary current is sufficient to kill. Lamps were thus lit up brilliantly through my body. This laboratory was destroyed by fire in 1895. with irreparable loss, but the inventor, undismayed, took up anew his work of dealing with the greatest problems of electrical science.

he imaginative character of Tesla's work made him the prey of the sensational press, which, as in the case of Hobson, did everything it could to exploit him for its cruel and sordid purposes, with the result of making him ridiculous only to those who had neither knowledge nor the responsibility of sober judgment; but the general public remained ignorant of the principles of which he was a profound master and which technically were beyond their ken. I heard an English writer, a lady, say to him,
   "And you, Mr. Tesla, what do you do?"
   "Oh, I dabble a little in electricity."
   "Indeed! Keep at it, and don't be discouraged. you may end by doing something some day."

his to the man who had sold the inventions used at Niagara to the Westinghouse Company for a million dollars and lived to rue the bargain! Unsordid as he is Tesla has used this fortune and the resources that he has won by his other patents in the furtherance of his scientific inventions and study and in the building of new laboratories to replace and extend the one that was destroyed by fire. I ever, in the interest of the public, a scientist deserved to be endowed, it is he.

part from his professional work, he is one of the most cultivated of men. He is Serbian origin, having been born in Croatia, and is not only thoroughly grounded in all technical affairs of his profession but has a precise and extensive knowledge of the great classics of Greece, Italy, Germany F5rance and England. I believe he could take up any portion of the second part of "Faust", for instance, and continue the quotation textually page by page. As to Serbian literature, I have heard him recite long passages of its greatest epic, which he held to be superior to the Iliad. I am indebted to him for the literal translations which are the basis of my "paraphrases" from the Serbian poet, "Zmai", the Longfellow of that country.

Robert Underwood-Johnson: Remembered Yesterdays, p. 399-401


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