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.
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.
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."
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.
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
Remembered Yesterdays, p. 399-401