TESLA, Nikola (1856-1943), electrical inventor.
Tesla was famous at the turn of the century for inventing the alternating current
system still in use today. But his later inventions, documented in some 30
U.S. patents between 1890 and 1921, have never been utilized as Tesla intended
despite their obvious potential for advancing in fundamental ways the technology
of modern civilization. Among these lost inventions: the disk-turbine rotary
engine, the Tesla coil, electric energy magnifier, high-frequency lighting
systems, the magnifying transmitter, wireless power, and the free-energy receiver.
Born Yugoslavia, 1856. Educated at the polytechnic school at Graz and at University
of Prague. Worked as telephone engineer in Prague and Paris. Conceived new
type of electric motor having no commutator, as direct current. motors have,
but works on principle of rotating magnetic field produced by poly phase alternating
currents. Constructed prototype. Found nobody interested in Europe. Emigrated
to U.S. (1884). Worked briefly and unhappily with Thomas Edison.
Established own lab and obtained patents on poly phase motors, dynamos, transformers
for a complete alternating current power system. Formed alliance with George
Westinghouse, who bought poly phase patents for $1 million plus royalty. With
Westinghouse, engaged in struggle against Edison to convince public of efficiency
and safety of AC over DC, and succeeded in getting Alternating Current accepted
as the electric power system worldwide.
Also with Westinghouse, lit the Chicago World's Fair, built Niagara Falls
hydropower plant, and installed AC - Alternating Current - systems at Colorado
silver mines, and other industries. By turn of the century was lifted to celebrity
status comparable to Edison's as media promoted him along with the expanding
electric power industry. Experimenting independently in Manhattan lab, developed
and patented electric devices based on superior capabilities of high-potential,
high-frequency currents: Tesla coil, radio, high-frequency lighting, x-rays,
electrotherapy. Suffered lab fire. Rebuilt, and continued. Moved lab to Colorado
Springs for about one year (1899). Built huge magnifying transmitter. Experimented
with wireless power, radio, and earth resonance. Studied lightning. Created
lightning. Returned to New York. With encouragement of financier J.P. Morgan,
promoted a World System of radio broadcasting utilizing magnifying transmitters.
Built huge tower for magnifying transmitter at Wardenclyffe, Long Island as
first station in World System. Received enough from Morgan to bring station
within sight of completion, then funds cut off, project collapsed.
Continued to invent into the 1920's, but flow of patents meager compared to
earlier torrent, which amounted to some 700 patents worldwide. High-frequency
inventions ignored by established technology, as were disk turbine, free energy
receiver, and other inventions. Shut out by media except for birthday press
conferences. At these conferences, predicted microwaves, TV, beam technologies,
cosmic-ray motor, interplanetary communications, and wave-interference devices
that since have been named the Tesla howitzer and the Tesla shield. In the
1930's, he was involved in wireless power projects in Quebec. Last birthday
media appearance in 1940.
Died privately and peacefully at 87 in New York hotel room from no apparent
cause in particular. Personal papers, including copious lab notes, impounded
by U.S. Government, surfaced many years later at the "Tesla Museum",
in Belgrade, Yugoslavia. Of these notes, only a fragment, "Colorado Springs
Notes", has been published by the Museum.
1. Disk-Turbine Rotary Engine
Tesla called it a powerhouse in a hat. One version developed 110 h.p. at 5000
RPM and was less than ten inches in diameter. Tesla believed larger turbines
could achieve 1000 HP. The disk-turbine rotary engine runs vibration free.
It is cheap to manufacture because nothing but the rotor bearings needs to
be fitted to close tolerances. It requires little maintenance. If necessary,
the rotor can be replaced with ease. The turbine can run on steam, compressed
air, gasoline, or oil.
How it works
Unlike conventional turbines that use blades or buckets to catch the flow,
Tesla's uses a set of rigid metal disks that, instead of battling the propelling
stream at steep angles, runs with smooth efficiency in parallel with the flow.
What drives the disks is a peculiar adhesion that exists between the surface
of a body and any moving fluid. This adhesion, is, in Tesla's words, caused
by the shock of the fluid against the asperities of the solid substance (simple
resistance) and from internal forces opposing molecular separation (a sticking
The propellant enters the intake and is directed through a nozzle onto the
disks at their perimeter. It travels over the spinning disks in a spiral fashion,
exiting at the disks' central openings and is exhausted from the casing. Tesla
notes in his patent that, in an engine driven by a fluid, changes in the velocity
and direction of movement of the fluid should be as gradual as possible. This,
he observes, is not the case, though, in existing engines where sudden changes,
shocks, and vibrations are unavoidable. The use of pistons, paddles, vanes
and blades, notes Tesla, necessarily introduces numerous defects and limitations
and adds to the complication, cost of production, and maintenance of the machines.
We who are stuck with the piston engine know this all too well. The Tesla
turbine is vibration-free because the propelling fluid moves in natural paths
or stream lines of least resistance, free from constraint and disturbance.
Conducting the propellant through the intake valve on the other side easily
reverses the turbine.
A hollow casting is bolted to the top of the turbine for the internal combustion
mode. A glow plug or spark plug screws into the top of this chamber. Sticking
out of the sides are the intake valves. Interesting thing about these valves,
there are no moving parts. They work on a fluidic principle. The Tesla turbines'
only moving part is its rotor. Imagine, a powerful internal combustion engine
with only one moving part.
The fluidic valve, which Tesla calls a valvular conduit, allows easy flow
in one direction but in the other the flow gets hung up in dead-end chambers
(buckets) where it gets spun around 360 degrees, thus forming eddies, or countercurrents
that stop the flow as surely as if a mechanical valve were moved into the shut
position. The spinning rotor creates plenty of suction to pull fuel and air
into the combustion chamber. Tesla notes that after a short lapse of time the
chamber becomes heated to such a degree that the ignition device may be shut
off without disturbing the established regime. In other words; it diesels.
The disk-turbine motor principle in reverse becomes a very efficient pump.
(Tesla's Patent No. 1,061,142)
The disk turbine principle is employed in the speedometer, which presents
the problem of having to turn the rotary motion of a vehicles wheels to angular
motion in order to push a spring-loaded indicator needle over a short arc.
Tesla's solution: the speedometer cable connects to a disk which spins in interface
with a second disk, imparting spin to the fluid in between and, hence, to the
second disk which moves the needle. Interface two disks of different sizes
in a fluid medium and any desired ratio between speeds of rotation may be obtained
by proper selection of the diameters of the disks, observes Tesla in his patent,
thus anticipating in 1911 the fluid-drive automatic transmission.
Tesla First worked on his turbine early in his career, believing it would
be a good prime mover for his alternating-current dynamos, far superior to
the reciprocal steam engines that were the workhorses of that era. But he did
not get down to perfecting and patenting it until after the collapse of his
global broadcasting scheme (1909). By this time the internal-combustion piston
engine was firmly rooted in Western power mechanics. Tesla referred to organized
opposition to his attempts to introduce the superior engine, and so have others
who have made the attempt since. But Tesla still saw a glorious future for
his turbine. To his friend, Yale engineering professor Charles Scott, Tesla
predicted, "My turbine will scrap all the heat engines in the world." Replied
Scott, "That would make quite a pile of scrap."
2. Spark-Gap Oscillator:
Tesla was central in establishing the 60 cycle alternating current power system
still in use today. Yet he suspected that the more striking phenomena resided
in the higher frequencies of electric vibration. To reach these heights, he
first tried dynamos spun at higher speeds and having a greater number of poles
than any that had existed before. One having as an armature a flat, radially
grooved copper disk achieved 30,000 cycles, but Tesla wanted to go into the
millions of cycles.
It occurred to him that this vibratory capability was to be found in the capacitor.
With a capacitor circuit, the spark-gap oscillator, he did indeed achieve the
higher frequencies, and he did so by non mechanical means. The circuit was
promising enough for him to patent it as A Method of and Apparatus for Electrical
Conversion and Distribution, for Tesla saw in it the possibility of a whole
new system of electric lighting by means of high frequencies. Though it was
quickly succeeded by the Tesla coil and is not numbered among the more famous
of the lost inventions, the spark-gap oscillator is pivotal for Tesla as the
invention that launched him into his career in high frequencies.
How it works
The capacitor. There are only a few basic building blocks of electrical circuitry.
The capacitor is one of them. Tesla didn't invent it, it had been around for
some time, arguably for millennia, but he did improve upon it in three of his
patents. Also called condenser, the common capacitor is just a sandwich of
conductive and nonconductive layers that serves the purpose of storing electrical
charge. The simplest capacitor has just two conductive sheets separated by
a single sheet of insulation. In the capacitor shown, the conductive elements
are two metal plates.
The insulation between them is oil. In the official vocabulary, the plates
are indeed called plates and the insulative layer (oil, glass, mica, or whatever)
is called the dielectric. Connect the two terminals of a capacitor into a circuit
where there is plus-minus electrical potential, and charge builds on the plates,
positive on one, negative on the other. Let this charge build for a while,
and then connect the two plates through some resistance, a coil, say, and the
capacitor discharges very suddenly. Tesla said, The explosion of dynamite is
only the breath of a consumptive compared with its discharge. He went on to
say that the capacitor is the means of producing the strongest current, the
highest electrical pressure, the greatest commotion in the medium.
The capacitor's discharge is not necessarily a single event. If it discharges
into a suitable resistance, there is a rush of current outward, then back again,
as if it were bouncing off the resistance, then out, and back and so forth
until it peters out. The discharge is oscillatory, a vibration. The vibration
can be sustained by recharging the capacitor at appropriate intervals. When
Tesla talks of the capacitor's discharge causing commotion in the medium, he
means a vibration or mix of vibrations. The character of this vibration is
determined in part by the capacity of the capacitor, that is, how much charge
it will hold. This is a function of it size, the distance between plates, and
the composition of the dielectric. Upon discharge there would be, typically,
a fundamental vibration, some harmonics, and perhaps other commotion, maybe
musical, maybe not. Additional circuitry can tame the vibration to a pure tone.
When Tesla speaks of commotion in the medium, what is the medium? In Tesla's
time it was an article of faith that there existed a unified field that permeated
all being called the ether. The ether as the electric medium still is an article
of faith in some circles, but in official science its existence is presumed
to have been disproved in the laboratory. Nevertheless, this conviction about
an ether ran very deep, not only among scientists but among all thinkers, until
only about forty-some years ago when particle theory, E=MC2, and, finally Hiroshima
firmly established the new faith. Tesla said the electron did not exist.
The materialistic concept of these little particles running through conductors
is alien to Tesla electric theory. Here is the Quaker writer Rufus Jones on
the ether in 1920: An intangible substance which we call ether - luminiferous
(light-bearing) aether - fills all space, even the space occupied by visible
objects, and this ether which is capable of amazing vibrations, billions of
times a second, is set vibrating at different velocities by different objects.
These vibrations bombard the minute rods of the retina... It is responsible
also for all the immensely varied phenomena of electricity, probably, too of
cohesion and gravitation...
The dynamo and the other electrical mechanisms, which we have invented do
not make or create electricity. They merely let it come through, showing itself
now as light, now as heat, now again as motive power. But always it was there
before, unnoted, merely potential, and yet a vast surrounding ocean of energy
there behind, ready to break into active operation when the medium was at hand
for it. Jones, who was not a scientist but a religious thinker and communicator,
was making a point about the nearness of God's power and could do so by invoking
the physics of his time. This would be difficult using the Einsteinian physics
in fashion today, which W. Gordon Allen has called atheistic science.
Although the ether is intangible, it is assumed to have elastic properties,
so that Tesla can say a circuit with a large capacity behaves as a slack spring,
whereas one with a small capacity acts as a stiff spring vibrating more vigorously.
This elastic character of the ether, which you experience palpably when you
play with a pair of magnets, is due to the medium's lust for equilibrium. Distorted
by electrical charge (or by magnetism or by the gravity of a material body),
the ether seeks to restore a perfect balance between the polarities of positive-negative,
Voltage is the measure of ether strain or imbalance, called potential difference,
or just potential. Balance is not restored from this strained condition in
one swing-back. As we have seen with the capacitor, the disturbed electric
medium, like a plucked guitar string, over-swings the centerline of equilibrium
to one side, then to the other, again and again, and this we know as vibration.
In this way of looking at nature, vibration is energy; energy is vibration.
So you could say that the commotion in the medium caused by the capacitors
discharge is energy itself.
Thus, you can speak of the capacitor as an energy magnifier. Even though a
feeble potential may charge it, the sudden blast of the capacitor's release
plucks the medium mightily. The capacitor is common in modern circuitry, but
Tesla used it with much greater emphasis on its capability as an energy magnifier
and on a scale almost unheard of today. It's difficult to find commercial capacitors
that meet Tesla specifications. Builders of tesla coils and other high-voltage
devices usually must construct their own capacitors. Fortunately, this can
be done using readily available materials.
How it works
The spark gap: A simple way to discharge a capacitor is through a spark gap.
The spark-gap oscillator is just a capacitor firing into a circuit load (lamps
or whatever) through the spark gap. The opening between the spark-gap electrodes
determines when the capacitor will fire. This setting is one determinant of
the frequency of the circuit.
The others are capacity and the reactance, or bounce characteristics, of the
load. The potential needed to bridge the gap is in the tens of thousands of
volts. It takes a potential of about 20,000 volts to break down the resistance
of just a quarter of an inch of air. The gap doesn't necessarily have to be
air. Tesla has referred to a gap consisting of a film of insulation. A spark
gap is a switching device, a semiconductor in fact. But the spark gap is problematic,
particularly the common two-electrode air-gap version. Heating and ionizing
of the air cause irregularities in conduction and premature firing.
This arcing must be quenched. It can be to a great degree by using a series
of small gaps instead of one larger one, or by using a rotary gap. Tesla also
immersed the gap in flowing oil, used an air blowout, and even found that a
magnetic field helps to quench. For the gap Tesla substituted high-speed rotary
switches, which he called circuit controllers. One has a rotor that dips into
a pool of mercury, and another uses mercury jets to make contact. You can operate
a spark gap without a capacitor by connecting it directly to a source of sufficient
This is, of course, how our automotive spark plugs work, directly off the
coil. (The capacitor in that circuit is used to juice the ignition coil primary.)
The auto distributor, incidentally, is a rotary gap, pure Tesla. Early radio
amateurs used spark-gap oscillators as transmitters. The capacitor was, more
often than not, left out of the circuit, but with it the transmitter could
create a greater commotion in the medium.
3. Tesla Coil
Tesla's best-known invention takes the spark-gap oscillator and uses it to
vibrate vigorously a coil consisting of few turns of heavy conductor. Inside
of this primary coil sits another secondary coil with hundreds of turns of
slender wire. In the Tesla coil there is no iron core as in the conventional
step-up transformer, and this air-core transformer differs radically in other
ways. Recounting the birth of this invention, Tesla wrote, Each time the condenser
was discharged the current would quiver in the primary wire and induce corresponding
oscillations in the secondary. Thus, a transformer or induction coil on new
principles was evolved Electrical effects of any desired character and of intensities
undreamed of before are now easily producible by perfected apparatus of this
kind. Elsewhere Tesla wrote, There is practically no limit to the power of
The conventional step-up transformer (short primary winding, long secondary
on an iron core) boosts voltage at the expense of amperage. This is not true
of Tesla's transformer. There is a real gain in power. Writing of the powerful
coils he experimented with at his Colorado Springs lab, coils with outputs
in excess of 12 million volts, Tesla wrote, It was a revelation to myself to
find out that ... a single powerful streamer breaking out from a well insulated
terminal may easily convey a current of several hundred amperes! The general
impression is that the current in such a streamer is small.
How it works
A Tesla coil secondary has its own particular electrical character determined
in part by the length of that slender coiled wire. Like a guitar string of
a particular length, it wants to vibrate at a particular frequency. The secondary
is inductively plucked by the primary coil. The primary circuit consists of
a pulsating high-voltage source (a generator or conventional step-up transformer),
a capacitor, a spark gap, and the primary coil itself. This circuit must be
designed so that it vibrates at a frequency compatible with the frequency at
which the secondary wants to vibrate.
The primary circuit's frequency is determined by the frequency and voltage
of the source, the capacity of the capacitor, the setting of the spark gap,
and the character of the primary coil, determined in part by the length of
its winding. Now when all these primary-circuit components are tuned to work
in harmony with each other, and the circuit's resulting frequency is right
for plucking the secondary in a compatible rhythmic manner, the secondary becomes
at its terminal end maximally excited and develops huge electrical potentials,
which if not put to work, boil off as a corona of bluish light or as sparks
and streamers that jump to nearby conductors with crackling reports.
Unlike the conventional iron-core step-up transformer, whose core has the
effect of damping vibrations, the secondary of the Tesla transformer is relatively
free to swing unchecked. The pulsing from the primary coil has the effect of
pushing a child in a swing. If it's done in a rhythmic manner at just the right
moment at the end of a cycle, the swing will oscillate up to great heights.
Similarly, with the right timing, the electrical vibration of the secondary
can be made to swing up to tremendous amplitudes, voltages in the millions.
This is the power of resonance.
Tesla was fascinated with the power of resonance and experimented with it
not only electrically but on the mechanical plane as well. In his Manhattan
lab he built mechanical vibrators and tested their powers. One experiment got
out of hand.
Tesla attached a powerful little vibrator driven by compressed air to a steel
pillar. Leaving it there, he went about his business. Meanwhile, down the street,
a violent quaking built up, shaking down plaster, bursting plumbing, cracking
widows, and breaking heavy machinery off its anchorage. Tesla's vibrator had
found the resonant frequency of a deep sandy layer of subsoil beneath his building,
setting up an earthquake.
Soon Tesla's own building began to quake, and, just at the moment the police
burst into the lab, Tesla was seen smashing the device with a sledgehammer,
the only way he could promptly stop it. In a similar experiment, on an evening
walk through the city, Tesla attached a battery-powered vibrator, described
as being the size of an alarm clock, to the steel framework of a building under
construction and, adjusting it to a suitable frequency, set the structure into
resonant vibration. The structure shook, and so did the earth under his feet.
Later Tesla boasted that he could shake down the Empire State Building with
such a device, and, as if this claim were not extravagant enough, he went on
to state that a large-scale resonant vibration was capable of splitting the
Earth in half. No details of Tesla's vibrators are available, but they probably
resembled one of Tesla's reciprocating engines (such as Patent No. 511,916).
These exploited the elasticity of gases, just as his electrical vibrators,
like the Tesla coil, exploit the elasticity of the electric medium.
A new power system
Tesla invented his resonant transformer, as the Tesla coil is sometimes called,
to power a new type of high-frequency lighting system, as his 1891 patent drawing
shows. This was the first Tesla coil patent. There followed a series of other
patents developing the device. All of these are for bipolar coils: both ends
of the secondary are connected to the working circuit (usually lamps), as opposed
to the mono polar format favored by today's basement builders in which the
top is connected to a ball or other terminal capacitor, the bottom to ground.
The mono polar format emerges later in patents for radio and wireless power,
including Tesla's magnifying transmitter.
The 1896 patent drawing shows an evolved bipolar coil using tandem chokes
to store energy for sudden release into the capacitor, enabling the device
to be powered by relatively modest inputs. Chokes are coils wound on iron cores.
They store energy as magnetism. When the charging current is interrupted, the
magnetic field collapses inducing current in the coils, which rushes in to
charge the capacitors.
Alternating currents can be sent over long distances with relatively low losses.
This is why Tesla's early 60-cycle system triumphed over Edison's direct current.
The high frequency, high-potential output of a Tesla coil can travel over relatively
light conductors for vastly greater distances than conventional 60-cycle AC
Losses occur to some degree from corona discharge but hardly at all from ohmic
resistance. This type of current also renders conductive materials that are
normally nonconductive, rarefied gases, for example. You might say these currents
make a medium superconductive.
Although super-magnetism is not in the picture because high-frequency vibrations
would be severely damped by an electromagnet's iron core, it is revealing to
reflect upon the unexploited superconductivity of Tesla energy these days when
science is congratulating itself on new advances in the field. Prior to recent
breakthroughs, superconductivity and super magnetism were low-temperature (cryogenic)
phenomena, occurring when circuits were cooled down to near absolute zero.
The new superconductivity at less drastically reduced temperatures developed
out of the cryogenic work of the last twenty years, and this may be in debt
to Tesla, who patented a similar idea way back in 1901.
Tesla's patent shows that the deep cooling of conductors with agents like
liquid air results in an extraordinary magnification of the oscillation in
the resonating circuit. Imagine the performance of a super cooled Tesla coil.
No electrocution. Since we tend to associate high voltage with possibly fatal
electric shock it may be puzzling to learn that the output of a well-tuned
Tesla coil, though in the millions of volts, is harmless. This is customarily
thought to be because the amperage is low (it's not) or it's explained in terms
of something called the skin effect, which means that the current travels over
you instead of through. But the real reason is a matter of human frequency
response. Just as your ears cannot respond to vibrations over about 30,000
cycles, or the eyes to light vibrations at or above ultra violet, your nervous
system cannot be shocked by frequencies over about 2,000 cycles.
Now that you know it's harmless, would you believe these currents are even
good for you? Fact is that a whole branch of medicine was founded on the healing
effects of certain Tesla coil frequencies. Tesla understood the therapeutic
value of high-frequency vibrations. He never patented in the area but did announce
his findings to the medical community, and a number of devices were patented
and marketed by others.
Patients, by focusing certain frequencies on afflicted areas, or, in some
cases, just sitting in the vicinity of vibrations from a device like the Lakhovsky
Multi wave Oscillator, which produced a blend of specific frequencies, were
said to have experienced relief from rheumatism and other painful conditions.
It was even considered a cure for certain types of paralysis. Such radiation's
increase the supply of blood to the area with a warming effect (diathermy).
They enhance the oxygenation and nutritive value of the blood, increase various
secretions, and accelerate the elimination of waste products in the blood.
All this promotes healing. Electrotherapists even spoke of broadcasting vitamins
to the body. Reversals of cancer tumor growths have been documented. Lakhovsky
predicated science will discover, some day, not only the nature of microbes
by the radiation they produce, but also a method of killing disease within
the body by radiation.
Electrotherapy devices were sold directly to the public via ads in popular
magazines and in the Sears catalogs. Self-treatment was widespread. This easy
access to treatment of all sorts of conditions led to the eventual suppression
of the technology by the medical establishment. Electrotherapy, however, is
making a big comeback. In chiropractic and sports medicine, low-frequency AC
and DC pulses are being used to kill pain and exercise muscles. High-frequency
electrotherapy is coming back in alternative healing practices. There is an
increasing appreciation of the electrical nature of biological functioning
and that some electric vibrations in the environment are harmful while others
are healing. Reprints of Lakhovsky's works are widely read. There is a growing
conviction that cancer can be effectively treated with high-frequency therapies.
In his experimenting over an eight-year period, Tesla made no fewer than 50
types of oscillating coils. He experimented with lighting and other vacuum
effects, including x-rays. He also experimented with novel shapes for the normally
cylindrical coils, getting satisfying results from cone shapes and flat spirals.
At Colorado Springs Tesla achieved phenomenally increased outputs by using
a third coil resonantly tuned to the secondary. Observing the tremendous magnification
this achieved, he gave much of his attention to integrating this extra coil,
as he called it, into an evolved outsize tesla coil called the magnifying transmitter.
4. Magnifying Transmitters; Wireless Power
In 1893 Tesla told a meeting of the National Electric Light Association that
he believed it practical to disturb, by means of powerful machines, the electrostatic
conditions of the earth, and thus transmit intelligible signals, and, perhaps,
power. He said, It could not require a great amount of energy to produce a
disturbance perceptible at a great distance, or even all over the surface of
the earth. The ultimate powerful machine for these tasks is Tesla's magnifying
How it works
An extra coil gives the resonant boost of a Tesla coil secondary but has the
advantage of being more independent in its movement. A secondary, being closely
slaved to the primary, is inhibited somewhat by it, its oscillations slightly
damped. The extra coil is able to swing more freely. Extra coils, writes Tesla,
enable the obtainment of practically any EMF, the limits being so far remote
that I would not hesitate to produce sparks of thousands of feet in this manner.
The engineering challenge of the magnifying transmitter, then, becomes one
of containing and properly radiating its immense electrical activities, measured
in the tens and even hundreds of thousands of horsepower, as Tesla put it.
Containment and effective radiation of this power is the whole point of the
design shown, for which Tesla applied for patent in 1902. The heavy primary
is wound on top of the secondary at the base of the tower. The extra coil extends
upward through a hooded connection to a conductive cylinder.
The antenna is a toroid, a donut-shaped geometry that allows for a maximum
of surface area with a comparative minimum of electrical capacity. Since this
is a high-frequency device, a relatively low capacity is desirable. To increase
the area of the radiating surface, the outside of the toroid is covered with
half-spherical metal plates. A subtlety of the design is that the conductive
cylinder is of larger radius than the radius of curvature of these plates,
since a tighter curve would allow escape of energy. The cylinder is polished
to minimize losses through irregularities in the surface. At the center of
the top surface sits a pointy plate that serves as a safety valve for overloads
so the powerful discharge may dart out there and lose itself harmlessly in
Tesla advises bringing the power up slowly and carefully so pressure does
not build at some point below the antenna, in which case a ball of fire might
break out and destroy the support or anything else in the way, an event that
may take place with inconceivable violence. Current in the antenna could build
to an incredible 4000 amperes.
A.C. / D.C.
Wireless power transmission via the magnifying transmitter was the ultimate
development of the inventor who had earlier brought alternating-current power
to the world with his poly phase system. The predecessor of A.C. was a direct-current
system developed, manufactured, and marketed chiefly by Thomas Edison. Direct
current was adequate for serving small areas but was unworkable for long distance
transmission. By contrast, A.C. could be transmitted for long distances over
lighter wires and its voltage could be stepped up for transmission and down
for consumption by means of transformers. Tesla invented from scratch a new
kind of motor (poly phase) that could utilize A.C., and he greatly evolved
earlier concepts of dynamos to generate A.C. as well as transformers to step
voltage up and down. Whereas Edison's D.C. would have been suitable for a society
of small, autonomous communities, the evolving system of industrial rule wanted
centralized power and needed A.C.'s long distance capability to serve huge
George Westinghouse, an inventor (the air brake) who, like Edison, turned
industrialist (having found that to profit from an invention one must undertake
manufacturing and marketing as well) saw the promise in Tesla's poly phase
inventions and formed an alliance with the young prodigy. Westinghouse paid
Tesla one million dollars and contracted to pay a royalty of one dollar per
horsepower for the poly phase inventions. Later Westinghouse was forced to
renege on the royalty.
Together, Westinghouse and Tesla triumphed over Edison's D.C. system and installed
the first A.C. power facilities, the most notable being the hydra plant at
Niagara Falls. Tesla believed in hydropower. His ultimate energy-magnifying,
wireless power system would have been hydro-based. The centralized A.C. electric
power system we have today was forced into existence on a colossal scale by
utility magnates of that era, the most prominent being Samuel Insull, who became
infamous in some circles for his massive bilking of the investing public and
famous in others for hammering together the electric power complex now in place.
This complex has developed into a federally protected monopoly with greater
capital wealth than any other industry in the U. S. In the order of energy
sources used, Tesla's hydropower has been left well behind the burning of fossil
fuels, a process that dumps 24 million tons of pollutants into the nation's
air supply each year.
Hydropower even runs way behind the nukes in kilowatt-hours produced. So went
another Tesla dream. Tesla was a celebrity in his poly phase heyday, but today
his celebrity is as an underground cult figure known for his radically progressive
energy-magnifying, free-energy, and wireless power inventions, which, of course,
have no place in the established system.
Power by wire
Prior to his wireless power inventions, Tesla patented in 1897 a high frequency
system that transmitted power by wire. The system used previously unheard of
levels of electric potential. He notes that at these voltages, conventional
power would destroy the equipment, but that his system not only contains this
energy but is harmless to handle while in use. This system is not a circuit
in the usual sense but a single wire without return. It employs the familiar
Tesla coil configurations at both sending and receiving ends. The primary circuit
(power source, capacitor, spark gap) is represented in the drawing by the generator
symbol. The secondary coil is a flat spiral. An advantage in this coil design
is that the voltage adjacent to the primary, where arcing across could occur,
is at zero and soars to high values as the coil spirals inward. The same patent
also shows a cone-shaped secondary in which the primary is at the base of the
cone, which is at zero potential.
The drawing for Tesla's wireless power patent looks like the earlier power-by-wire
patent except now spherical antennas replace the transmission lines, which
are dropped out of the picture almost as if they were redundant. The ball antenna
is peculiarly Tesla, as is the toroid, and you wonder why nothing like them
have appeared since. In this 1900 patent, wireless power is not represented
as an earth-resonant system. Here Tesla talks about transmission through elevated
strata. The patent contains much discussion of how rarefied gases in the upper
atmosphere became quite conductive when there is applied many hundred thousand
or millions of volts. Balloons are suggested to send the antennas aloft. Appreciate
that Tesla in this patent has invented nothing less than the principles of
Tesla recognizes only a quantitative difference between sending radio signals
and broadcasting electric power. Both involve sending and receiving stations
tuned to one another by means of tesla coil circuits. Tesla's wireless power
would be the ultimate centralized electric system, a capitalist dream, but
for the fact that the technology is too simple. Just raising an antenna, planting
a ground, and connecting simple Tesla coil circuitry in between could achieve
reception of power.
Although Tesla himself patented a couple of electric meters for high frequencies,
it would be all too easy for consumers to tune in for free, just as many today
bootleg pay TV signals using illicit equipment far more sophisticated. It is
no wonder, then, that the electric power establishment didn't welcome this
invention. This was one problem. Another was that the established electric
power system would have to be relegated to another great pile of scrap, and
maybe the established system of political power as well.
Tesla's announced dream was to use hydra sources where available and through
wireless power broadcast that energy around the planet, thus liberating the
world from poverty. Such a scheme would not be readily embraced by powers that
sustain their rule by keeping populations poor and weak. Centralized control
of energy, as well as other resources, is, of course, believed to be essential
to civilized rule, at least as far as thinking on that subject has progressed
in this era. Moreover, no multinational political system was in existence,
or is now for that matter, that could implement a technology of such global
implications. Tesla was blind to such considerations.
His commitment, his overriding priority as a technological purist, was to
take machine possibilities to their logical conclusions. Today, if wireless
power were seriously proposed, there would no doubt be at least one political
problem that would not have arisen in Tesla's time: resistance from environmentalists.
What would an environmental impact report have to say about biologic hazards?
A Navy submarine communication system that uses extremely low frequency (ELF)
waves, down to below 10 cycles, has been challenged by environmentalists, as
have microwave and 60 cycle high-voltage transmission lines.
Patents normally don't give many quantitative specifics, but Tesla's wireless
power patent does give some about the big prototype power-transmission Tesla
coil (which was, incidentally, used to conduct a demonstration before skeptical
patent examiners). A 50,000-volt transformer charged a capacitor of .004 mfd.,
which discharged through a rotary gap that gave 5,000 breaks per second. The
eight-foot diameter primary had just one turn of stout stranded cable. The
secondary was 50 turns of heavily insulated No. 8 wire wound as a flat spiral.
It vibrated at 230-250,000 cycles and produced 2 to 4 million volts. This coil
evolved into the huge experimental magnifying transmitter
Tesla describes in his Colorado Springs notes. Housed in a specially built
lab 110 feet square, the device used a 50,000 volt Westinghouse transformer
to charge a capacitor that consisted of a galvanized tub full of salt water
as an electrolyte, into which he placed large glass bottles, themselves containing
salt water. The salt water in the tub was one plate of this capacitor, the
salt water inside the bottles the other plate, and the bottle glass the dielectric.
Various capacities were tried, incremental changes being made by connecting
more or fewer bottles. A variable tuning coil of 20 turns was connected to
the primary, which consisted of two turns of heavy insulated cable that ran
around the base of the huge fence like wooden secondary framework. The secondary
had 24 turns of No. 8 wire on a diameter of 51 feet Various extra coils were
tried, the final version being 12 feet high, 8 feet in diameter, and having
100 turns of No. 8 wire.
The antenna was a 30-inch conductive ball adjustable for height on a 142-foot
mast. The huge transmitter could vibrate from 45 to 150 kilocycles. Even with
the big transformer, this bill of materials does not seem inaccessible to enterprising
people, and the technology does not seem so abstruse, so it is no wonder that
people have gotten together to build magnifying transmitters and experiment
with wireless power without support from corporations or government.
One such group was the People's Power Project in central Minnesota in the
late 70's. This group, largely farmers, objected to high voltage power lines
trespassing on their land and set out to build an alternative. Limited by the
sketchy information then available, the project was not successful. Another
attempt, called Project Tesla, is being set up in Colorado. Endowed with more
precise calculations and more experienced personnel, Project Tesla will try
to repeat Tesla's wireless-power experiment and verify his theory by taking
measurements at various remote locations.
Among the appealing features of Colorado Springs for Tesla was the region's
frequent and sensational electrical storms. For Tesla, lightning was a joyous
phenomenon. Biographers report that, during storms back East, Tesla would throw
open the windows of his New York lab and recline on a couch for the duration,
muttering to himself ecstatically. In Colorado Springs he tuned in and tracked
lightning storms using rudimentary radio receiving equipment. He thereby determined
that lightning was a vibratory phenomenon, which set up standing waves bouncing
within the earth at a frequency resonantly compatible with the earth's electrical
capacity. This earth-resonant frequency, he reasoned, was the ideal frequency
for wireless power transmission, and he tuned his ultimate magnifying transmitter
The literature contains various reports on exactly what this frequency is.
Some say 150 kilocycles, which would be at the upper range of the Colorado
Springs transmitter. Others give frequencies considerably lower, 11.78 cycles,
6.8 cycles, frequencies Tesla's transmitter may have achieved harmonically.
With reinforcement from the earth resonance, the power would actually increase
in the process of transmission.
In one memorable experiment with the Colorado Springs transmitter, Tesla shot
from the antenna ball veritable lightning bolts of 135 feet, producing thunder
heard 15 miles distant, and, in the process, pulled so many amperes that he
burned out the municipal generator. In another experiment he lit up wirelessly,
at a distance of 26 miles from the lab, a bank of 10,000 watts worth of incandescent
bulbs. Two years after Colorado Springs, Tesla applied for patent for the far
more refined magnifying transmitter shown at the opening of this chapter, a
patent that was not granted until a dozen years later.
In this patent he no longer speaks of energy broadcast through the upper strata
of the atmosphere but of a grounded resonant circuit. Tesla predicted that
his magnifying transmitter would prove most important and valuable to future
generations, that it would bring about an industrial revolution and make possible
great humanitarian achievements. Instead, as we shall see, the magnifying transmitter
became Tesla's Waterloo.
5. Magnifying Transmitter II ; Grounded Radio:
With the backing of J. P. Morgan, Tesla began, soon after returning from Colorado
Springs, the construction of a magnifying transmitter tower at Wardenclyffe,
near Shoreham, Long Island. Though closely related to a wireless power propagator
and intended for further experimentation in that area, the tower was built
specifically as the first station in Tesla's proposed World System of broadcasting.
The system was to carry programming for the general public as well as private
Tesla was the first to suggest the broadcasting of news and entertainment
to the public; only point-to-point signaling had been experimented with up
to then. The fully realized World System was to serve as a multi-frequency
wireless interconnects for all existing telephone, telegraph, and stock ticker
services around the planet. Exclusivity and noninterference of priority private
communications was to be assured by multiplex techniques. The giant transmitter
was also to carry a universal time register, navigation beacons, and facsimile
transmissions. This was in 1902. As we shall see, Tesla's massive contribution
to radio is still largely unrecognized.
The Wardenclyffe tower's rugged wooden structure, designed by Stanford White,
stood at 187 feet. It was topped by a mushroom-like terminal 68 feet in diameter.
A separate brick building at the foot housed generating and other equipment.
The entire project was to cover 200 acres and include housing for 2,000 employees
of the facility. Tesla estimated that the tower would emit a wave complex of
a total maximum activity of 10 million horsepower. The top of the tower was
outfitted with a platform that may have been intended to accommodate powerful
ultraviolet lamps, which Tesla could have used for an experimental beam system
of electric power transmission that was on his mind. The tower structure and
building beneath were built and partially equipped, but they never saw operation.
From: A MUSEUM AT WARDENCLYFFE - THE CREATION OF A MONUMENT TO NIKOLA TESLA
The year was 1900 and following 9 productive months of wireless propagation
research in Colorado, Nikola Tesla was anxious to put a mass of new found knowledge
to work. His vision focused on the development of a prototype wireless communications
station and research facility and he needed a site on which to build. In 1901
he cast his eyes some 60 miles eastward to the north shore village of Woodville
Landing. Only six years before the north branch of the Long Island Railroad
had opened, reducing travel time to the locality from a horse drawn five hours
to less than two. Seeing an opportunity in land development a western lawyer
and banker by the name of James S. Warden had purchased 1400 acres in the area
and started building an exclusive summer resort community known as Wardenclyffe-On-Sound.
With an opportunity for further development in mind, Warden offered Tesla a
200 acre section of this parcel lying directly to the south of the newly laid
track. It was anticipated that implementation of Tesla's system would eventually
lead to the establishment of a "Radio City" to house the thousands
of employees needed for operation of the facility. The proximity to Manhattan
and the fairly short travel time between the two, along with the site's closeness
to a railway line must surely have been attractive features and Tesla accepted
The Wardenclyffe World Wireless facility as envisioned by Tesla was to have
been quite different from present day radio broadcasting stations. While there
was to be a great similarity in the apparatus employed, the method in which
it was to be utilized would have been radically different. Conventional transmitters
are designed so as to maximize the amount of power radiated from the antenna
structure. Such equipment must process tremendous amounts of power in order
to counteract the loss in field strength encountered as the signal radiates
out from its point of origin. The transmitter at Wardenclyffe was being configured
so as to minimize the radiated power. The energy of Tesla's steam driven Westinghouse
200 kW alternator was to be channeled instead into an extensive underground
radial structure of iron pipe installed 120 feet beneath the tower's base.
This was to be accomplished by superposing a low frequency baseband signal
on the higher frequency signal coursing through the transmitter's helical resonator.
The low frequency current in the presence of an enveloping corona-induced plasma
of free charge carriers would have pumped the earth's charge. It is believed
the resulting ground current and its associated wave complex would have allowed
the propagation of wireless transmissions to any distance on the earth's surface
with as little as 5% loss due to radiation. The terrestrial transmission line
modes so excited would have supported a system with the following technical
Establishment of a multi-channel global broadcasting system with programming
including news, music, etc;
Interconnection of the world's telephone and telegraph exchanges, and stock
Transmission of written and printed matter, and data;
World wide reproduction of photographic images;
Establishment of a universal marine navigation and location system, including
a means for the synchronization of precision timepieces;
Establishment of secure wireless communications services.
The plan was to build the first of many installations to be located near major
population centers around the world. If the program had moved forward without
interruption, the Long Island prototype would have been followed by additional
units the first of which being built somewhere along the coast of England.
By the Summer of 1902 Tesla had shifted his laboratory operations from the
Houston Street Laboratory to the rural Long Island setting and work began in
earnest on development of the station and furthering of the propagation research.
Construction had been made possible largely through the backing of financier
J. Pierpont Morgan who had offered Tesla $150,000 towards the end of 1900.
By July 1904, however, this support had run out and with a subsequent major
down turn in the financial markets Tesla was compelled to pursue alternative
methods of financing. With funds raised through an unrecorded mortgage against
the property, additional venture capital, and the sale of X-ray tube power
supplies to the medical profession he was able to make ends meet for another
couple of years. In spite of valiant efforts to maintain the operation, income
dwindled and his employees were eventually dropped from the payroll. Still,
Tesla was certain that his wireless system would yield handsome rewards if
it could only be set into operation and so the work continued as he was able.
A second mortgage in 1908 acquired again from the Waldorf-Astoria proprietor
George C. Boldt allowed some additional bills to be paid, but debt continued
to mount and between 1912 and 1915 Tesla's financial condition disintegrated.
The loss of ability to make additional payments was accompanied by the collapse
of his plan for high capacity trans-Atlantic wireless communications. The property
was foreclosed, Nikola Tesla honored the agreement with his debtor and title
on the property was signed over to Mr. Boldt. The plant's abandonment sometime
around 1911-1912 followed by demolition and salvaging of the tower in 1917
essentially brought an end to this era. Tesla's April 20, 1922 loss on appeal
of the judgment completely closed the door to any further chance of his developing
Tesla; the Father of Radio?
As we have seen, Tesla's earliest oscillators were dynamos, but, having determined
that he could not reach the higher frequencies by this means, he went on to
develop the spark gap oscillator, the Tesla coil, and the magnifying transmitter.
But did any of these devices become the first to be used for overseas radio
transmission? No, ironically, the first commercial overseas transmitter was
a 21.8 kilocycle GE Alexanderson alternator operated by RCA, a design evolved
straight out of Tesla's early dynamos. Such was Tesla's luck in radio.
Official histories often credit Tesla with the poly phase system and either
ignore his later inventions altogether or dismiss them as the work of. a crackpot.
But among those who have published honest research on the subject, there is
one hundred percent consensus that Tesla was cheated out of his rightful place
in history, particularly his status as the leading inventor of radio technology.
Early radio devices are fascinating and worthy of study if only because they
remind us that powerful radio technologies can be so simple and accessible
to anyone, the present-day micro complexity notwithstanding. As we have seen,
the earliest transmitters in wide use by amateurs were not alternators but
spark-gap oscillators. To get on the air all you needed was a battery, a telegraph
key, an induction coil, a spark gap, a length of wire as an antenna, and a
ground. Of course, the addition of a capacitor juiced it up considerably.
The very earliest experiments in radio receiving used spark gaps as receivers.
When you saw an arc across the gap, this was the detection of a disturbance
in the medium. This evolved into a detector called a coherer. This is just
a horizontal glass tube loosely filled with metal chips (iron, nickel). It
is placed in series with a battery and a telegraph sounder, and one side of
the coherer goes to the antenna, the other to ground.
The coherer is a switch (a semiconductor, really) that conducts when there
is a disturbance of the medium. The more easily conducted radio-frequency energy
triggers conduction of this almost conductive material. To get the coherer
back to a non conducting state requires a tap that can be accomplished manually
or by mechanical linkage to the telegraph sounder. Tesla comes into the technology
about here. He improves the coherer by putting it into continual rotation (rotating
coherer) so it didn't need a tap to reset.
The spark gap transmitter was indiscriminate as to the frequency of the disturbance.
It put out a dirty complex of frequencies consisting of a rough fundamental
determined by width of gap, together with parasitic oscillations, harmonics
splatter what-have-you. The coherer was set off by any disturbance. In Colorado
Springs, Tesla used a rotating coherer to track electrical storms. The celebrated
Marconi units employed nothing more evolved than this crash method of signaling.
So why is Marconi so famous? It is because, like Edison and Westinghouse,
he built up an industry around the invention and made himself famous in the
course of promoting his enterprise. Marconi's company was ultimately incorporated
into RCA (now incorporated into General Electric). It owed much of its technological
development to ideas lifted from the likes of Tesla. Tesla's contribution was
nothing less than selective tuning. He set forth the principle of resonantly
tuned circuits in his Tesla coil patent of 1896, and the principles of transmitter-receiver
tuned circuits a year later in his wireless power patent.
The Tesla coil is a powerful and simple radio transmitter. If the primary
circuit is smoothly vibrating well above the audio range, its signal can even
be modulated for voice transmission by varying some circuit element.
Tesla's few published notes on modulation describe crude ways of varying spark
gaps, but, conceivably, an inductance core mechanically linked to a loudspeaker
transducer might modulate the signal with some fidelity. Tesla and his supporters
waged a fight for recognition of Tesla as the founder of radio. The struggle
was finally won in the Supreme Court, but this did not happen until shortly
after Tesla's death.
Tesla vs. Hertz
Tesla was not a theoretician by calling, but he made plenty of observations
on the electrical nature of the universe that put him at odds with of official
theory. In fashion then (and even now) was the theory of Heinrich Hertz, an
interpreter of the physics of James Maxwell. Hertz explained radio propagation
as transverse waves akin to light. Tesla was convinced that radio disturbances
were standing waves in the ether akin to sound. When you drop a pebble into
water, the disturbances you see in the form of concentric circles are standing
Both Tesla and Hertz assumed the existence of an aetheric medium, but differed
as to its energy transmitting properties. Tesla believed that the ether was
a gas like medium, that electric propagation was very much like that of sounds
in air, alternate compression's and rarefaction's of the medium, and that Hertzian
waves could only take place in a solid medium. Tesla once said that Hertz waves
are radiation and that no energy could be economically transmitted to a distance
by any such agency. He said, In my system, the process is one of true conduction
which can be effected at the greatest distance without appreciable loss.
When quantum physics and particle theory came into vogue, the aetheric medium
was dropped out of electric theory altogether, but Hertz's theory was more
compatible with the new concepts of propagation and therefore survived. By
way of rubbing this in, the unit of frequency, formerly cycles per second (cps),
was renamed in honor of Hertz (Hz), while only an obscure unit of magnetic
flux density remembers Tesla. It is in respect to Tesla that I have reverted
to the old unit in this book. Hertzian radio is straight-line, light-like radiation's
that bounce off hills and mountains. Long distance Hertzian transmissions are
explained in terms of radiation's bouncing off a radio reflective upper layer
called the ionosphere. Tesla thought this was all nonsense and declared in
1919 that Hertzian thinking has stifled creative effort in the wireless art
and retarded it for 25 years. Hertzian radio is aerial.
Most of us are conditioned to thinking in terms of aerial radio; the air waves,
on the air. Tesla's radio is grounded; the lower end of the energized coil
is rooted in the earth. Pure Hertzian radio has no such natural load. Tesla
doesn't speak of antennas as such; the element he places aloft is an elevated
capacity. Tesla said radio devices should be designed with due regard to the
physical properties of this planet and the electrical conditions obtaining
in same. Grounded radio is indeed more powerful than the Hertzian aerial. But
this is true particularly for the frequencies Tesla was using. The higher frequencies
do behave in a Hertzian manner. Yet grounding is all but a lost concept in
consumer electronics. Up through the 1940's, AM radio receivers customarily
had a terminal one was encouraged to connect to a cold water pipe or other
deep earth connection. Ground the chassis of any of today's receivers, and,
unless there is some kind of interference coming up through the ground (from
fluorescent circuits, light dimmers, which are oscillators, or from the local
Tesla coil), you will usually improve signal strength and range.
Among Tesla's contributions to radio was remote control. Tesla demonstrated
a radio-controlled boat before crowds at Madison Square Gardens and sent another
robot craft 25 miles up the Hudson River. Grounded radio works particularly
well through water. Tesla's basic radio tuning tank circuit for receiving (coil
plus capacitor between antenna and ground) was, and is, all by itself, a powerful
signal amplifier, and a beautifully simple one, at that. But as radio developed
over the years, the tank circuit shrank in size and the result was a loss in
gain. This was compensated for by the addition of stage upon stage of complex
Tesla watched this development with bewilderment. Tesla knew that the most
efficient long-distance radio took place in the lower frequencies, especially
those close to the earth-resonant frequency. Frequencies well below the AM
broadcast band were the favored ham frequencies in the early days prior to
World War I. In fact, waves of 600 meters (500 kc) were considered short while
considered fairly long were the waves of 1200 meters (25 kc). Like a lot of
good real estate, many of these more radio-effective frequencies below the
AM broadcast band have been appropriated for military use, but also for navigation
beacons, weather stations, and time registers.
The mind conditioned by Hertzian aerial radio concepts has trouble grasping
the idea that signaling can take place without any above-surface antenna, totally
through the ground. James Harris Rogers, taking a cue from Tesla, circa World
War I, built a radio system in which both sending and receiving antennas were
sunk completely into the ground or submerged in bodies of water. He found this
system far more effective and far less vulnerable to interference than any
aerial radio Signal strength has been said to be 5,000 times stronger
The military is on to this, as evidenced in the Navy's ELF and by a U. S.
Air Force project underway called Ground Wave Emergency Network. GWEN is a
low-frequency communications system designed for used during a nuclear war.
The network will have a cross-continent series of 600-foot diameter underground
copper screens connected to 300-foot towers reminiscent of Tesla's Wardenclyffe.
Among the advantages of the system is its invulnerability to the effects of
the electric pulse sent out by nuclear blasts. Such a pulse fries at one stroke
any and all solid-state electronics within its extensive range. (Strong electric
vibrations from a Tesla coil or magnifying transmitter have a similar effect
on solid state and will scramble or disable such circuitry temporarily or even
dud it permanently.) It's revealing that for last-ditch doomsday communications,
the government reverts to Tesla's grounded radio.
J. P. Morgan sinks Tesla
Tesla's ambitious World System came to an end when its principal financier,
J. P. Morgan pulled the plug on funding. Morgan, the financial giant behind
the formation of many monopolies in railroads, shipping, steel, banking, etc.,
was a major conduit of European capital into U. S. industrial development in
the Robber Baron era. He looms large in Tesla's life. Morgan money was in the
Niagara Falls project. He backed Edison, too. It was Morgan's pressure on Westinghouse,
whom he also financed, that caused the cancellation of Tesla's dollar-a-horsepower
contract and the loss of millions in royalties to Tesla for his poly phase.
When Tesla's lab burned down (arson was suspected), one of Morgan's men promptly
arrived with aid, as well as with the offer of a partnership with Morgan interests.
Acceptance would have put Tesla firmly under Morgan's control. Tesla refused.
And Tesla succeeded in preserving his autonomy until he became possessed with
overwhelming ardor to fulfill the dream of his World system. Tesla was ready
to sell his soul to finance Wardenclyffe, and J. P. Morgan was right there
to buy it.
In 1901, Tesla signed over to Morgan controlling interest in the patents he
still owned, as well as all future ones, in lighting and radio. Morgan then
put about $150,000 startup funding into Wardenclyffe. Later he invested more,
just enough to bring the project within sight of completion. Morgan then became
elusive. Tesla tried desperately to communicate with the investor, but to no
avail. When word was out on Wall Street that Morgan had withdrawn support,
no one would touch the project. This finished Tesla as a functioning inventor.
Work on the Wardenclyffe tower came to a halt. Left to dereliction, the tower
remained only as a curiosity to passersby. During World War I, the tower was
unceremoniously dynamited to the ground.
In 1891 Tesla said that existing methods of lighting were very wasteful, that
some better methods must be invented, some more perfect apparatus devised.
Tesla went and did just that. Yet, here we are today, in a world lit predominantly
by the same Edison bulb! Edison's bulb burns with six percent efficiency, the
rest going off as heat, while the high resistance filament cooks at 4,000 degrees
and eventually breaks without warning. Today's fluorescent tube, though inspired
by Tesla, is no model of efficiency either.
Its inner surfaces are stimulated to phosphorescence by energy-consuming filament-like
cathodes that also burn out, and the lit-up tube would present a dead short
to the current if it were not for the so-called ballast transformer, an inductance
placed in the circuit to oppose and thus eat up yet more current. What sent
Tesla into an exploration of high frequency phenomena was his conviction that
these rapid vibrations held the key to a superior mode of lighting. The explorations
were not Tesla's first venture into lighting. His very first U. S. patent (1885)
is for an improvement in the arc lamp. He used an electromagnet to feed carbons
to the arc at a uniform rate to produce a steadier light (No. 335,785).
Early arc lamps produced a brilliant blue-white light, good for street lighting
but not for the home, and they emitted noxious fumes. Home lighting was by
gas. Street arc lighting used series circuits. Edison introduced the parallel
circuit, and designed his lamp for such a circuit. Edison introduced the big
scale production and sale of electric power itself on the model of gas lighting,
a major industry at the time. He wanted to be first in the business and announced
to the press that he had an operable bulb before he actually had a bulb that
worked. When Tesla's a.c. system was established, it was grafted on to Edison's,
greatly extending its range and efficiency. But, essentially, it was still
Edison's parallel circuit, high consumption, incandescent lighting system,
and this is what we have to live with today.
A better way
Tesla patented both his spark-gap oscillator and his Tesla coil specifically
as power sources for a new lighting system that used currents of high frequency
and high potential. Lest you get the impression that a lone genius named Tesla
invented this new form of lighting out of the blue, you should know that others
before him had used high frequencies to stimulate light, and others, like Sir
William Crookes, had done the same with high potentials, but Tesla was the
first on record to put the two together.
In Jules Verne's 1872 novel A Journey to the Center of the Earth, the narrator
tells of a brilliant portable battery lamp used by the underground explorers.
The device was powered by a Ruhmkorf coil; a high voltage buzzer-type induction
coil (step-up transformer) popular among early electrical experimenters. The
Ruhmkorf coil stimulated a lamp (type unspecified but probably a gas tube),
which produced the light of an artificial day. The lamp had such a low current
draw that the battery lasted throughout the subterranean adventure. Verne evidently
was drawing, at least in part, on experimental knowledge of his day for what
he calls this ingenious application of electricity to practical purposes.
Perhaps somebody should reinvent such a high potential lamp to replace today's
flashlight, which seems to exist for the purpose of enriching the Eveready
division of Union Carbide. Modern neon lighting is high potential at 2,000
to 15,000 volts. (Neon sign transformers are good for powering tesla coils,
but a low-frequency, high voltage device: caution.) Neon, as well as its cousin,
7,500-volt cold cathode (filament's) fluorescent, which is used in some industrial
lighting, is as close as we get to Tesla lighting today.
Circa 1900, Tesla experimented with luminous tubes bent into alphabetic characters
and other shapes. Although today's neon is simplistic Tesla, being driven by
60-cycle high-voltage transformer power alone without the benefits of high-frequency
excitation, it should suggest to us the amazing efficiency of high-potential
lighting, since a single 15,000-volt neon transformer drawing only 230 watts
can light up a tube extending up to 120 feet. How superior is the economy of
Tesla high potential, high frequency lighting over Edison incandescent? Tesla
says certainly 20 times, if not more light is obtained for the same expenditure
Tesla invented a variety of lamps, not all of which show up in his patents.
He lit up solid bodies like carbon rods in vacuum bulbs, or in bulbs containing
various inert gases at low pressure (rarefied). He noted that tubes devoid
of any electrodes may be used, and there is no difficulty in producing by their
means light to read by. But he noted that the effect is considerably increased
by the use of phosphorescent bodies, such as yttrium, uranium glass, etc. Here
Tesla lays the foundation for fluorescent lighting. Applied to such lamps were
currents at potentials ranging from a lower limit of 20,000 volts up to voltages
in the millions and vibrations of 15,000 cycles per second and up.
Tesla dreamed of creating what he called pure light or cold light by generating
electric vibrations at frequencies that equaled those of visible light itself.
Light produced by this direct and efficient means would require vibrations
of 350 to 750 billion cycles, but Tesla believed such oscillations, far above
those attainable by his coils, would someday be achieved. Even so, his rarefied
gas-tube lamps produced a light that more closely approximated natural daylight
than any other artificial source Tesla's light is like the full-spectrum light
that is coming to be recognized as far more healthful than Edison incandescent
and particularly more healthful than conventional fluorescent. Full-spectrum
lighting is believed by some health practitioners actually to have healing
No sudden burnout
Tesla's gas tube lamps burn indefinitely, as do today's neon tubes, for there
is nothing within to be consumed. Tesla's lamps that contain electrodes like
carbon rods, however, do undergo some deterioration. In Tesla's words, a very
slow destruction and gradual diminution in size always occurs, as in incandescent
filaments; but there is no possibility of sudden and premature disabling which
occurs in the latter by the breaking of the filament, especially when incandescent
bodies are in the shape of blocks. In vacuum lamps, the life of the bulb depends
upon the degree of exhaustion, which can never be made perfect. Also, the higher
the frequency applied to such a lamp the slower the deterioration. Electrodes
glow at high temperatures, and this raises the problem of how to conduct energy
to them since wires or other metallic elements will melt. The problem must
be addressed in lamp design. For example, in the incandescent lamp shown at
the opening of this chapter, the lead-in wires connect to the hot electrodes
via bronze powder contained in a refractory cup. Tesla may have designed his
capacitor-base bulbs to help address this same problem.
Tesla's search for the ideal electrode is reminiscent of Edison's search for
the long lasting filament: The production of a small electrode capable of withstanding
enormous temperatures, said Tesla, ìI regard as the greatest importance
in the manufacture of light. One of the electrodes he tried was a small button
of carbon, which he placed in a near vacuum. Tesla regarded the high incandescence
of the button to be a necessary evil. For lighting purposes, it was the incandescence
of the gas remaining in the mostly evacuated chamber that was important. But
the carbon-button lamp proved to have some remarkable properties beyond its
use for illumination. When the voltage was turned up, the lamp produced such
tremendous heat that the carbon button rapidly vaporized. Tesla experimented
extensively with this fascinating phenomenon. For the button of carbon he substituted
zirconium, the most refractory substance available at the time. It fused instantly.
Even rubies vaporized. Diamonds, and, to a greater degree, carborundum, endured
the best, but these could also be vaporized at high potentials.
Tesla worked on the problem of heating. I have read that he contributed to
the development of a high-frequency induction heating. Did Tesla work on the
problem of space heating? Certainly the huge current draw of conventional electric
heaters, which use resistive elements, argues for some inventiveness in this
area. Tesla did observe that the discharges from a tesla coil resembled flames
escaping under pressure and were indeed hot. He reflected that a similar process
must take place in the ordinary flame, that this might be an electric phenomenon.
He said that electric discharges might be a possible way of producing by other
than chemical means a veritable flame which would give light and heat without
material consumed. The behavior of the carbon-button lamp suggests that a new
heating mode might be found in the effects of high-frequency currents in a
Lighting up the sky
Hold a fluorescent tube near a Tesla coil and it will light up in your hand.
This is true of any tube or bulb with vacuum or rarefied gas. A more efficient
way is to ground one end of the tube and put a length of wire as a sort of
antenna on the other. Better yet, put a coil of wire that resonates with the
secondary in series with the tube and ground and you have the optimal wireless
Tesla conducted many experiments with different arrangements like this, using
on some occasions the widely available Edison filament incandescent, which
lighted up more brilliantly than usual because of the effects of high frequencies
on the bulbs rarefied interior. Inside his New York lab Tesla strung a wire
connected to a tesla coil around the perimeter of the room. Wherever he needed
light he hung a gas tube in the vicinity of this high frequency conductor.
Tesla had a bold fantasy whereby he would use the principle of rarefied gas
luminescence to light up the sky at night. High frequency electric energy would
be transmitted, perhaps by an ionizing beam of ultraviolet radiation, into
the upper atmosphere, where gases are at relatively low pressure, so that this
layer would behave like a luminous tube. Sky lighting, he said, would reduce
the need for street lighting, and facilitate the movement of ocean going vessels.
The aurora borealis is an electrical phenomenon that works on this principle,
the effects of cosmic eruptions such as those from the sun being the source
of electric stimulation. I, for one, am grateful that this particular Tesla
fantasy never materialized since it is difficult enough to see the stars with
existing light pollution, and there might be undesirable biological impacts
Tesla took an evacuated incandescent type lamp globe, suspended within it
at dead center a conductive element, stimulated that element with high voltage
currents from an induction coil, and thus created a beam-like emanation, a
brush discharge that was so eerily sensitive to disturbances in its environs
that it seemed to be endowed with an intelligent life of its own. The device
works best if there is no lead-in wire. In the bulb shown, every measure has
been taken to construct it so it is free from its own electrical influence.
The bulb could be stimulated inductively by applying energy to metal foil wrapped
around its neck. Thus excited, an intense phosphorescence then spreads at first
over the globe, but soon gives place to a white misty light, observes Tesla.
The glow then resolves into a directional brush or beam that will spin around
the central element. So responsive is it to any electrostatic or magnetic changes
in its vicinity that the approach of an observer at a few paces from the bulb
will cause the brush to fly to the opposite side. A small, inch-wide permanent
magnet will affect it visibly at a distance of two meters, slowing down or
accelerating the rotation according to how it is held relatively to the brush.
Tesla never patented the rotating brush or used it in any practical application,
but he believed it could have practical applications. He saw one use in radio
where the device could conceivably be adapted to being a most sensitive detector
of disturbances in the medium. The rotating brush appears to be a precursor
of the plasma globe toys now in fashion; these are sometimes called Tesla globes.
Tesla's new lighting was famous in its time. Tesla, the promoter, saw to it.
He conducted demonstrations at lectures before the electric industry associations,
before large audiences in rented halls, and before select groups of influential
New Yorkers in his Manhattan lab.
His articles about the new lighting were published in the popular scientific
press and it was reported in the newspapers. Still, it did not catch on with
the powers-that-be who no doubt saw in it Tesla's perennial pile-of scrap problem.
But, I wonder, would the whole electric distribution system have to be scrapped
to implement the efficiencies of Tesla lighting? Conceivably, the new lighting
could be run off of local oscillators at the consumer end, the old power distribution
system remaining intact. This is still a possibility, as it has been for about
one hundred years.
Tesla speculated, that, perhaps the most valuable application of wireless
energy, will be the propulsion of the flying machine, which will carry no fuel
and be free from any limitations of the present airplanes and dirigibles. The
possibility of electric flight intrigued Tesla, though he never did patent
an electric aircraft. But he did patent an electric railway using his high
frequency, high-potential electricity in a by-wire mode, and also patented
a radical aircraft that, while not electric, did have an advanced power plant:
his disk turbine. Tesla's railway and aircraft can be numbered among the lost
inventions. The closest transport technology has come to putting any of Tesla
into actual practice is with diesel-electric power using Tesla poly phase motors,
an early and notable example of which was the ocean liner Normandy. In the
field of transport, Tesla is more commonly identified with antigravity flight
and UFOs. Although this identification is based upon nothing more than a few
public utterances, his suggestions charge the imagination with possibilities.
Tesla's high-frequency, high-potential railway picks up its power inductively
without the use of the rolling or sliding contacts used in conventional trolley
or third-rail systems. A pickup bar travels near a cable carrying the oscillating
energy. This cable, which Tesla specifically invented to carry such currents,
is the precursor of the grounded shielded cable used today to carry TV and
other high-frequency signals. But unlike today's cables, which carry energy
only of signal strength and shield by means of a continuous grounded static
screen of fine braided copper wire, Tesla's high voltage cable uses metal pipe
or screen that is broken up into short lengths, very much shorter, says Tesla
in his patent, than the wave lengths of the current used. This feature reduces
loss. Since the shielding must not be interrupted, the short sections are made
to overlap but are insulated from one another. To further reduce loss to ground,
an inductance of high ohmic resistance or a small capacity is placed in the
A conundrum raised by Tesla's railway patent is that the vehicle is powered
by an electric motor, but nowhere among Tesla's inventions is to be found an
electric motor that runs off of high-frequency currents. Was Tesla planning
to use a lower frequency here, something under 1,000 cycles? Did he have a
converter in mind that could bring the frequency down? Or did Tesla invent
a high-frequency motor that never made it into patent, an invention that may
be among his unpublished notes? Anyway, Tesla proceeds in many of his discussions
of high-frequency power as if this problem were solved. I've seen references
post-Tesla to the existence of such a motor. Free-energy inventor, Hermann
Plauson, (next chapter) refers to high-frequency motors. These motors have
magnetic cores made of very thin laminations insulated from each other, a design
that would limit damping effects.
Tesla's only patented aircraft is a vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) plane
that he intended as an improvement upon the helicopter, already invented at
this time (1921): The helicopter type of flying machine, especially with large
inclination angle of the propeller axis to the horizontal, at which it is generally
expected to operate, is quite unsuitable for speedy aerial transport; it is
incapable of proceeding horizontally along a straight line under prevailing
air conditions; it is subject to dangerous plunges and oscillations ... and
it is almost certainly doomed to destruction in case the motive power gives
out. Advances in helicopter design may have mitigated some of these problems,
but at least the last one still holds true: Tesla's craft, which has a large
wing area, is powered by two disk turbines, rotating in opposite directions.
The engineering problem of swinging the pilot and passengers around 90 degrees
after takeoff, is solved at least to Tesla's satisfaction. There have been
some experimental VTOL's but nothing in production.
Tesla's dream electric aircraft would be powered by means of magnifying transmitters:
Aerial machines will be propelled around the earth without a stop. Also, in
1900, he predicted a cold coal battery with such output that a practical flying
machine would be possible. Such a battery also would enormously enhance the
introduction of the automobile. Tesla fantasized a personal aerial taxi which
could be folded into a six-foot cube, and would weigh under 250 lb.: It can
be run through the streets and put in a garage, if desired, just like an automobile.
Explaining how his earth-resonant wireless-power system could energize vehicles
aloft, he said, power can be readily supplied without ground connection, for,
although the flow is confined to earth, an electromagnetic field is created
in the atmosphere surrounding it. Tesla believed such a system to be the ultimate
method of man-made flight: With an industrial plant of great capacity, sufficient
power can be derived in this manner to propel any kind of aerial machine. This
I have always considered the best and permanent solution to the problems of
flight. No fuel of any kind will be required as the propulsion will be accomplished
by light electric motors operated at great speed.
Tesla wrote in 1900 of an antigravity motor: Imagine a disk of some homogeneous
material turned perfectly true and arranged to turn in friction less bearings
on a horizontal shaft above the ground. Now, it is possible that we may learn
how to make such a disk rotate continuously and perform work by the force of
gravity. To do so, he said, we have only to invent a screen against this force.
By such a screen we could prevent this force from acting on one-half of the
disk, and rotation of the latter would follow.
Does it not follow then, that such a gravity screen could also be used to
levitate a vehicle? Tesla held no patent on such a device or on any other antigravity
device, and there are no published notes on experimentation in the area. Nevertheless,
Tesla inevitably pops up in the literature of antigravity and UFOs. This may
be because Tesla was a prominent exponent of a physics in which antigravity
seems more feasible because gravity is better explained.
A researcher-theorist of today, Thomas Bearden, allows for gravity control
in the physics he calls the new Tesla electromagnetic. Scalar (standing) waves
in time itself can be produced electrically and this becomes a magic tool capable
of directly affecting and altering anything that exists in time, including
gravitational fields, says Bearden. In 1931 the editor of Science And Mechanics,
Hugo Gernsback reported, It is believed by many scientists today that the force
of gravitation is merely another manifestation of electromagnetic waves. Edward
Farrow, a New York inventor, reported in 1911 an antigravity effect produced
by a ring of spark gaps. When the gaps were fired, the device, called a condensing
dynamo, lost one-sixth of its weight. T. Henry Moray wrote, Frequencies may
be developed which will balance the force of gravity to a point of neutralization.
Antigravity researcher Richard Lefors Clark places the frequency of gravity's
vibrations right at Nature's neutral center in the radiant energy spectrum,
above radar and below infrared, at l012 cycles per second.
8. Free-Energy Receiver
For starters, think of this as a solar-electric panel. Tesla's invention is
very different, but the closest thing to it in conventional technology is in
photovoltaic. One radical difference is that conventional solar-electric panels
consist of a substrate coated with crystalline silicon; the latest use amorphous
silicon. Conventional solar panels are expensive, and, whatever the coating,
they are manufactured by esoteric processes. But Tesla's solar panel is just
a shiny metal plate with a transparent coating of some insulating material,
which today could be a spray plastic. Stick one of these antenna-like panels
up in the air, the higher the better, and wire it to one side of a capacitor,
the other going to a good earth ground. Now the energy from the sun is charging
that capacitor. Connect across the capacitor some sort of switching device
so that it can be discharged arrhythmic intervals, and you have an electric
output. Tesla's patent is telling us that it is that simple to get electric
energy. The bigger the area of the insulated plate, the more energy you get.
But this is more than a solar panel because it does not necessarily need sunshine
to operate. It also produces power at night Of course; this is impossible according
to official science.
For this reason, you could not get a patent on such an invention today. Many
an inventor has learned this the hard way. Tesla had his problems with the
patent examiners, but today's free-energy inventor has it much tougher. Tesla's
free-energy receiver was patented in 1901 as An Apparatus for the Utilization
of Radiant Energy. The patent refers to the sun, as well as other sources of
radiant energy, like cosmic rays. That the device works at night is explained
in terms of the nighttime availability of cosmic rays.
Tesla also refers to the ground as a vast reservoir of negative electricity.
Tesla was fascinated by radiant energy and its free-energy possibilities. He
called the Crooke's radiometer (a device which has vanes that spin in a vacuum
when exposed to radiant energy) a beautiful invention. He believed that it
would become possible to harness energy directly by connecting to the very
wheelwork of nature. His free-energy receiver is as close as he ever came to
such a device in his patented work. But on his 76th birthday at the ritual
press conference, Tesla (who was without the financial wherewithal to patent
but went on inventing in his head) announced a cosmic-ray motor. When asked
if it was more powerful than the Crooke's radiometer, he answered, thousands
of times more powerful.
how it works
From the electric potential that exists between the elevated plate (plus)
and the ground (minus), energy builds in the capacitor, and, after a suitable
time interval, the accumulated energy will manifest itself in a powerful discharge
which can do work. The capacitor, says Tesla should be of considerable electrostatic
capacity and its dielectric made of the best quality mica, for it has to with
stand potentials that could rupture a weaker dielectric.
Tesla gives various options for the switching device. One is a rotary switch
that resembles a Tesla circuit controller. Another is an electrostatic device
consisting of two very light, membranous conductors suspended in a vacuum.
These sense the energy buildup in the capacitor, one going positive, the other
negative, and, at a certain charge level, are attracted, touch, and thus fire
the capacitor. Tesla also mentions another switching device consisting of a
minute air gap or weak dielectric film, which breaks down suddenly when a certain
potential is reached. The above is about all the technical detail you get in
Tesla's invention may have helped to inspire the many other inventors who
have worked in the field of free energy. At least a dozen are on record. Let's
look at one in particular. In 1921 Hermann Plauson, a German experimenter,
succeeded in obtaining patents, including one in the U. S., for Conversion
of Atmospheric Electric Energy. In school, every introduction to electricity
touches on the phenomenon of so-called static (or electrostatic) electricity,
and this is what Plauson means by atmospheric. Static electricity is built-up
charge, electricity in a raw state, and it comes easy in Nature, as evidenced
by lightning and the aurora borealis.
If you have ever seen a frictional static machine in operation, it's not difficult
to imagine the tremendous potential in artificially produced static. A rotating
disk type of static machine or the silk belt type, as in the Van de Graff generator,
produces discharges like those from a tesla coil. Unfortunately, in school,
the subject of static electricity is briefly touched upon and then abruptly
dropped, never to be mentioned again. Electrical power sources thereafter are
limited to the battery or the wall socket.
How it works
In the Plauson drawing the free energy converter on the left interfaces with
a disk type static machine via special pick up combs. When the static collecting
disk is rotated, the combs pick up the charge, one comb going positive, and
the other negative. The combs, in turn, charge up their respective capacitors
until sufficiently high potential builds to jump the spark gap. The oscillatory
discharge is induced into the transformer primary. This is high-voltage, high
frequency electric energy. The familiar spark-gap oscillator has turned charge
into dynamic energy.
The transformer steps down the vibrating high voltage to practical levels
to power lighting, heating, and special high-frequency motors. The Plauson
patent drawing shows a device that works on the same principle but collects
energy by means of an antenna, as does Tesla's receiver. Since the higher the
antenna the better, and the more area the better, Plauson favors big metallic
helium balloons. Plauson says the safety gap, which has three times the resistance
of the working gap, is absolutely necessary for collecting large quantities
of charge. The capacitors across the gaps in the series safety gap allow for
uniform sparking. Plauson's device suggests that Tesla's might be explained
in terms of electrostatics.
Tesla, at the press conference honoring his 77th birthday in 1933 declared
that electric power was everywhere present in unlimited quantities and could
drive the worlds machinery without the need of coal, oil, gas, or any other
fuels. A reporter asked if the sudden introduction of his principle wouldn't
upset the present economic system...
Tesla replied, "It is badly upset already."