Early in 1977, after a year or more of abnormal weather throughout the northern hemisphere, it was revealed that Canada, since July 1976, had been receiving almost daily a series of strange and immensely powerful signals which were emanating from the USSR. These abnormal transmissions, it was suggested, were of such gargantuan intensity that they were disrupting the whole weather pattern of North America. What could be the purpose of such extravagant transmissions? They interfered considerably with marine communications to such an extent that both the British and the United States governments sent protests to the Soviet authorities. Using three monitoring stations, the government of Canada attempted to locate the source of the transmissions. Finally they tracked down the source to Riga, the former capital of Latvia, and a formal protest was made. Some time later, the USSR admitted that experiments with high-frequency radio bands had been conducted. Shortly afterwards, the massive ‘blanket’ transmissions ceased, and they were replaced by short bursts lasting only 20 to 30 seconds a day. But that was not the end of the affair. At ten o‘clock in the morning of December 24th Montreal time, the receiving station on Prince Edward Island suddenly received a powerful signal originating several thousand miles to the east. Then, about an hour later, the same signal, but at a higher intensity, was detected, from the opposite direction.
These highly unusual transmissions, which are yet to be explained, have triggered a renewed interest in a scientist and innovator who promised the world free power — but was thwarted – Nikola Tesla.
There is a popularly held belief, albeit totally erroneous, which has been engendered by the mass media, that fame is totally equated with worth. On this false scale of values, Nikola Tesla has been relegated to obscurity, a strange name found on Czechoslovakian lightbulbs, an obscure piece of electrical apparatus or a technical unit used in electronics jargon. Not for him the fame of Edison or Marconi, those names of great renown, but his contribution and the potential of his discoveries, even today, 35 years after his death (10 July 1856 – 7 January 1943), is recognised only by those who take more than a passing interest in such matters.
Nikola Tesla was born on 9th July 1856 in the village of Smiljan in what is now Croatia. Although pressured by his clergyman father to follow him into the church, the young Tesla insisted on a career in engineering, encouraged by his mother, who, despite her illiteracy was well known in her local community as an inventor of domestic labour saving devices.
After attending the Polytechnic school at Graz, Tesla attended the university at Prague, where he studied and mastered several foreign languages in order to read the foreign technical literature. In that way he became proficient in English, French and Italian, in addition to his native Serbian and German, which was the official language of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Finishing at Prague in 1880, he did a post-graduate course in Budapest, where he studied alternating current. On leaving Budapest, he went to work for a telephone company in Paris, where he worked with direct current dynamos and motors, which he improved with new regulating and control devices.
The early 1880s were the infant years of electric power and supply. Siemens had demonstrated the ﬁrst electrically powered tram at the Berlin Exhibition of 1879, and Magnus Volk had opened his experimental electric railway along the seafront in Brighton in 1883. Electric light, too, was just being demonstrated as the wonder of the age, and experimenters like Edison, Reckenzaun, Holroyd Smith, Binko and scores of others were pursuing ﬁnance and recognition for their projects in the ﬁeld of electricity. However, at that period direct current was almost universally believed to be the only practical medium for generating, transmitting and applying electricity for heating, lighting and power. Unfortunately, with direct current, losses in transmission by resistance in the cables were so great that a power plant was needed for every square mile served, and losses at the end of the line meant that light bulbs near the power station were several times brighter than comparable ones at the other end of the section.
Technically, the use of direct current, derived from the early experiments of Faraday and others using battery rather than generated power, was a costly and illogical system in that all electricity produced by generation must by its nature be alternating current. To transform this to direct current requires a considerable loss of power. Furthermore, when it is applied to produce mechanical energy, it must be transformed by the commutator of the electric motor, thus effectively returning it to alternating current. To Tesla’s mind, this was nonsense, the logical application being the elimination of the commutators of both motor and generator, and the transmission of alternating current. However, nobody had ever built an AC motor, so Tesla thought it out. One day, in February 1882, while strolling in a Budapest park with a classmate named Szigetti, he suddenly blurted out “I’ve got it! Now watch me reverse it!” At that second he had visualised a rotating magnetic ﬁeld as the answer to the commutator problem. Later, he reﬁned and detailed a whole system of AC generation and transmission, with AC motors to produce ‘power, and dreamed of harnessing the free energy of the world’s water.
The incident in a park in Budapest highlights the extraordinary talent of Tesla. His genius lay in his ability to visualise in complete detail inventions that had no precedent. As a child, he had experienced strange visions, reaching a point where it was difficult for him to distinguish between the inner and outer realities. If someone said to him the name of an object, he would actually see it before his eyes, a capability that had to be suppressed and applied until he could produce scenes and objects at will. Those readers with knowledge of the practices of ritual magicians like Aleister Crowley and Austin Spare will see the parallel with a system of mind-training not yet dead in the occult traditions of the West. This is not to suggest in any way that Tesla was originally a practitioner of the occult arts, merely that he spontaneously evolved a parallel system of visualisation which gave him the ability to transcend the mundane knowledge of his contemporaries. These mental powers have, of course, attracted the attention of those who believe everything is directed from another planet, preferably ‘Venus. In their worldview, Tesla, if not actually an alien being, was a tool of their incomprehensible plans for the world. But this is merely the fantasy of those who, having rejected religion because of the discoveries of Science, transfer the source of creation from God, who is now dead, to a super-controller at his console, a mortal, alien, authoritarian in place of an immortal alien authoritarian.
Tesla’s ability to produce an invention out of his head stood him in good stead when he emigrated to the United States of America in 1884. Although it was not without setbacks that Tesla progressed. He visited Edison, who was at the time engaged in the promotion of his electric incandescent lamp through his pioneer installation at Pearl Street in New York. After expounding his theory of alternating current transmission and utilisation, Edison dismissed Tesla, telling him “You are wasting your time on that theory.”
Like all immigrants’ experience, Tesla’s was initially harsh. Dismissed by Edison, the ‘expert’, he made his living at digging ditches for the Western Union. During lunch breaks, Tesla related to his workmates his visionary schemes, and, fortunately, a foreman of his team introduced him to A.K. Brown, a company executive. Brown and an associate decided to put up money to try out Tesla’s theories, setting up a laboratory where Tesla’s complete system was set up as a pilot study — generator, transformers, transmission lines, motors and lights. However, when Tesla attempted to patent the whole system under a single comprehensive patent covering all its components, the United States Patent Office refused to approve the all-in-one application, bureaucratically insisting upon separate applications for each item. This resulted in the granting of seven patents in the last two months of 1887, and 22 in the next year, an unprecedented number.
During this period, Tesla began to hit the public consciousness with a spectacular lecture and demonstration of his alternating current system, both single and polyphase, at a meeting of the American Institute of Electrical Engineers. The limitations on transmission of electric power by means of the conventional wires had been removed at a stroke. One would imagine that the industrial magnates would have received Tesla’s inventions, revolutionary as they were, with open arms. Not a bit of it. The massive cartels of the electrical industry, the Edison General Electric organisation were committed to the less efficient systems using wires. Instantaneously, their total investment would have become obsolete. Tesla, genius, the talk of electrical engineering circles, was stuck without a customer for his breakthrough.
But in the capitalist ‘marketplace’ beloved of businessmen, there are always opportunists: willing to back ideas that might bring down their rivals. George Westinghouse, inventor of the train airbrake, offered to make up Tesla’s system of alternating current generation, giving him a million dollars plus a royalty of a dollar a horsepower. Tesla immediately signed over half of the fee to his backer who had originally financed his research. Westinghouse’s ﬁnanciers later wormed their way out of the dollar-per-horsepower agreement, and Tesla relinquished the royalties that would have given him a comfortable life. The Westinghouse system applied across the US soon showed its superiority, forcing the Edison concern to come cap in land for a license to use Tesla’s system, which Edison had dismissed as without a future.
All that has gone before is part of the mainstream history of electrical engineering. More relevant to the modern age and the powers that control or hope to control it are the inventions and applications that Tesla pioneered but which, for various reasons, are suppressed or ignored.
As early as 1890, the year the ﬁrst electrically-powered underground railway was opened in London, Tesla was experimenting with radio, and by the time of the 1893 Columbian Exposition in Chicago he had demonstrated a vacuum-tube radio for voice and music. But, in the usual manner of history Marconi is credited with the invention, still … in 1898, Tesla demonstrated at the original Madison Square Gardens, New York, and the ﬁrst radio-controlled boat ever made. It was a showstopper, but perhaps owing to its theatrical presentation, it remained an oddity until weapons systems became a multi-million dollar industry during the 1940s. Indeed, the military, then far less aware technologically than in the post-Peenemunde age, seem to have ignored its potential, which is surprising considering that the USA was about to involve itself in a war against Spain. True, the Sperry Gyroscope Company did use Tesla’s radio control mechanism in an experiment with an Army Air Corps aircraft twenty years after Tesla demonstrated it, but the idea was soon scrapped among the debris of defence contacts.
Radio control is with us. It is used every second of the day on the ground, in the air, in space. In this, Tesla was the precursor of the modern era. Why have his other inventions, then, gone ignored?
Conventional schooling being what it is, the later experiments of Tesla will not have been taught to the majority of readers, who may even ﬁnd them incredible.
Tesla, in addition to being the pioneer of AC current generation and transmission, and the first person to demonstrate radio control of a vehicle, was uniquely placed to investigate the untapped realms of high voltage and high frequency. Once, when studying slow mechanical or physical vibrations, he caused a virtual earthquake in the vicinity of his laboratory. His mechanical oscillator, approaching the natural vibrational resonance of the building itself, threatened to shake the building to pieces. Furniture in a police station over a block away began to shake and dance about, to the consternation of the occupants. Their spiritual successors now use the principle in the ‘’skwawkbox’ anti-riot weapon.
His investigations of high voltage, high frequency transmissions led Tesla to construct the world’s most powerful radio transmitter on a mountain near Colorado Springs. Around the base of a 200-foot high mast be built a 75-foot diameter air-core transformer. Using power from a generating station a few miles away, Tesla created the ﬁrst artiﬁcial lighting bolts a hundred feet in length leapt from the yard wide copper bulb at the top of the mast, producing voltages of 100,000,000, unequalled until the 1940s. The power plant was-burnt out by the ﬁrst experiment, but, undaunted by this minor setback, Tesla had it rebuilt. Finally, he was able to transmit power without wires for a distance of 26 miles, at which distance he successfully lit a bank of 200 incandescent lamps totalling 10 kilowatts.
By 1899, Tesla’s patent monies had been consumed by this visionary project. As nothing further was forthcoming, Tesla packed up and returned to New York. In June 1900, after months of rewriting at the behest of the editor, Robert Underwood Johnson wrote an article entitled ‘The Problem of Increasing Human Energy’ which appeared in the Century Magazine. It created a sensation when it was published. It would create a sensation now, but the themes of depletion of fossil fuel, solar and wind powers potential, ‘remote sensing of objects etc., would now be considered nothing special. His transmission of power, and its generation, if applied today, would transform the world. However, the article’s main impact was to elevate Tesla to the status of a tame speaker who could grace the salons of the wealthy in New York and Newport. Prominent matrons tried to palm off their daughters on him, but he rejected all offers — his work came first.
One of the readers of Tesla’s article was John Pierpont Morgan, who had ﬁnanced the General Electric Company in its DC days. Considering it a good business venture, he decided to underwrite Tesla’s experiments on wireless electrical transmission. From this ﬁnance arose the ‘world-wide wireless tower’ on Long Island. A 100-foot diameter hemisphere topped a massive latticework structure 200 feet in height. The architect Stanford White helped design the structure free of charge. Tesla himself commuted daily to the construction site from his rooms in the old Waldorf-Astoria hotel in 34th Street, first by tram to the East 34th Street ferry, thence by paddle steamer to Long Island City and by train on the Long Island Railroad to Shoreham. The railway’s dining car service prepared special meals for him so that his work would proceed smoothly.
When the base structure of brick was completed, Tesla moved his laboratories there. While construction proceeded, he issued a prophetic brochure of the future. In 1904, he predicted that radio would provide the following services (at a period when telegraphy was restricted to Marconian dot-dash Morse signals): telegraph communication; news broadcasting; sock market quotations; aids to navigation; entertainment; music broadcasting; accurate time service; facsimile transmission; telephoto and teleprinter services.
Although all these services were to materialise in the next forty years, Tesla suffered a severe setback when Morgan suddenly decided to withdraw his ﬁnancial support. This was made all the more inexplicable by the nearness of completion of Tesla’s tower. During the lunacy that has become known as the First World War, the tower was destroyed on orders from the government, as it was claimed that it jeopardised the safety of the USA. Considering that aviation was then scarcely capable of a one-way ﬂight across the Atlantic, it is hardly credible that it could have been demolished on so ﬂimsy a pretext, but demolished it was. After vain attempts to pull it down by means of cables, the base was dynamited, and it fell, intact, onto its side. Like the Colossus of Rhodes, it was gradually dismantled over a protracted period.
His later years are shrouded in a measure of obscurity, his greatest inventions having been devised before the turn of the century. In 1912, he was awarded, jointly with Edison, a Nobel Prize. He refused it, owing some believe, to his dislike of Edison, others to his dislike of honours. In 1917, he accepted the Edison medal, after initially refusing it. Having no family, he continued to inhabit hotels, and to work on various projects, including radar (1917) and a revolutionary design of turbine. Like that other famous denizen of hotels, Howard Hughes, Tesla became a virtual recluse, giving occasional prophetic (and occult) statements to those pressmen actually having the good fortune to penetrate his sanctum. He was granted, in recognition of his services to science, a pension of $7,200 dollars per annum by the Yugoslav government in 1936. He received this until his death in 1943, at the age of 87.
Tesla had a great affection for pigeons, and his passing is marked by an anecdote concerning them. Every day, Tesla went to feed the pigeons outside the library. Those that were sick or injured he would take back to his hotel with him and look after them until they were well again. The gold-plated telephone beside his bed, over which he was granted a universal right to talk to anyone in the world without charge, was the roost of his favourite pigeon. “When she dies, I die,” he prophesied. In January 1943, his favourite pigeon paid him her last visit. He claimed he knew that she was dying from a message transmitted to him by a brilliant beam of light from her eyes. On January 15th 1943, over a thousand of New York’s elite gathered at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine to attend his funeral. Even there, the unworldly nature of Tesla again manifested itself. Numerous pressmen photographed the flag-draped cofﬁn in its ecclesiastical setting. The coffin and its attendant Yugoslav guards were blurred on every negative exposed, even though the rest of the building was in perfect focus. The phenomenon had never been explained. No photographs of Tesla’s funeral were ever released.
The life of Tesla can be seen as the progress of a genius that took the wrong turning at some point and degenerated into a harmless pigeon-loving crank, obsessed by cleanliness and the occult. His funeral can be dismissed as a formal tribute to a near-forgotten has-been, where the photographers forgot to focus their cameras properly. Doubtless this interpretation has some validity. However, it cannot be without reason that the government of the United States impounded the entire contents of his safe. Today, thirty-ﬁve years later, nothing is known of the documents that may have been found there.
Since his death, little publicly announced work has been carried out on his principles. About ﬁfteen years ago, the transport authorities in Moscow attempted to transmit power to a ‘wireless’ trolleybus, but the experiments were stopped after a while. Fusion power atomic physicists are now experimenting with the possibilities of ball lightning, which Tesla produced at Colorado Springs as early as 1899. While the claim of fusion power is for safe energy (unlike the hideous and irreversible consequences of the Plutonium economy), there is doubtless a military application to ball lightning that is the real attraction for the funds. Let us recall that in 1934, Tesla announced to the world that he had perfected a death-ray. While this may seem a fantasy in the tradition of Flash Gordon’s trip to Mars, Tesla was serious about it, and offered it to Britain’s military machine. It was rejected. Nowadays, such offers are rarely refused, as evidenced by the absurdly large budgets allocated to maniacal projects to kill others.
Until they are tried out in a fair manner, many of Tesla’s inventions cannot be evaluated. What is disturbing about Tesla is the way many of his inventions, which promise unlimited free power to all (whether they can pay for it or not!), have been deliberately ignored by the powers that be. In the United States, for instance, there was an organised movement across the nation to delete all Tesla data from libraries that commenced shortly after his death in 1943. The impact of free power upon the hierarchical organisation of society whether capitalist or ‘communist’ would be revolutionary. Tesla postulated that the electrostatic condition of the whole planet could be disturbed, setting up standing waves on its whole surface by exciting it with high frequency power and then taking off power anywhere that the wave amplitude was present. This system would enable anyone to obtain energy directly from the ground, to power anything electric.
This is too much like freedom for those who would be our masters. Imagine power anywhere without recourse to meters, inspectors, bills and licenses. Why, it would enable people to get the free energy of the planet without having to pay someone for the ‘privilege’. Once this principle was established, then, by logical extension, people would want to apply it to other manifestations of the wealth of the world — property. Such a facility would certainly have massive repercussions far beyond that of putting the oil companies and electricity supply utilities in ﬁnancial straits. It would demonstrate the fundamental tyranny that is exercised every time the wealth of this planet of which we are all inhabitants is appropriated for the exclusive use or administration of an elite. Just as Edison’s backers would not countenance the use of Tesla’s superior AC system because they were committed to another, inferior, system, so the fundamental changes which would be brought about by free power are avoided by the suppression of the ideas of Nikola Tesla today.
Nigel Pennick (Cienfuegos Press Anarchist Review No 4, 1978)