As a result of being born and raised at the foot of Pike's Peak, I was told many stories of a mysterious wizard that once lived just down the street. This super genius performed amazing experiments with electricity, producing ball lightning and mysticle electrical displays that could be seen miles away. I later learned that this wizard was a real person named Nikola Tesla and he invented AC electricity, the radio, the electric car and even vertical take off and landing aircraft. With out a doubt, Tesla was a man lost in time leaving behind over 300 US Patents marking his genius.
Energy Transmission through Natural Media "Tesla's Wireless"
Tesla's VTOL Aircraft Patent
The Tesla Turbine Patent
Tesla's Radiant Energy Collector Patent
Father of Alternative Energy: In his lab in Colorado Springs, Nikola Tesla theorized that electricity could be broadcast free through the earth, even generated from lightning and charged particles in the atmosphere.
'Whatever electricity is, it is a fact that it behaves like an incompressible fluid' - Nikola Tesla The Problem of Increasing Human Energy
By 1899, Tesla's ideas and experiments were far too large for his New York laboratory. Many of his general plans had already been pirated and he could not risk any more losses due to spy activity. He longed for open space and privacy. After secretly searching the country for the best location for his new lab, Tesla decided on Colorado Springs. This decision was based on many factors, the foremost being free land and electricity from the Colorado Springs Electric Company. Tesla also discovered that the area was ideal for conducting electrical experiments as well as observing the immense electrical storms of the region.
Tesla and his assistants started construction of the new lab shortly after arriving in Colorado Springs. Aided by local contractor Joseph Dozier, they broke ground in the prairie land approximately one mile east of downtown, on Knob Hill. The land was located near the Colorado School for the Deaf and the Blind, which still operates to this day. Tesla's plan was to build a large barn like building, 50ft by 60ft with 18ft ceilings. From the center of the roof would protrude a 200ft pole fashioned with a 30" wooden ball covered in copper foil. It was within these walls that Tesla would attempt to accomplish three goals:
1 - To develop a transmitter of great power.
2 - To perfect a means for individualizing and isolating the energy transmitted.
3 - To ascertain the laws of propagation of currents through the earth's atmosphere.
Picture of Nikola Tesla's Colorado Springs Lab.
July 3, 1899 brought much excitement to the region. Planned Independence Day festivities included a gigantic display of pyrotechnics on the Summit of Pike's Peak. Town officials had brought 35,000 pounds of powder flares to the summit in hopes that the red white and blue flames would be visible as far away as Cheyenne, Wyoming. Unfortunately for the townspeople, but not for Tesla, Mother Nature had different plans. An immense storm of thunder and lightning struck the region, disappointing the crowds waiting for festivities. Tesla, on the other hand, was absolutely mesmerized. He made one of his most important discoveries, the existence of stationary waves within the earth, during the massive storm. As the storm began to form, Tesla quickly prepared his instruments. He observed the storm's formation and later wrote:
"... A violent storm broke loose after spending much of its fury in the mountains. It was driven away with great velocity over the plains. Heavy and long persisting arcs formed almost in regular time intervals. My observations were now greatly facilitated and rendered more accurate by the experiences already gained. I was able to handle my instruments quickly and I was prepared. The recording apparatus being properly adjusted, its indications became fainter and fainter with the increasing distance of the storm until they ceased altogether. I was watching in eager expectation. Surely enough the indications began again, grew stronger and stronger, and, after passing through a maximum gradually decreased and ceased once more. Many times, in regularly recurring intervals, the same actions were repeated until the storm which, as evident in simple computations, was moving with nearly constant speed, had retreated to a distance of about 300 kilometers. Nor did these strange actions stop then, but continued to manifest themselves with undiminished force. Subsequently, similar observations were made by my assistant, Mr. Fritz Lowenstein, and shortly afterward several admirable opportunities presented themselves which brought out still more forcibly and unmistakably, the true nature of the wonderful phenomenon. No doubt whatever remained; I was observing stationary waves."
Tesla standing under his coil.
This discovery convinced Tesla not only that wireless transmission of telegraphic messages was possible. Tesla also realized that he could transmit unlimited amounts of power to the entire globe, without the need for wires! Years later Tesla elaborated in a famous article in Century Magazine.
"Stationary waves in the earth mean something more than mere telegraphy without wires to any distance. They will enable us to attain many important specific results impossible otherwise. For instance, by their use we may produce at will, from a sending-station, an electrical effect in any particular region of the globe; we may determine the relative position or course of a moving object such as a vessel at sea, the distance traversed by the same, or its speed; or we may send over the earth a wave of electricity traveling at any rate we desire, from the pace of a turtle up to lightning speed."
Mark Twain was one of Tesla's only trusted friends and they were often seen together walking the streets in New York. One was a droll, sarcastic satirist; the other was a celibate mad scientist. Both of them were brilliant and probably a little bit crazy, but in completely different ways. That's why Mark Twain and Nikola Tesla have to rank right at the top of the "We'd love to hear what they talked about when they were alone" list.
A captivated Mark Twain tests Tesla's inductively powered incandescent lamp. The mad scientist lurks in the background, like, well, a mad scientist.
Nikola Tesla about Mark Twain: "I had hardly completed my course at the Real Gymnasium when I was prostrated with a dangerous illness or rather, a score of them, and my condition became so desperate that I was given up by physicians. During this period I was permitted to read constantly, obtaining books from the Public Library which had been neglected and entrusted to me for classification of the works and preparation of the catalogues. One day I was handed a few volumes of new literature unlike anything I had ever read before and so captivating as to make me utterly forget my hopeless state. They were the earlier works of Mark Twain and to them might have been due the miraculous recovery which followed. Twenty-five years later, when I met Mr. Clemens (Mark Twain) and we formed a friendship between us, I told him of the experience and was amazed to see that great man of laughter burst into tears.''
Twain wrote, "I have just seen the drawings and description of an electrical machine lately patented by a Mr. Tesla, and sold to the Westinghouse Company, which will revolutionize the whole electric business of the world. It is the most valuable patent since the telephone."
Nikola Tesla, "My Inventions: the autobiography of Nikola Tesla", Hart Bros., 1982. Originally appeared in the Electrical experimenter magazine in 1919.
After the AC induction motor, I think that the greatest invention of Nikola was the electric car. In 1931, under the financing of Pierce-Arrow and George Westinghouse, a 1931 Pierce-Arrow was selected to be tested at the factory grounds in Buffalo, N. Y. The standard internal combustion engine was removed and an 80-H.P. 1800 r.p.m electric motor installed to the clutch and transmission. The AC motor measured 40 inches long and 30 inches in diameter and the power leads were left standing in the air --no external power source and no recharging of any batteries was necessary.
At the appointed time, Nikola Tesla arrived from New York City and inspected the Pierce-Arrow automobile. He then went to a local radio store and purchased a handful of tubes, wires and assorted resistors. A box measuring 24 inches long, 12 inches wide and 6 inches high was assembled housing the circuit. The box was placed on the front seat and had its wires connected to the air-cooled, brushless motor. Two rods 1/4" in diameter stuck out of the box about 3" in length. (Sounds like a battery to me)
Mr. Tesla got into the driver's seat, pushed the two rods in and stated, "We now have power". He put the car into gear and it moved forward! This vehicle, powered by an AC motor, was driven to speeds of 90 m.p.h. and performed better than any internal combustion engine of its day! One week was spent testing the vehicle. Several newspapers in Buffalo reported this test. When asked where the power came from, Tesla replied, "From the ether all around us".