ELECTRICITY BUILDING: CENTRE OF THE CITY OF LIGHT
Beginning of the Age of Electricity
am beginning to fear that both father and Mr. Edison may be wrong about
the future of the horseless carriage, as it seems possible that another
means of propulsion for the vehicle lies in the near future.
While working for father at the American Battery Co. exhibit in this
giant Electricity building with its 15,000 feet of floor space, I take
every opportunity to visit a display associated with the rival Westinghouse
Electrical Company display. Westinghouse actually won the Fair's electricity
contract over Edison's General Electric Company. This was due to their
new, less expensive, and more efficient alternating current system invented
by their Croatian-born inventor, Nikola Tesla.
Four of the twelve 1000 horse-power two-phase AC generators
first noticed this rather eccentric man in the dining room where he sits
at the same table every day and goes through the same daily ritual. The
waiter brings him 18 napkins (18 is divisible by three - his magic number),
which he uses to polish the already immaculate table settings, while waiting
for his meal to arrive. This seems to be a result of his compulsion about
germs -- he even refuses to shake hands with people. After I got
to know him I realized that he has many other phobias and he is also hypersensitive
to sound and touch.
North of the spectacular
Edison light tower is a darkened room for the display of "High Potential
and High Frequency Phenomena" with an adjoining section containing some
of the fantastic inventions of Mr. Tesla. His display demonstrates the
tremendous potential of his alternating current system that powers the
Fair, and it is made up of a complex system of generators, motors, switchboards,
lights, models, and copper circuit cables supported by insulators that
were recently designed for a Pomona, California power company. All of this
has been assembled to showcase the immense practical applications of electricity
devices and the feasibility of the transmission of power over long distances.
Nikola Tesla is the true genius of the Fair . . . and
our age. There is hardly a corner of the buildings and grounds where his
inventions and discoveries are not manifest in one form or another. Countless
thousands of incandescent lights illuminate the grounds, buildings, fountains,
waterways and Midway attractions. Colorful search lights send their beacons
into the night skies, beckoning to millions over the entire northeastern
part of the state. Grounds transportation, Midway rides, and all manner
of devices controlled by modern motors are powered by AC current electricity.
visionary genius always takes time to share his endless parade of wondrous
ideas and plans for inventions. He must sense a kinship with me as his
theories and speculations certainly tap into my sense of wonder and overactive
imagination. I can only hope that someday I too will find a way to put
my own imagination and far-out ideas to good use for the benefit of mankind.
If I can realize this dream before I am Tesla's age -- he is in his mid
30s -- I will feel I've accomplished my goal. Tesla draws much of the inspiration
for his ideas from poetry, literature, dreams, exotic spiritual beliefs
and visions that flash across his brain. Who knows? Perhaps if I pursue
my interest in poetry and writing I might benefit from the converse: drawing
my inspiration for writing poems and stories from imaginative science and
Some of Tasla's Inventions
Tesla has patented countless inventions based upon electricity: induction
motors, new types of generators and transformers, alternating-current transmission
systems, and a new type of steam turbine. His exhibit in the Electricity
building offers a means of demonstrating some of his most recent achievements.
display rooms are presided over by Tesla himself. He presents an impressive
charismatic figure in his white tie and tails as he darts between mountains
of curious-looking machinery. Once the crowd has assembled he throws a
master switch and the room is flooded with beautiful light -- there is
no visible source of the light but it seems to be generated between large
panels set on opposite sides of the room. The display is decorated everywhere
with electrically lighted lamps and phosphorescent glass tubes that he
has constructed from molten glass. He has gone so far as to treat some
of them with uranium and radium to enhance their brilliance. The
largest tube light spells out, "Welcome, Electricians." He has twisted
other tubing into letters representing the names of famous scientists and
Yugoslavian poets such as ZMAJ (Zmaj Jovan).
a magician he roams among his displays of high-frequency equipment demonstrating
an endless number of electric miracles: an assortment of spinning metallic
balls displayed on velvet show how alternating current works ~ revolutionary
electric clocks synchronized to oscillators ~ discharge coils emit lightning
flashers ~ concentrated electrical energy melts metals ~ the display of
inventions grows larger each time I visit. I noticed on my last visit that
he had added a carbon-button lamp which is a a working model of the incandescent
sun that produces incredibly intense light. He used it to demonstrate what
he believed to be cosmic and the other mysterious rays that are given off
by the sun.
During each of
my many visits to Mr. Tesla's exhibit I have witnessed mobs of spectators
filling the display area to capacity and without fail there were constant
cries of fear and wonder during every demonstration. He usually starts
his presentation with a display of ball lightning. He snaps his fingers
which creates a ball of leaping red flame that he holds in his hands and
moves all over his body with no ill effects. He then puts down the fireball
and picks up brilliantly lit wireless tubes that he moves around the room,
drawing energy from the room's ambient force field. This electrical wizard
then ties a small animal to a platform where it is immediately electrocuted
with thousands of volts. The screams from the audience are still echoing
through the building as he climbs onto this platform of death. The voltage
meter climbs until two million volts of electricity are passing through
him, setting up a halo of dancing tongues of flame darting out from every
part of his body. He has told me that he survives because the frequencies
are kept high and the currents of great voltages flow over the outer skin.
He believes that this energy can someday be harnessed to create protective
electrical shrouds that could keep people warm or cool under the most severe
weather conditions from the equator to the Arctic. He also predicts
that the energy will have many medical uses: the treatment of ailments
such as arthritis, anesthesia, the healing of bones, sterilization of wounds,
making of surgical incisions, treatment of mental disorders and cleansing
of the mind and skin.
Friend Mark Twain joins the demonstration
a few days ago, a visit from his friend Mark Twain caused a stir throughout
the building. The gray-haired author in his white suit and black string
tie persuaded a somewhat reluctant Tesla to let him step onto the rubber-mounted
electric platform. The switch was flipped and soon Mr. Twain was
enveloped in an aura of humming electricity which set his whole body vibrating.
He was obviously enjoying the experience until suddenly he clambered down
in a panic, asking to be directed to the toilet facilities. The sudden
laxative effect of the vibrations had cut short his otherwise pleasant
afternoon a bevy of Tesla's young female friends from New York paid him
a visit and escorted him out of the building. I learned later that they
had agreed to accept his challenge to ride on the Ferris Wheel if he would
first accompany them on a tour of the Woman's Building. It turned out that
he was glad he made the visit since the guest speaker for that day was
Mrs. Potter Palmer, who demonstrated the latest electric appliances for
ladies' kitchens. Tesla immediately put his mind to work to devise ways
of improving on the devices he had seen, which included coming up with
an idea of using electromagnetic waves to cook food in specially designed
This Serbian genius seems intrigued with the wireless transmission of
power, which he thinks will lead to the worldwide interconnection of all
telegraph and telephone exchanges, stock tickers, personal communication,
distribution of music and dissemination of news, photographs and printed
material. To this end he is also working on the creation and control of
mysterious energy waves to send signals over long distances -- signals
that he feels will eventually transmit voice messages, and control all
manner of things by remote control -- without wires.
am convinced that Nikola Tesla is a true genius with an endlessly fascinating
personality. He seems to think that anything people can conceive they should
be able to achieve and he has little patience with the myopic, the faint-hearted,
and a doubting world. His imagination is boundless and he seems obsessed
with the potential of this mysterious thing called electricity. He even
believes that he will soon be able to control lightning and to direct electrical
power to and from the atmosphere to any location on earth. When he talks
of this power he speaks in low, hushed tones with a wild, almost frightening
look in his eyes. He feels that his experiments in this area can offer
great benefits to mankind: free universal electric power, transportation,
a means of national defence, even control of the weather.
But he also fears the misuse of these discoveries could present evil
powers with the means for world domination through the creation of death
rays and global holocausts. He confides that these fears were first realized
when the Westinghouse company corrupted his scientific achievements by
using them to construct an electric death chair to execute criminals in
a horrendous fashion. He swears that Edison was behind this, seeing it
as a way of promoting the dangers of rival AC electricity.
Tesla's City of Light
Mr. Tesla shares Mr. Sturges' dislike for Thomas Edison (see Chapter
8) -- not surprising considering Edison's completely different "trial and
error" approach to the development of electricity and inventions. He confided
that, "If Edison had to find a needle in a haystack, he would proceed
with the diligence of a bee to examine straw after straw until he found
it. I was a sorry witness to such doings ... a little theory ... would
have saved him ninety percent of his labor." I've also learned
that Edison cheated Tesla, his one-time employee, out of $50,000 and even
"borrowed" some of his ideas and patents.
is hard to see how Edison's outdated DC electrical system can ever survive
after the amazing success Tesla has had at the fair with his AC system.
Riding on this success he is now about to present plans for harnessing
the power of Niagara Falls to create hydro-electric energy. He is the obvious
winner in what many people call the "War of the Currents."
I have no doubt that Nikola Tesla will go down in history as the most
versatile and productive geniuses of all time -- a true Master Mind.
Nature and Nature's laws lay hid in night:
God said, "Let Tesla be," and all was light.