CENTRE OF THE CITY OF LIGHT
Beginning of the Age of Electricity
I 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
I 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.
The mighty spotlights during illuminations
Lighthouse lens and displays
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
This 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 futuristic speculations.
Some of Tasla's Inventions
Mr. 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
The 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).
Like 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
One afternoon, 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 experience.
During another 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
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.
I 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 Vision of the Future
Tesla company stock certificate
On the other hand, he seems convinced that the potential
benefits to mankind from his scientific discoveries are boundless: he is
sure that many human maladies and infirmities can be medically treated
with some of his therapeutic devices.
Thousands have now seen him demonstrate how safe his AC
electricity is by passing high frequency power through his body to power
light bulbs and to shoot large lightning bolts from his Tesla coils into
crowds of spectators without causing any noticeable harmful effects.
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.
It 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
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
Nature and Nature's laws lay hid in night:
God said, "Let Tesla be," and all was light.