Nikola Tesla (10 July 1856 – 7 January 1943) was a physicist, inventor, and electrical engineer. An ethnic Serb born in the Military Frontier (present-day Croatia), he was a subject of the Austrian Empire who later became an American citizen.
- A point of great importance would be first to know: what is the capacity of the earth? And what charge does it contain if electrified? Though we have no positive evidence of a charged body existing in space without other oppositely electrified bodies being near, there is a fair probability that the earth is such a body, for by whatever process it was separated from other bodies — and this is the accepted view of its origin — it must have retained a charge, as occurs in all processes of mechanical separation.
- "Experiments With Alternating Currents of Very High Frequency, and Their Application to Methods of Artificial Illumination" (20 May 1891)
- Alternate currents, especially of high frequencies, pass with astonishing freedom through even slightly rarefied gases. The upper strata of the air are rarefied. To reach a number of miles out into space requires the overcoming of difficulties of a merely mechanical nature.
- "Experiments With Alternate Currents Of High Potential And High Frequency" an address to the Institution of Electrical Engineers, London (February 1892)
- Ere many generations pass, our machinery will be driven by a power obtainable at any point of the universe. This idea is not novel. Men have been led to it long ago by instinct or reason; it has been expressed in many ways, and in many places, in the history of old and new. We find it in the delightful myth of Antheus, who derives power from the earth; we find it among the subtle speculations of one of your splendid mathematicians and in many hints and statements of thinkers of the present time. Throughout space there is energy. Is this energy static or kinetic! If static our hopes are in vain; if kinetic — and this we know it is, for certain — then it is a mere question of time when men will succeed in attaching their machinery to the very wheelwork of nature.
- "Experiments With Alternate Currents Of High Potential And High Frequency" (February 1892)
- There is something within me that might be illusion as it is often case with young delighted people, but if I would be fortunate to achieve some of my ideals, it would be on the behalf of the whole of humanity. If those hopes would become fulfilled, the most exciting thought would be that it is a deed of a Serb.
- Address at the Belgrade train station (1 June 1892)
- Nature may reach the same result in many ways. Like a wave in the physical world, in the infinite ocean of the medium which pervades all, so in the world of organisms, in life, an impulse started proceeds onward, at times, may be, with the speed of light, at times, again, so slowly that for ages and ages it seems to stay, passing through processes of a complexity inconceivable to men, but in all its forms, in all its stages, its energy ever and ever integrally present. A single ray of light from a distant star falling upon the eye of a tyrant in bygone times may have altered the course of his life, may have changed the destiny of nations, may have transformed the surface of the globe, so intricate, so inconceivably complex are the processes in Nature. In no way can we get such an overwhelming idea of the grandeur of Nature than when we consider, that in accordance with the law of the conservation of energy, throughout the Infinite, the forces are in a perfect balance, and hence the energy of a single thought may determine the motion of a universe.
- "On Light And Other High Frequency Phenomena" A lecture delivered before the Franklin Institute, Philadelphia (24 February 1893), and before the National Electric Light Association, St. Louis (1 March 1893), published in The Electrical review (9 June 1893), p. Page 683; also in The Inventions, Researches And Writings of Nikola Tesla (1894)
- Our virtues and our failings are inseparable, like force and matter. When they separate, man is no more.
- When the great truth accidentally revealed and experimentally confirmed is fully recognized, that this planet, with all its appalling immensity, is to electric currents virtually no more than a small metal ball and that by this fact many possibilities, each baffling imagination and of incalculable consequence, are rendered absolutely sure of accomplishment; when the first plant is inaugurated and it is shown that a telegraphic message, almost as secret and non-interferable as a thought, can be transmitted to any terrestrial distance, the sound of the human voice, with all its intonations and inflections, faithfully and instantly reproduced at any other point of the globe, the energy of a waterfall made available for supplying light, heat or motive power, anywhere — on sea, or land, or high in the air — humanity will be like an ant heap stirred up with a stick: See the excitement coming!
- "The Transmission of Electric Energy Without Wires" in Electrical World and Engineer (5 March 1904)
- As soon as it is completed, it will be possible for a business man in New York to dictate instructions, and have them instantly appear in type at his office in London or elsewhere. He will be able to call up, from his desk, and talk to any telephone subscriber on the globe, without any change whatever in the existing equipment. An inexpensive instrument, not bigger than a watch, will enable its bearer to hear anywhere, on sea or land, music or song, the speech of a political leader, the address of an eminent man of science, or the sermon of an eloquent clergyman, delivered in some other place, however distant. In the same manner any picture, character, drawing, or print can be transferred from one to another place. Millions of such instruments can be operated from but one plant of this kind. More important than all of this, however, will be the transmission of power, without wires, which will be shown on a scale large enough to carry conviction.
- On the Wardenclyffe Tower, in "The Future of the Wireless Art" in Wireless Telegraphy and Telephony (1908)
- Money does not represent such a value as men have placed upon it. All my money has been invested into experiments with which I have made new discoveries enabling mankind to have a little easier life.
- As quoted in "A Visit to Nikola Tesla" by Dragislav L. Petković in Politika (April 1927); also in Tesla, Master of Lightning (1999) by Margaret Cheney, Robert Uth, and Jim Glenn, p. 82
- Let the future tell the truth and evaluate each one according to his work and accomplishments. The present is theirs; the future, for which I really worked, is mine.
- On patent controversies regarding the invention of Radio and other things, as quoted in "A Visit to Nikola Tesla" by Dragislav L. Petković in Politika (April 1927); as quoted in Tesla, Master of Lightning (1999) by Margaret Cheney, Robert Uth, and Jim Glenn, p. 73 ISBN 0760710058 ; also in Tesla: Man Out of Time (2001) by Margaret Cheney, p. 230 ISBN 0743215362
- I have harnessed the cosmic rays and caused them to operate a motive device.
- Brooklyn Eagle (10 July 1931)
- If Edison had a needle to find in a haystack, he would proceed at once with the diligence of the bee to examine straw after straw until he found the object of his search. ... I was a sorry witness of such doings, knowing that a little theory and calculation would have saved him ninety per cent of his labor.
- New York Times (19 October 1931)
- I hold that space cannot be curved, for the simple reason that it can have no properties. It might as well be said that God has properties. He has not, but only attributes and these are of our own making. Of properties we can only speak when dealing with matter filling the space. To say that in the presence of large bodies space becomes curved is equivalent to stating that something can act upon nothing. I, for one, refuse to subscribe to such a view.
- New York Herald Tribune (11 September 1932)
- The scientific man does not aim at an immediate result. He does not expect that his advanced ideas will be readily taken up. His work is like that of the planter — for the future. His duty is to lay the foundation for those who are to come, and point the way. He lives and labors and hopes.
- "Radio Power Will Revolutionize the World" in Modern Mechanics and Inventions (July 1934)
- Today's scientists have substituted mathematics for experiments, and they wander off through equation after equation, and eventually build a structure which has no relation to reality.
- "Radio Power Will Revolutionize the World" in Modern Mechanics and Inventions (July 1934)
- The scientists from Franklin to Morse were clear thinkers and did not produce erroneous theories. The scientists of today think deeply instead of clearly. One must be sane to think clearly, but one can think deeply and be quite insane.
- "Radio Power Will Revolutionize the World" in Modern Mechanics and Inventions (July 1934)
- Einsteins relativity work is a magnificent mathematical garb which fascinates, dazzles and makes people blind to the underlying errors. The theory is like a beggar clothed in purple whom ignorant people take for a king... its exponents are brilliant men but they are metaphysicists rather than scientists.
- New York Times (11 July 1935), p. 23, c.8
- Man's new sense of pity began to interfere with the ruthless workings of nature. The only method compatible with our notions of civilization and the race is to prevent the breeding of the unfit by sterilization and the deliberate guidance of the mating instinct. The trend of opinion among eugenists is that we must make marriage more difficult. Certainly no one who is not a desirable parent should be permitted to produce progeny. A century from now it will no more occur to a normal person to mate with a person eugenically unfit than to marry a habitual criminal.
- As quoted in "A Machine to End War - A Famous Inventor, Picturing Life 100 Years from Now, Reveals an Astounding Scientific Venture Which He Believes Will Change the Course of History" by George Sylvester Viereck in Liberty (February 1937)
- Miss! Never trust a Jew!
- To a secretary, as quoted in Tesla: Man Out of Time (1998) by Margaret Cheney, ISBN 0743215362 , p.165 (footnote)
- Marconi is a good fellow. Let him continue. He is using seventeen of my patents.
- On being informed that Marconi was transmitting wireless messages across the Atlantic Ocean, as quoted in "Who Invented Radio?" at PBS.org, and in Tesla : The Modern Sorcerer (1999) by Daniel Blair Stewart, p. 371
- I do not think there is any thrill that can go through the human heart like that felt by the inventor as he sees some creation of the brain unfolding to success ... Such emotions make a man forget food, sleep, friends, love, everything.
- Quoted in Marconi and Tesla: Pioneers of Radio Communication (2008) by Tim O'Shei, ISBN 159845076X , p.5
The Problem of Increasing Human Energy (1900)
- "The Problem of Increasing Human Energy with Special References to the Harnessing of the Sun's Energy" in Century Illustrated Magazine (June 1900)
- When we speak of man, we have a conception of humanity as a whole, and before applying scientific methods to the investigation of his movement we must accept this as a physical fact. But can anyone doubt to-day that all the millions of individuals and all the innumerable types and characters constitute an entity, a unit? Though free to think and act, we are held together, like the stars in the firmament, with ties inseparable. These ties cannot be seen, but we can feel them. I cut myself in the finger, and it pains me: this finger is a part of me. I see a friend hurt, and it hurts me, too: my friend and I are one. And now I see stricken down an enemy, a lump of matter which, of all the lumps of matter in the universe, I care least for, and it still grieves me. Does this not prove that each of us is only part of a whole?
For ages this idea has been proclaimed in the consummately wise teachings of religion, probably not alone as a means of insuring peace and harmony among men, but as a deeply founded truth. The Buddhist expresses it in one way, the Christian in another, but both say the same: We are all one. Metaphysical proofs are, however, not the only ones which we are able to bring forth in support of this idea. Science, too, recognizes this connectedness of separate individuals, though not quite in the same sense as it admits that the suns, planets, and moons of a constellation are one body, and there can be no doubt that it will be experimentally confirmed in times to come, when our means and methods for investigating psychical and other states and phenomena shall have been brought to great perfection. Still more: this one human being lives on and on. The individual is ephemeral, races and nations come and pass away, but man remains. Therein lies the profound difference between the individual and the whole.
- So we find that the three possible solutions of the great problem of increasing human energy are answered by the three words: food, peace, work. Many a year I have thought and pondered, lost myself in speculations and theories, considering man as a mass moved by a force, viewing his inexplicable movement in the light of a mechanical one, and applying the simple principles of mechanics to the analysis of the same until I arrived at these solutions, only to realize that they were taught to me in my early childhood. These three words sound the key-notes of the Christian religion. Their scientific meaning and purpose now clear to me: food to increase the mass, peace to diminish the retarding force, and work to increase the force accelerating human movement. These are the only three solutions which are possible of that great problem, and all of them have one object, one end, namely, to increase human energy. When we recognize this, we cannot help wondering how profoundly wise and scientific and how immensely practical the Christian religion is, and in what a marked contrast it stands in this respect to other religions. It is unmistakably the result of practical experiment and scientific observation which have extended through the ages, while other religions seem to be the outcome of merely abstract reasoning. Work, untiring effort, useful and accumulative, with periods of rest and recuperation aiming at higher efficiency, is its chief and ever-recurring command. Thus we are inspired both by Christianity and Science to do our utmost toward increasing the performance of mankind. This most important of human problems I shall now specifically consider.
A Means for Furthering Peace (1905)
- "The Transmission of Electrical Energy Without Wires as a Means for Furthering Peace" in Electrical World and Engineer (7 January 1905)
- Universal Peace, assuming it to be in the fullest sense realizable, might not require eons for its accomplishment, however probable this may appear, judging from the imperceptibly slow growth of all great reformatory ideas of the past. ... Our accepted estimates of the duration of natural metamorphoses, or changes in general, have been thrown in doubt of late. The very foundations of science have been shaken.
- A state of human life vaguely defined by the term "Universal Peace," while a result of cumulative effort through centuries past, might come into existence quickly, not unlike a crystal suddenly forms in a solution which has been slowly prepared. But just as no effect can precede its cause, so this state can never be brought on by any pact between nations, however solemn. Experience is made before the law is formulated, both are related like cause and effect. So long as we are clearly conscious of the expectation, that peace is to result from such a parliamentary decision, so long have we a conclusive evidence that we are not fit for peace. Only then when we shall feel that such international meetings are mere formal procedures, unnecessary except in so far as they might serve to give definite expression to a common desire, will peace be assured.
To judge from current events we must be, as yet, very distant from that blissful goal. It is true that we are proceeding towards it rapidly. There are abundant signs of this progress everywhere. The race enmities and prejudices are decidedly waning.
- We begin to think cosmically. Our sympathetic feelers reach out into the dim distance. The bacteria of the "Weltschmerz," are upon us. So far, however, universal harmony has been attained only in a single sphere of international relationship. That is the postal service. Its mechanism is working satisfactorily, but — how remote are we still from that scrupulous respect of the sanctity of the mail bag! And how much farther again is the next milestone on the road to peace — an international judicial service equally reliable as the postal!
- General disarmament being for the present entirely out of question, a proportionate reduction might be recommended. The safety of any country and of the world's commerce depending not on the absolute, but relative amount of war material, this would be evidently the first reasonable step to take towards universal economy and peace. But it would be a hopeless task to establish an equitable basis of adjustment. Population, naval strength, force of army, commercial importance, water-power, or any other natural resource, actual or prospective, are equally unsatisfactory standards to consider.
- To conquer by sheer force is becoming harder and harder every day. Defensive is getting continuously the advantage of offensive, as we progress in the satanic science of destruction. The new art of controlling electrically the movements and operations of individualized automata at a distance without wires, will soon enable any country to render its coasts impregnable against all naval attacks.
- The distance at which it can strike, and the destructive power of such a quasi-intelligent machine being for all practical purposes unlimited, the gun, the armor of the battleship and the wall of the fortress, lose their import and significance. One can prophesy with a Daniel's confidence that skilled electricians will settle the battles of the near future. But this is the least. In its effect upon war and peace, electricity offers still much greater and more wonderful possibilities. To stop war by the perfection of engines of destruction alone, might consume centuries and centuries. Other means must be employed to hasten the end.
- Fights between individuals, as well as governments and nations, invariably result from misunderstandings in the broadest interpretation of this term. Misunderstandings are always caused by the inability of appreciating one another's point of view. This again is due to the ignorance of those concerned, not so much in their own, as in their mutual fields. The peril of a clash is aggravated by a more or less predominant sense of combativeness, posed by every human being. To resist this inherent fighting tendency the best way is to dispel ignorance of the doings of others by a systematic spread of general knowledge. With this object in view, it is most important to aid exchange of thought and intercourse.
- Mutual understanding would be immensely facilitated by the use of one universal tongue. But which shall it be, is the great question. At present it looks as if the English might be adopted as such, though it must be admitted that it is not the most suitable. Each language, of course, excels in some feature.... A practical answer to that momentous question must perforce be found in times to come, for it is manifest that by adopting one common language the onward march of man would be prodigiously quickened. I do not believe that an artificial concoction, like Volapuk, will ever find universal acceptance, however time-saving it might be. That would be contrary to human nature. Languages have grown into our hearts.
- Our senses enable us to perceive only a minute portion of the outside world. Our hearing extends to a small distance. Our sight is impeded by intervening bodies and shadows. To know each other we must reach beyond the sphere of our sense perceptions. We must transmit our intelligence, travel, transport the materials and transfer the energies necessary for our existence. Following this thought we now realize, forcibly enough to dispense with argument, that of all other conquests of man, without exception, that which is most desirable, which would be most helpful in the establishment of universal peaceful relations is — the complete ANNIHILATION OF DISTANCE.
To achieve this wonder, electricity is the one and only means. Inestimable good has already been done by the use of this all powerful agent, the nature of which is still a mystery. Our astonishment at what has been accomplished would be uncontrollable were it not held in check by the expectation of greater miracles to come. That one, the greatest of all, can be viewed in three aspects: Dissemination of intelligence, transportation, and transmission of power.
- Within a few years a simple and inexpensive device, readily carried about, will enable one to receive on land or sea the principal news, to hear a speech, a lecture, a song or play of a musical instrument, conveyed from any other region of the globe. The invention will also meet the crying need for cheap transmission to great distances, more especially over the oceans. The small working capacity of the cables and the excessive cost of messages are now fatal impediments in the dissemination of intelligence which can only be removed by transmission without wires.
- The ideal solution of the problem of transportation will be arrived at only when the complete annihilation of distance in the transmission of power in large amounts shall have become a commercial reality. That day we shall invade the domain of the bird. When the vexing problem of aerial navigation, which has defied his attempts for ages, is solved, man will advance with giant strides.
- That electrical energy can be economically transmitted without wires to any terrestrial distance, I have unmistakably established in numerous observations, experiments and measurements, qualitative and quantitative. These have demonstrated that is practicable to distribute power from a central plant in unlimited amounts, with a loss not exceeding a small fraction of one per cent, in the transmission, even to the greatest distance, twelve thousand miles — to the opposite end of the globe.
- I have obtained... spark discharges extending through more than one hundred feet and carrying currents of one thousand amperes, electromotive forces approximating twenty million volts, chemically active streamers covering areas of several thousand square feet, and electrical disturbances in the natural media surpassing those caused by lightning, in intensity.
Whatever the future may bring, the universal application of these great principles is fully assured, though it may be long in coming. With the opening of the first power plant, incredulity will give way to wonderment, and this to ingratitude, as ever before.
- It should be borne in mind that electrical energy obtained by harnessing a waterfall is probably fifty times more effective than fuel energy. Since this is the most perfect way of rendering the sun's energy available, the direction of the future material development of man is clearly indicated.
- Electric current, after passing into the earth travels to the diametrically opposite region of the same and rebounding from there, returns to its point of departure with virtually undiminished force. The outgoing and returning currents clash and form nodes and loops similar to those observable on a vibrating cord. To traverse the entire distance of about twenty-five thousand miles, equal to the circumference of the globe, the current requires a certain time interval, which I have approximately ascertained. In yielding this knowledge, nature has revealed one of its most precious secrets, of inestimable consequence to man. So astounding are the facts in this connection, that it would seem as though the Creator, himself, had electrically designed this planet just for the purpose of enabling us to achieve wonders which, before my discovery, could not have been conceived by the wildest imagination.
- The economic transmission of power without wires is of all-surpassing importance to man. By its means he will gain complete mastery of the air, the sea and the desert. It will enable him to dispense with the necessity of mining, pumping, transporting and burning fuel, and so do away with innumerable causes of sinful waste. By its means, he will obtain at any place and in any desired amount, the energy of remote waterfalls — to drive his machinery, to construct his canals, tunnels and highways, to manufacture the materials of his want, his clothing and food, to heat and light his home — year in, year out, ever and ever, by day and by night. It will make the living glorious sun his obedient, toiling slave. It will bring peace and harmony on earth.
- It is not a dream, it is a simple feat of scientific electrical engineering, only expensive — blind, faint-hearted, doubting world! . . . Humanity is not yet sufficiently advanced to be willingly led by the discover's keen searching sense. But who knows? Perhaps it is better in this present world of ours that a revolutionary idea or invention instead of being helped and patted, be hampered and ill-treated in its adolescence — by want of means, by selfish interest, pedantry, stupidity and ignorance; that it be attacked and stifled; that it pass through bitter trials and tribulations, through the heartless strife of commercial existence. So do we get our light. So all that was great in the past was ridiculed, condemned, combated, suppressed — only to emerge all the more powerfully, all the more triumphantly from the struggle.
Man's Greatest Achievement (1908; 1930)
Variant 1 : An early version of this essay as quoted by Tesla in a letter (dated 19 April 1908) published in The New York Times (21 April 1908)
- According to an adopted theory, every ponderable atom is differentiated from a tenuous fluid, filling all space merely by spinning motion, as a whirl of water in a calm lake. By being set in movement this fluid, the ether, becomes gross matter. Its movement arrested, the primary substance reverts to its normal state. It appears, then, possible for man through harnessed energy of the medium and suitable agencies for starting and stopping ether whirls to cause matter to form and disappear. At his command, almost without effort on his part, old worlds would vanish and new ones would spring into being. He could alter the size of this planet, control its seasons, adjust its distance from the sun, guide it on its eternal journey along any path he might choose, through the depths of the universe. He could make planets collide and produce his suns and stars, his heat and light; he could originate life in all its infinite forms. To cause at will the birth and death of matter would be man's grandest deed, which would give him the mastery of physical creation, make him fulfill his ultimate destiny.
Variant 2: New York American (6 July 1930)
- When a child is born its sense-organs are brought in contact with the outer world. The waves of sound, heat, and light beat upon its feeble body, its sensitive nerve-fibres quiver, the muscles contract and relax in obedience: a gasp, a breath, and in this act a marvelous little engine, of inconceivable delicacy and complexity of construction, unlike any on earth, is hitched to the wheel-work of the Universe.
- The little engine labors and grows, performs more and more involved operations, becomes sensitive to ever subtler influences and now there manifests itself in the fully developed being — Man — a desire mysterious, inscrutable and irresistible: to imitate nature, to create, to work himself the wonders he perceives.
Inspired to this task he searches, discovers and invents, designs and constructs, and covers with monuments of beauty, grandeur and awe, the star of his birth. He descends into the bowels of the globe to bring forth its hidden treasures and to unlock its immense imprisoned energies for his use. He invades the dark depths of the ocean and the azure regions of the sky. He peers in the innermost nooks and recesses of molecular structure and lays bare to his gaze worlds infinitely remote. He subdues and puts to his service the fierce, devastating spark of Prometheus, the titanic forces of the waterfall, the wind and the tide. He tames the thundering bolt of Jove and annihilates time and space. He makes the great Sun itself his obedient toiling slave. Such is his power and might that the heavens reverberate and the whole earth trembles by the mere sound of his voice.
- What has the future in store for this strange being, born of a breath, of perishable tissue, yet Immortal, with his powers fearful and Divine? What magic will be wrought by him in the end? What is to be his greatest deed, his crowning achievement?
Long ago he recognized that all perceptible matter comes from a primary substance, or a tenuity beyond conception, filling all space, the Akasha or luminiferous ether, which is acted upon by the life-giving Prana or Creative Force, calling into existence, in never ending cycles, all things and phenomena. The primary substance, thrown into infinitesimal whirls of prodigious velocity, becomes gross matter; the force subsiding, the motion ceases and matter disappears, reverting to the primary substance.
Can man control this grandest, most awe-inspiring of all processes in nature? Can he harness her inexhaustible energies to perform all their functions at his bidding? more still cause them to operate simply by the force of his will?
If he could do this, he would have powers almost unlimited and supernatural. At his command, with but a slight effort on his part, old worlds would disappear and new ones of his planning would spring into being. He could fix, solidify and preserve the ethereal shapes of his imagining, the fleeting visions of his dreams. He could express all the creations of his mind on any scale, in forms concrete and imperishable. He could alter the size of this planet, control its seasons, guide it along any path he might choose through the depths of the Universe. He could cause planets to collide and produce his suns and stars, his heat and light. He could originate and develop life in all its infinite forms.
- To create and to annihilate material substance, cause it to aggregate in forms according to his desire, would be the supreme manifestation of the power of Man's mind, his most complete triumph over the physical world, his crowning achievement, which would place him beside his Creator, make him fulfill his Ultimate Destiny.
My Inventions (1919)
- "My Inventions" first published in Electrical Experimenter magazine (1919); republished as My Inventions : The Autobiography of Nikola Tesla (1983)
Chapter 1 : Early Life
- The progressive development of man is vitally dependent on invention. It is the most important product of his creative brain. Its ultimate purpose is the complete mastery of mind over the material world, the harnessing of the forces of nature to human needs. This is the difficult task of the inventor who is often misunderstood and unrewarded. But he finds ample compensation in the pleasing exercises of his powers and in the knowledge of being one of that exceptionally privileged class without whom the race would have long ago perished in the bitter struggle against pitiless elements. Speaking for myself, I have already had more than my full measure of this exquisite enjoyment; so much, that for many years my life was little short of continuous rapture.
- I am credited with being one of the hardest workers and perhaps I am, if thought is the equivalent of labour, for I have devoted to it almost all of my waking hours. But if work is interpreted to be a definite performance in a specified time according to a rigid rule, then I may be the worst of idlers. Every effort under compulsion demands a sacrifice of life-energy. I never paid such a price. On the contrary, I have thrived on my thoughts.
- Our first endeavors are purely instinctive prompting of an imagination vivid and undisciplined. As we grow older reason asserts itself and we become more and more systematic and designing. But those early impulses, though not immediately productive, are of the greatest moment and may shape our very destinies. Indeed, I feel now that had I understood and cultivated instead of suppressing them, I would have added substantial value to my bequest to the world. But not until I had attained manhood did I realize that I was an inventor.
- The moment one constructs a device to carry into practice a crude idea, he finds himself unavoidably engrossed with the details of the apparatus. As he goes on improving and reconstructing, his force of concentration diminishes and he loses sight of the great underlying principle.… I do not rush into actual work. When I get an idea, I start at once building it up in my imagination. I change the construction, make improvements and operate the device in my mind. It is absolutely immaterial to me whether I run my turbine in thought or test it in my shop. I even note if it is out of balance.
- Of all things I liked books best. My father had a large library and whenever I could manage I tried to satisfy my passion for reading. He did not permit it and would fly in a rage when he caught me in the act. He hid the candles when he found that I was reading in secret. He did not want me to spoil my eyes. But I obtained tallow, made the wicking and cast the sticks into tin forms, and every night I would bush the keyhole and the cracks and read, often till dawn.
Chapter 2 : Extraordinary Experiences
- From childhood I was compelled to concentrate attention upon myself. This caused me much suffering, but to my present view, it was a blessing in disguise for it has taught me to appreciate the inestimable value of introspection in the preservation of life, as well as a means of achievement. The pressure of occupation and the incessant stream of impressions pouring into our consciousness through all the gateways of knowledge make modern existence hazardous in many ways. Most persons are so absorbed in the contemplation of the outside world that they are wholly oblivious to what is passing on within themselves. The premature death of millions is primarily traceable to this cause. Even among those who exercise care, it is a common mistake to avoid imaginary, and ignore the real dangers. And what is true of an individual also applies, more or less, to a people as a whole.
- I feel convinced that my preservation was not altogether accidental, but was indeed the work of divine power. An inventor's endeavor is essentially life saving. Whether he harnesses forces, improves devices, or provides new comforts and conveniences, he is adding to the safety of our existence. He is also better qualified than the average individual to protect himself in peril, for he is observant and resourceful.
- One day I went alone to the river to enjoy myself as usual. When I was a short distance from the masonry, however, I was horrified to observe that the water had risen and was carrying me along swiftly.… The pressure against my chest was great and I was barely able to keep my head above the surface.… Slowly and gradually I became exhausted and unable to withstand the strain longer. Just as I was about to let go, to be dashed against the rocks below, I saw in a flash of light a familiar diagram illustrating the hydraulic principle that the pressure of a fluid in motion is proportionate to the area exposed and automatically I turned on my left side. As if by magic, the pressure was reduced.
Chapter 3 : The Rotary Magnetic Field
- In one of the sinking spells [due to Cholera] which was thought to be the last, my father rushed into the room. I still see his pallid face as he tried to cheer me in tones belying his assurance. "Perhaps," I said, "I may get well if you will let me study engineering." "You will go to the best technical institution in the world," he solemnly replied, and I knew that he meant it. A heavy weight was lifted from my mind.… I came to life like Lazarus to the utter amazement of everybody.
- He declared that it could not be done and did me the honor of delivering a lecture on the subject, at the conclusion he remarked, "Mr. Tesla may accomplish great things, but he certainly will never do this. It would be equivalent to converting a steadily pulling force, like that of gravity into a rotary effort. It is a perpetual motion scheme, an impossible idea." But instinct is something which transcends knowledge. We have, undoubtedly, certain finer fibers that enable us to perceive truths when logical deduction, or any other willful effort of the brain, is futile.
- When I understood the task, it was not with a resolve such as men often make. With me it was a sacred vow, a question of life and death. I knew that I would perish if I failed. Now I felt that the battle was won. Back in the deep recesses of the brain was the solution, but I could net yet give it outward expression.
- One afternoon, which is ever present in my recollection, I was enjoying a walk with my friend in the city park and reciting poetry. At that age I knew entire books by heart, word for word. One of these was Goethe's Faust. The sun was just setting and reminded me of a glorious passage:
- Sie rückt und weicht, der Tag ist überlebt,
Dort eilt sie hin und fördert neues Leben.
O! daß kein Flügel mich vom Boden hebt,
Ihr nach und immer nach zu streben!
Ein schöner Traum, indessen sie entweicht.
Ach! zu des Geistes Flügeln wird so leicht
Kein körperlicher Flügel sich gesellen!
[The glow retreats, done is the day of toil;
It yonder hastes, new fields of life exploring;
Ah, that no wing can lift me from the soil
Upon its track to follow, follow soaring!
A glorious dream! though now the glories fade.
Alas! the wings that lift the mind no aid
Of wings to lift the body can bequeath me.
(tr. Bayard Taylor)
- Sie rückt und weicht, der Tag ist überlebt,
- As I uttered these inspiring words the idea came like a flash of lightning and in an instant the truth was revealed. I drew with a stick on the sand the diagram shown six years later in my address before the American Institute of Electrical Engineers, and my companion understood them perfectly. The images I saw were wonderfully sharp and clear and had the solidity of metal and stone, so much so that I told him, "See my motor here; watch me reverse it." I cannot begin to describe my emotions. Pygmalion seeing his statue come to life could not have been more deeply moved. A thousand secrets of nature which I might have stumbled upon accidentally, I would have given for that one which I had wrested from her against all odds and at the peril of my existence …
- On the Invention of the Induction Motor
Chapter 4 : Tesla Coil and Transformer
- For a while I gave myself up entirely to the intense enjoyment of picturing machines and devising new forms. It was a mental state of happiness about as complete as I have ever known in life. … When natural inclination develops into a passionate desire, one advances towards his goal in seven−league boots. In less than two months I evolved virtually all the types of motors and modifications of the system which are now identified with my name, and which are used under many other names all over the world. It was, perhaps, providential that the necessities of existence commanded a temporary halt to this consuming activity of the mind.
- The last line is about having to take up a job
Chapter 5 : The Influences That Shape Our Destiny
- Up to that time I never realized that I possessed any particular gift of discovery, but Lord Rayleigh, whom I always considered as an ideal man of science, had said so and if that was the case, I felt that I should concentrate on some big idea.
- After Lord Rayleigh's praise of Tesla at the Royal Institution, London, 1892
- The gift of mental power comes from God, Divine Being, and if we concentrate our minds on that truth, we become in tune with this great power. My Mother had taught me to seek all truth in the Bible; therefore I devoted the next few months to the study of this work.
One day, as I was roaming the mountains, I sought shelter from an approaching storm. The sky became overhung with heavy clouds, but somehow the rain was delayed until, all of a sudden, there was a lightening flash and a few moments after, a deluge. This observation set me thinking. It was manifest that the two phenomena were closely related, as cause and effect, and a little reflection led me to the conclusion that the electrical energy involved in the precipitation of the water was inconsiderable, the function of the lightening being much like that of a sensitive trigger. Here was a stupendous possibility of achievement. If we could produce electric effects of the required quality, this whole planet and the conditions of existence on it could be transformed. The sun raises the water of the oceans and winds drive it to distant regions where it remains in a state of most delicate balance. If it were in our power to upset it when and wherever desired, this might life sustaining stream could be at will controlled. We could irrigate arid deserts, create lakes and rivers, and provide motive power in unlimited amounts. This would be the most efficient way of harnessing the sun to the uses of man. The consummation depended on our ability to develop electric forces of the order of those in nature.
- He had the highest regard for my attainments and gave me every evidence of his complete faith in my ability to ultimately achieve what I had set out to do. I am unwilling to accord to some small−minded and jealous individuals the satisfaction of having thwarted my efforts. These men are to me nothing more than microbes of a nasty disease. My project was retarded by laws of nature. The world was not prepared for it. It was too far ahead of time, but the same laws will prevail in the end and make it a triumphal success.
- About the role of J. Pierpont Morgan, and the failure of Tesla's "World System" project
Chapter 6 : The Magnifying Transmitter
- It would be calamitous, indeed, if at this time when the art is in its infancy and the vast majority, not excepting even experts, have no conception of its ultimate possibilities, a measure would be rushed through the legislature making it a government monopoly. …universal evidence unmistakably shows that the best results are always obtained in healthful commercial competition.
- While I have not lost faith in its potentialities, my views have changed since. War can not be avoided until the physical cause for its recurrence is removed and this, in the last analysis, is the vast extent of the planet on which we live. Only though annihilation of distance in every respect, as the conveyance of intelligence, transport of passengers and supplies and transmission of energy will conditions be brought about some day, insuring permanency of friendly relations. What we now want most is closer contact and better understanding between individuals and communities all over the earth and the elimination of that fanatic devotion to exalted ideals of national egoism and pride, which is always prone to plunge the world into primeval barbarism and strife. No league or parliamentary act of any kind will ever prevent such a calamity. These are only new devices for putting the weak at the mercy of the strong.
- This mental activity, at first involuntary under the pressure of illness and suffering, gradually became second nature and led me finally to recognize that I was but an automaton devoid of free will in thought and action and merely responsible to the forces of the environment. Our bodies are of such complexity of structure, the motions we perform are so numerous and involved and the external impressions on our sense organs to such a degree delicate and elusive, that it is hard for the average person to grasp this fact. Yet nothing is more convincing to the trained investigator than the mechanistic theory of life which had been, in a measure, understood and propounded by Descartes three hundred years ago.
- At present, many of the ablest minds are trying to devise expedients for preventing a repetition of the awful conflict which is only theoretically ended and the duration and main issues of which I have correctly predicted in an article printed in the Sun of December 20, 1914. The proposed League is not a remedy but, on the contrary, in the opinion of a number of competent men, may bring about results just the opposite. It is particularly regrettable that a punitive policy was adopted in framing the terms of peace, because a few years hence, it will be possible for nations to fight without armies, ships or guns, by weapons far more terrible, to the destructive action and range of which there is virtually no limit. Any city, at a distance, whatsoever, from the enemy, can be destroyed by him and no power on earth can stop him from doing so.
- We crave for new sensations but soon become indifferent to them. The wonders of yesterday are today common occurrences.
A Machine to End War (1937)
- "Machine to End War by Nikola Tesla as told to George Sylvester Viereck" in Liberty, (February 1937)
- While I am not a believer in the orthodox sense, I commend religion, first, because every individual should have some ideal — religious, artistic, scientific, or humanitarian — to give significance to his life. Second, because all the great religions contain wise prescriptions relating to the conduct of life, which hold good now as they did when they were promulgated.
- There is no conflict between the ideal of religion and the ideal of science, but science is opposed to theological dogmas because science is founded on fact. To me, the universe is simply a great machine which never came into being and never will end. The human being is no exception to the natural order. Man, like the universe, is a machine. Nothing enters our minds or determines our actions which is not directly or indirectly a response to stimuli beating upon our sense organs from without. Owing to the similarity of our construction and the sameness of our environment, we respond in like manner to similar stimuli, and from the concordance of our reactions, understanding is barn. In the course of ages, mechanisms of infinite complexity are developed, but what we call "soul " or "spirit," is nothing more than the sum of the functionings of the body. When this functioning ceases, the "soul" or the "spirit" ceases likewise.
Attributed to Tesla
- My brain is only a receiver. In the universe there is a core from which we obtain knowledge, strength, inspiration. I have not penetrated into the secrets of this core, but I know that it exists.
Quotes about Tesla
- He'll be a child of the storm.
- Comment by the midwife who assisted his birth, "at the stroke of midnight" while lightning was striking during a thunderstorm. His mother replied, "No, of light.", as quoted in the Tesla Universe Timeline
- We think of his contribution much oftener than that of Ampere and Ohm ... the induction motor and our power system are enduring monuments to Nikola Tesla.
- The world, I think, will wait a long time for Nikola Tesla's equal in achievement and imagination.
- Nikola Tesla is proof that real greatness surpasses national borders and differences.
- George W. Bush in a message to Stjepan Mesić, quoted in "Nikola Tesla's anniversary and ancestry" in The New Generation (24 December 2006)
- Tesla is entitled to the enduring gratitude of mankind.
- As an eminent pioneer in the realm of high frequency currents... I congratulate you on the great successes of your life's work.
- Tesla has done great things that will take the rest of us a long time to fully exploit. Lets just hope we exploit them for the right reasons!
- Nikola Tesla is the true unsung prophet of the electronic age; without whom our radio, auto ignition, telephone, alternating current power generation and transmission, radio and television would all have been impossible.
- Ben Johnston in the "Introduction" to My Inventions : The Autobiography of Nikola Tesla (1983).
- The invention of the wheel was perhaps rather obvious; but the invention of an invisible wheel, made of nothing but a magnetic field, was far from obvious, and that is what we owe to Nikola Tesla.
- Reginald Kapp (1956)
- Tesla has contributed more to electrical science than any man up to his time.
- Lord Kelvin, in a statement of 1896, as quoted in Prodigal Genius : The Life of Nikola Tesla (2007) by James J. O'Neill
- I am sending [Dr. Tesla]... my gratitude and my respect in overflowing measure.
- All scientific men will be delighted to extend their warmest congratulations to Tesla and to express their appreciation of his great contributions to science.
- Nikola Tesla's achievements in electrical science are monuments that symbolize America as a land of freedom and opportunity ... Tesla's mind was a human dynamo that whirled to benefit mankind.
- The evolution of electric power from the discovery of Faraday to the initial great installation of the Tesla polyphase system in 1896 is undoubtedly the most tremendous event in all engineering history.
- I misunderstood Tesla. I think we all misunderstood Tesla. We thought he was a dreamer and visionary. He did dream and his dreams came true, he did have visions but they were of a real future, not an imaginary one. Tesla was the first man to lift his eyes high enough to see that the rarified stratum of atmosphere above our earth was destined to play an important role in the radio telegraphy of the future, a fact which had to obtrude itself on the attention of most of us before we saw it. But Tesla also perceived what many of us did not in those days, namely, the currents which flowed way from the base of the antenna over the surface of the earth and in the earth itself.
- John Stone Stone in "John Stone Stone on Nikola Tesla's Priority in Radio and Continuous-Wave Radiofrequency Apparatus" (1915)
- Tesla, with his almost preternatural insight into alternating current phenomenon that had enabled him some years before to revolutionize the art of electric power transmission through the invention of the rotary field motor, knew how to make resonance serve, not merely the role of a microscope to make visible the electric oscillations, as Hertz had done, but he made it serve the role of a stereopticon to render spectacular to large audiences the phenomena of electric oscillations and high frequency currents....He did more to excite interest and create an intelligent understanding of these phenomena in the years 1891–1893 than anyone else, and the more we learn about high frequency phenomena, resonance, and radiation today, the nearer we find ourselves approaching what we at one time were inclined, through a species of intellectual myopia, to regard as the fascinating but fantastical speculations of a man whom we are now compelled, in the light of modern experience and knowledge, to admit was a prophet. But Tesla was no mere lecturer and prophet. He saw to the fulfillment of his prophesies and it has been difficult to make any but unimportant improvements in the art of radio-telegraphy without traveling part of the way at least, along a trail blazed by this pioneer who, though eminently ingenious, practical, and successful in the apparatus he devised and constructed, was so far ahead of his time that the best of us then mistook him for a dreamer. I never came anywhere near having an appreciation of what Mr. Tesla had done in this art until a very late date...
- John Stone Stone in "John Stone Stone on Nikola Tesla's Priority in Radio and Continuous-Wave Radiofrequency Apparatus" (1915)
- [Dr. Tesla's] lectures opened a new physical world to me... [He was] one of the kindest men I've ever encountered. The hours which I was permitted to spend together with [him] will always be among the fondest memories of my life.